Honors at Iowa Scholars

Honors at Iowa Scholars

Each year, the Honors Program identifies its extraordinary graduating seniors across the University of Iowa for celebration as Honors at Iowa Scholars. This high recognition acclaims students’ engagement with, and contributions to, the Honors Program, their academic performance and work in and beyond the classroom, with an emphasis on the applicant’s knowledge, skill, and experience, and excellence within their chosen discipline(s). Additionally, it recognizes any contributions made to the University community through performance, research, organizational leadership, volunteer service and intellectual or creative engagement.

See below for their biographies and advice to younger students.

2020 Honors at Iowa Scholars


College of Engineering

Abhigna Akurathi, Biomedical Engineering, Marion, IA

During her time at the University of Iowa, Abhigna participated in research with Traumatic Brain Injuries and associated vision loss. Through her research, she collaborated on a publication. She was also involved with Alpha Phi Omega, a service fraternity, and served as the President of Biomedical Engineering Student Society. In her junior year, Abhigna completed a summer internship with an Iowa City based engineering company. She also spent a semester in Lancaster, England, to aid in her personal and professional growth. 

"My biggest advice would be to open minded and to get to know as many people as you can. This university is filled with some of the greatest people and it is incredible when you get the opportunity to build lasting relationships with so many diverse people. I would encourage everyone to be apart of student organizations. It is an amazing way to meet people and learn more about something you're passionate about."

Russell Martin, Biomedical Engineering, West Branch, IA

Russell Martin is from West Branch, IA, and has spent the last four years at Iowa pursuing a BSE in Biomedical Engineering. In that time, he has worked with three different research groups studying epilepsy, osteoarthritis, and the neuromuscular system. He studied abroad at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, led two Hawkeye Service Breaks teams during spring breaks, and has been Co-President of the UI Robotics Club for the past two years.

Olivia Sandvold, Biomedical Engineering, Ankeny IA

Olivia has performed research in the Anatomy and Cell Biology and Electrical Engineering departments. Her Honors engagement includes working as a Summer Ambassador and Peer Mentor. She has been actively involved in Tau Beta Pi and helped co-found the student organization HackIowa. In 2019, Olivia studied abroad in Glasgow, Scotland, and traveled to the Netherlands to participate in an international hackathon. Beyond the classroom, Olivia has had internships at Bio::Neos, Inc and 3M Company. In her free time, she volunteers at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics in the Child Psychology inpatient unit.

"Reach out! There are many resources to take advantage of while you're here, but it can be challenging to navigate your options alone. We have a fantastic group of staff and students who are more than happy to help you find unique opportunities that fit your needs and desires! I also encourage students to become advocates for the things they're passionate about. In serving your community through advocacy or volunteerism, you can gain leadership skills, grow your support network, and help other students engage outside of the classroom. "

 College of Education

Clara Wertzberger, English, English Education, Missouri Valley, IA

Clara is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Arts in English Education. During her time at Iowa, she studied in Dublin, Ireland, for a summer. She is the Co-Founder of Nightfever Iowa City and spent much of her time at the Newman Catholic Student Center. Clara was also proudly involved at the Admission Visitors Center as a student employee and an executive member of Students to Assist Recruitment (STAR). 

"You are better able to appreciate the joys (and the challenges!) of college when you learn to roll with the punches and be open to change. Accept your imperfections and grow from them - don't waste time criticizing yourself, because no one is perfect! On a less serious note, take plenty of Honors classes and utilize the Blank Honors Center. You'll meet some of the best people this way. Lastly, I recommend that everyone gets to know Iowa City as much as they can. Wander through the public library, go to a reading at Prairie Lights, and go to as many free concerts downtown as you can. Iowa City truly is a unique place, and you only have so many years here. Don't take them for granted!"

 College of Nursing

Isabella Penniston, Nursing, Iowa City, IA
Isabella Penniston, Nursing, Iowa City, IA

Isabella is a nursing student and will graduate with highest honors in May. She participated in nursing research focusing on telehealth cancer symptom management and symptom experiences of cancer patients with multiple chronic conditions. Isabella studied abroad in India, where she and other health science students learned about palliative and hospice care at a palliative health facility. She is a member of Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society and Sigma Theta Tau Nursing Honor Society.

