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Meet CASSH's Outstanding Graduate Students, 2021

April 29, 2021 | Brandy Gottlieb, CASSH Communications, contributions by faculty |

A student gives a presentation
Congratulations to the 2021 CASSH Outstanding Graduate Students!

The College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities is proud to honor the CASSH Outstanding Graduate Students and Outstanding Graduate Assistants of 2021. These accomplished students have excelled academically and professionally. They have demonstrated the excellence that represents our college and university well. Congratulations to all. 

Jenni Baggett, Outstanding Graduate Student, Department of Anthropology 

Jenni Bagget is a master’s student in anthropology with a focus on pre-Columbian archaeology and has been named the 2021 Outstanding Graduate Student in the UWF Department of Anthropology. 

Of her time at UWF, Baggett said, “Over the years, UWF has given me invaluable experiences in the classroom and through my assistantships that have undoubtedly prepared me for the future. As a non-traditional student, these experiences have been extremely challenging at times, requiring me to step out of my comfort zones. Yet, these challenges have given me the confidence that I need to transition into my second career.”

John Bratten, UWF Department of Anthropology chair said, “Jenni is a worthy candidate for Outstanding Graduate Student as based on her impressive (and growing) record of research and scholarship in anthropology." 

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Ariana Strasheim, Outstanding Graduate Teaching Student, Department of Anthropology 

Ariana Strasheim has been named the 2021 Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant for the UWF Department of Anthropology

Strasheim is a biological anthropologist, whose research focuses on the utility of osteoarthritis for estimating age-at-death in human skeletal remains.  A former deputy coroner in the state of Colorado, she became a student at UWF in fall 2019. 

Strasheim distinguished herself as TA for Human Osteology during the challenging spring 2020 semester, confidently leading undergraduate laboratory activities, supervising graduate lab hours, and delivering lectures.  She then went on to earn a position as instructor of record for the fall 2020 Introduction to Biological Anthropology laboratory class, for which she innovated an effective hybrid learning strategy that blended socially distanced lab time and online participation. 

Of Strasheim, Dr. John Bratten, chair of the UWF Department of Anthropology, said, “She is truly an outstanding instructor, TA, and anthropologist.”

Of her experiences, Ariana said, “As for my grad experiences, I would have to say that although challenging, the opportunities that I have been afforded through my position as a GTA and later instructor of record have been so incredibly rewarding. Learning and growing alongside my students has been such an amazing experience that I will carry with me throughout all my future endeavors!”

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Janice Holmes Outstanding Graduate Teaching Student, Department of Communication 

Janice Holmes has been named the Outstanding Graduate Student for the Department of Communication.  

Holmes was the UWF Director of Communications from 2004 to 2010. Prior to that, she worked in public relations, publishing and advertising. Holmes has been with International Paper for the last 10 years and is currently a global communications manager. 

Rick Scott, chair for the UWF Department of Communication, said, “Her credentials are extraordinary, and she is one of the hardest working people you will ever meet.” 

Dr. Chris Fenner, UWF assistant professor of communication, said, “She has an impressive resume with a long career in professional communication, yet she approaches classes with an open mind, eager to explore new theories and concepts.”

Of her experiences, Holmes said, “It wasn’t an easy decision for me to go back to graduate school in my early 50s. But, you don’t stop being capable or wanting to learn and experience new things just because you passed 30, 40, 60, 70...This program has been an amazing learning and life experience for me. My fellow graduate colleagues are very talented and we learn from each other. Our professors show caring for their students and want them to engage on a level that exemplifies the leadership philosophy they are teaching us.” 

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Anastasia Martinez, Outstanding Graduate Assistant, Department of Communication

Anastasia Martinez has been named the 2021 Outstanding Graduate Assistant for the UWF Department of Communication

Martinez has helped to organize and promote the department’s undergraduate internship program, enhance the success of the communication program at UWF on the Emerald Coast and recruit outstanding students for the graduate program in Strategic Communication & Leadership

Dr. Athena du Pré, director for the MA Strategic Communication and Leadership program said of Martinez, “We cannot fully express the impact that Anastasia has had on our department and the success of our programs,” says du Pré. “We will miss her like crazy when she graduates, and her legacy will live on for years.”

Of her experiences, Martinez said, “I came to UWF unsure of what to expect and I am now leaving with an immense amount of gratitude and ambition. I will forever cherish my time here at UWF, and I owe a lot of it to Mrs. Kirby, Dr. du Pré, Dr. Gilmore, and the wonderful friends I have made in the process.”

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Brandon Ballard, Outstanding Graduate Assistant, Department of English

Brandon Ballard has been named the 2021 Outstanding Graduate Assistant of the UWF Department of English

Dr. Kevin Scott, Department of English chair, said, “Ballard is just a delight; he is scholastically and pedagogically innovative and meticulously professional.”

Ballard currently holds an assistantship as the Composition Program graduate assistant, a position that requires a range of administrative duties that interface with teaching composition and the scholarship of teaching writing.Ballard's work directly impacts the teacher-training of over 25 faculty and the curricular design of ENC 1101 and ENC 1102, courses required for all students in the state of Florida. 

His department faculty have said that Ballard approaches assistantship work with deep and genuine care. Beyond the expectations of organization, punctuality, and integrity, Ballard is said to bring creativity and vision to his work. He participates in program research initiatives and helps create and promote new ideas.

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Dakota Parks, Outstanding Graduate Student, Department of English

Dakota Parks has been named the 2021 Outstanding Graduate Student for the UWF Department of English. 

