The university’s six highest achieving students in 2022-23 were recognized at the April 20 Academic Achievement Awards with the Lt. Colonel James F. Sheehan Award, named for the late alumnus and Worcester State benefactor.
The Lt. Col. James F. Sheehan ’55, USMC Ret., Academic Excellence Award honors the student or students who have the highest GPA in each undergraduate class. Lt. Col. Sheehan, who passed away in 2016, was the most generous benefactor in Worcester State’s history, sharing an overwhelming $4.5 million to benefit students and faculty.
“His legacy shall shine brightly through these outstanding students who receive these awards, our Honors Program students, the students who live, study and dine in Sheehan Hall, and the faculty who are the beneficiaries of his largesse, in perpetuity,” said Provost Lois Wims.
This year’s Sheehan Award winners are Emma LaPoint ’26, Andja Kola ’25, Liam Walsh ’25, Juliana Kallio ’24, Rida Amroze ’23, Amanda Lo ’23.
First-Year Academic Achievement Award: Emma LaPoint
Emma LaPoint is considering becoming an orthodontist, dentist, or optometrist, so she is majoring in biology. “It was a strength of mine in high school,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do something related to science but wanted more time to decide, and a broad major like biology would give me more time to decide while getting the education I need.”
The Westfield, Mass., native is getting a lot of hands-on work in her major, including labs involving dilutions and isolating chloroplasts from spinach leaves.
Emma is a proud member of the Worcester State University softball team—something that is very important to her. This semester, she gave up her job as a lab assistant to focus on her sport. Her hard work paid off when she was selected as the MASCAC (Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference) Softball Rookie of the Week in March.
The accolades extend to her academic performance as well, as, in addition to being named a Sheehan Scholar, she is being inducted into the Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society in April.
She plans on attending graduate school after earning her degree from Worcester State.
Sophomore Academic Achievement Award: Andja Kola
More than anything, Andja Kola wants to help people. That’s why she is doing a double major in psychology and pre-medicine—so she can attend medical school and become a psychiatrist. She is also minoring in Spanish so she can communicate with a wider range of people. “I feel like I need to help people from many cultures and many languages,” she said. Spanish will be her fourth language, as she is already proficient in English, Turkish, and her native Albanian.
Born and raised in Albania, Andja was drawn to Worcester State because it allowed her to customize her areas of study and to study more than one field and because of the great academic staff. Here, she has participated in a number of research projects. “I love doing research,” she said.
A project she conducted herself considered the connection between bilingualism and being more outgoing and better able to cope with stress. She is currently a research assistant on a psychology project led by Associate Professor Benjamin Jee, exploring how pictures and illustrations help individuals learn science. Under the guidance of Henry Theriault, associate vice president of Academic Affairs, she is also researching how various, disparate elements came together to cause the phenomenon of witch hunts in modern Europe. She presented on both of these current projects at the Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity on April 26.
Her free time is limited due to jobs and school, but she has been writing for The Worcester Spy for a year. She likes to read as much as she can, recently, mostly books related to psychology. “I love spending time in nature,” she said, “and I find Worcester has an amazing environment to do so.”
Sophomore Academic Achievement Award: Liam Walsh
Liam Walsh has always been interested in law and the social sciences, so, when he came to Worcester State, he chose two social science majors—criminal justice and psychology— that enhance each other and would be good preparation for a law degree. “The more I’m in school and the more I do both psychology and criminal justice, the more I realize there’s a profound overlap between the two disciplines,” he said. “Criminal justice is a very multidimensional field and the application of psychology within that field can help with understanding it. And the same goes for psychology.”
Though he was born in Ireland and spent his first eight years there, Liam has developed a deep appreciation for his adopted country, becoming a United States citizen last August and joining the Army ROTC. “I have wanted to serve my country for some time,” he said. “I wasn’t born here, but I think I should give back. I’m appreciative of all the opportunities I’ve had here. That’s what motivates me.”
Now settled in Grafton, Mass., Liam has volunteered at the Hudson, Mass., American Heritage Museum, which houses one of the largest collections of military artifacts in the country, for three years. One of the highlights of his time there was riding in an American World War II-era tank.
