Top students honored with Founder's Medal at Commencement
Photo by Vanderbilt University
Top scholars from Vanderbilt University’s undergraduate and professional schools were honored with Founder’s Medals during Commencement on Friday, May 14.
Since 1877, a gold medal has been awarded to the student graduating at the top of his or her class from each of Vanderbilt’s schools. These gold medals are called “Founder’s Medals” in honor of Cornelius Vanderbilt who made a specific contribution to endow the awards in their first year.
Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos presented the Founder’s Medals to the following students:
- Johna Smith, Blair School of Music
- Leslie Esbrook, College of Arts and Science
- Lauren Smelser, Divinity School
- Andrew Jallouk, School of Engineering
- Ryan Holt, Law School
- Brandon Litzner, School of Medicine
- Jennifer Roemer, School of Nursing
- Eric Bilbrey, Owen Graduate School of Management
- Jessica Solomon, Peabody College of education and human development
Johna Smith, Bloomington, Ind., Founder’s Medalist for the Blair School of Music,is graduating with a bachelor of music in violin performance and a minor in mathematics. She is a recipient of Vanderbilt’s William Moennig Jr. Scholarship and the Jean Keller Heard Prize for Excellence in Musical Performance. She also received the Theodore Presser Award, which is awarded to a junior for musical and academic excellence.
Smith served as concertmaster for the Vanderbilt Orchestra and gave three full-length solo recitals while at the university. A member of Phi Kappa Lambda music honor society, she was chosen to perform in violin and chamber music master classes given by leading musicians – Robert Mann, former first violinist for the Julliard Quartet; Andres Cardenes, concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony; Pamela Frank and William Preucil, concertmasters for the Cleveland Orchestra; James Dunham, violinist for the Cleveland Quartet, and Lawrence Dutton, violinist for the Emerson Quartet.
She plans to enter Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music in the fall where she will pursue a master’s degree in violin performance.
Leslie Esbrook, Northbrook, Ill., Founder’s Medalist for the College of Arts and Science, is graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor of arts in economics and French and European Studies and a minor in history. Her paper on the concentration camp of Theresienstadt and the Red Cross’ visit there in 1943 was published in the Vanderbilt Undergraduate Research Journal her freshman year. She would later serve as associate editor and editor-in-chief for the journal – the university’s premier venue for multidisciplinary student research. Currently she is working with a professional playwright who read her piece on Theresienstadt and wants to bring it to the stage.
Esbrook studied abroad in Paris and Aix-en-Provence where she worked as a staff writer for the student interests page of La Provence, the largest French regional daily there. Before embarking on overseas study, she honed her French language skills by participating in Vanderbilt’s French poetry contests, in which she placed first her sophomore year. She also translated archived witness testimony collected at the Treblinka concentration camp from French to English for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Active in the Model United Nations throughout her career at Vanderbilt, she served as philanthropy chair for the organization and instituted its first Spring Gala that drew an attendance of 500 and proceeds that were donated to the U.N. World Food Programme. Following graduation Esbrook will teach high school mathematics for two years through the Teach for America program in St. Louis, and then will attend Yale Law School in the fall of 2012.
Lauren Smelser, Florence, Ala., Founder’s Medalist for the Divinity School, is graduating with a Master of Theological Studies. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Harding University and a Master of Arts from Abilene Christian University. While pursuing her studies at Vanderbilt, she served as a volunteer creative writing teacher at the Campus for Human Development, a religious non-profit agency committed to providing enhanced services to the homeless.
Smelser pursued her degree at Vanderbilt with the intention of exploring ways to remain faithful to the traditions of the Church of Christ – in which roles for women in ministry are limited – while initiating a conversation about the ministerial gifts of women who wish to serve. Following graduation she will teach English at Tennessee State University.
Andrew Jallouk, Oak Ridge, Tenn., Founder’s Medalist for the School of Engineering, is graduating with a bachelor of engineering in biomedical engineering and a minor in chemistry. He is a recipient of a Paul Harrawood Honors Undergraduate Scholarship and a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. He was also named to the Dean’s List each semester and inducted into the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society.
For the past two semesters, Jallouk has worked on a senior design project to design biodegradable polymer scaffolds to assist in the regeneration of vascular tissue after the removal of atherosclerotic plaques. For four years, he participated in Vanderbilt Student Volunteers for Science, a volunteer organization dedicated to stimulating interest in the sciences among middle school students in the Nashville area. For the past three semesters, he has volunteered at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt providing tutoring for children who had fallen behind on schoolwork because of hospital stays.
