MMC Highlights Academic Excellence at Honors Day 2024 • The Division of Student Success and Engagement • Marymount Manhattan College

MMC Highlights Academic Excellence at Honors Day 2024 • The Division of Student Success and Engagement • Marymount Manhattan College

MMC recognized the outstanding scholarly and creative achievements of students from all three of its learning sites at the 47th Annual Honors Day celebration, held on April 16.

The day—one of the most important of the academic year—showcases exciting research and creative projects produced at MMC’s main campus on 71st Street and its college programs at the Bedford Hills and Taconic correctional facilities for women in Bedford Hills, New York. The Academic Honors Committee and the Alpha Chi Honor Society sponsor the event.

“As Aristotle reminded us, academic excellence is not a­nd does not happen by chance or by accident. It is a product of hard work and dedication to task,” said Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs/Dean of Academic Excellence Michael Salmon. “Today, we celebrate you for your hard work, your talent, and, most of all, your commitment to academic excellence.”

During his welcome speech, Interim President Naccarato expressed admiration for what students had accomplished, both recently and cumulatively. “I congratulate every student who’s being recognized today for the work you’ve done this year and every senior who’s being honored today for work that you’ve done over your career at Marymount Manhattan College. We are incredibly proud of you,” he said. 

Interim President Naccarato traced the growth of the event over his 25 years at MMC, from a modest affair highlighting compelling research papers to the full, day-long celebration that it has become and which includes creative writing, choreography, performances, and production-based projects.

Indeed, this year’s colloquium featured eight panels and 52 student presentations that ran the gamut, from the performance of an original music score and short film screenings to the analysis of rhetorical strategies used by Black feminist activists and an examination of natural law and cosmic order in Shakespeare’s King Lear.

The day also saw the presentation of department awards, senior academic awards, and a faculty award. Associate Communication and Media Arts Professor Erin Greenwell received this year’s Teaching Excellence Award from the Teaching Excellence Committee, honoring her commitment to interdisciplinary collaborative learning and MMC’s mission to help students develop an awareness of social, political, cultural, and ethical issues.

Greenwell is the College’s Ferraro Fellow in Prison Education, a role MMC created to expand mutual learning and connections between MMC students at 71st Street, Bedford Hills, and Taconic; she teaches at both 71st Street and Bedford Hills. Greenwell said the support of colleagues from both sites makes her work possible and that she shared the award with students who’d shown strength as they weathered the pandemic years.

In addition, the event included a Pi Day Celebration, sponsored by the Mathematics Department, that highlighted submissions from an annual competition in which MMC community members create an original sentence, paragraph, poem, or short story that uses the digits of Pi in order. In the afternoon, the College’s honors society inducted new student members.

Bringing more students into the fold
Interim President Naccarato noted that Honors Day had expanded to recognize even more students by introducing a reception for high-achieving first-years and ensuring that the college programs at Bedford and Taconic are included in calls for submissions.

In fact, students at Bedford Hills, where MMC has granted associate and bachelor’s degrees since 1997, and Taconic, where the College has awarded degrees since 2019, contributed 13 presentations for the day. That included the panel “Outside/Inside,” in which essays chronicling the impact of higher education by current Bedford Hills College Program students were read by alums and former students. Jamie Wilson, who was recently released, was able to read her own piece describing how the Bedford Hills program had been life-changing. “I am halfway to earning my college degree and have a new sense of myself,” she said.

A Bedford Hills student was also among the two recipients of the day’s top prize, the Dean’s Award for Excellence, which recognizes the strongest overall student submissions as determined by the Academic Honors Committee.

Ashleigh Wade, who’ll graduate with her bachelor’s degree this spring, won for her capstone project, Are They Human? No, They are Prisoners. The paper explores how New York’s “Son of Sam” laws, originally designed to give victims access to profits a convicted individual receives as a result of their crime, have been so broadly applied that they can target any assets that an incarcerated individual has from any source, in violation of constitutional and human rights.

Wade’s project began as a paper for a sociology of law course that she expanded and revised over a year. Excerpts were read on her behalf by Jessica Soble ’22, a program alum who now serves as MMC’s prison education coordinator. In addition, Wade’s sponsoring professor, Adrian Totten, shared Wade’s written statement describing her work. In it, Wade wrote that her research showed how “the de jure versus de facto implementation of the law is very different.”

“Furthermore, I found that value dualism, or the dividing of people into groups such as ‘criminal’ and ‘human’ and assigning them different values based on biases, impacts how those convicted of crimes are treated,” she wrote. “Because of this, I would like to advocate for criminal justice reform in the future. I can easily see these concepts being the basis of many of my arguments against violating our human rights.”

Calling the paper extraordinary, Totten said he’d taught Wade in several courses over the last few years and that she has always been one of his top students. He said he wanted the MMC community on the outside to know how hard students like her work despite the many obstacles they face every day. “They manage to carry out quality research despite not having access to the internet or research databases,” he said. “Oftentimes, I have had students who write to family members and ask them to send books or academic journal articles.”

Wade was joined as a Dean’s Award winner by Zach Biron ’24, a Psychology and Theatre Arts major at 71st Street, who received the honor for his paper The Positive Effects of Art Therapy on Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. The deeply researched work, which contains some 95 references, was sponsored by Biron’s mentor, Nava Silton, Ph.D.

A Psychology professor and director of MMC’s Center for Health, Human Development, and Creativity, Dr. Silton often gives students the opportunity to collaborate with her on scholarly publications and professional projects. She was so impressed by the quality of Biron’s paper that she made it the first chapter in her recently published textbook Exploring the Benefit of Creative Arts Therapies for Children, Adolescents, and Adults. And she wasn’t the only one who saw something special in it.

“My mother, who is a very critical reader, went through the entire textbook and asked who ‘Professor Zach’ is because he’s so exceptional,” Dr. Silton said as she introduced Biron. “He was the youngest person to have a chapter in that book and … his grit, goodness, and determination to really do good work is constantly seen by me and by all of his professors.”

Biron recently collaborated with Professor Silton on another project: Working with contacts in his home state of New Hampshire, he organized and led a nine-month study of 40 third- and fifth-grade students who tested Dr. Silton’s The Realabilities Educational Comic Book Series Curriculum. Realabilities teaches students about 11 different disabilities in addition to promoting kindness, sensitivity, empathy, and understanding, and a strong anti-bullying platform in schools.

“To be somebody who professors like Dr. Silton want to bring into their professional life—because, ultimately, your work becomes a part of their work, and it reflects on them—is such an incredible honor,” Biron said.

He presented a research poster on the findings last month at the Westchester Undergraduate Research Conference at Mercy University and is in the process of developing the work into a full paper.

Outside of his course work, he was also recently named lead staff supervisor of the Rainbow Clubhouse at Emma L. Bowen Community Service Center, a work-ordered rehabilitation program for adults with a mental health diagnosis, just months after starting there as an intern. He learned of the center from MMC Pre-Health Advisor Eugene Rubin. As a next step, Biron hopes to enter a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology.

“Without faculty members reaching out and making these genuine connections with students, I would not be where I am today or doing anything that I have done,” he said.

Published: May 06, 2024

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