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Six Outstanding A-State Students Chosen Distinguished Service Award Winners


Brenna Cannon Megan Gunnels Sarah Hall
Brenna CannonMegan GunnelsSarah Hall
DSA_Rashad-Kirksey-web Bailey McAlexander Imani Udoumana
Rashad Kirksey Bailey McAlexander Imani Udoumana

JONESBORO —  Six exceptional students from Arkansas State University have been selected as Distinguished Service Award (DSA) winners. One of these students will be selected as the 2021 recipient of the university’s highest honor, the R.E. Lee Wilson Award.

The DSA recipients are recognized as the institution’s most outstanding graduates because of their leadership, scholarship and citizenship. Announcement of the Wilson Award winner is set for Thursday, April 29, in a dinner for the DSA winners in the Cooper Alumni Center ballroom, while the event is livestreamed for others.

The six students are Brenna Cannon of Jonesboro; Megan Gunnels of Conway; Sarah Hall of Jonesboro; Rashad Kirksey of West Helena; Bailey McAlexander of Jonesboro; and Imani Udoumana of Nashville, Tenn.

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.

Brenna Cannon of Jonesboro
Brenna Cannon has a double major in plant and soil science and agribusiness with a focus on agronomy. She is graduating in May with Bachelor of Science degree and has a 3.89 grade point average. She received a research assistantship for the summer months and will enter graduate school at Oklahoma State to study water use efficiency along with trials of plant population and growth regulators in cotton in an Extension-lead research project.

While at A-State, Cannon appeared on the Chancellor’s, Honors Director’s and Dean’s Lists. She enrolled in special problems courses, including geospatial data models and soil and crop production. She also spent time in South Africa, sponsored by National Future Farmers of America (FFA) as part of the study abroad program where she and her group visited local farms and industries and learned to embrace the cultural differences of the people and businesses of the country.

Cannon gained valuable knowledge in her degree pursuit after earning six internships, including the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission quail habitat monitoring and analysis for population migration. She also served as a BASF soybean breeding intern, assisted in completing research in soybean androgenesis and worked with Farmers Edge Digital Agriculture. In addition to membership in various honor societies, Cannon also holds membership in numerous organizations, including the Agribusiness Club, Arkansas Women in Agriculture, Southern Agricultural Economics Association, Food Distribution Research Society, Plant and Soil Science Club, Phi Beta Lambda, Arkansas FFA Association (state vice president), and choral performance.

Cannon recognized a need for an agricultural-based sorority on campus that met the needs of many females looking to be more involved at A-State. She applied and executed the process of chartering by initiating the Alpha Class of the Gamma Epsilon chapter of Sigma Alpha agricultural sorority. She set the foundation alongside the first executive team on how to effectively run a chapter. Cannon began a community outreach to understand how to meet the needs of the city.

Megan Gunnels of Conway
Megan Gunnels will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology and a 4.0 GPA. An Honors College student, she was a consistent member of the Honors Director’s List and student grievance committee and has done undergraduate research with Create@State presentations on “The Effects of Expert and Character Witness Testimony on Jury Verdicts in a Murder Trial” (2019) and “Schemas Related to Stalking and Cyberstalking Amongst College Students” (2019-20). She also worked on “The Impact of COVID-19 on College Students’ Coping Strategies” (2020-21) as an honors thesis project.

Gunnels is involved in numerous leadership activities, including serving as a Chancellor’s Ambassador, Volunteer A-State at the university’s food pantry, the St. Jude Up ‘til Dawn fundraiser, the Little Heroes Learning Academy, and Psi Chi psychology honor society.

She is the winner of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority exceptional leadership award in 2020, after winning the group’s scholarship award and the university’s leadership scholarship. She finished as first runner-up in the Miss ASU pageant and won Miss Congeniality in 2019. In the fall of 2020, Gunnels was selected as captain of the Red Wolves dance team.

Sarah Hall of Jonesboro
Sarah Hall, with a double major, graduated magna cum laude in honors with distinction and received her Bachelor of Science degrees in psychology and biological sciences in December 2020 with a grade point average of 3.841. This followed certification as a college reading and learning association (CRLA) as a certified tutor in August 2020.

Hall, whose parents are both professors at A-State, appeared numerous times on the Chancellor’s and Deans Lists and holds membership in various honor societies, including Psi Chi, the international honor society in psychology, and Phi Kappa Phi honor society. Additionally, she holds a board member position on the university’s student conduct board and oversees A-State’s new student emergency fund in the Student Philanthropy Council (SPC). She was selected as the president of SPC during her senior year.