"My advice to new Honors Program students would be to try everything, even if you're unsure about it. I would definitely encourage students to participate in research and to use their resources to find research they're interested in. Don't be afraid to ask professors if they do or know someone who does research in an area of your interest - you may be surprised at what you can find! I would also encourage students to study abroad, as the experiences and memories you make are unforgettable. "

 College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Hunter Aldred, Human Physiology, Williamsfield, IL
Hunter Aldred, Human Physiology, Williamsfield, IL

While majoring in Human Physiology Hunter also worked as an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Susan Lutgendorf's Psychoneuroimmunology Lab, helping establish biological constants associated with stress and ovarian cancer. He also worked as an Orientation Leader, Resident Assistant, and volunteered in the Burn Trauma Unit at UIHC. I would advise students entering the Honors Program to engage with as many aspects of the program as possible.

"Participating in Primetime and living in Daum were two of the best decisions I made. It made the transition to college easier and helped me find friends before classes start. But I also advise students to stay engaged with the Honors Program after their first year and reaching out to Honors Professional Staff. Getting to know the Professional Staff members and working as an Honors Outreach Ambassador kept me connected to the Program in my last two years and helped me grow as a scholar."

Hannah Altman, Political Science, McHenry, IL
Hannah Altman, Political Science, McHenry, IL

Hannah is a Political Science and Social Justice major with research interests in international law. She has been studying international anti-terrorist law under Professor Brian Lai since 2017, and was able to research the topic abroad in Dublin, Ireland the summer of 2019. On campus, Hannah is a volunteer at the Women’s Resource and Action Center, the secretary of Phi Alpha Delta pre-law fraternity, and works for the Department of Biology!

"Appreciate the time you have! It has really hit me since the pandemic that I wasn't fully appreciating my time on campus, it goes so fast! Also, the honors program is such a great resource for community-building; I love my honors communities, whether it be my friends, relationships with faculty and staff, or my fellow honors outreach ambassadors, don't be afraid to put yourself out there and make connections. Finally, have some fun! School is important but build in time for yourself and take care of yourself!"

Barbara Badovinac, Microbiology, Iowa City, IA
Barbara Badovinac, Microbiology, Iowa City, IA

As a microbiology major, Barbara did research on human cell stress, grew mosquitoes for malaria research, and tutored microbiology students.  Barbara volunteered on seven different units at the UIHC, serving on the Student Leader Board for two years.  She was the Vice-President of the Presidential-Scholars Program and a teaching assistant for a freshman seminar on self-discovery.  She also enjoyed rock climbing, volunteering at the International Women’s Club and learning about ASL and the Deaf Community.

"Be open-minded and keep trying new things.  I made sure to take a fun, random class every semester, even though they did not count towards a major or a minor.  You might learn a new skill or find a new hobby, as there are so many opportunities available for you to utilize!  Make sure you enjoy whatever you choose to do, and do not feel obligated to stick with something if you do not want to do it anymore."

Madhuri Belkale, Psychology, Political Science, Plano, TX
Madhuri Belkale, Psychology, Political Science, Plano, TX

Madhuri will graduate with a B.S. in psychology and political science, as well as minors in Spanish and international studies. During her time at the University of Iowa, she was involved in research with the Clinical-Cognitive Science Lab, through which she wrote her honors thesis focusing on the relationship between casual sexual behavior (specifically short-term relationship motivation and long-term relationship motivation) and sexual misperception. Among her involvements, she has served in multiple leadership roles with the Indian Student Alliance and Phi Alpha Delta, studied abroad in Santiago, Chile, and worked as a peer mentor and admin for the Honors Program. 

"My advice would be for students to think about their education as a personal, professional, and academic growth experience. Don't think you have to pursue certain opportunities because they fit into what you are "supposed" to do, but instead seek out those that set your heart on fire and bring excitement to your core. There is no linear path to achieving success in college. Step out of your comfort zone and invest in meaningful relationships with professors, mentors, and friends. Lean in to whatever experiences and connections you find value in, and above all, believe in yourself. "

Genevieve Cleverley, Psychology, Studio Art, North Liberty, IA
Genevieve Cleverley, Psychology, Studio Art, Washington, IA

Genevieve Cleverley is graduating with majors in psychology and studio art. At the University of Iowa, she has enjoyed working at the Honors Program as an admin and graphic designer, and at the Iowa Children's Museum. In her free time, she loves to volunteer for art-focused youth programs, printmaking, NPR podcasts, and petting dogs. 

