You are using an outdated browser. For a faster, safer browsing experience, upgrade for free today.

Lander University Celebrates Student Achievements at Annual Student Life Awards

"We're here tonight because this is a particularly proud moment for those of us who have the privilege of working in the University," Dr. Boyd Yarbrough, vice president of Student Affairs at Lander, told a crowd of students, faculty and staff at the 2021-22 Student Life Awards on Wednesday, Apr. 20, in Finis Horne Arena. "That is because you get the opportunity to come and celebrate your successes, to celebrate your victories, to celebrate your accomplishments, your milestones, and to get a glimpse of the future of all the amazing things that lie ahead of you."

Hosted annually, the Student Life Awards commemorates the achievements of members of Lander’s student body over the course of the academic year. The following awards were presented to students as part of the evening’s program.


Elizabeth Wall, of North Augusta, winner of Lander’s 2021-22 President’s Award. Photo by Laura B. Wood

President’s Award: Elizabeth Wall, of North Augusta. The President’s Award is given annually by the President of Lander in recognition of unique exemplification of the ethic of service to the Lander community. Wall was chosen because of her ability to balance being both a student athlete and nursing major effortlessly. Wall is also the president of the equestrian team, an active member of the Lander University Student Nursing Association and an extern at Self Regional Healthcare. She is expected to finish in the top 10% of her nursing class. Wall has also volunteered her free time in recent months at the Self Regional Cancer Center, where she assisted patients and their families in the making of Easter crafts. She has previously helped coordinate blood donation drives to help stock blood banks in the local area.


Maria Martinez-Contreras (left), of Lexington, Lander’s 2021-22 Laura Lander Woman of the Year; and Jackson Carter (right), of Barnwell, Lander’s 2021-22 Samuel Lander Man of the Year. Photo by Laura B. Wood

Samuel and Laura Lander Man and Woman of the Year: Jackson Carter, of Barnwell, and Maria Martinez-Contreras, of Lexington. The Samuel and Laura Man and Woman of the Year awards are named in honor of Lander University’s founder, the Rev. Samuel Lander, and his wife, Laura Lander. The individuals chosen for these honors are those who demonstrate the true spirit of Lander, in pursuit of excellence in all aspects of their collegiate endeavors. Carter, this year’s Samuel Lander Man of the Year, was described as an integral student employee. Carter is a manager within the Fitness Center and president of the Lander Powerlifting Club. He was described as creating a positive environment for all those who come into the Fitness Center. “It can be scary to walk into an unfamiliar environment when everyone around seems to know what they’re doing,” his nominator wrote. “It could be as little as a smile and friendly greeting, giving a fist bump, or asking someone what they are focusing on in the gym that day. Small actions of kindness like these can have a big impact on someone who is silently struggling.”

Meanwhile Martinez-Contreras, this year’s Laura Lander Woman of the Year, was called “the perfect example of a Lander woman.” Her involvement on campus has included service as president of her sorority, Gamma Phi Beta, as well as the Panhellenic Council, the Order of Omega, Bearcat Rally and Somos LU. Contreras is also a Presidential Ambassador and a former Orientation Leader. “She is dedicated to her education and her extracurricular activities,” her nominator wrote. “She has been impactful in many ways, including bringing more women into Greek Life and by diversifying our organizations. She is a very involved and committed woman and she meets everyone with the upmost dignity and respect.”



Raylyn Garner (left), of Hodges, and Maria Martinez-Contreras, of Lexington, Lander’s 2021-22 Greek Leaders of the Year. Photo by Laura B. Wood

Greek Leaders of the Year: Raylyn Garner, of Hodges, and Maria Martinez-Contreras, of Lexington. This award is presented to Greek life leaders who have contributed to the Greek community while exhibiting the characteristics and values of Greek life, including scholarship, brotherhood/sisterhood, leadership and community service. Garner has served as the judicial chairman and director of campus events for her Zeta Tau Alpha, president of Order of Omega, and last semester was crowned as Lander’s Fall 2021 Homecoming Queen. Martinez-Contreras currently serves as president of Gamma Phi Beta, and has served as the sorority’s PACE chair and sisterhood chair. She has also served as vice president for public relations of the Panhellenic Council and secretary of Order of Omega.


Randall Bouknight Civility Champion Award: Ramon Izquierdo, of Newberry, and Katie McLane, of Greenwood. The award, named after former Vice President for Student Affairs H. Randall “Randy” Bouknight, is given annually to one student and one employee who strives to maintain the standards of academic integrity and personal character, exemplifies respect for all people, values diverse opinions and collaboration, and expresses genuine concern for individuals through acts of kindness and compassion. This year’s student recipient, Ramon Izquierdo, was selected for his embodiment of the principles spelled out in the Lander University Bearcat Creed. “He has integrity, individuality, and he is completely authentic,” said Yarbrough. “He is true to himself and inspires everyone he meets to do the same.”

This year’s employee recipient, Katie McLane, was selected due to her dedication to her students. “She always makes herself available for us and our questions, so long as we take the responsibility to reach out,” one nominator said.


Student Government Association Member of the Year: Hannah Towns, of Hodges. Lander University’s Student Government Association is the representative body for students on Lander’s campus. According to its mission, SGA strives to advocate for students to administration, faculty, student organizations and the campus community at-large. Towns was noted as an SGA representative who has given “hours of her time to SGA, including planning events, tabling and assisting in running a smooth campaign and election process,” said Courtney Clavel, president of Lander’s SGA.


Presidential Ambassador of the Year: Maria Martinez-Contreras, of Lexington. Voted on by fellow presidential ambassadors, this award helps recognize the ambassador who best embodies what it means to be a presidential ambassador at Lander. Martinez-Contreras was described as enthusiastic about her work as a presidential ambassador, and friendly and courteous while leading tours of Lander’s campus. “She works well with others and goes above and beyond the expectations of the program,” said Kenneth Roach, associate director of Lander Admissions.


