On a day when the Lander community joined together for Denim Day to support sexual assault survivors and victims, the University also presented its annual Student Life Awards to commemorate the achievements of its students, faculty and staff.
Dr. Boyd Yarbrough, vice president of Student Affairs and Lander, said the outpouring of support from Lander faculty, staff and students for Denim Day was remarkable. “You would have been amazed at the students and organizations that came out to support this cause.”
Student success, he said, can often be found in co-curricular involvement – the very type of involvement that the University was recognizing in the awards ceremony. “Some of the greatest growth and development starts outside the classroom. Tonight, we are celebrating our students and their phenomenal accomplishments.”
The awards and honors include:
President’s Award: Lillian Fortenberry, of Edgefield. 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. Fortenberry was recognized for her many accomplishments, academic achievement and high level of involvement within the Lander and Greenwood community during her time at the University. A student worker in the Jackson Library, she is a Teaching Fellow, a leader in the Baptist Collegiate Ministry and a member of the Rotaract Club and Alpha Chi honors sorority. In the Greenwood area, Fortenberry sings at local churches, teaches Sunday school, volunteers at Connie Maxwell Children’s Home and has coached Upward Soccer for a local church. A tutor at the Greenwood County Public Library and at Waterloo Elementary School, Fortenberry has helped to pack meals for Greenwood District 50 students. Throughout her academic career at Lander, Fortenberry has achieved President’s List and Dean’s List academic honors.
Samuel and Laura Lander Man and Woman of the Year: Luke Hopkins, of Donalds, and Aiyana Gaines, of Lugoff. These 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 exhibit high aspirations and noble humanitarian qualities of character throughout all areas of campus life.
Hopkins was recognized for having “dedicated his four years at Lander to serving the school as the president of multiple organizations, along with showing others what it means to love Lander as a Presidential Ambassador.” The president of Psi Chi, the international honor society in psychology, he also was president of Rotoract from 2022-23, and served the organization as service project chair and vice president. He was the Honors College representative to Lander’s Student Government Association and has participated in intramural sports. He has been a President’s List academic honoree every semester. “When I first came to Lander, I decided to take advantage of as many opportunities that Lander presented to me in regards to campus life, while setting high academic goals for myself,” Hopkins said.
One of Gaines’ nominators said, “She is a great asset to this campus and our sorority. She is very well rounded and ensures she is very involved on campus … makes superior grades and has had featured art in the art gallery on campus. She is a great student worker and very active in her community.” A member of the Order of Omega honor society, Gaines has been vice president and membership intake coordinator for Zeta Phi Beta sorority, treasurer of Lander’s NAACP chapter and member of the American Sign Language Club. Her extensive volunteer work includes activities at Magnolia Manor, Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army and Estella’s Way, a domestic violence shelter. She has packed boxes for the United Way, delivered Thanksgiving meals to Greenwood families, served food to Engaging Men of Color, read to students at the Greenwood Early Childhood Center and taught sign language at Pinecrest Elementary School. She also has earned Dean’s List academic honors.
Greek Leaders of the Year: Ericka Smith, of Darlington, for Zeta Phi Beta, and Lillian Strawn, of Clarks Hill, for Gamma Phi Beta. 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.
One of Smith’s nominators praised her “strong will of making sure we are out in the community doing service, as well as helping others in need.” Smith, who logged more than 150 service hours, was president of Zeta Phi Beta, president of Lander’s Environmental Club (ESSO), a LINK peer leader and a member of the Order of Omega and TriBeta Biological honor societies. She has been a member of the Dean’s List for seven semesters at Lander.
Strawn was recognized by one of nominators for being “the only person in chapter history that has served as president twice. She has taken on (and fixed) problems that were not her own and has kept our chapter afloat.” Strawn’s other accomplishments include serving as treasurer of the Order of Omega honor society and fundraising chair for Kappa Delta Pi honor society. Strawn is a Teaching Fellow, Resident Assistant, former orientation leader and a Dean’s List honoree.
Randall Bouknight Civility Champion Award: Shannon Antonini, of Marietta, Ga., student award recipient; Dr. John Moore, faculty/staff award recipient. The award, named after former Vice President for Student Affairs H. Randall “Randy” Bouknight, is given annually to one student and one employee. Recipients are recognized for their commitment to the Bearcat Creed, including the ability to maintain the standards of academic integrity and personal character, exemplify respect for all people and discourage prejudice, value diverse opinions and collaboration, be mindful of how words and actions can impact others, and express genuine concern for individuals through acts of kindness and compassion.