Currently, Liam is an active member of Worcester State’s Criminal Justice Club. After graduation, he plans to attend law school and hopes, ultimately, to serve in the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps. “That would be the dream job,” he said.
Junior Academic Achievement Award: Juliana Kallio
When Juliana Kallio was in second grade, she played school, teaching her stuffed animals what she had learned at school that day and making worksheets for her little sister. Now she is majoring in elementary education and minoring in math for K-8 education. “I really love it. We get a lot of practical experience, and I love all my professors.”
She has already worked with kids for eight years. She started as an assistant at Apple Tree Arts in Grafton, Mass., which she attended as a child, and now directs a program where children in grades one through four put on a mini musical.
Juliana has been doing the 30 hours of fieldwork for her major at Worcester Arts Magnet School, teaching sixth graders. “It’s been really cool for me because their whole mission is to integrate the arts into the general curriculum,” she said. She says having an arts background has only enhanced her mathematical abilities. “I think I’ll be a good math teacher because I can explain why you do the steps, not just what the steps are,” she said.
She finds teaching elementary students very fulfilling. “I love being a cheerleader for them and encouraging them to explore and discover more along the way,” she said. “It’s not just about content standards but forming them to be good humans and members of society, and that to me is just as important. Watching that develop is probably my favorite part of teaching.”
Juliana stays busy working as a tutor in the Math Center on campus and as an office assistant for Admissions, in addition to substitute teaching and working at Apple Tree Arts. She is also vice president of Worcester State’s Student Events Committee. When she does have free time, she cross-stitches, plays guitar, and goes thrifting.
Senior Academic Achievement Award: Rida Amroze
Rida Amroze has been captivated by chemistry since high school. “Chemistry offers a unique perspective that allows for a deeper understanding,” she said. “It serves as the foundation for all other scientific fields.” She is now majoring in the subject, with a concentration in pre-med and a minor in forensic science, fields that appeal to her because of their potential to help others.
A member of Omicron Delta Kappa and the national chemistry honor society Gamma Sigma Epsilon, Rida has conducted organometallic research at Worcester State under the guidance of Associate Professor Jeremy Andreatta. The project won first place at the Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity 2022 poster awards.
Born and raised in Worcester County, Rida is pleased to attend college in a community she knows and loves. She is president of the Muslim Student Association, a club she co-founded as a sophomore, and secretary of Worcester State’s branch of Amnesty International. She also volunteers with the international nonprofit Helping Hand for Relief and Development, which distributes goods to refugees and disaster relief victims around the world.
Rida is currently doing an internship at the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory, where she is integrating old case files into the new online system for the Case Management Unit, shadowing lab specialists, and touring various evidence units.
Rida plans to work in a clinical or research setting for a year or two, then start a postgraduate program. “I firmly believe that continuous learning is essential, not only in the realm of academia but also for personal growth and development,” she said. “It is crucial to maintain an open mind and strive for self-improvement in both professional and personal spheres.”
Senior Academic Achievement Award: Amanda Lo
From plants to the human body, biology major Amanda Lo is fascinated by how things work. With double minors in chemistry and psychology, she is considering medical school.
“I’m a hands-on person, and I enjoy solving problems,” she said. “The idea of someone coming to you with a problem and being able to figure out what they have seems fun, like detective work.”
Amanda is currently doing a research project with multiple species of cattail, a reedy marsh plant, to determine if DNA barcoding is a viable technique for distinguishing invasive cattail species from native ones.
“I find the process to be extremely challenging, but also very rewarding. Isolating DNA from leaves as rigid as cattail ones is a laborious and tedious process. There are so many things that can go wrong,” Amanda said. “It makes successful isolation and identification of cattail species all the more valuable to me.”
The project could have implications in invasive species research. “The environment and all of the plants in it are already in enough danger as it is from human stressors like deforestation and climate change. The last thing we need is our native species being driven out by invasive ones on top of it.”
Outside of school, Amanda works as a Spanish medical interpreter at a local free medical clinic. “I’ve learned a lot, and it’s made me very aware of my privilege. It’s made me so aware of how important it is to be there in the community and do what you can, because there is always someone who needs you.”
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