GV awards students, faculty at annual banquet

Lizzy Balboa

Using his standard Big History approach to conceptualize humanity’s place in the universe, Grand Valley State University professor Craig Benjamin put GVSU’s community into context at Monday’s annual award ceremony.

Benjamin addressed a crowd of award-winning professors and students, who gathered to celebrate their achievements and be recognized by the professors and peers who nominated them.

After asking the crowd to consider how each member could contribute to the world, Benjamin used his Big History concept to position human existence against its impressive background and determine the place of humanity in time and space.

From the heart of Grand Rapids to the edges of the galaxy, from the Big Bang through the expected self-destruction of the entire universe, Benjamin expounded the miniscule size but infinite importance of humanity—especially GVSU’s upcoming graduates.

“So what’s our role in all this?” he asked the crowd. “At first sight, you’re probably all thinking, ‘Well, probably not much.’ We seem pretty short-lived and insignificant, pretty small.”
But Benjamin posited another answer.

“Your place in the universe—the history of each of you—I think is actually incredibly important in this big history story,” he said. “The picture is not known, and it’s up to you to write the next chapter. You really matter in this story. You’re not insignificant. You really matter to the future of our species, our planet, and there’s even larger context in there. The future is right there in your hands. The future is not written. You have to write the next chapter.”

With these encouraging words resonating in the hall, GVSU recognized the significant contributions its faculty and students have already made as they’ve begun to write their stories.

The Glenn A. Niemeyer awards, which Provost Gayle Davis said are the most prestigious academic awards at GVSU, were awarded to two professors, two undergraduates, two full-time graduate and two part-time graduate students. The award was named in honor of Niemeyer, who served at GVSU for 38 years as a professor and provost and was in attendance at the ceremony to congratulate the winners.

“(This award) is a tribute to the high regard the university has for Dr. Niemeyer and the many contributions he made through his career,” Davis said, adding that recipients strive for excellence in a well-rounded academic experience.

The 2013 Niemeyer Award recipients were Edward Aboufadel, professor of mathematics; John Shinsky, professor of leadership and learning; Cody Husak, undergraduate nursing student; Sherri Slater, undergraduate liberal studies student; Todd Cates, physical therapy graduate student; Jeffery Clark, business graduate student; John Gipson, higher education graduate student; and Meridell Gracias, nursing graduate student.

James Manser, a senior studying international relations, was nominated by students, faculty and staff to receive the Venderbush Award for significant leadership contributions to GVSU student life.

The Thomas M. Seykora Awards were given to nine students nominated by GVSU community members for significantly contributing to student life on campus.

The recipients were Marvis Herring, broadcasting; Jack Iott, finance and economics; Darius Jordan, public and nonprofit administration; Bridgette McGuire, math; Brendan Miller, communication studies; Shelby Schwarzkoff, advertising and public relations; Caitlin Stoltman, therapeutic recreation; Michael Williams, public and nonprofit administration; and Krystal Wilson, studio art.

Departmental awards were also distributed to undergraduate and graduate students.
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