Resident Assistant of the Year: Ramon Izquierdo, of Newberry. This award is designed to recognize the outstanding and continuous service of the selected resident assistant (RA) to the Department of Housing and Residence Life at Lander. “The selected student serves as a role model for other students and RAs while at the same time fulfilling all the responsibilities for the job,” said Joey Plyler, assistant director of Housing and Residence Life. Izquierdo was also described by his peers and supervisors as “active on campus, but still excels in the RA role.” One nominator wrote that Izquierdo has “built connections with residents unlike any RA that I have ever seen.”


Campus Activities Board Member of the Year: Blessed Posey, of Easley. Lander’s Campus Activities Board (CAB) hosts events that provide entertainment to the student body, including concerts, comedians, craft nights, movies, and other small- and large-scale events. “This group of students work tirelessly behind the scenes tirelessly behind the scenes to breathe life into the campus,” said Nadia Crawford, coordinator of student life and programming.


Campus Recreation Awards: Jackson Carter, of Barnwell, was named Campus Recreation Employee of the Year. According to Hannah McQueen, assistant director of Student Life for campus recreation and intramurals, Carter was selected for his “Charisma, dedication and unwavering willingness to help with several events, marketing and day-to-day responsibilities.”

Meanwhile, the award for Intramural Team of the Year was given to “Shake and Bake.” Meanwhile, the award for Intramural Athlete of the year was given to Ethan Funderburk, of Lancaster.


Academic Success Awards: Benjamin Whitt, of Sumter, and Joseph Clark, of Greenwood, were named Academic Success Center Tutors of the Year. Meanwhile Jordon Harsey, of Lexington, was named Academic Success Center Mentor of the Year.


Career Peer Mentor Award: Imon Govan, of Orangeburg. The Office of Career Services and Student Employment developed the Career Peer Mentor Program three years ago, in which selected students are selected to serve as mentors to freshman students, providing them with information and support on career preparation and readiness. Govan was described as a mentor who continuously demonstrates a positive attitude and a willingness to go above and beyond for the Office of Career Services.


Hall of Leaders. This award is presented to a select group of seniors who have demonstrated outstanding involvement with campus life and extracurricular activities and who, through this service, have exemplified a commitment to the positive enhancement to the lander campus. Recipients’ names are added to the Hall of Leaders display in the Grier Student Center. The following students were named to the Lander University Hall of Leaders: Ramon Izquierdo, of Newberry; Elizabeth Wall, of North Augusta; Jackson Carter, of Barnwell; Damion Moragne, of Ware Shoals; Macy Gault, of Greenwood; Aislinn Labra-Arteaga, of Spartanburg; Lindley Holland, of Donalds; Sara (Perse) Gray, of Newberry; Mya Atten, of West Columbia; Morgan Harling, of Chesnee; and Kylie Turner, of Greenwood.


Advisor of the Year: Dr. Osvaldo Parrilla, professor of Spanish. The purpose of this award is to recognize a Lander University faculty or staff member for their significant voluntary involvement in co-curricular activities, and for advising, guiding and showing encouragement and support of the organization and its members during the current academic year. Parrilla was recognized for his dedication and leadership as the advisor of the Somos LU, the Hispanic heritage student organization at Lander.


Organization of the Year: Student Nurses Association. This award is presented to the recognized student organization, which, through its activities and projects, has had the most significant positive influence on Lander and the surrounding community. This award is based on the number and quality of campus events held, amount of community service performed, involvement with campus events, and initiatives to further advance the education of Lander students beyond the classroom.


Excellence in Programming: Animal Advocates. This award recognizes a student organization or group for its exceptional creativity, planning, and execution of a University program. Animal Advocates were recognized for their Wildlife Photo Booth event, held in conjunction with PAWS Wildlife Sanctuary in Laurens County and the Lander Equestrian Center to raise money for the wildlife sanctuary.


New Student Leaders: Ally Moss, of Leesville, and Jonathan Walker, of Mountville. This award recognizes the first-year students who have been actively involved in contributing time and energy to learning leadership and contribution to the Lander community.


Transfer Students of the Year: Markeyes Maxwell, of Columbia, and Ada Gutierrez-Casarrubias, of Taylors. This award recognizes the unique role of transfer students to the campus community and is given to a student who transferred with sophomore standing or above, and has completed a full year of coursework at Lander.


Betty Williams Unsung Hero Award: Ben Duvall, of Greenwood. Named after Betty Williams, a Lander College graduate and former Lander Librarian. Mrs. Williams continues to volunteer to assist the Lander community throughout the years. This award is presented to students who, through their behind the scenes involvement in student life, have exemplifies a commitment to enhancing Lander campus life. Duvall, who is a member of the Lander University Tech Crew, was described by his one of his nominators as “a student that is quite literally there behind the scenes at almost every event, making sure the show goes on.”


James “Curtis” Harkness Diversity Achievement Award: Zoee Davis, of Greenwood. James Curtis Harkness was a captain of the 1982-84 men’s basketball team and later began a career in student affairs. This award recognizes a student who has exemplified model citizenship, outstanding student leadership, and high academic achievement and has been most effective in advancing the concerns of multicultural students. Davis is the director of recruitment and participant relations of Lander Miracle, was a CO3R tutor her freshman year, a member of the Black Student Union and the Lander NAACP, a member of the Alpha Chi National College Honor Society, serves on the leadership team for the PEES Club, and has volunteered for the Food Bank of Greenwood County, and with local school districts to help with the distribution of bag lunches.