"Get comfortable with being uncomfortable! There are so many opportunities to expand your horizons and challenge yourself. It's not always easy, but it's worth it! Being at the University of Iowa and in Honors gives you the chance to explore new perspectives, whether it's through learning in the classroom or checking out the art and music from Iowa City's creative community. Learn as much as you can, reframe mistakes as learning experiences, and don't be afraid to ask for help!"

Hannah Gulick, Astronomy, Physics, English & Creative Writing, Spirit Lake, IA
Hannah Gulick, Astronomy, Physics, English & Creative Writing, Spirit Lake, IA

At Iowa, Hannah majored in astronomy, physics, and Creative Writing. She dedicated herself to research, building and launching two satellites and analyzing astrophysical data.
Outside of Iowa, she interned at the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and built a sounding rocket at the Andøya Space Center in Norway. Hannah also served as an editor for Fool’s Magazine for two years, and treasures her time at Iowa, the people she met, and the teams she joined.

"Iowa is a place of opportunity. I would happily spend ten more years at Iowa experiencing the art, literature, and science in this town. My advice would be to try anything and everything—do not be afraid to go to that student org meeting, or apply for that fellowship, or ask to work with your dream research team. My favorite parts of college were the ones I never would have seen myself doing a year, or even week before. The people here want you to succeed and your Honors network will be a fantastic group for support, connections, and motivation."

Vijayvardahn Kamalumpundi, Human Physiology, Cedar Rapids, IA
Vijayvardhan Kamalumpundi, Human Physiology, Cedar Rapids, IA

Vijayvardhan's interest in the biological sciences stems from the translational relevance of his bench research in the Eric Taylor laboratory, where he sought to elucidate the function of a mitochondrial carrier and its role in metabolic diseases. He studied abroad in India through the Winterim program to explore Palliative Care and Global Healthcare delivery. His experiences in India were so cathartic that he published a narrative in an academic journal about the important relationship between humanism and medicine.

"The best advice I ever got early-on was to not be afraid of failure and getting rejected. Be relentless in searching for experiences that will make you a better student and better person. You'll be surprised at how much you learn and the connections that you will earn by simply throwing your name in the hat for a scholarship, competitive fellowship/program etc. The University of Iowa Honors Program has peer-mentors, who are students, just like you! They have thoroughly engaged themselves on campus and can point you to all kinds of resources for you to take advantage of depending on your interests so take advantage of them!!"

Rikki Laser, Neuroscience, Vernon Hills, IL
Rikki Laser, Neuroscience, Vernon Hills, IL

Rikki is a senior graduating from the neuroscience major. She came to the university excited for opportunity, and was ecstatic for the opportunity to join the Blumberg lab her freshman year. There, she helped study motor development in mice and found a passion in research. She hoped to share and grow that passion with others through her involvement in the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates, the Iowa Biosciences Academy, the Latham Science Engagement Initiative, the Department of Biology's Ambassador program, and more.

"Research has not only been the activity most relevant to my future, but it has also been the most rewarding and fun. I highly encourage students to try research in whatever field they are most interested in, whether it is in STEM, the arts, or the humanities.

For those interested in science, communication, and/or art, I also recommend the Latham Science Engagement Initiative. In the program, you get to make your own science communication project. Lori Adams, Brinda Shetty, and the TAs and staff are amazing guides through this process, and I thought it was not only a great learning experience, but an absolutely blast.

Otherwise, remember that this, too, shall pass. I am writing this near what I hope is the height of the coronavirus spread. My life, and no doubt yours, has been upturned. But I will still graduate, and you will still arrive, and with every day that passes we are closer to whatever the new normal will be. Take time to care for yourself, appreciate your friends and family (as difficult as that may be sometimes), and take these lessons into undergrad. It is not easy, especially the first couple years, but you can use this time to set yourself up for an amazing future.

