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Vanderbilt University honors top students during Commencement

May. 8, 2009, 10:27 AM

Since 1877, a gold medal has been awarded to the student graduating at the top of his or her class from each of Vanderbilt’s schools. These gold medals are called “Founder’s Medals” in honor of Cornelius Vanderbilt who made a specific contribution to endow the awards in their first year.

Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos presented the Founder’s Medals to the following students:

Kathryn Moreadith, Founder’s Medalist for the Blair School of Music, is graduating with a bachelor of music with a double major in music composition/theory and East Asian Studies and a double minor in piano performance and Chinese. In 2007, she assisted in the founding of the first Chinese-American International Piano Institute, hosted by the Sichuan Conservatory of Music in Chengdu, China. She also served as translator and liaison for the commissioned visit of Chen Qian, resident composer for the People’s Liberation Army of China, to Vanderbilt and later traveled to Beijing to study Chinese traditional music privately with Chen Qian and his colleague Chen Jun, a renowned performer of the erhu, affectionately called the “Chinese violin.” She has taught Chinese at the Nashville Chinese School since 2007, and is also a Chinese tutor at the Vanderbilt University Language Center. In her spare time, she is learning Arabic.

Moreadith, who is from Raleigh, N.C., received the Theodore Presser Award from the Blair School in 2008, was the winner of the Blair Composition Competition in 2007 and was awarded the Margaret Branscomb Prize in 2006. After graduation, she will embark on a year of travel and study as winner of Vanderbilt’s Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellowship. During the year she will pursue collaborative musical composition in China, Egypt, the United Kingdom, India and places yet to be decided.

Meredith Sellers, Founder’s Medalist for the College of Arts and Science, is graduating with a bachelor of arts with a double major in anthropology and biological sciences. She came to Vanderbilt from Cleveland, Tenn., attending on a Harold Stirling Vanderbilt Scholarship, which provides full tuition. Her academic career at Vanderbilt has been based on her interest in biological and cultural aspects of the human condition. Her work at the university has included projects in which she studied ancient diseases and characterized the effect of a new molecule (Asef II) on migration in cancer cells. She has also done independent study regarding the effect of disease on individuals and societies and the role of disease in cultural history. As part of her independent study, she collected and analyzed a significant amount of data that will be included in a journal article on which she will be the second author.

Sellers is a member of the Alpha Lambda Delta and Phi Eta Sigma honor societies and has qualified for Phi Beta Kappa. She was on the dean’s list every semester. She was accepted to Vanderbilt’s School of Medicine as a sophomore through a competitive early acceptance program and is eager to pursue her interests in health, culture and research as a medical student.

Myrick Clements Shinall Jr., Founder’s Medalist for the Divinity School, is the first student in the history of Vanderbilt to earn, concurrently, the master of divinity and the doctor of medicine degrees. For the past six academic years, he has explored the intersection between the disciplines of theology and medicine. As a volunteer at Siloam Family Health Center in Nashville, he embodied the mission and the commitments of the Divinity School by providing health care to uninsured patients. Participating in this ministry of health, he fulfilled the scriptural mandate to extend hospitality and compassion to individuals whose medical and spiritual needs would otherwise be neglected. Serving as a representative of the Divinity School’s chapter of the United Methodist Student Association, he also was instrumental in organizing Covenant Disciple groups in the tradition of the 18th century Wesleyan class meetings where members assemble and are held mutually accountable in practicing acts of devotion, justice and mercy.

A member of Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society, his scholarship has been published in three medical journals – Pediatrics, The Journal of Trauma and The Journal of Pediatric Surgery. The faculty of the Divinity School awarded him the mark of honors for his paper titled “Wiping Rachel’s Tears: A Wesleyan Response to the Suffering and Death of Children.”

Following graduation, he will begin his residency in general surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center while continuing to serve the United Methodist Church as a certified candidate for ordination.

Arunan Skandarajah, Founder’s Medalist for the School of Engineering, is graduating with a bachelor of engineering in biomedical engineering. A Harold Stirling Vanderbilt Scholar, he has worked on several research projects between the departments of Biomedical Engineering and Biological Sciences to develop and optimize microscale tools for cellular biology. He has presented his work through the national conference of the Biomedical Engineering Society, received a Goldwater Scholarship for his potential in research, and has been inducted into the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society. He also served as president of the Global Health Council, bringing relevant speakers and service opportunities to campus. He has organized vision screenings as a member of the founding board of Unite for Sight, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving eye health and eliminating preventable blindness. He also tutored students in the Nashville community through Vanderbilt Students Volunteering for Science. Additionally, he has done community service through the university’s Alternative Spring Break program.

Skandarajah, who was born in Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, and raised in Indianapolis, Ind., plans to continue the graduate studies he has begun as an undergraduate, completing a research-based master’s degree in biomedical engineering by August 2009.

This fall, Skandarajah will begin a doctoral degree in bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley, where he hopes to design diagnostic devices for applications in global health.

Tory Hodges Lewis, Founder’s Medalist for the Law School, is graduating with a doctor of jurisprudence. She is a Harold Stirling Vanderbilt Scholar and a Vanderbilt Honors Scholar. During her time in the Law School, she served as the executive editor of the Vanderbilt Law Review. She received the Morgan Prize for excellence in student writing and the Lightfoot, Franklin and White Best Oralist Award for her legal writing section. Based on her combined scores of her written appellate brief and presentation of two rounds of oral arguments before a panel of judges, she was selected for the Vanderbilt Moot Court Board.

