Recipients of the Henry Barnard award

Kevin CromptonEditor-in-Chief & Michael RiccioManaging Editor

The Henry Barnard Distinguished Student awardis one of Southern’s most prestigious academic awards, requiring students to have at least a 3.7 GPA just to be eligible. Last week, Southern announced its four winners: Ariana Bengtson, Victoria Bresnahan, Zachary Jezek, and Taylor Hurley.

“I’m super excited about it,” said Jezek, a senior and public health major. “I’m proud about what I’ve accomplished academically.”

In addition to the GPA requirement, students pursuing the award must have demonstrated significant involvement and leadership in their community, and must have completed 60 or more of their college credits at Southern.

“I didn’t really think that being a part of the Southern News or Crescent magazine would be considered [as community leadership],” said Bresnahan, a senior and journalism major, “But I thought about it more and I realized that being a journalist is serving the community.”

Bengtson, a senior, and an English major with a concentration in professional writing, said winning the award has been affirming of her experience at Southern.

“I did work really hard for a lot of things and I didn’t do it to be recognized,” said Bengston. “I just did it because I wanted to and I really was interested in helping people.”

One of the ways Bengtson helps others is through a program called Project Rescue. The program helps victims of human trafficking.

“It’s a job I would’ve never imagined having,” said Bengston, “but it’s a really interesting one that I love and obviously that’s all about helping people in the community and I help connect clients to legal and social services.”

Taylor Hurley, a senior majoring in elementary education is another student who enjoys helping others in her spare time.

“In my hometown, I do volunteer work at the nursing home,” said Hurley. “I have been going every other Saturday and on breaks, or even if I have a Saturday in between that’s free. I just try to go whenever I can.”

Jezek said years ago, he never would have imagined he could win an academic award of this magnitude. Prior to graduating from high school in 2002, Jezek’s guidance counselor told him he simply was not college material. He later was accepted into UConn, but was dismissed on two separate occasions for poor academic performance. In 2016 Jezek decided he wanted to go back to school for public health.

“I want to get my degree,” said Jezek, “and I want to be able to tell my daughter that as unconventional as my path was and that it took me a while – but I was able to do it.”

The award committee is made up of representatives from each school. Business, Health and Human Sciences, Arts and Sciences and Education all have two representatives on the committee. There are also three members from the Student Affairs division along with Dean of Student Affairs, Jules Tetreault, who acts as the facilitator of the committee. Each student interviews with the committee to pitch why they are deserving of the award.

“It’s a fairly competitive process,” said Tetreault, “and really the interview is a differentiator in a lot of ways to get to better know the candidates.”

There are a total of twelve recipients of the award throughout the state. Both Southern and Central Connecticut State University have four winners, while Eastern and Western Connecticut State University have two each.

“There’s nothing higher than this,” said Bresnahan. “It’s something that I think I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I’m really proud of myself and I don’t think receiving anything else would come close to that.”

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