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Six Women Selected as Distinguished Service Award Winners


JONESBORO – Six outstanding young women from Arkansas State University have been chosen as Distinguished Service Award (DSA) winners in recognition of their exemplary service and contributions during their collegiate careers. One of the students will be announced as the 2019-20 recipient of the university’s highest honor, the R. E. Lee Wilson Award.

Recognition of A-State’s top graduating seniors and naming of the Wilson Award recipient will proceed this year through a special online presentation Thursday, May 14, at 6:30 p.m.  This will replace the traditional private banquet with university representatives and the Wilson Fellows, the A-State alumni group of Wilson Award recipients, a change driven by the coronavirus pandemic.

The six students are Samantha Brainard of Collierville, Tenn.; Sarah Bullington of Bryant; Braelen Hunt of Bergman; Shawna Martin of Gassville; ChrisTina Okolo of Batesville; and Tarendeep Thind of White Hall.

The DSA winners are recognized as the institution’s most outstanding graduates because of their leadership, scholarship and citizenship. Faculty, staff and advisers to student organizations, and other members of the campus community submit nominations for the prestigious awards.

All of the nominees have achieved excellent academic records and provided countless hours of service to the community, their classmates, campus organizations, their departments and colleges, and to Arkansas State University.  A committee comprised of students, faculty, staff and previous Wilson Award recipients makes the final selection.

Samantha Brainard of Collierville, Tenn.
Brainard is graduating in May with a Bachelor of Science degree in biological sciences, pre-professional program, and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the College of Sciences and Mathematics. She is majoring in biology and chemistry and has a 3.94 grade point average.

A five-time member of the Chancellor’s List and four-time member of the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll, Brainard helped A-State to a first-place finish and a cash prize at the 2019 Arkansas Governor’s Cup Collegiate Business Plan competition.

An outstanding competitor for Arkansas State’s track and field team, she holds the school record in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and was a runner on the 2020 silver medal indoor distance medley relay team. She is captain of both the track and field team and cross country team and participated in two conference championships. In addition, Brainard was named to the NCAA Division I all-academic teams for cross country and track and field. She is also a member of the A-State chapter of Alpha Lambda Delta honor society.

Brainard also worked with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, St. Bernards Regional Medical Center, Jonesboro Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, and Sills Dermatology as a student shadow. She also was a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.

Sarah Bullington of Bryant
Bullington, an Honors College student, received her Bachelor of Science in biology in December 2019 with a 3.92 grade point average. Graduating magna cum laude, she was selected for early admission to Belmont University’s occupational therapy doctorate program.

Among her academic achievements are receiving the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship (2016-19), the Arkansas Game and Fish Conservation Scholarship (2016-19), and the A-State Excellence scholarship (2016-19). She is also a four-time member of the Chancellor’s List.

Bullington was involved in several leadership roles, including 747 College Ministry life group leader, Student Activities Board, Society for Neuroscience, Occupational Therapy Student Association, Special Olympics, Chancellor’s Ambassadors, and Coat Closet at A-State’s food pantry.

Her volunteer work extended to helping meet weekly food needs at the pantry as well as the Northeast Arkansas Food Bank. She also rang Salvation Army bells to collect donations during the Christmas season, volunteered with Miracle League to encourage and assist players with disabilities to engage in softball games, United Way, March of Dimes, St. Jude Up ‘Til Dawn, Northeast Arkansas Humane Society and participated in many other volunteer projects throughout the campus and the community.

She was selected Officer of the Year by the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and Volunteer of the Year by Volunteer A-State in 2017.

Braelen Hunt of Bergman
Hunt graduated magna cum laude with Honors in August 2019, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in A-State’s coordinated dietetics program in the College of Nursing and Health Professions. She owned a 3.93 overall GPA and 4.0 in the dietetics program. Her minors were disaster preparedness and sociology. Following graduation, she took the registered dietician (RD) exam and passed it on her first try.

While in school, Hunt was a member of Phi Kappa Phi honor society, the nation’s oldest and most selective multidisciplinary honors fraternity. She was also an A-State Honors College student.  Her academic contributions include receiving a 2018 Harry S. Truman scholarship, a national graduate fellowship for students pursuing careers in public service.  She also was a semifinalist for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, received an Arkansas Promise scholarship (2015-19), and Arkansas Lottery scholarship (2015-19).

Hunt also became the first Create@State undergraduate research poster winner for the CNHP in spring 2019 by performing research on utilizing nutritional yeast as a source of cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12) in vegan adolescents to prevent megaloblastic anemia, neuropathies and homosysteinemia.

During spring 2019, she received valuable experience with supervised practice at St. Bernards Dialysis Outpatient Clinic; bariatric, medical surgery and intensive care unit at NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital; and the Oncology Outpatient Clinic at St. Bernards.

