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UB's outstanding seniors receive awards from the College of Arts and Sciences


Every academic year, outstanding seniors in the University at Buffalo’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) are recognized for their service to the university and their high GPAs. The 26 recipients will receive a personalized medal and certificate, which will be presented to the students at the CAS commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 17 at 10 a.m.

The Spectrum reached out to all 26 recipients of the awards and those who responded are profiled below.

Sean Bearden, a physics major, was inspired by his great uncle who has a master’s degree in physics. Bearden always had a knack for mathematics, but knew he wanted to apply those skills to the natural sciences.

But it took him two years after dropping out of high school to get back on the academic path.

Bearden didn’t always have the drive he has today. In high school, he excelled at math simply because “it was easy” for him. But when he dropped out, he started on a path “far from academic pursuits.”

Once he got back on the right track, he decided it was “all or nothing.”

For over two years, Bearden has been involved in research on the theoretical operation of spin lasers under Dr. Igor Zutic. His research has culminated in one publication with a second in the works.

Bearden plans on going to University of California, San Diego to pursue a doctorate in physics with a focus on condensed matter experiment. He will also be a graduate research assistant for Dr. Dimitri Basov at University of California, San Diego starting in June.

“[Physics] is a major that will require more of your time than most other majors,” Bearden said. “Many of your friends will not understand why you are always busy, but in the end the hard work will pay off.”


Ronald Bola, a biomedical sciences major, worked on research with C. elegans worms, was part of the UB Quidditch Association and was an academic assistant in the Health Professions Living and Learning Community in Spaulding Quad.

His interest in biomedical sciences comes from the breadth and depth of the concepts one can learn within the field.

“The potential for research is tremendous and so is the potential for application of concepts to real world ideas and problems that we face,” Bola said. “My major allows me to look at the most fundamental aspects of what makes us human and that perspective is something that I really appreciate.”

As an academic assistant, Bola tutored and mentored pre-health students and helped them navigate through their freshman years. He was also involved in animal behavior research.

After he graduates, he will be doing a one-year research fellowship at the National Institutes of Health in Baltimore, Maryland. During that year he will also be applying to medical schools. Bola is going to miss the familiarity of the campus and how much he gets to walk around it with his friends.


Ivana Bosek, a contemporary marketing major, will leave UB after graduation and venture out across the United States.

Bosek was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when she was 16 and will be traveling to different cities to get interviews with doctors and patients for her documentary called The Crohn’s Moans.

Aside from dealing with her Crohn’s, Bosek’s four years at UB have prepared her for her journey. Bosek designed her own major – a combination of communication, marketing, design and media courses. She will be graduating with a special majors degree.

But the best part of college is the people she met, she said.

“My favorite memory is the very first day I arrived and spent time with my new roommate who ended up being one of the most amazing people who has stepped into my life thus far,” Bosek said.

She encourages everyone to choose their own path and figure out what’s best for them.


Anna Davidson always questioned the human use of language. It was because of her inquisitive thinking that she decided to major in linguistics at UB.

“[My dad] would always point out slips of the tongue and weird phrasing,” Davidson said. “It wasn't until high school when I had a particularly wonderful French teacher that I learned what linguistics is.”

Once she found out that linguistics was a major offered at UB, she knew that’s what she wanted to do. Her passion is linguistics, though she has a double major in English.

“I had the opportunity to be an undergraduate [teaching assistant], which was a great experience,” Davidson said. “Overall, I feel like the linguistics department did more for me that I did for it. There were so many learning opportunities and lectures – and of course, wonderful professors.”

Davidson plans on using the summer to travel and spend time with loved ones, and wants to begin working in the fall. Ultimately, she plans on attending graduate school.

“[My advice to current students is] make sure you take some classes just for fun,” she said. “Maybe they won't fulfill your degree requirements, but you'll definitely remember those classes more than the ones you were forced to take.”


Thomas Effland was turned off by the rigid curriculum of UB’s engineering program and turned to mathematics.

“I switched to math because it was so general and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I figured it’d give me the most room to adapt to the career I wanted once I’d found it,” Effland, a mathematics major, said.

As Effland reaches the end of his undergraduate career, he plans on getting his doctorate in computer science from Columbia University with a focus in scalable machine-learning and information extraction systems. It’s “basically designing new systems to get useful information out of huge amounts of data on the web,” Effland said.

