Pensacola, Fla. –– A University of West Florida student was recently named Student of the Year by the National Collegiate Honors Council during the council’s 2014 Conference in Denver, Colorado. Jini Curry, a senior biochemistry major, Kugelman Honors Scholar and president of the UWF Honors Council, was chosen from students enrolled at colleges and universities across the country for the prestigious honor.
Each of the nearly 1,000 NCHC member institutions are allowed to nominate one student for this award, and the NCHC Student Concerns Committee makes the selection.
“This is a tremendous recognition for Jini, and we are absolutely thrilled that she has been chosen as the NCHC Student of the Year,” said Dr. Greg Lanier, dean of University College and director of the Kugelman Honors Program. “She has been one of the most amazing Honors students we have ever had, and the leadership skills that she has shown as the Honors Council President, as a driving force behind our community garden initiative, as well as a Core 1 Mentor have been unsurpassed. Beyond all that, Jini is a top-notch biochemistry student who will no doubt have both an M.D. and Ph.D. in the future. For a student from UWF to be named as the top Honors student in the entire nation is a feat that is almost beyond words.”
For Curry, who is actively involved in the Kugelman Honors Program, Chemistry Scholars Program, Chemistry Club, Garden Club and Alpha Epsilon Delta at UWF, this recognition was the culmination of four years of dedication to making an impact.
“Being named Student of the Year sums up all of the hard work that I’ve done during my time at UWF,” Curry said. “It shows me that I really did make a difference and leave my legacy here.”
Curry joined the Honors Program as a freshman and quickly rose through the ranks to assume leadership roles, becoming vice president of the Honors Council as a sophomore and president in her junior year. She has attended the National Collegiate Honors Council’s annual conference since her freshman year and has presented several times on leadership, among other topics. She also serves as a Core I mentor for freshmen in the program, providing tutoring and one-on-one leadership.
She credits her academic success to the opportunities provided to her at UWF.
“I was accepted to every major university in Florida, but I loved the small class sizes and natural environment that UWF offered,” she said. “I decided this was the best fit for me, and now I know I couldn’t have made a better decision. All of the opportunities that have been given to me, both through the chemistry department and the Honors Program, have made all the difference.”
After conducting research in the UWF lab under the mentorship of Dr. Pamela Vaughan, associate professor of chemistry, for two years, Curry was selected this summer to participate in a Summer Undergraduate Research Experience at Emory University. While there, she worked one-on-one with Dr. Michael Gambello, associate professor of human genetics and pediatrics and section chief for the Division of Medical Genetics. Her research focuses on studying NGLY-1, a neurogenetic disorder.
“I was fortunate to not only work with Dr. Gambello in the lab, but also to shadow him in the clinic,” Curry said. “Typically, when you are working on research in a lab you don’t get to see what it’s affecting. Having both perspectives really made my research more meaningful, because I would see the patients in the clinic with disorders that Dr. Gambello’s lab was focused on and then go back to the lab the next day to work on research that would help us learn more about the them.”
With support from Gambello, as well as UWF faculty such as Vaughan, Dr. Karen Molek, assistant professor of chemistry, and others, Curry was able to extend her research at Emory beyond the summer experience to turn it into the subject of her senior Honors thesis.
“Dr. Gambello is the one who offered to turn my summer research into my thesis,” she said. “After I spoke with the chemistry faculty at UWF, everyone was eager to help me make that happen. Dr. Vaughan is helping me with the writing portion, while Dr. Hui-Min Chung, assistant professor of biology, offered to let me use her lab so I could continue my research at UWF.”
After her graduation in May, Curry plans to spend a year conducting research before attending graduate school to earn an M.D./Ph.D. before working in pediatric genetics.
To learn more about the Kugelman Honors Program at UWF, visit uwf.edu/honors.