Measuring Brilliance

February 23, 2023

By Laura J. Cole ’04 ’08MLS

From competitive grants and awards earned by faculty and students to prestigious institutional recognition, we celebrate the many accomplishments made possible by the collective impact of the Brighter Together campaign.

Five months after our nation’s Founding Fathers adopted the Declaration of Independence, a small group of college students gathered in Colonial Williamsburg to create a society dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. They named the society Phi Beta Kappa and distributed to each member a silver square medal with the initials PBK—the Greek initials for a phrase that translates to “philosophy, or love of wisdom, the guide to life”—and an index finger pointing to three stars.

Nearly two centuries later, in March of last year, 19 Rollins students became the first in the College’s history to receive the selective keys. Among the College’s first cohort are Evangelina Wong ’22, a master’s candidate in medical physics at Duke University; Maria Morales ’22, a technology analyst at Wells Fargo; and Edward Broker ’22, a PhD candidate in chemistry at Texas A&M.

The cohort joined a storied history that includes 17 U.S. presidents, 42 U.S. Supreme Court judges, and more than 150 Nobel laureates. But the keys signify more than the members’ commitment to being guided by wisdom. They represent the quality of education and dedication of the faculty at the less than 10 percent of institutions that have been elected to have a campus chapter.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” says political science professor Donald Davison, who led the application committee. “There are fewer than 300 academic institutions in the world that have been granted a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, which makes it a selective, prestigious academic achievement that the overwhelming majority of institutions cannot reach.”

To become a member, institutions must submit a preliminary application. If the committee accepts the application, they’re invited to submit a general application and undergo three rigorous review processes that scrutinize every function of the college and the quality of its faculty—by examining everything from their syllabi to their credentials and publications.

“Our innovative curriculum and faculty are characteristics that are in tandem with receiving a Phi Beta Kappa chapter,” says Davison. “They are manifestations of a faculty who is thoroughly engaged in delivering the best liberal arts instruction, who are engaged in their disciplines by presenting their research. Both are important for the instructional quality that we deliver to our students and what PBK acknowledged by establishing a chapter at Rollins.”

In many ways, the PBK chapter is a culmination of—and recognition for—much of what Rollins set out to achieve with the Brighter Together campaign: to advance our innovative educational model to its fullest potential; to invest in the people, programs, and places that prepare our graduates to succeed personally and professionally; and to empower our students and graduates to even greater impact in the classroom, in our community, on the job, and in the world.

Here we celebrate a selection of standout accomplishments of our students, faculty, and the College itself that—thanks to the generous support of donors—illuminate just how much brighter our community has become.

A physics professor and study work on a astrophysics research project.
Physics major Henri Balla ’22 worked with his mentor, physics professor Chris Fuse, to get a glimpse into the origins of our solar system.Photo by Scott Cook.

Elevating the Academic Experience

Whether in the classroom or farther afield, Rollins continually strives to strengthen the undergraduate experience for students and prepare graduates for productive careers. Over the past 10 years, our collective effort has garnered recognition in the form of rankings for everything from transfer student programs and alternative breaks to the quality of our academics and teaching as well as membership in some of the most esteemed organizations.

Top 10 in the Nation for Study Abroad Nearly 75 percent of Rollins students study abroad at least once during their college experience, leading the Institute of International Education to regularly rank the College among the country’s top 10 institutions for the percentage of students who participate in an international program. Rollins has held the title for four consecutive years and has been included in the top 12 for eight, cementing the tenet of global citizenship firmly in the core of our mission.

“Rollins allowed me to spend six weeks in Indonesia and study in France, Singapore, Taiwan, even the Everglades,” says Isaac Gorres ’21, a graduate student in environmental microbiology at Radboud University in the Netherlands. “Without those experiences, I wouldn’t have been prepared to live outside the U.S. for grad school.”

No. 1 Regional University in the South Rollins beat 134 colleges and universities for the top spot in the region, according to U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings guide. The 2023 rankings marked the 27th consecutive year that Rollins has ranked among the top two spots—and the top school in Florida—in the category.