As a resident assistant, Hunt worked tirelessly to help provide safe, on-campus living options for transgender students during the 2018-19 academic year through the Social Justice Living-Learning Commmunity.

She was involved in numerous organizations and volunteerism, including serving as the executive coordinator of impact, a Title IX student organization, Student Nutrition and Dietetics, Environmental Club, and Feminist Union. She also served as a freelance photographer providing school portraits for foster children and their parents for ABC Homes Foster Shelter and photos on social media of animals available for adoption at the NEA Humane Society.

Shawna Martin of Gassville
Martin will receive her Bachelor of Science degree in strategic communications in May through the College of Liberal Arts and Communication, with certificates in social media management, non-profit communication, public relations and advertising.  She has a 3.91 GPA.

Because of her success in the classroom, Martin was asked to become a part of an invitation-only class, Special Problems in Marketing. She is a four-time member of the Chancellor’s List and earned the AFLAC Sales Leadership Scholarship, the Troutt Brothers Memorial Scholarship, the Arkansas Promise Scholarship, the L.W. “Tex” Plunkett Journalism Scholarship, the Communications Academic Performance Scholarship, and a License to HOWL Scholarship.

Martin is also a member of Kappa Tau Alpha, an honor society for students who have distinguished themselves as being in the top 10 percent of all students pursuing degrees in journalism and mass communications, and Sigma Alpha Pi National Society of Leadership and Success.

A member of the Student Conduct Board, Martin also was the co-chair of the Sales Leadership Club as well as the organization’s director of administration. She was president of the Advertising Club and worked with the Leadership Center as a Pack Leader.

ChrisTina Okolo of Batesville
Okolo graduated in December 2019 with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the College of Sciences and Mathematics with a 3.89 GPA. She hopes to become a physician.

Okolo earned several scholarships in her collegiate career including the A-State Pride and Arkansas Challenge Scholarships, Dr. Willie Young Memorial Scholarship, Dorothy Snider Foundation Scholarship and the Southland Racing Corporation Scholarship (three years).  She received the Dr. Earnest Lee Saunders Memorial Scholarship, the Thompson Minority Scholarship,and the Orien and Eda Garner Horn Memorial Scholarship. She was selected to the Chancellor’s List each semester and Dean’s List for two semesters.

As a result of her research, Okolo has been published in the journal of American Chemical Society Organic Letters with “Benign Synthesis of Thiazolo-androstenone Derivatives as Potent Anticancer Agents” and in the journal of American Chemical Society Omega on “Hexafluoroisopropanol-Mediated Domino Reaction for the Synthesis of Thiazolo-androstenones: Potent Anticancer Agents.”

Because of her research, she was awarded first place in undergraduate posters for the College of Sciences and Mathematics and the American Physiological Society Undergraduate Research Award in Physiology during Create@State in 2019. Her presentation was on “Synthesis and antiproliferative activity of thiazolo-androstenones against breast cancer cell lines.”

Active in the Student Philanthropy Council, Okolo was the group’s vice president in 2019 after serving as the president in 2018 and helped to raise $100,000 for SPC’s student organizations, student research, club sports, departmental projects and faculty research. The group also established the Student Emergency Fund for A-State students who are undergoing temporary financial setbacks. Okolo also worked alongside the A-State Alumni Association to help create the Emerging Young Alumni Award, recognizing recipients for their professional accomplishments and continued engagement with the university.

Tarendeep Thind of White Hall
Thind graduates in May with a Bachelor of Science in biology and a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry from the College of Sciences and Mathematics with a 3.86 GPA.  Also an Honors College student, her goal is to become a doctor.

She is an Honors Ambassador and volunteers at the A-State Food Pantry and was selected to be a teaching assistant for First-Year Experience (FYE) courses in chemistry and physics and for general chemistry labs, as well as working as a chemistry and biology tutor.

Thind is the recipient of numerous scholarships, including the Trinity Foundation, White Hall Public Library Scholarship, the A-State Leadership Scholarship, A-State Debate Scholarship, the Horatio Alger Association, and the White Hall Police Officers Association Scholarship.

A six-time member of the Chancellor’s List, she is also a seven-time member of the Honors College Director’s List. Thind served as the president of Alpha Epsilon Delta, a nationally-recognized health pre-professional honor society that encourages excellence and professional development in pre-professional fields.  Additionally, she was an officer in the Women in Science group to honor accomplishments of past and present women in various fields of science and to encourage the development of young women in STEM fields.

Thind is a member of the Honors College Association and was that organization’s nominee for A-State’s 2019 homecoming court. She is a senator with Arkansas State’s Student Government Association and is a patient ambassador at St. Bernards Regional Medical Center.