Effland conducted research while attending UB, all of which had a heavy applied math component, he said. Some of his projects included an international software competition in his junior year.

“I spent this year working on a system that makes predictions about how useful webpages are and searches the web for useful content,” Effland said. “In all of [the projects I’ve worked on] I’ve either won some award or been published, so I suppose my contribution has been helping to get the UB math department name out there.”

While Effland’s academic track record is substantial, he also stresses the importance of joining extracurricular clubs. Effland said clubs help you meet new people with common interests and serves a stress-reliever from classes.


Emma Frieh, a sociology major, will be attending Indiana University in the fall studying gender, sexuality, social theory and ethnography,

“I’ve been able to study away in New York City, experiencing learning ethnographic methods through field research,” Frieh said. “I am very appreciative of the opportunities I’ve been given to learn from professors and from close relationships with faculty.”

Unlike other seniors, Frieh’s biggest accomplishment is more personal than academic. During her past four years, she’s been involved in numerous activist groups such as Fight for $15 and other activities related to standing up against racism, classism and misogyny, she said.


Alyssa Hessler, a geology major with a minor in archeology, came to UB as an environmental studies major. However, after taking an intro to geology class she thought about changing majors.

“I really liked my 101 class,” Hessler said. “My professor was super enthusiastic about geology and made the class really fun and interesting.”

Hessler decided to make the change, and although she was nervous, it ended up being the right decision. The more advanced the classes became the more interested she became. Going from liking geology to loving it.

Next for Hessler is the University of North Dakota. Hessler decided to go to North Dakota because she was interested in working and studying with Dr. Phil Gerla who works in hydrology and prairie restoration. Hessler aspires to also work in hydrology after completing grad school.

Although Hessler is looking forward to heading out west for grad school, she will always remember UB fondly.

“I am so happy with my time at UB,” Hessler said. “[It] has been really fun and full of great opportunities.”


Karin Hsien, a philosophy major, wanted to get the most out of her education at UB. She now plans on going to medical school.

Hsien describes philosophy as “great for making you think and developing critical reasoning skills,” but stressed that it is not an easy subject. Hsien said that UB's philosophy faculty are “very willing to have open dialogues,” which has enhanced her educational experience.


Justin Imiola, an environmental sciences and economics major with a minor in geography, describes his time at UB as “outstanding.”

“Everyone at UB has been accommodating and has continued to push me to do more and grow beyond my previous capabilities,” Imiola said. “If at another school, I'm not sure how things would have turned out. The opportunities at UB are unparalleled.”

Imiola came to UB knowing he wanted to study economics, but it wasn’t until between his sophomore and junior year that he gravitated towards environmental geosciences.

“[I was] always interested in business, policy, and society and wanted to look at those fields from a quantitative standpoint. [I] began to gravitate towards a more science-based environmental curriculum as I developed an interest and appreciation for the complex interplay between environmental and human systems. Sustainability became a key part of my academic career,” Imiola said.

Imiola has already accepted a job at Wendel Companies, a local architecture, engineering and energy services firm as an energy project analyst where he will be working to further energy efficiency and sustainability for commercial and industrial clients.

Imiola also plans to give back to the university he has grown to appreciate so much.

“In the future, I hope to grow and develop in my current career path as well as give back to the University as an alumni,” Imiola said. “I hope to remain connected with the university as I progress in my career and will certainly do my best to contribute to others' development at UB.”


Victoria Kent, a psychology major, said “people watching” was the start of her path in college. Three years later, Kent is ready to take the next step and get her doctorate in social psychology.

When Kent first came to UB, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to major in psychology. But after taking Dr. Larry Hawk’s psychology 101 class, it clicked. She knew this was what she would pursue.

Kent described herself as having a passion for learning.

“My ambition met with my fondness for psychology and fueled my drive to excel,” she said.

Starting her sophomore year, she became involved in research. The first lab Kent joined was Dr. Michael Poulin’s social adaptation lab, and she is currently writing her Honors thesis on this field of research. She later joined a second lab and worked with Dr. Stephen Tiffany to research smoking, which gave Kent some insight in to the clinical aspects of psychology.

To any students thinking about going in to psychology, Kent recommends getting involved with research as early as possible.