National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges Scholars Program In 2019, a decade after the program first launched across the nation, Rollins became the only member school to offer the multi-year, research-based program that doesn’t offer a four-year degree in engineering. The College focuses on how the skills taught across the general curriculum enable Rollins students to address challenges and opportunities facing humanity in the 21st century.

Commitment to Undergraduate Teaching Rollins’ 11:1 student-faculty ratio and average class size of 17 allow faculty to teach in a method that’s best suited to the material and to help steer students’ success as they pursue their purpose. U.S. News & World Report recognized that strength by twice placing Rollins in the No. 1 spot for its commitment to teaching undergraduates and regularly including the College among the top schools in the category.

“At Rollins, I was able to build close relationships with faculty, which is really unprecedented at other universities,” says Jacqueline Bengtson ’22, a Fulbright Student who’s currently teaching English in Nepal. “My professors continue to help me navigate who I am.”

A anthropology professor leads a classroom discussion.
Anthropology professor Shan-Estelle Brown received a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health with Yale University and the Center for Interdisciplinary Research to advance HIV prevention.Photo by Scott Cook.

Advancing Knowledge

Over the past decade, the number of awards and grants Rollins faculty received have increased by 140 percent, signifying the innovative research and creative contributions that are positively impacting the College, our planet, and our local and global communities.

“In the past year alone, faculty have published some 270 papers, books, and creative works, and collectively they have been on grants totaling over $5 million just in the sciences,” says Susan Singer, vice president for academic affairs and provost. “At some places, that’s isolated from the classroom experience. Not at Rollins. The prestigious grants and awards our faculty have received not only reflect their expertise but enhance the deep and rigorous nature of the courses they teach.”

Expanding Knowledge of the Human Body Biology professor Bobby Fokidis earned two National Science Foundation grants, the most recent to study exosomes and their role in the initiation of steroid hormone production, which is observed in biological processes like prostate cancer and menopause.

Reducing Opioid Overdoses Math professor Zeynep Teymuroglu and University of Richmond co-collaborator Joanna Wares received a grant from the Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics to fuel student-faculty research that will convert mathematical models into interventions to reduce fatal overdoses from opioids, lower transmission rates, and reduce litter from usage.

Preventing HIV Anthropology professor Shan-Estelle Brown received a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health with Yale University and the Center for Interdisciplinary Research to power an educational text-messaging campaign to increase the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for those at risk of contracting HIV.

Fostering Inclusive STEM Education Rollins’ STEM faculty—led by chemistry professor Kasandra Riley—earned a $529,000 Inclusive Excellence grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, making the College one of just 104 institutions across the nation to be recognized for its plan to build a more equitable future for burgeoning scientists from historically underrepresented populations.

Addressing Climate Change Physics professor Samantha Fonseca dos Santos received an award from the Thomas Jefferson Fund to examine the destruction of nitrogen oxide molecules by electron collision, which could help reduce air pollution caused by engine exhaust and industrial combustion.

Studying Musical Acoustics Physics professor Thom Moore has received five grants from the National Science Foundation’s Research in Undergraduate Institutions program to fund research projects with students, using his anechoic chamber to examine the acoustics of wind instruments.

A student and a professor talk one on one during a Mandarin class.
Karina Barbesino ’19 earned a Boren Scholarship—a prestigious award for students who intend to pursue careers in federal national security.Photo by Scott Cook.

Fueling Student Success

Boren. Goldwater. Payne. Truman. These names represent the most coveted grants and scholarships undergraduate students can receive, and applying for and receiving these awards takes dedication, discipline, and a high level of academic preparation. Since 2013, Rollins students have received 66 such awards, providing funding for everything from attending leadership conferences to pursuing study abroad experiences, research opportunities, and graduate school.

