Skip to main content

Vanderbilt awards Founder’s Medals to top scholars at Commencement

by | May. 8, 2015, 9:43 AM

Share this on Facebook Inspiring students awarded Founders Medals @vanderbiltu #vu2015
Share this on Facebook Vanderbilt's top scholars named @vanderbiltu #vu2015
The 2015 Founder's Medalists (Daniel Dubois/Vanderbilt)

Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos awarded the top scholars from each of the university’s undergraduate and professional schools with Founder’s Medals during Commencement, May 8.

Since 1877, a gold medal has been awarded annually to the top graduating student from each school in honor of founder Cornelius Vanderbilt, who endowed the awards.

Vanderbilt’s 2015 Founder’s Medalists are:

Elenora Grace Pertz, from Ashtabula, Ohio, is Founder’s Medalist for the Blair School of Music. She graduated with a bachelor of music with majors in piano performance and European studies. Pertz has been an effective leader on campus for the past four years. Active at Blair as a guide for prospective students and a mentor for first-year students, she has served on the university’s Strategic Plan Advisory Committee, as the vice president of Go Figure and as a study abroad student ambassador. She is a member of Kappa Delta sorority, serving as academic excellence chair. Pertz has studied abroad three times, including a semester in Vienna, Austria, where she was the intern for the cast director and head of musical studies at the Vienna State Opera. A lover of languages, she graduated from the Middlebury German Language School and taught English while abroad. She also has six piano students she teaches weekly in Nashville. After a summer internship at the Washington National Opera in arts administration, Pertz will return to Vienna this fall for graduate study in collaborative piano at the Vienna Conservatory.

Danielle Jessup Beaujon, from West Bloomfield, Michigan, is Founder’s Medalist for the College of Arts and Science. She graduated with a bachelor of arts. Taking a wide range of courses early in her Vanderbilt career, she developed new and provocative ways of looking at the world by studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France. A course there on North Africa inspired her honors research. Beaujon’s honors thesis in the Department of History compares the experiences of two populations of refugees who fled from Algeria to France in 1962. Fluent in French, she carried out research for her project in government archives in Marseilles. Beaujon also participated in Momentum Dance Company, tutored refugee children at LEAD Academy Middle School and performed with Vanderbilt Off-Broadway. Following graduation, Beaujon will pursue a Ph.D. in French history. She plans a career as a professor of history.

Naomi Kathleen Yoder, from Knoxville, Tennessee, is Founder’s Medalist for the Divinity School. She graduated with a master of divinity. As a Brandon Scholar and a fellow in the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership in the Professions, Yoder pursued her interest in pastoral theology and care through chaplaincy at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital; through congregational ministry at the Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia; and through a prison ministry with death row inmates at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville. Yoder participates in a gathering of Divinity School students and community members to discuss issues of peace and non-violence as they relate to faith. She currently is discerning pastoral placement in the Mennonite Church, USA.

Akash Umakantha, from West Chester, Ohio, is Founder’s Medalist for the School of Engineering. He graduated with a bachelor of engineering in electrical and biomedical engineering. Umakantha has been a researcher at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the Vanderbilt Radiation Effects and Reliability Group and the Vanderbilt Department of Psychology. He has presented his research on models of decision-making at two international conferences. Working in Professor of Psychology Tom Palmeri’s laboratory after freshman year, he learned about mathematical models of decision-making and how to simulate complex mathematical equations on a computer. That experience inspired him to pursue an academic career in neuroscience and scientific computing. Umakantha served as an engineering tutor, and he volunteered in a 6th grade classroom through Vanderbilt Student Volunteers for Science. He is a member of engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi. Next fall, Umakantha will attend Carnegie Mellon University to pursue doctoral studies in neural computation and machine learning.

Rene Raphemot, from Libreville, Gabon, is Founder’s Medalist for the Graduate School. He graduated with a doctor of philosophy in pharmacology. Raphemot conducted research that combined his passion for drug discovery and his desire to fight vector borne diseases. While immersed in his research studies in the Denton laboratory at Vanderbilt, he participated in various graduate student-run organizations such as the Alliance for Cultural Diversity in Research and the Pharmacology Graduate Student Association. His research contribution was lauded by distinctions awarded by the Society of General Physiologists, the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology and the Vanderbilt Department of Anesthesiology. Raphemot’s desire to find new strategies to prevent and fight malaria arises from his direct witness of the significant impact that this disease has had on underdeveloped countries such as Gabon, his native country. Having had malaria, he knows personally the havoc it wreaks on families and communities in these affected regions. Raphemot is currently a postdoctoral associate at Duke University where he is conducting research on malaria.