His work at Children’s Hospital reinforced his desire to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. degree in the fall with a research focus on biomaterials. He is interested in the application of these materials in the field of tissue engineering, as well as in the detection and treatment of various diseases.
Ryan Holt, Nashville, Founder’s Medalist for the Law School, is graduating with a doctor of jurisprudence. During his time at the university, he was selected for the Vanderbilt Legal Academy Scholars program, awarded the Archie B. Martin and Robert F. Jackson memorial prizes for the highest scholastic averages in his first and second years, made the Dean’s List and served as editor-in-chief of the Vanderbilt Law Review. He was active in Moot Court and Mock Trial. He won the Top Litigator Award and was selected as a Moot Court Board Member.
He also spent his undergraduate career at Vanderbilt – graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in economics and philosophy – and holds a master’s degree in economics from the University of Nebraska.
After graduation Holt will serve as law clerk to the Honorable Gilbert Merritt, 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Nashville. Following his clerkship, he has accepted an offer of employment from the firm of Sherrard & Roe in Nashville.
Brandon Litzner, Valley Center, Kan., Founder’s Medalist for the School of Medicine, is graduating with a doctor of medicine degree. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Wichita State University. While at Vanderbilt, Litzner served on the Alpha Omega Alpha Executive Council, created a first-year medical student guide, The Anchor, and edited the third-year student guide, The Oar. He received the Merck Manual Award, which is given to the top five first-year students, and was elected to the Microbes and Defense Academic Society.
A post-sophomore fellowship in pathology, during which he spent eight months rotating through the pathology services, and work in the lab of Assistant Professor of Medicine Patrick Burnett re-affirmed Litzner’s desire to pursue a career in academic medicine and helped him to select dermatology/dermatopathology as his specialty. Following graduation, he will complete a transitional year at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, before starting his dermatology residency at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.
Jennifer Roemer, Knoxville, Tenn., Founder’s Medalist for the School of Nursing, graduated with a Master of Science. She is a member of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing and serves on the faculty of the Hematology-Oncology section of the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. Her first job as a registered nurse was as a hematology-oncology registered nurse at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. She has also worked as an acute care pediatric nurse practitioner for the neuro-oncology team and inpatient oncology team at Texas Children’s Hospital Cancer Center in Houston.
Roemer was inspired to become a nurse from personal experience. She and her twin sister were born at 32 weeks and spent two months in the neonatal intensive care unit. During that time her parents met a caring registered nurse who continued to follow Roemer’s development for the next 25 years and served as her role model and mentor in the nursing profession. Following graduation, Roemer plans to pursue her interest in palliative care and conduct research in the hope of improving the end of life experience for children.
Eric Bilbrey, Nashville, Founder’s Medalist for the Owen Graduate School of Management, is graduating with a Master of Business Administration with a focus in human and organizational performance. At Owen, he was an E. Bronson Ingram Scholar and shared the Bruce D. Henderson Award for the top GPA at the end of his first year. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor of music in trumpet from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Mixing music, business and education has been a theme throughout Bilbrey’s life. His father, Keith Bilbrey, is a former Grand Ole Opry announcer, and his mother, Eve Bilbrey, is a first grade teacher for Metro Nashville Public Schools. He has worked as an oral history intern at the Country Music Hall of Fame and at the Grand Ole Opry as a curatorial assistant where he helped preserve a unique collection of more than 8,000 damaged and decaying negatives from the 1950s. He spent time last summer coaching undergraduate students through Accelerator, a month-long summer business institute at Owen, helping them in strategy development and the implementation of seven business projects.
After graduation, Bilbrey will join Bank of America in Charlotte, N.C.
Jessica Solomon, Moreland Hills, Ohio, Founder’s Medalist for the Peabody College of education and human development, is graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in special education. She made the Dean’s List every semester and is a participant in the Ingram Scholar Program at Vanderbilt – a unique, full-tuition scholarship program based on academic merit and community service. Ingram Scholars are required to volunteer for community service but to also design and implement projects that address significant societal needs. She also worked as a principal investigator for self-initiated study at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development.
Solomon helped organize and participated in Best Buddies Spring Break 2010 in Washington, D.C. Best Buddies Vanderbilt is part of the national Best Buddies nonprofit organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. While in Washington for spring break, Solomon helped her group lobby for the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act, making formal and impromptu presentations to members of Congress.
Beginning in July, Solomon will attend Vanderbilt’s School of Medicine as a Canby Robinson Scholar. She hopes to build on her undergraduate education in special education to become a developmental pediatrician.
Contact: Princine Lewis, (615) 322-NEWS