“Psychology is much more than just sitting on a couch and listening to people’s problems or treating someone who is mentally ill,” Kent said. “There are a lot of options with psychology because human behavior affects every aspect of life.”


Rachel Kramer, a communication major, came to UB to be a journalist, but the Honors College student is leaving with a different plan. She joined The Spectrum the first semester of her freshman year as a staff writer and now is the managing editor. Through her time at the newspaper, she has developed a love for the emerging field of social-media marketing.

“My time at The Spectrum has taught me not only how to interview people but also how to manage and teach a staff,” Kramer said. “And that staff became a group of friends I couldn’t see myself surviving college without.”

During her junior year Kramer began to explore options outside of journalism by working with Lance Rintamaki the director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Communication. She did two independent studies with him developing marketing strategies for the sex communication textbook he’s writing and also was a teaching assistant for his sex communication class.

“Get involved,” Kramer said. “So many people say that being a communication major is easy or that communication majors won’t get jobs after graduation. That’s bulls***. It all defends on what you do with your time at UB and how you spend your free time. Don’t just sit around and watch Netflix, gain real-world experience with an internship or something.”

After graduation, Kramer plans on pursuing a career in New York City that combines her love of social-media marketing and writing.


Daniel Loebell, an Asian studies major with minors in global gender studies and Chinese, never had a lot of experience with diverse communities growing up.

“Most of the people in my town were predominately white upper class so even though I had played violin with Chinese Americans, there wasn’t so much interest that inspired me to do Asian studies from there,” Loebell said.

His inspiration came from playing video games about Asia and watching anime.

“I took so many classes in Chinese and I didn’t want to stop doing it even though Asian studies only requires four classes, so I kept going and decided to make it a minor,” Loebell said.

After graduation, Loebell intends on enrolling in a graduate school in Nanjing, China.


Shaunna McLeod participated in UB’s first winter study abroad program to Turkey. She got to explore Istanbul and other cities in the country, which she found to be a great introduction to international travel.

McLeod also worked for Professor Janet Morrow in the chemistry department for two years where she gained undergraduate research experiences, including working on bioinorganic chemistry projects during the summer. McLeod presented her research at the Celebration for Academic Excellence as well as at the regional undergraduate American Chemical Society Symposium.

“My interest in inorganic chemistry deals with the transition metals and coordination chemistry,” McLeod said. “One of the reasons I was attracted to chemistry as a major initially was that I felt it was a good bridge between biology and physics.”

In addition to studying abroad and doing undergraduate research, McLeod played clarinet in the concert band every semester and is also a member of the Honors College.

After graduation she is going to graduate school at Northwestern University to pursue her doctorate in chemistry. She is going to miss UB’s chemistry department the most because of her lab mates, with whom she’s became good friends.


Emily Niemel, a history and Spanish major, will be pursuing a juris doctor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. This is her biggest accomplishment so far, she said.

“My time at UB has been rich with experiences I never thought I would have when I began my undergraduate career,” she said.

Niemel’s best memories are the many conversations she has with international students as part of UB’s English Language Institute Chat Room. She has also participated in different clubs and activities over the past four years like the women’s rowing team and the Mock Trial Club, and was an international student mentor and Academic Resource Center tutor.

Niemel said that while at UB she learned every moment is an opportunity and once students seize those opportunities, they will achieve things they never thought possible.


John O’Brien, an English and social sciences interdisciplinary major, won outstanding senior awards for both of his majors. He plans to spend his summer here in Buffalo to save up some money, but also to take the time to backpack through Europe for an after-graduation adventure.

O’Brien said he loves learning and discovering new things. He plans to venture into new experiences and to find a passion that will guide him onto his next journey after college.

O’Brien said he does not believe that he would tell his younger self prior to college to make any changes.

“Seventeen-year-old me wouldn't have listened anyway, and that kid turned out fine,” O’Brien said.


Samantha L. Romand, a fine art major, made it her mission to prove the art department was just as serious as other departments at UB.

Romand served as a peer mentor for the Honors College and is currently the Ambassador for the Department of Art through CAS.

She worked as a student assistant to Renee Ruffino, the CAS creative design director and created many posters, event programs and promotional materials for numerous departments. She also designed College Matters, a year-in-review report from the Dean and Office of Alumni Philanthropy and Engagement. It was sent out to over 5,000 alumni and friends of the college last fall.