“Participation in this process demonstrates our students’ preparedness to compete on a national and international level with some of the top students around the globe,” says Danielle Abdon, fellowships advisor for Rollins’ Office of External Fellowships & Scholarships. “These competitive awards open up pathways for our grads to pursue career goals free of financial roadblocks.”

The Conservationist Isaac Gorres ’21 was awarded a Goldwater Scholarship—the nation’s preeminent award in the field of mathematics, engineering, and the natural sciences—to conduct undergraduate research aimed at helping museums employ cost-effective measures to identify pigment molecules in paint. Today, the biochemistry/molecular biology and art history double major is a graduate student in environmental microbiology at Radboud University in the Netherlands.

The Sociologist Valedictorian and sociology major Emily Curran ’22 was awarded a grant for graduate school as part of the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship Program. She is using the fellowship to pursue a PhD in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, where her research focuses on gender, work, and family.

“My work with Dr. [Amy] Armenia is what led me to pursue a PhD in sociology,” says Curran. “We were published together in early 2021, and our work inspired me to get involved with the Student Support Foundation on campus. I’m excited to expand my research in graduate school, and the NSF grant will help fund my project.”

The Advocate First-generation college student Wyatt Deihl ’21 earned a Truman Scholarship, the nation’s foremost award for those seeking to make a difference in public policy. The self-designed major in health, medicine, and society is now pursuing a master’s of public health at Yale University and hopes to pursue a law degree before becoming a public interest attorney or running for public office.

The Diplomat International relations major Kate Knight ’19 earned the esteemed Payne Fellowship— the premier graduate award for those who want to work in the Foreign Service of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). She is in her final semester at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, where she’s working toward a master’s degree in humanitarian policy with a specialization in conflict resolution and the Middle East region.

“My ultimate goal has always been to join the Foreign Service,” says Knight. “I took Middle East Culture with Rachel Newcomb early on at Rollins, and that inspired me to focus on learning Arabic and to study abroad in Jordan.”

The Analyst Karina Barbesino ’19 earned a Boren Scholarship—a prestigious award for students who intend to pursue careers in federal national security— to expand her studies of the Mandarin language. The double major in international relations and Asian studies went on to work for a think-tank in Washington, D.C. and serve as a research assistant at Harvard before landing her current role as a senior consultant for global firm Booz Allen Hamilton.

A map of the world with statues depicting where Fulbright students from Rollins have been assigned.
More than 100 Rollins students and faculty have earned Fulbrights to teach English or conduct research on every continent except Antarctica.Photo by Scott Cook.

Embodying Global Citizenship

More than seven decades ago, Shirley Christensen Howard ’51 became the first person at Rollins to earn a Fulbright scholarship. Since then, 30 faculty members and 87 students have won the prestigious award to teach English or conduct research on every continent except Antarctica, studying everything from international security to collaborative religion. And of the 117 Fulbright awards distributed to Tars since 1951, nearly half have been received in the past decade alone. Rollins is consistently recognized as a top producer of Fulbright Students—a testament to the College’s mission to create responsible citizens of the world.

Fulbright Student Katie Pearce ’19, an English major, earned a master’s of letters in creative writing from the University of Glasgow while working remotely for the Florida Veterinary Medical Association, where she continues to serve as a senior creative lead.

“Rollins was a huge stepping stone for me in going from my small town that no one seemed to leave to getting out into the world and having incredible opportunities, such as getting a Fulbright so I could study creative writing at one of the top universities in the world,” says Pearce.

Read More

April 17, 2024

Makayle Kellison ’24 Earns Goldwater Scholarship

Makayle Kellison ’24 has earned a Goldwater Scholarship, the country’s most prestigious undergraduate scholarship for the STEM fields.

April 16, 2024

Class News: April 2024

In this monthly roundup, get the latest on what’s happening in the lives of your fellow Tars.

April 08, 2024

The Legacy of Fred Rogers '51 Lives on in Rollins' Music Department

Fred Rogers' nephew Dan Crozier, a professor of music at Rollins College, shares thoughts and memories of his uncle and previews the Mister Rogers: The Musician concert.