Class of 2016 Outstanding Seniors share academic inspirations and post-graduation goals
Students honored for high academic achievements and involvement in departments
Ashley Cercone has always been obsessive about her grades.
She said she wanted to prove her high school counselor wrong by showing her that she could perform at a high level during her undergraduate career – especially because she didn’t perform as high as she would have liked on her SATs.
Cercone, a senior anthropology and classics major, is one of 27 graduating UB students being recognized as an “Outstanding Senior” in their departments. Cercone is being recognized for her achievements in the anthropology department.
Every spring, the dean of College of Arts and Sciences selects the students in the graduating class from each department with the highest academic achievement and most involvement in their department to be awarded as the “Dean’s Outstanding Senior.”
The students must “have demonstrated academic excellence exemplified by an exceptional grade point average, election to honor societies, participation in research,” among potential academic other factors, according to UB’s website.
Students who receive the award must also attend the university’s commencement ceremony.
“[My high school counselor] told me as a junior in high school that I would never be accepted to UB and I should instead study at a lower rank university,” Cercone said. “I completely ignored what she said and applied anyways.”
She said when she first entered UB, she aspired to work with immigrants and looked to do so by pursuing a degree in cultural anthropology.
Cercone said since her freshman year, she wanted to win the outstanding senior award, but did not think she could actually do it.
Kenneth Minorczyk, a senior biological sciences, said he wanted to graduate at the top of his class and be accepted into a top medical school.
Minorczyk, who received the award of Dean’s Outstanding Senior in his department, said he aspires to be a neurosurgeon and has voluteered at Mercy Hospital, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Elderwood Nursing Home during his undergraduate career. He has also shadowed orthopedic surgeon Michael Ostempowski.
“Initially, the spark was neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson's book ‘Gifted Hands,’ particularly since he grew up very poor like myself, but became extremely successful in medicine,” he said.
Minorczyk said Carson’s successful surgery stories were “touching.”
“Once I checked out the medical field by shadowing some physicians and volunteering at medical facilities, it was exceedingly clear there was nothing else for me but medicine.”
Minorczyk will be attending the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine on a full-tuition merit based scholarship.
He said he looks to attend a top neurosurgery residency program and bring his talents and passion back to Buffalo, because it is “an underserved location medically.” Minorczyk’s goal in medicine is two-fold. He first looks to help the sick to become better as well as to use medicine as a means of bridging the disparity gaps that exist among socioeconomic levels in society.
Like Minorczyk, Max Crinnin, a senior English major, said he looks to pursue medicine after graduating. He was named “Outstanding Senior” in the English department.
He also shadowed doctors and volunteered at hospitals during his undergraduate career.
Crinnin said he was inspired by the patients he oversaw when volunteering. He cited playwright Anton Chekhov as a literary inspiration.
Laura Mannara, a senior economics and political science major is also being recognized as an “Outstanding Senior.” She is receiving the award in the economics department.
She said the McNair Scholars Program, which assists students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds to earn their Ph.D. was very helpful to her as an undergraduate.
“This program gave me the opportunity to do faculty advised research and provided guidance and support to help me through the process of applying to graduate school,” she said.
Mannara is attending the University of Rochester's Ph.D. program for political science.
Cercone said she hopes to become a professor of archaeology with her degree. She aspires to teach her own classes and conduct her own own research. She is interested in ancient trade routes between the Aegean and Near East.
She participated in her first excavation in Romania and has continued to travel abroad every summer. She said having hands-on experiences by engaging in excavations is “really the only way to become an archaeologist.”
Cercone has since worked on three archaeological sites in Romania, Turkey and Hungary over the course of four summers.
She is a member of three archaeology groups, including the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), Society for American Archaeology (SAA) and Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology (IEMA).
Cercone plans to take a year off and teach English in Turkey. She also plans to start a new archaeological excavation project.
“I want to earn my PhD in archaeology so that people can call me Doctor Cercone,” she said. “My parents always encouraged me to attend university in order to become a doctor. A doctor of archaeology counts, right?”