Honors students do amazing things.

Read their stories here.

Lilly Bennett '24 -Health Sciences

During high school, Lilly Bennett was the friend her peers would turn to whenever a big paper was due. Curious about editing as a career, she was happy to help them with whatever they needed. Now, Lilly—a Sophomore Health Sciences major with minors in Honors, Pre-Occupational Therapy, and Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication —has turned her editing interest into an exciting opportunity.  

Read Lilly's Story. 

David Hoppe '22 -Geology

Surprisingly, finding shark teeth scattered on the shore was not the most exciting part of David Hoppe’s summer. The Senior Geology major with a minor in Biology explains, “it’s cool to find other parts of the body of an organism, like arm bones, vertebrae, or parts of the skull.” Although he’s always been interested in fossils, he recently began collecting in a serious capacity about five years ago. After posting pictures of his collection online, he received an opportunity from the Calvert Marine Museum to work as a field collector.

Read David's Story. 

Madison Sarlo, '22-Biology & Psychology

If you were to tell Madison Sarlo during her freshman year that she’d eventually be one of JMU’s valedictorians, she said she’d think it was a prank. If you were to tell her that one year earlier, well, it wouldn’t have been possible because Sarlo was at a different college. But now, the fifth-year senior and biology and psychology double major and Honors interdisciplinary studies and pre-med double minor is one of five valedictorians in this year’s graduating class. 

Read Madison's Story.

Madison Sarlo
Kendra La Fave, '22-International Affairs

From the Levant to Oxford, England: Honors College senior Kendra La Fave bookended her college experience with two study abroad trips, both connected by a recent publication in an academic journal.

Read Kendra's Story.

Kendra La Fave
Amy Beladia, '23-Political Science

Amy Beladia is very involved at JMU and is currently taking part in the Washington Semester and interning on Capitol Hill in the office of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) as a legislative intern on the Senate Finance Committee. 

Xaiver Williams, '23-Music

While Xaiver and his family instantly fell in love with JMU, he was originally hesitant to join the Honors College. Wanting to dedicate his time to other extracurricular activities, he was wary about the perceived workload that comes with the Honors name. However, after meeting Dr. Davis at a Madison Vision Series event, he decided to give Honors a try. Applying as a Track II student, Xaiver has now become an integral part of the Honors and JMU community. Not only being busy with his academic pursuits he is also the Student Representative to the JMU Board of Directors.

Read Xaiver's Story

Emma Gentry, '22-English

For Emma Gentry, music has always been a major part of her life. Now, she’s incorporating her passion for music into her Senior Portfolio Project, all while recording her own album.

Read Emma's Story.

Emma Gentry
Adam Chutuape, '22-Philosophy & Religion

For Adam Chutuape, a senior Religion major with minors in Biology and Honors Interdisciplinary Studies, his Honors Capstone Project gave him the “chance to connect some of [his] personal interests with [his] academic ones.” Adam originally joined the Honors College for the “academic opportunities it would provide.” Now, Adam uses those opportunities to dive deeper into his major and explore his own identity. 

Read Adam's Story.

Adam Chutuape
Grant Johnson, ('24)-Media Arts and Design, Journalism, and Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication

Grant Johnson is one of JMU’s up-and-coming journalists. He has experience working with The Breeze and The Fairfax Times, as well as attending the prestigious Student Leadership Institute for the Society of Professional Journalists, and is dedicated to refining his craft. With a writing process that involves intense color-coding and index cards, Grant’s writing deserves to be shared.

Read Grant's Story.

Grant Johnson
Sydney Dudley, ('25)-English and Social Work

Beginning college in the middle of a pandemic can be daunting, but Sydney Dudley, a first-year English and Social Work double major, has taken these challenges in stride. She has thrown herself headfirst into all the opportunities that JMU has to offer, whether it be in academics or extracurriculars.

Read Sydney's Story.

Sydney Dudley
Kurt Finkenstaedt, ('23)-History

From AFROTC to leading service trips, from Mount Vernon to the Honors College, Kurt Finkenstaedt is committing himself to dedicated and passionate involvement to his community.

Read Kurt's Story.

Kurt Finkenstaedt
Daniel Gaffin, ('24)-Political Science

Daniel Gaffin is using his time with the Student Government Association to encourage student civic engagement and create opportunities for student advocacy.

