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Congratulations to the winners of the Spring 2022 URCA Assistant Program Awards!


URCA Creative Activities Mentor of the Semester Award

Photo of URCA Mentor, Professor Rodrick Whetstone


Professor Rodrick Whetstone, Department of Art and Design

Nominated by: Brittany Kehoe

 Professor Whetstone is a relative newcomer to the URCA program, and has been mentoring since the Fall of 2021. His current student, Brittany Kehoe, has experienced great mentorship from Professor Whetstone, and had the following to say:

"Rodrick has been nothing but an amazing mentor, the ideas and skills I have learned from him have been things that I will never forget. He is a mentor that I highly recommend people who are interested in the art to not only seek out but learn from and talk to. He is full of knowledge and has a great personality. He has given me the chance not only to grow as an artist but to spread my wings and flourish on my own. It has been an amazing experience I cannot see myself having gotten with any other mentor".


Vaughn Vandegrift URCA Assistant Research Mentor of the Semester Award

Photo of URCA Mentor, Dr. Bryan Smith 


Dr. Bryan Smith, Department of Applied Health

Nominated by: Linnea Skillrud

Dr. Bryan Smith has an extensive history both teaching at SIUE and mentoring URCA students. He has been working with Linnea Skillrud as her URCA Assistant Mentor since last Fall, and she had a great deal of praise for her mentor:

"Dr. Smith's passion for research in exercise physiology has singlehandedly inspired me to continue my education here at SIUE where I plan to pursue my master's degree in exercise physiology. He works constantly to engage in conversation regarding research in an effort to improve my knowledge. Without Dr. Smith's help, I would not be working in and towards my passion.




URCA Creative Activities Assistant of the Semester Award

Photo of URCA Student, Alex Okenfuss 

Alex Okenfuss, Department of Art and Design

Nominated by: Professor Michael Stumbras

 Alex is a Junior in SIUE's Art and Design program. This has been his only semester as an URCA Assistant under the mentorship of Professor Michael Stumbras, who had glowing praise for Alex's work ethic and creative skills:

"During the course of the program, Alex has demonstrated to me exceptional adaptability, intelligence, maturity, and thoughtfulness in planning and execution of our research goals. Alex showed a technical capacity and attention to detail in a way that made me comfortable for him to assist in my ceramic studio process from start to finish". Michael has also exhibited his work at several exhibits, and won an award at the Student Juried Exhibition in Art and Design West Gallery.


 URCA Research Assistant of the Semester Award

 Photo of URCA Student, Natalie Karibian

Natalie Karibian, Department of Biological Sciences

Nominated by: Dr. Maurina Aranda

 Natalie has been working with Dr. Maurina Aranda as an URCA Assistant since the Fall of 2020. Dr. Aranda typically mentors many URCA students each semester, and she had much to say about Natalie's unique contributions to her lab:

"Natalie has continuously impressed me since joining my lab. Not only does she complete every research task with a high level of professionalism and a critial eye for detail in her analyses, but she engages in research with the same level of expertise and discpline as any graduate student in my lab. In addition to being a disciplined researcher, Natalie is also a lovely member of our research group. She provides thoughtful insights and is always a supportive colleague for others on the team. Meeting with Natalie every week is truly one of my favorite research experiences. Her curiosity and eagerness to engage with new ideas will suit her well in all her academic pursuits, and I will be the first one to go sit in her seat when she becomes a dentist".



Other nominees:


Dr. Johanna Schmitz, Theater and Dance
Nominated by:
Elizabeth Schroader

Dr. Maurina Aranda, Biological Sciences
Nominated by:
Alexis Keegan

Dr. Andrew Sullivan, Public Administration and Policy Analysis
Nominated by:
Sabrina Guellili

Dr. Alicia De Maria, Dental Medicine
Nominated by:
Kelly Bunselmeyer

Dr. Richard Essner, Biological Sciences
Nominated by:
Spencer Orvis



Corbin Johannpeter
Nominated by:
Dr. Corey Stevens, Sociology

Derek Burns
Nominated by:
Dr. Cory Willmott, Anthropology

Jazmin Ramsdell
Nominated by:
Dr. Danielle N Lee, Biological Sciences

Fall 2021 Award Winners
Spring 2021 Award Winners
Fall 2020 Award Winners
Spring 2020 Award Winners
Fall 2019 Award Winners
Spring 2019 Award Winners
Fall 2018 Award Winners
Spring 2018 Award Winners
Fall 2017 Award Winners
Spring 2017 Award Winners
Fall 2016 Award Winners
Spring 2016 Award Winners
Fall 2015 Award Winners
Spring 2015 Award Winners
Fall 2014 Award Winners
Spring 2014 Award Winners
Fall 2013 Award Winners
Spring 2013 Award Winners
Fall 2012 URCA Award Winners
Spring 2012 URCA Award Winners
Fall 2011 URCA Award Winners

For more information about the URCA program,
contact Dr. Ariel Belasen at 618-650-2940 or
The calls for nominations for these awards go out mid-fall and mid-spring.

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