Grades are not everything. Friends and family are important to your well-being, and your well-being is important to your success. Take everything as an opportunity to learn and grow. It's okay to not be okay.

I believe in you."

Michael Li, Biology, Bettendorf, IA
Michael Li, Biology, Bettendorf, IA

Michael is a Biology major with a Global Health Studies certificate. Interested in international health development, he spent a summer in Yunnan, China studying the effects of traditional healing practices in modern contexts. He is also an avid global vaccination program advocate, serving as Executive Director of the Immunity Campaign, and Iowa Champion Leader for the United Nations Foundation Shot@Life Campaign. Finally, he was heavily involved in the Presidential Scholars Program and served as President. 

"Get involved! I can't point to any specific thing, because the activities I loved might not speak to everyone. There's so many opportunities at the University of Iowa that everyone can find something to engage in, whether that thing is a student org, research, student government, or more. "

Alex Marti, Health and Human Physiology, Chinese, Waukon, IA
Alex Marti, Health and Human Physiology, Chinese, Waukon, IA

Alex  grew up in northeast Iowa and is the oldest of seven children. Throughout her time at Iowa, she has participated in research in the lab of Dr. E. Dale Abel and taken part in various campus organizations. In addition, she has enjoyed volunteering in the Iowa City community. She has been involved in the Honors community by serving as an ambassador for the program.

"My greatest piece of advice is to get involved right away, even if you are nervous! I am so glad that I got involved in various activities right away my freshman year. It helped me to really refine my interests and make the most of my time at Iowa. "

Gabbie Meis, English & Creative Writing, Marion, IA
Gabbie Meis, English & Creative Writing, Marion, IA

Gabbie studied English and Creative Writing on the publishing track with minors in translation and Spanish. During her time at Iowa, she pursued psychology research, worked as a writing fellow and TA, interned at the IYWP and UICA, and served on the editorial boards of UReCA—the National Collegiate Honors Council’s undergraduate journal, and locally, with Fools Magazine. In her free time, you can find Gabbie reading and baking bread with her cats.

"I would encourage incoming students to really make the university their home; the university is yours to take up space, be that in student orgs, in your courses, in the Iowa City community or wherever. When I first came to campus (and for many semesters after), I was worried I didn't belong. As a first-generation student, I didn't know what to expect from the university, and I felt lucky to even be in the same room as many of my peers and instructors. I was convinced that some form of chance and/or slight had permitted me conditional entrance to a college career. For this reason, I spent time hesitant and overly critical of myself, despite performing well and succeeding on campus. I'd challenge the next group of students coming into Iowa to trust that they belong here, despite their own doubts. Find organizations, friends, advisors, and people that you believe in and who believe in you in turn. If you're looking for a creative community, I'd highly recommend joining a campus magazine. Fools has shown me more than I could have imagined and introduced me to stunning life-long friends. "

Sheyna Nathwani, Biomedical Sciences, Grimes, IA
Sheyna Nathwani, Biomedical Sciences, Grimes, IA

Sheyna is a fourth-year student majoring in Biomedical Sciences on the pre-medical track. She works as a research assistant in the Aldridge Laboratory studying Lewy body dementia. In 2018, she received a service scholarship to travel to Romania to work with handicapped infants. She has served as a teaching assistant for a biology class, biochemistry class, and for the Honors Outreach Ambassadors. She was also the 2019-2020 president of the service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega.

"The Honors Program at Iowa is special in that it supports a tremendous variety of student interests and career plans. I think it is so important to engage in multiple activities you will truly enjoy. Honors helps you expand on your passions, so take advantage of this and get involved! The Honors professional staff and course offerings pushed me to reach out to laboratories at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. In addition, teaching in a classroom environment has always been an interest of mine - Honors helped me connect with professors and learn more about undergraduate teaching, allowing me to serve as a teaching assistant for three classes before graduating. My biggest piece of advice would be to attend those information sessions offered by Honors; engage with your peers; knock on the door of an Honors professional staff member. There are opportunities available for every individual. If you take small steps to get involved and communicate your interests, Honors will set you up for a successful college experience!"