Read Daniel's Story.

Mya Baptiste, ('22)-Finance

Hillcrest Scholarship Winner, Mya Baptiste has a plan for creating programs to teach financial literacy to women and minorities for the world of business.

Read Mya's Story.

Amber Oliver, ('24)-Computer Science

The COVID crisis has presented a unique challenge to the incoming freshman of the Honors College. Without in-person events or classes, it can be easy for freshmen to take a step back, to let their Honors involvement wait until JMU returns to normal. This is not the case with one of Honors’ most involved freshmen - Amber Oliver. With a Major in Computer Science and double minors in Data Analytics and Honors from Loudon country, Virginia, Amber has taken full advantage of her bizarre freshman year.  

Read Amber's Story.

Thomas Bryn, ('21)-Intelligence Analysis

There can be no better representation of this combination of academia and enjoyment then Thomas Bryn, a Senior Intelligence Analysis Major with double Minors in Honors and Geographic Science (and a certificate in Geospatial Intelligence), who has devoted his Honors Capstone to analyzing the parallels between the governments and conflicts within our world to that of the Star Wars universe.  

Read Thomas's Story

Ashley Harris, ('21)-History & Aubree Smith, ('21)-International Affairs

Ashley Harris, ('21), a History major along with Aubree Smith ('21), who graduated in May with an Intelligence Analysis were members of the JMU Debate Team. The debate world had to adapt to a fully virtual environment rather than in-person tournaments this past academic year.

Read Ashley & Aubree's Story.

Mo Al Tayara, ('21)-International Affairs

In his mid-50’s, Mo Al Tayara stands out from his fellow students, both in terms of his story and his dedication. With a major in International Affairs, a Concentration in International Conflict and Security, and double minors in Political Science and Honors, Mo has pushed himself in the past four years to accomplish a goal he vowed to meet years ago.

Read Mo's Story.

Amira Saudi ('24)-Psychology

Amira Saudi ('24) a transfer student joined Honors to accomplish undergraduate research. She is conducting research on toxic masculinity. Her Honors Capstone project is designed to focus "on gender and the problematic nature of gender roles." 

Read Amira's Story.

Carter Bowman ('21) - Political Science

Valedictorian of the class of 2021, Carter majored in Political Science with a minor in Chinese. He made the most of his opportunites at JMU: speech and debate team; research assistant in Political Science; intern with a member of Congress through the Washington Semester; student at Oxford University. Carter’s Honors thesis on the rise of cyber power won Political Science's best thesis award. Carter is off to Georgetown Law next year.

Read Carter's Story.

Emily Thompson ('21)-Biology

Emily Thompson is a Biology major from Newark, Delaware. She is one of three valedictorians for the Class of 2021. During her time at JMU, Emily conducted research for her Honors thesis, won an Honors Hillcrest Scholarship, studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain, and served as a Resident Advisor in Shenandoah Hall. Her Honors research on the microbiome of garter snakes took her to Manitoba, Canada over two summers. Emily plans to explore careers in ecology and environmental science before graduate school. 

Read Emily's Story.

Darby Henn ('23) - Elementary Education

When Darby, a sophomore Elementary Education major, first stepped onto JMU’s campus, she instantly fell in love. She felt the “genuine care that people had for one another.” Now, as a member of Student Ambassadors and a First Year Orientation Guide, Darby works to help incoming students find their place at JMU. Darby's Honors research focuses on the "idea of multicultural literature and how we can create and incoroprate literature in the classroom. Every student should feel valued and seen in the classroom." 

Read Darby's Story.

Belinda Addae ('21) - Intelligence Analysis

Every student creates a unique and personal path for themselves within the Honors College, and Belinda Addae is no exception. A student counselor at the Summer Honors Institute and a Teaching Fellow in HON 100, Belinda has set out to be the best leader she can be. Bilingual in Twi and English, the senior Intelligence Analysis major has dedicated herself to the goal of being an immigration lawyer.

Read Belinda's Story.