In addition to serving as a teaching assistant in the department, Parks is a research assistant co-editor of Feminist Spaces

Of her experiences, Parks said, “My graduate school experience in the English program has been really challenging and fun. Through close relationships with my peers and professors, I’ve grown as a writer and critical thinker. It can be difficult juggling school work with my two jobs as a journalist downtown Pensacola at Ballinger Publishing and as a graduate teaching assistant for the English department, but I think it’s taught me how to prioritize assignments and hone a wide variety of writing skills. I’ve also really enjoyed working on the campus publications: Troubadour Art & Literary Magazine and Feminist Spaces."


David Lagos, Outstanding Graduate Assistant, UWF Reubin O'D. Askew Department of Government

David Lagos was named the 2021 Outstanding Graduate Assistant with the UWF Reubin O'D. Askew Department of Government

Of his experiences, Lagos said, “The professors in this department are one of the main reasons I decided to begin this program. I did not want my undergraduate courses to be the last I had with them. It's sad to think now that I have already had my last courses with more than a few of them.”

Lagos was an outstanding UWF undergraduate who grew and flourished through the graduate program to become the Department of Government Outstanding Graduate Assistant. 

Faculty expressed that Lagos  has made his mark in the classroom and invests himself fully to make the most of his MA experience at UWF. They also said his work is of the highest quality both inside of and outside of the classroom. He thrills professors with his ability to apply knowledge and his tendency to see across subfields and readings or to translate course material to real world applications. 

Lagos commented about his graduate program experience this year, “I do not believe I have ever learned so much about the world or myself as I have this year… graduate education is—to some extent—guided self-education, that you get out of it only what you put into it.” As a graduate assistant, he has worked closely with faculty on research and projects, transcribing archival correspondence of Roger Taney or finding secondary literature for their upcoming writings regarding grand strategy in international relations. 

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Sean Whyard, Outstanding Graduate Student, UWF Reubin O'D. Askew Department of Government

Sean Whyard has been named the 2021 UWF Reubin O'D. Askew Department of Government Outstanding Graduate Student. 

For the last two years, Whyard has served as a graduate assistant to several professors within the department. He has conducted research on a wide variety of topics ranging from radical-right movements in Western Europe to members of Congress voting behaviors in the United States. While in this role, he decided to embark on pursuing a P.h.D following his time at UWF.

Faculty have agreed that he deserved this award based on his academic success in the MA program with strong grades, and his exemplary work according to faculty as a graduate assistant in the department. 

Dr. Michelle Williams, department chair, noted that what is most remarkable is that Sean is a synchronous online student and he did all of this while working on the campaign trail in a staff position for a Florida political party. They deployed him, including an assignment to the important state for primaries of New Hampshire. He was responsible for coordinating the local grassroots campaign in the state, including work to organize volunteers and for events with candidate appearances, including the national candidate who stopped there several times. Sean worked to get people registered and prepared to vote and brought his firsthand campaign experience to the classroom at UWF during this active political season.

Of his experiences, Whyard said, “"Choosing UWF to earn my master's degree was one of the best decisions I have made. The Department of Government staff and professors have made my time in the master's program enjoyable and beneficial to my career goals."


Charles Cox, Outstanding Graduate Assistant, History

Charles Cox has been named the 2021 Outstanding Graduate Assistant for the UWF Department of History

Since fifth grade, Cox has known that he wanted to be a historian, when he was assigned to write about a president. He first came to UWF as an undergraduate in History, and recently entered the MA program.  His areas of focus are Early America, 19th- Century America and Colonial Caribbean. Since becoming a graduate student Cox has been a teaching assistant for several professors, all of whom gave him outstanding evaluations. 

Dr. Amy Mitchell-Cook, department chair, said Charles is notable as a TA for his exceptional sense of responsibility. He valued the personal attention he received as an undergraduate history major at UWF and has gone above and beyond to "pay it forward."  Mitchell-Cook said, “He is a model of professionalism and success for undergraduate students to emulate and learn from.”

Of his experiences, Charles said, “My graduate experience at UWF taught me so much. Though these times have been challenging over the last year, being able to have this experience and to see what my professors have done to make sure we are successful has better prepared me as a student to overcome challenges but also it has given me valuable experience as a teaching assistant that will help me down the line as I hope to be in my professors shoes one day."

 Student Midshot

James Feehan, Outstanding Graduate Student, History

James Feehan has been named the 2021 UWF Department of History Outstanding Graduate Student. 

James is in his final semester of the public history MA program.  He was born and raised in London, England, and came to the United States to attend university and play soccer six years ago. He completed a BA in History and a minor in Business Administration at Warner University.  

Feehan has focused his graduate studies on the area’s maritime history, in particular focusing on shipbuilders just after WW1 and how they navigated the legal system when injured at work. His future hopes are to find employment in the museum industry this summer, and eventually enter into a PhD program.

Several professors commented on Feehan’s maturity and commitment.  His leadership in the class provided an excellent example to other graduate students, and when faced with challenges during the Covid-19 restrictions, Feehan  demonstrated his determination to succeed. Another professor stated that he was impressed by Feehan’s entrepreneurial approach to seeking out internship and volunteer opportunities, his willingness to take intellectual risks and his professionalism and good cheer.  

Of his experience, Feehan said, “I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in graduate school. As the first person in my family to enroll in higher education, a master's degree was something that I never thought would be on the table. Thankfully I was able to come to UWF and enter into the Public History graduate program. In this program, I was able to learn under the tutelage of excellent professors who helped teach me the skills that a competent historian needs.”

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