Antonini was recognized as a student-athlete at Lander who earned her bachelor’s degree in May 2022 and made the decision to use her extra year of athletic eligibility as a Women’s Soft Ball Team member to pursue a master’s degree in business administration. One of her nominators wrote that Antonini “is a highly decorated athlete, having started all four (soon to be five) years and earning multiple awards for her stellar athletic and academic abilities.” A graduate assistant in the College of Graduate and Online Studies, Antonini earned praise for her “kindness and respect toward others.”
Moore, a philosophy professor, was described by a nominator as “always compassionate to every student. Everyone has a place in his classroom and his heart. He creates a community in his classroom, some that I am still very close with today. He strives to know his students’ interests and goals so that he can support them even four years after his class … He is my favorite professor because of the steps he takes to uphold our Bearcat Creed.”
Presidential Ambassador of the Year: Emily Anne Beiers, of Lexington. Voted on by fellow Presidential Ambassadors, this award recognizes the ambassador who best embodies what it means to be a Presidential Ambassador at Lander.
Resident Assistant of the Year: Tyanna Porter, of Union 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. “This person is constantly blowing me away with how much they have accomplished and how much they are still accomplishing as a Lander student,” said Joey Plyler, assistant director of Housing and Residence Life. Porter was also recognized by a peer as “a great friend, resource and role model for the housing staff.”
Campus Activities Board (CAB) Member of the Year: Zoey Fernstrom, of Pickens. Lander's Campus Activities Board hosts events that provide entertainment to the student body, including concerts, comedians, craft nights, movies, and other small- and large-scale events. “These students work tirelessly behind the scenes to breathe life into campus,” said Nadia Crawford, coordinator of student life and programming.
Campus Recreation Awards: Lucas Boyce, of Anderson, who participated on 27 intramural teams, was named the Intramural Athlete of the Year. Net Worth, the Intramural Team of the Year, was recognized for having the most wins and exhibiting the greatest sportsmanship. Cameron Smith, of Niota, Tenn., was recognized as the Student Employee of the Year.
Academic Success Center Awards: D’Mitris Singleton, of Laurens, was the faculty-nominated Tutor of the Year. Georgia Spann, of Piedmont, was the student-nominated Tutor of the Year. The Academic Success Center Mentor of the Year was Isabella Jones, of Lancaster.
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. This year’s Hall of Leaders are Rida Hirani, of Greenwood; Jade Green, of Helenville, Wis.; Luke Hopkins, of Donalds; Emily Beiers, of Lexington; Cheyenne Crocker, of Starr; Jonathan Walker, of Mountville; Kylie Langley, of Donalds, and Kamryn ‘KJ’ Jenkins, of Columbia.
Advisor of the Year: Dr. Ashley Lee, associate professor of nursing and advisor to the Lander University Student Nurses Association. The purpose of this award is to recognize a Lander 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.
Organization of the Year: Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. This award recognizes a 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: Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. This award recognizes a student organization or group for its exceptional creativity, planning, and execution of a University program. The fraternity was honored for their program on World AIDS Day, an international observance to raise awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV and to mourn the loss of those who died from the disease.
Community Impact Award: Lander University Student Nurses Association. The Community Impact Award recognizes an outstanding organization for its involvement in community service during the current academic year. The service should contribute to the Lander, Greenwood and global communities. Among the activities of the Student Nurses Association’s widespread service initiatives were drives for food, shoes and blood donations; volunteering with the Self Regional Cancer Center Women’s Support Group and making cards to distribute to community groups throughout Greenwood.
New Student Leader Award: Rida Hirani, of Greenwood. This award recognizes the first-year student who has been actively involved in contributing time and energy to learning leadership skills and contributing to the Lander community.
Transfer Student Leader Award: Alexis Pickell, of Greenwood. Recognizing the unique role of transfer students to the campus community, this award is given to a student who transferred with sophomore standing or above, and has completed a full year of coursework at Lander.
Graduate Student Leader Award: Sarah Calk, of Corpus Christi, Texas. A newly created honor at Lander, this award recognizes the great work of the University’s growing Graduate Programs and students. It honors a graduate-level student who has been actively involved in contributions to the greater Lander community through service, leadership and/or programming while maintaining high academic standards.
Betty Williams Unsung Hero Award: Abi Stewart, of Aiken. This award is named for Betty Williams, a Lander College graduate and former Lander librarian. Williams continues to volunteer and assist the Lander community. This award recognizes a student whose behind-the-scenes involvement in student life exemplifies a commitment to enhancing Lander campus life.
James “Curtis” Harkness Diversity Achievement Award: Tyanna Porter, of Union. 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. A graduate of Lander, Harkness was captain of the 1982-84 Men’s Basketball Team and later had a career in Student Affairs.