Deaquan Nichols ('24) - Biophysical Chemistry

Deaquan is a biophysical chemistry major from Roanoke, VA. He never gave serious consideration to JMU until he participated in the Summer Honors Institute when he was in high school. "Every day on campus, I felt like I belonged and as a minority student that is hard to find,” he recalls. Through this weeklong program where he attended classes and met Honors faculty members, the SHI cemented Deaquan’s desire to attend JMU.

Read Deaquan's Story.

Corinne Martin ('23) - Independent Scholars and English

Corinne Martin, a sophomore English and Independent Scholars double major says, “I grew up loving to read, loving to write. I’ve always had a deep appreciation for storytelling and its impact on how we see the world.” Her love for storytelling continues to have a major impact on her life and perception of the world. As she creates her Independent Scholars major−Native American History, Culture, and Narratives−she aims to give ownership back to Native stories. 

Read Corinne's Story.

Steven Davic ('22) - Anthropology, Psychology, Intelligence Analysis

"Learning everyday." Steven Davic is a former Marine Corps sargeant whose research program focuses on developing techniques and tools to help Marines better manage stress. He is majoring in Anthropology, Psychology, and Intelligence Analysis. He is a recipient of the Honors Hinshaw-Warren Hillcrest Scholarship and a finalist for the prestigious Truman Scholarship.

Read Steven's Story

Kearney Quillen ('22) - Sociology, Independent Scholars

“There are so many things that I want to learn.” Kearney Quillen is double majoring in Sociology and Independent Scholars, majors that allow her to explore a range of disciplinary approaches and topical areas. She is interested in how small communities and movements affect mainstream culture and eventually result in big culture changes. Kearney studied at Oxford University in spring 2020.

Read Kearney's Story

Makeda Fikremariam ('21) - International Affairs

Makeda Fikremariam is a senior International Affairs major with minors in Philosophy and Honors. Her Honors thesis, which she finished in December 2020, is a case study analysis of Ethiopia as a potential rising power in East Africa. 

Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Makeda’s family moved to Northern Virginia when she was young.

Read Makeda's Story

Kristin Connors ('20) - Independent Scholars

Kristen Connors is from Plymouth, Massachusetts, site of the first Mayflower Pilgrim colony. She went to a small Charter school with a graduating class of 41. "I live in a beautiful town overflowing with a proud history," she says, "and I loved getting involved with the town, whether it be serving with Meals on Wheels or interning for the district Senator." Going to a university with over 20,000 students represented a big change.

Read Kristin's Story

Kristen Connors
Elizabeth Brannon ('17) - International Affairs

“At JMU I’m an International Affairs major. I love traveling and meeting people who think about the world in different ways. Initially I had this idea that if I left the country I’d be a deeper person politically and culturally. And I suppose that’s true. But it turns out there’s so much abstract and theoretical knowledge that can be mastered too. I had no idea, but there’s a significant amount of math and statistics behind it too.”

Read Lizzie's Story

Elizabeth Brannon
Mary Margaret Hawkins ('18) - Spanish & Foreign Language Education

"Because of my interest in education and my background in teaching Spanish, this practicum was absolutely perfect for me. I got to speak Spanish the whole week. I had never been in an immersion experience before. When I got back, my JMU Spanish professor asked me if I’d been somewhere because she could tell that my Spanish had really improved."

Read Mary Margaret's Interview

Mary Margaret Hawkins
Matthew Gurniak ('16) - Theatre & Chemistry

Honors student Matthew Gurniak came to JMU with a passion for chemistry and theater. "I knew I wanted to double major, and I liked the flexibility I would have at JMU. And I was attracted to Madison's program because it was competitive and audition-based," he says.

When it came time to choose a subject for his Honors thesis, Matthew Gurniak combined his passion for chemistry and theater and created "Bonded: The Musical."

Read Matt's Story

Matthew Gurniak
Maria Camila Restrepo Chavez ('17) - Psychology

Maria Camila says that she “just had that feeling” that she belonged at JMU. It was a beacon for access and opportunity. “I pictured myself as a college student here. Everyone was friendly, smiling, and happy. And it wasn’t too far from home. Harrisonburg is so completely different from Ashburn. I found out that people exist at JMU that are like me.” Harrisonburg, she says, is a very diverse community, one where she can easily pick up ingredients that her grandmother can cook with on university breaks.

Read Maria Camila's Story

Maria Restrepo C havez

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