Thunderbird Awards: Championing Extraordinary Students

Published: January 23, 2015 | Author: Bailey Bowthorpe | Read Time: 2 minutes

Student Paige Gunn at 2014 Thunderbird Awards.Every day, throughout the far reaches of campus, SUU students engage in extraordinary opportunities. Some students participate in groundbreaking undergraduate research, others serve in the community or exhibit leadership skills through involvement in a student club, while many can be found diligently studying on the third floor of the Library.

No matter where they are and how they get involved, SUU students are remarkable. Yet, too often a majority of these students never receive recognition for the contributions they make to the campus and community.

The 65th annual Thunderbird Awards, set to roll out the red carpet in April, rightfully recognize student excellence in academics, athletics, involvement and service. However, this classy event, sometimes described as “the Oscars of SUU”, cannot happen without the nominations of students, faculty and staff.

“Many of our students are incredibly modest and don’t often take credit for what they do,” Keri Mecham, director of Student Involvement and Leadership, said. “That’s disappointing, because everyone nominated is deserving of a Thunderbird Award.”

Kevin Koontz, a masters of public administration student and 2014 winner of the Personality of the Year award, encourages students to brag about themselves, even though it may feel uncomfortable at first.  

“SUU students are unique because they value their individuality,” he said. “You aren’t just part of a crowd, you can be recognized no matter your major or program.”

There are various awards given to students, faculty, staff, alumni and even community members during the event. Some are directly chosen by a department, college dean or athletic coach, but the majority of winners must be nominated by their peers to be eligible for the award.

“Student engagement is part of our culture at SUU,” Jared Wilcken, academic advisor for the College of Science and Engineering and 2012 Thunderbird Award winner, explained. “We already have high caliber students doing incredible things, especially through the EDGE program, now [faculty, staff and students] simply need to nominate each other.”

Mecham, who has assisted in the planning of Thunderbird Awards since 2008, said Professor of the Year is consistently one of the highest nominated awards. She hopes professors will recognize that and reciprocate by nominating their outstanding students.

“Everyone knows someone that’s a superstar, that’s gone above and beyond as a student, friend or club president, and who contributes hours of service to the university and community,” Mecham said. “This is a chance for them to be recognized for all they’ve done.”

For a full listing of awards, rules and online nomination forms, visit The annual awards ceremony will take place Saturday, April 18. 

Photo Credit: SUUNews, Paige Gunn at the 2014 Thunderbird Awards receiving the Female Contributor Award. 

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