Robin E. Frazer, from Lexington, Kentucky, is Founder’s Medalist for the Law School. She graduated with a doctor of jurisprudence. Frazer’s academic promise was recognized early in her college career as an Engage Scholar who received conditional acceptance to Vanderbilt Law School. Her undergraduate coursework in community development and organizational theory taught valuable lessons about human interaction and the importance of relationships when helping those in need, providing an excellent foundation for her legal training. Frazer is a Thomas R. McCoy Scholar and received numerous academic honors, including the Archie B. Martin and Robert F. Jackson Memorial Prizes, the Dean’s Leadership Award and many Scholastic Excellence Awards. She served as articles editor for the Vanderbilt Law Review and executive problem editor for the Moot Court Board, and was a recipient of the John A. Cortner Championship Award. After graduation, Frazer will clerk for the Honorable John Rogers, United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Lexington, Kentucky.

Shyam Jayant Deshpande, from Nashville, Tennessee, is Founder’s Medalist for the School of Medicine. He graduated with a doctor of medicine. Deshpande has been actively involved in medical education, making significant contributions to the academic mentoring of fellow students. He was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society, received the Amos Christie Award (awarded to the graduating student who has “demonstrated the outstanding qualities of scholarship and humanity embodied by the ideal pediatrician”), and was recognized by his classmates with the Canby Robinson Society “Ideal Physician” award. While on clinical rotations at Vanderbilt, Deshpande felt drawn to work with families in addition to pediatric patients. His time on the wards illuminated the importance of family in health care and healing. Deshpande will complete his residency in pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital. In the future, he hopes to pursue a career in pediatric critical care medicine, focused on the education and support of families, as well as discovery and delivery of the best care for critically ill children.

Morgan Elizabeth De Kleine, from Pennington, New Jersey, is Founder’s Medalist for the School of Nursing. She graduated with a master of science in nursing in the dual Nurse-Midwifery/Family Nurse Practitioner Program. De Kleine focused her research, practice and volunteer activities on improving care for underserved women. She continued to learn about health care challenges through her clinical experiences in a nonprofit teaching hospital in Georgia and in the labor, delivery and postpartum units at a rural New Mexico hospital. As De Kleine learned more about health disparities in the U.S. and abroad, she discovered a passion to help address these inequities. She developed and implemented a preventive health education program for the well-woman exam process and also researched interventions to reduce mother-to-child HIV transmission in Mozambique. She was the first full-time M.S.N. student to earn a Graduate Certificate in Global Health. De Kleine plans to practice as a nurse-midwife and family nurse practitioner in underserved areas and to pursue doctoral study.

Nicholas Carter Gordon, from Charlotte, North Carolina, is Founder’s Medalist for the Owen Graduate School of Management. He graduated with a master of business administration and earned a concentration in strategy and a 4.0 grade point average. Inspired by his grandfather who served his country and built a successful collection of businesses, Gordon completed an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt. He received the Nancy and Bruce Bayer Honor Scholarship, a National Merit Scholarship and a Mechanical Engineering Program Award. After college, Gordon moved to Kenya for two years to build a non-profit organization called CARE for AIDS, which has now served more than 5,000 families, representing 15,000 children who are at the highest risk of death or abandonment due to HIV/AIDS. A Dean’s Scholar at Owen, Gordon shared last year’s Bruce D. Henderson Prize for the highest GPA. He is a member of the board of directors for CARE for AIDS and was inducted into Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Business Honor Society, this spring. After graduation, Gordon and his wife, Jane, will move to Atlanta where Gordon will join the Boston Consulting Group.

Sally Catherine Nichols, from Worthington, Ohio, is Founder’s Medalist for Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development. She graduated with a bachelor of arts in elementary education with a second major in special education. A Peabody Scholar, National Merit Scholar and recipient of a Peabody Dean’s Achievement Scholarship, Nichols is an accomplished mentor and promising teacher. She began volunteering with TAP, The Afterschool Program, in her first year at Peabody, ultimately assuming leadership positions in the organization. As program director for TAP, Nichols recruited more than 200 student mentors to commit to weekly service. She founded United Nashville, an intra-university student service organization for the Nashville community. This fall she will work as a special education teacher in Austin, Texas.


Media Inquiries:
Princine Lewis, (615) 322-NEWS
princine.lewis@vanderbilt.edu