Hall also served as a research assistant for Forensic and Applied Cognition in Society (FACS) focusing on forensic and social psychology and in the Arkansas Biosciences Institute to research the production and application of specific plant, poultry and fish proteins in biotechnology. She is a certified handler for the Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD). She and her dog Luna are both certified after participating in canine classes and undergoing specific therapy dog training to become a registered team. The pair provides pet therapy to relieve anxiety and stress to local hospitals, nursing homes, the Center for Good Grief, A-State campus daycare, and Honors Up All Night.

Rashad Kirksey of West Helena
Rashad Kirksey will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science with a 3.80 grade point average. He has a lengthy list of academic and scholastic achievements, including receiving the Debbye Turner, Arkansas Promise, and Arkansas Challenge scholarships. He also was awarded the Price and Sarah Gardner pre-law, Anderson Neal Jr. and Marietha Goodwin Neal, and the Linual Cameron scholarships.

He is a consistent member of the Chancellor’s and Deans Lists. During summer 2020, Kirksey served as a law fellow for the Public Policy and International Relations (PPIA) at the University of California-Berkeley, and during the 2019 fall semester, he drafted and defended a Supreme Court appellate brief in regard to the fourth amendment search and seizure provisions.

He is active in campus government and, after fulfilling service as a freshman and junior senator, he was elected to serve as president of the Student Government Association this academic year. He has worked on the Student Activities Board, the Student Philanthropy Council, the Pre-Law Club, and is an active participant in the Black Student Association, Brother2Brother, and NAACP community outreach whose top priority this year was voter registration. A member of the 2020-21 Homecoming Court, Kirksey is also the chapter president for Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity at A-State.

Bailey McAlexander of Jonesboro
Bailey McAlexander will graduate in Honors this May with a degree in biological sciences pre-professional and a 4.0 grade point average. She plans to become a physician. She has a long list of academic achievements, including the Mary Beth Oliver Memorial Scholarship, the Arkansas Academic Challenge scholarship, an A-State Excellence scholarship, and the Dr. Willie Young Memorial Scholarship.

Academically, McAlexander is active in the National Society of Leadership and Success and Phi Kappa Phi honor society. With a minor and a strong interest in Spanish language and culture, she is a participant in Sigma Delta Pi, a National Collegiate Hispanic honor society, and spent a month in Costa Rica living with a host family and immersed herself in the language and culture. She has completed the medical college admission test (MCAP) with a score of 516, ranking in the 93rd percentile nationwide.

She is involved with various activities, both on-campus and extra-curricular. A member of the Honors College Association, she is an ambassador for that organization as well as working as a Chancellor’s ambassador. She is a participant with St. Jude Up ‘til Dawn fundraising group. A member of the Student Philanthropy Council and the Pre-Professional Club, McAlexander also has an interest in animals and was a volunteer for the Northeast Arkansas Humane Society. A founding member of the A-State chapter of Pre-Student Osteopathic Medicine Association (SOMA), she also worked as a lab intern for the Arkansas Biosciences Institute researching cellular mechanisms important to cancer metastasis.

Imani Udoumana of Nashville, Tenn.
Imani Udoumana will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science degree in strategic communication. She owns a 3.97 grade point average and will pursue a Master of Science degree in the same field. She hopes to create a non-profit organization that helps communities through athletic programs for children.

Udoumana is a member of Arkansas State’s women’s track and field program who excels in hurdles and jumps as well as the multi-events. She was the triple jump champion at the 2019 Sun Belt Conference championship meet. Some of her awards include membership on the A-State Athletic Director’s Academic Honor Roll (fall 2017-spring 2021) and the Athletic Director’s Academic 4.0 Athletes (fall 2017-fall 2019). In the fall of 2019, she was named academic student-athlete of the month, the NCAA Division I all-academic women’s track and field team, and the Sun Belt Conference Commissioner’s List (2017-2021). She was awarded the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Eta Upsilon chapter, outstanding and highest GPA in 2020.

She participated in several seminars to develop leadership and character skills as a representative with the National Honors Society and Leadership and Success for the last three years. As a student-athlete tutor, she worked with numerous student-athletes in all of A-State’s 16 intercollegiate sports in communication, English and general education courses. Udoumana worked as an A-State “ghost writer,” a volunteer opportunity to take notes for Arkansas State students with disabilities. She helped organize a high school visit day on the A-State campus to learn about different clubs and organizations Arkansas State has to offer as part of her participation in the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). She also helped and participated in the Unity March as a track and field representative in the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) where student-athletes gathered and marched in support of those who have experienced racial injustices in America. She also worked with Vote!, a program that encouraged student-athletes to register to vote in the 2020 election.