Serving on the leadership team of the Christian Legal Society, she actively participated in this independent, nondenominational organization, which provides fellowship and learning opportunities. A member of the Vanderbilt Trial Advocacy Society, she also served as a Legal Aid Society pro bono volunteer. In addition, she was as a member of the Moot Court Traveling Team. Through her participation with Compassion International, she supports a sponsored child in Indonesia.

After graduation, Lewis will serve as a law clerk to the Honorable Leon Holmes of the Eastern District of Arkansas.

Brenessa Michelle Lindeman, Founder’s Medalist for the School of Medicine, is graduating with a doctor of medicine degree. Born and raised in rural Eastern Kentucky, she was determined to become a country music singer before deciding on a career in medicine. She had launched a semi-professional career that culminated in recording a Christmas music album and performing at the Grand Ole Opry. As she grew older, however, she determined that her love of science outweighed that of music. She completed her undergraduate studies at University of Louisville, where she earned a bachelor of science in genetics and subcellular biology and graduated summa cum laude as the Omicron Delta Kappa Outstanding Senior. During her undergraduate years, she spent her summers and elective time engaged in research into mechanisms of axon growth and guidance, which resulted in her receiving the LeBre medal for research excellence in biology.

Her interests in both education and research have continued to flourish at Vanderbilt’s School of Medicine. Her years of medical study and training have included work on a project exploring the outcomes after surgery for patients with advanced lung cancer. She will continue to refine her leadership ability and make meaningful contributions to the School of Medicine as chair of the Curriculum Committee for the upcoming academic year. She served as a mentor to Vanderbilt undergraduate students interested in medicine, served as editor for two incoming student publications, and, in her spare time, collected unused operating room supplies to deliver to developing nations. In recognition of her achievements, she was one of four juniors selected for membership in the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society.

Lindeman will serve as co-chair for the Vanderbilt chapter of the honor society for the upcoming academic year and will do her residency in general surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md.

Nancy Lancaster, Founder’s Medalist for the School of Nursing, graduated with a master of science in nursing. She received a bachelor’s degree in Human and Organizational Development from Vanderbilt in 2000. After earning her undergraduate degree, Lancaster moved to Chicago to embark on a career in business. Although her ascent in the fields of organization and management quickly led to a position supervising 15 employees, she realized she wanted something more from her professional life. In 2006 she returned to Nashville – leaving a six-year successful career in the business world to attend the School of Nursing. During her first semester in the School of Nursing, she developed an interest in palliative care and was introduced to clinical nursing, where she learned that the power of touch and the importance of one’s physical presence can be, under some circumstances, more therapeutic than pharmacological regimens.

She was named the 2007-2008 recipient of the Julia Hereford Alumni Society Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a Vanderbilt School of Nursing student who exemplifies academic excellence and leadership in the field of nursing. After completing her course of study at Vanderbilt in August 2008, she returned to Chicago and began work in a community hospital, where she fulfilled the requirements of a nurse residency program and became a member of the intensive care unit nursing team.

Outside of the hospital, she is actively involved in CommunityHealth, a clinic that provides free primary health care to members of the community who are uninsured and are living below the poverty level. She also volunteers with the Franciscan Outreach shelter, a nonprofit organization that provides food, shelter and case management services to Chicago’s homeless population.

Justin Steiner, Founder’s Medalist for the Owen Graduate School of Management, is graduating with a master of business administration. After graduating cum laude with a degree in computer information systems from James Madison University in Virginia, Steiner entered the workforce as a systems integration consultant with Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company. During his seven-year career with the firm, he gained valuable experience in the global business world, working extensively with international teams in Manila and Bangalore, helping clients streamline their information technology development functions.

Desiring to advance himself personally and professionally, he left his successful career to enroll in the Owen School, where he was selected as a Dean’s Scholar Finalist. It is the top recognition given to an incoming Owen student. He was awarded the Anderson Scholarship, endowed by the Rose-Marie and Andrew Johnson Foundation. He also received the Bruce D. Henderson Scholarship for highest honors in the MBA class. His active participation in the Entrepreneurship, Operations and Consulting clubs also further broadened his strategic management experience.

Steiner has accepted a position with North Highland Company, a consulting firm, in their local office and will remain in Nashville after graduation.

Scott Brown, Founder’s Medalist for the Peabody College of education and human development, is graduating with a double major in human and organizational development and economics and a minor in financial economics. As a Peabody Scholar, he participated in a summer-long program in Beijing, studying Chinese language and culture. He focused his research efforts on the availability of educational opportunities for children of urban migrants. His volunteer service aiding the homeless population at the Nashville Rescue Mission kindled his decision to become involved in a research project at Peabody’s Center for Community Studies. His experience at the rescue mission raised his awareness of the acute societal cost – in dollars and in lost human potential – that homelessness exacts on our community. He is an active member of Reformed University Fellowship and his favorite leisure activity is streaming indie rock, bluegrass and jazz as a DJ for the Gold Sounds show on WRVU, Vanderbilt’s radio station.

Brown will remain at Vanderbilt for the coming academic year to pursue a master’s degree in Community Development and Action at Peabody.

Media Contact: Princine Lewis, (615) 322-NEWS