Texas A&M University has presented its top three student awards — recognizing outstanding accomplishments in academics, leadership and service by graduating seniors – to Justin Cardenas of Dallas, and Robert Carpenter and Stephanie Florez-Malaver, both from College Station.
Their identities were kept confidential until the Friday (May 10) afternoon commencement ceremonies at which they received their diplomas.
Brown Foundation-Earl Rudder Memorial Outstanding Student Awards, which include cash gifts of $5,000 each, were presented to Carpenter and Florez-Malaver. The award honors top students who exemplify the leadership and related traits of the late Gen. Earl Rudder, a World War II hero who served as president of Texas A&M from 1959 until his death in 1970.
The Robert Gates-Muller Family Outstanding Student Award, which also includes a $5,000 gift, was presented to Cardenas.
The award was established through a gift from the Muller family of Galveston to provide public recognition to the outstanding seniors graduating from Texas A&M who have demonstrated those qualities of leadership, patriotism and courage exemplified by Robert M. Gates. He served as president of the university from 2002 until 2006, when he was named U.S. Secretary of Defense.
Cardenas, a biomedical science major in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, graduated with a 3.65 GPR, while holding leadership positions in several student organizations.
Dean Eleanor Green of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences said her reasons for nominating Cardenas included those positions of leadership he held in The Big Event, the student-led community-wide service project for which he served as director and director of development. He was a member of various honor and professional societies and served as a Texas A&M Foundation Maroon Coat, a role in which he functioned as a student ambassador for the fund-raising organization, and was a member of the Aggie Men’s Club and Fish Aides.
“He went on a Service and Learning trip to Uganda and works at the Bryan Community Health Center,” Green adds. “He was a passionate volunteer at the MSC Fall Leadership Conference, the Spencer Leadership Conference, Muster, the National Character Leadership Symposium and Gilbert Leadership Symposium.”
Ben Welch, assistant dean for executive education and clinical professor in the Department of Management, says knowing Cardenas has blessed his life.
“I had the honor of getting to know Justin though the involvement in the Aggie Men’s Club, a steadfast organization I advise which creates a brotherhood among our campus leaders. Justin has undoubtedly portrayed our core values of brotherhood, Christian fellowship, leadership, service and Aggie Spirit, which has led him to better serve Texas A&M and the community in countless ways.”
Another nominator, Melissa Shehane with the Department of Student Activities, says Cardenas has been a leader since the day she met him. “Justin is a humble servant-leader who is focused, seeks to learn and develop himself and is always willing to take time out of his day to assist anyone in need. He is respected among his peers, leads by example and sets the bar high.”
Carpenter, a mathematics major with a GPR of 4.0, served as editor of the student newspaper, The Battalion, was a member of the Financial Aid Services Committee, New Student Conferences Committee, and he worked with Americorps in Dallas during the summer of 2009. He is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Beta Kappa honor societies.
Paulo Lima-Filho, a professor in the Department of Mathematics, says Carpenter was set apart from his other students by his remarkable ability to maintain balance between his academic performance and his extremely active extracurricular activities. “Furthermore, this absolute dedication to social responsibility exercised in a very selfless manner inspires great admiration from all who have the opportunity to work with him.”
He adds that Carpenter seems to be the very incarnation of President Earl Rudder’s character and commitment to Texas A&M and is a natural leader, a selfless servant to his community and a perfect scholar.
Cheri Shipman, formerly the news adviser for The Battalion, says Carpenter took over as editor of the newspaper under tumultuous circumstances and exemplified courage when he took it upon himself to actively build or rebuild relationships with administrators and student leaders.
“This required a significant investment of time and energy outside the newsroom. Meeting with campus leaders, student organizations and generally providing a face for the organization.”
She adds that Carpenter’s great strength was in leading his staff. “He took time to connect with each member of his editing staff and was the first editor in my time at Texas A&M who spent significant time coaching reporters and editors.”
Robert Wenger, general manager of Student Media, agrees. “He manages to rise to the top without needing, or trying, to be the center of attention. I found him to be an exceptional individual who will live up to, if not beyond, any of our expectations for him.”
Florez-Malaver, who was born in Colombia and now lives in College Station, is a double major – biomedical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and chemistry with a minor in neuroscience – graduated with a GPR of 3.84. She is the founder and former president of the Latin dance group on campus called Salsa Fusion, former director of the American Medical Student Association, a member of Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Eta Sigma honor societies and works with the Texas A&M Family Medical Clinic.
Holly Gaede, Florez-Malaver’s academic adviser, says she can attest to the fact that Stephanie is not a student who seeks out the easiest academic route. “Stephanie added a second major in chemistry when her honors organic chemistry professor, David Bergbreiter, recommended that an undergraduate degree in chemistry was an essential prerequisite for a Ph.D. in chemistry, a route she was considering.”
Gaede recounts that Florez-Malaver’s parents were successful professionals in Colombia who immigrated to the U.S. and had to start over. “Stephanie, the most fluent in English, took on a leadership role and worked many hours while in high school to help support her family.”
This experience, Gaede says, has given her a maturity and perspective that not many student her age possess. “While at Texas A&M, Stephanie pursued her special interests as an international student, taking on several leadership roles in student organizations. She is the president and founder of Salsa Fusion Latin Dance, was coordinator of International Week on campus and a member of the Colombia Student Organization.”
Karen Wooley, W.T. Doherty-Welch Chair in Chemistry, says Florez-Malaver has extensive and diverse research experience and is an outstanding student. “She contributed significantly to the intellectual excellence of Texas A&M, while gaining experiences that will be critical to her continued development. For the past two and a half years, she has been undertaking research in my laboratory through a position as a Fellow of the Honors Undergraduate Research Program. Former students who received this training in my laboratory are leading scientists in the chemical industry. I consider Stephanie to be one of the top few among them.”