Several graduating seniors were honored with Institute awards at the Class of 2017 Senior Awards Celebration and Brunch held May 15 in the Russell Sage Dining Hall to kick off Senior Week activities. President Shirley Ann Jackson, Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Travis Apgar, and Assistant Vice President for Student Success Lisa Trahan presented the awards.

“Our senior award recipients demonstrate many qualities that make this a wonderful place to live, to work, to teach, and to study,” said President Jackson at the ceremony. “While we have educated you for deep knowledge in your chosen fields, we also have worked to educate you for intellectual agility, multicultural sophistication, and a global view—for the kind of perspective that will allow you to lead.

“The seniors we honor today have helped to make Rensselaer a stronger place,” President Jackson continued. “I congratulate them, and the entire Class of 2017, for your generosity and civic-mindedness. You have changed Rensselaer for the better, so we fully expect that you will change the world.”

The 2017 Livingston W. Houston Citizenship Award, which honors the “First Citizen of the College”—the recipient must rank high in character, leadership, scholarship, and athletic ability—was given to Breanainn McNeally.

“Not only is Breanainn McNeally one of the best lacrosse players and leaders I have coached in my 21 years at RPI,” said longtime head men’s lacrosse coach Jim Townsend, “he is a first-class individual on and off the field.” An industrial and management engineering major with over a 3.5 cumulative grade point average, Breanainn has helped organize community service projects through the lacrosse team and his fraternity. Among the events are the Power Lunch Reading Program, which entails reading to elementary school students, the Literacy Volunteers of Rensselaer County 5K Run/Walk (course marshal), American Red Cross blood drives, volunteering at the Diamond Ridge senior retirement home, and PIKE Presents, which collected donations and bought toys for less fortunate kids in the area around the holiday season. Athletically, Breanainn is a four-time All-Liberty League honoree, including his third First Team award this season and a National All-America. He ranks among the leaders in school history in all-time goals and points. “Breanainn’s smile and attitude are contagious and he is always looking at the positive rather than the negative,” said Coach Townsend.

The Leopold L. Balleisen Prize—which was established by Donald H. Balleisen in memory of his father, a graduate in the Class of 1918honors a senior who has won a varsity letter in at least one sport during two undergraduate years and who stands highest academically among those thus qualified. The prize was was awarded to Madeline Dery.

Dery was a two-year captain of the cross country team and captain of the track & field team. She has won numerous league and state events and was an All-America over 3000 meters at the 2016 indoor national championship meet. She also led cross country to its first-ever back-to-back Liberty League Championship Meet titles and NCAA team qualifications. Dery carried a 4.0 as a chemical engineering major until this past fall when she got an A-, her only non-A in her collegiate career. She takes part in research on campus and is being recruited by many top universities to continue her education for a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. “Maddie always has a smile on her face and is always willing to help a teammate in the classroom or on the track,” said John Lynch, head men’s and women’s cross country coach.

The Willie Stanton Award, established by the Rensselaer Union in honor of William P. (Willie) Stanton, a dishwasher and cook who served the academic and social needs of Rensselaer students for over 45 years, is presented annually to the senior who is judged to have contributed the most to the service of the student body. This year’s awardee is Shannon Gillespie McComb.

According to her nomination, McComb is a biomedical engineering major who has found ways to create a positive atmosphere of friendship and support through her interactions with others. She has served two years on the Rensselaer Union Executive Board, including the position of vice president. During her tenure, she strived to create spirit and to build community and worked to represent student needs in many ways. She spent the better part of this past year representing the Student Veterans Association, working to make a place for the community within the Rensselaer Union community. She has given her time to the RenExchange program; was a member of the Outing Club and the Pre-law Association; and is an International Student Ambassador, helping international students acclimate to the Rensselaer culture. She has also served as the Community Service Director for Alpha Phi sorority. McComb has become a face of the Union, working in the Club House Pub.

In addition to the senior class awards, the 2017 Undergraduate CLASS Recognition and Achievement Award was given to Diego Carrasquillo. The CLASS Award recognizes a member of the graduating class who as a leader exemplifies the ability to solve complex challenges through intellectual agility, multicultural sophistication, and a global view.

Carrasquillo has served in many positions at Rensselaer, including resident director, resident assistant, brother and vice president of Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity, National Residence Hall Honorary, student orientation adviser, and student ambassador for the Red & White Student Organization, and participated in the Professional Leadership Program, Archer Center for Student Leadership. He was inducted in the Rensselaer honor society, Phalanx, this spring.

According to his nominator, “Diego has been an amazing member of the Residence Life staff and as witnessed from the above items, is a very important member of the RPI community. From his first year here, he immediately got involved with Student Orientation and became an SO member, quickly rising to the rank of resident assistant after his sophomore year. Everyone looks up to Diego and he is loved and revered by the RPI community.

“Diego is an outstanding student, very respected by everyone he meets and known around campus by all. He is the first person someone reaches out to if they need anything Greek related and he is aware of all his residents.”

In addition to the student awards, Dedication and Devotion awards were given by the Class of 2017 Class Council to Rensselaer staff members for their impact on the senior class. The honorees are Sabra-Joi Dingman, class dean; Sachi Vines, director of marketing and promotions for athletics; and Jean Purtell, operations coordinator for the Rensselaer Union.

Photos by Michael Cuozzo.