“I've presented research at three conferences and been heavily involved in large projects on campus through my job,” Romand said.

Romand’s advice for other art majors is to do more than just coursework – show your art outside the classroom.

“Get an independent study and curate shows, create designs or assist a professor on a large project and network,” Romand said. “Remember that your classmates will always understand your struggles. Support each other and everyone will reap the benefits.”

A week after graduation, Romand will be moving to Denver, Colorado, where she is currently seeking employment there. She hopes to find a job with either a university or an advertising agency.

“Graduate school is on the horizon – I’m just not sure when yet,” Romand said.


Christine Schaefer chose to major in history after fostering a love for history classes since her early years in grade school. One teacher in particular, a Mr. Kean, really had a large impact on her love for history.

“At the end of the year, [Mr. Kean] put together a local history scavenger hunt with riddle-clues to lead us to actual locations around Buffalo,” Schaefer said. “We would take pictures at these locations and do a little research on each to complete a scrapbook of local history identifications.

Schaefer says that Kean’s class compelled her to pursue a history major at UB.

After graduation, the history and German major will volunteer with Buffalo 40 Days for Life, an organization that Schaefer says “keeps a prayerful presence outside of abortion clinics in our nation’s cities.”

Schaefer is still weighing her career options, but the idea of teaching – which she said used to “off the table” for her – now seems a bit appealing.

“[Current students] should try to integrate not just their intellectual life, but all aspects of their lives into one,” Schaefer said. “Integrity, adherence to sound moral principles in every situation, even if it is inconvenient or painful, is so important.”

Schaefer believes that as a human family, we should seek goodness above all else.


Lucas Sokolowski, a business major, was born and raised in Buffalo, which made his decision to attend UB that much easier. Now that he is finally graduating, he’s ready to open up the next chapter in his life.

“I am moving to New York,” Sokolowski said in an email. “I accepted a job as an analyst with the investment bank Goldman Sachs and will be starting this summer. I'm a little nervous, but looking forward to it.”

But in December, Sokolowski felt pangs of senioritis. He took that turned it into fuel to finish up his degree and move into a career.

Sokolowski has met a multitude of people, thanks to UB’s diverse campus, and said he will never forget the variety of people who have stepped into his life during his college journey.


Nathaniel Sundholm, a speech pathology major, chose UB to be a little further from home while representing a school with his favorite color, blue. He is now ready to see where his time at UB will take him.

“I'm a little bit nervous about where life is going to take me, but I am extremely excited for all of the opportunities that are coming my way,” Sundholm said. “I would be lying if I said my heart didn't skip a beat every time I think about hearing my name called at commencement.”

Christmas caroling in Greiner Hall, eating delicious egg salad bagel sandwiches at Wrap it Up and volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House are just a few of his favorite memories.

But it was seeing his current girlfriend walk into his Spanish class for the first time and “knowing she was the one” that is his best memory of all time.

Sundholm plans to continue his studies in Nashville, Tennessee at Vanderbilt University. Before moving onto the next chapter of his life, he wants take this summer to bask in the warmth of the sun as a way to pat himself on the back for all his hard work.


Jessica Yarnes, a political science major, was young when she read books about President Abraham Lincoln. This sparked her interest in politics and considers herself lucky to grow up in a time with strong female figures in politics.

“I do not see the value in complaining about an issue and then waiting for it to be resolved by others,” Yarnes said. “I want to become involved, challenge myself and take risks in order to advocate for issues I believe in.”

While at UB, Yarnes has interned for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Senator Chuck Schumer. These experiences gave her a chance to learn about the local issues of Western New York and how the two senators advocate for those who elected them.

Academically, Yarnes has worked as a teaching assistant for Dr. Claude Welch for UGC 112 World Civilizations. This helped Yarnes to expand her knowledge of cultures and their politics.

Upon graduation, Yarnes will go on to the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. She eventually hopes to run for political office one day.

“I encourage any student who wants to go into politics to get involved in activities like interning for a politician or volunteering for a campaign,” Yarnes said. “Students should find something they are passionate about and actively pursue ways to get involved.”

Features desk can be reached at features@ubspectrum.com


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