Nicole Nucaro, Ethics and Public Policy, Interdepartmental Studies, Urbandale, IA
Nicole Nucaro, Ethics and Public Policy, Interdepartmental Studies, Urbandale, IA

Nicole will graduate with degrees in Ethics and Public Policy and Interdepartmental Studies. During her time at Iowa, she served as a research assistant, a teaching assistant, a tour guide, a peer leader in the UI conversation center and the chair of the University Lecture Committee. She spent two semesters studying abroad in the Czech Republic, Australia and Argentina. Outside of class, Nicole could always be found attending campus events, at a local coffee shop or planning her next trip. 

"Get excited for your time at Iowa! Over the next four years, Iowa will become your home away from home and I can promise you that you'll make great friends and find so many interests you never knew you had. I'd encourage new students to go outside their comfort zone and sign up for clubs/events that the high school version of themselves would not have done. Take advantage of the Blank Honors Center and find friends that make the long study hours a little more fun. I'd encourage students to check out the UI conversation center (a great practicum class working with international students) and attend the lecture committee events! "

Laura Schwager, Interdepartmental Studies, Iowa City, IA
Laura Schwager, Interdepartmental Studies, Iowa City, IA

During her time as a non-traditional student at the University of Iowa, Laura created her own major to examine culture, sustainability, and design principles. Through the Honors Program she participated in the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council, the Green Room, and Social Innovation practicums. She completed projects in film, environmental restoration, global health research, ethnography, community outreach, study abroad, and entrepreneurial consulting. Beginning as non-degree seeking student, Laura chose to complete her degree at the University of Iowa after experiencing the unique offerings of the institution. She views her undergraduate experience as an intimate, self-directed liberal arts education combined with the state of the art resources provided by a top-performing university.

"Advice to student entrants: These four years represent the most significant opportunity for growth in your life. Take risks. Prioritize self-knowledge and make time for reflection. Challenge your definition of "hard work". Remind yourself that your participation in this institution is a privilege, not a chore. If you can't find ownership in what you're doing, change what you're doing. Find funding - it's there - to go abroad or complete your own project. Learn something from everyone; spend time with those who teach you the most. By the time you depart, be absolutely certain that you have left no campus building unentered."

Joshua Yem, Human Physiology, Music, Marion, IA
Joshua Yem, Human Physiology, Music, Marion, IA

Josh is majoring in human physiology and music. He has been a research assistant in the University of Iowa Motor Control Laboratory for two years. The focus of his honors thesis is motor control and embodiment in pianists. He has also been an Honors Outreach Ambassador for several semesters. Josh also enjoys volunteering at UIHC playing piano in the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center and at the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic as a Spanish interpreter.

"I would encourage future Honors Program students to get involved early. It makes a tremendous difference in your educational experience to find interests and passions early on in your academic career."

2019 Honors at Iowa Scholars

Tippie College of Business

Logan Drake, Economics, Ethics & Public Policy, Philosophy Dubuque, IA

College of Engineering

Madeline Beauchene, Biomedical Engineering, Ames, IA

Aaron Buelow, Biomedical Engineering, West Des Moines, IA

Ojas Pradhan, Chemical Engineering, Computer Science, West Des Moines, IA

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Mikaela Mallin, Biomedical Sciences, Dance, Waterloo, IA

Aleisha Norton, Biology, Psychology, Dubuque, IA

Liam Crawford, Computer Science, Philosophy, Stuart, IA

Angeline Vanle, Human Physiology, Sioux City, IA

Kathleen Kiesewetter - English, Art, Hanna City, IL

Meagan Woodard, Human Physiology, Mt. Pleasant, IA

Eli Bratsch-Prince, Political Science, Ames, IA

Jordan Hansen, Psychology, Communications Studies, Spencer, IA

Madeline Ungs, Human Physiology, Urbandale, IA

Cassidy Shubatt, Economics, Mathematics, Dubuque, IA

Austin Hughes, English and Creative Writing, Asian Languages and Literature, San Antonio, TX

Melissa Lauer, Art, English and Creative Writing, Des Moines, IA

Gustave Stewart, Political Science, Economics, Social Science Analytics, Iowa City, IA

Elizabeth Sheridan, English, Denver, IA

Eilidh Spery, English, Lakewood, CO

Nicholas Dolan, English, Des Moines, IA

Mila Kaut, Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies, History, Music, Des Moines, IA