Here are your Chancellor’s Medallion awardees for Spring 2021

April 12, 2021

This commencement season, eight students are being recognized with the university’s top graduation honor.

Each semester, UM-Dearborn honors a very select group of students with the Chancellor’s Medallion. Chosen by faculty from their respective colleges, these Spring 2021 graduates are being recognized for their outstanding quality of character, vitality, intellect, integrity and academic record.

James Carzon, College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters

James Carzon will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Philosophy and a minor in Applied Statistics, along with certificates in Writing and Mathematics for Finance. Since entering UM-Dearborn in 2017, he has been in the Honors Program and earned University Honors in seven different terms. He has been named a James B. Angell Scholar three times and was awarded the William J. Branstrom Freshman Prize. In addition to being a Chancellor’s Medallion recipient, James was recognized as the Mathematics Honor Scholar for 2021.

James has been active in research, instruction and student organizations at UM-Dearborn, complementing his exceptional work in the classroom. During the summer of 2020, he worked with Associate Professor Kelly Jabbusch on error correcting codes as part of a highly selective NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates here at UM-Dearborn. James investigated codes arising from three-dimensional toric varieties, which correspond to lattice polytopes in three dimensions. He presented his work at the Young Mathematicians Conference and the Summer Undergraduate Michigan Mathematics Conference. He also attended the Big Data Summer Institute at the University of Michigan School of Public Health in 2019, where he worked on classifying cancer drugs by studying their observed side effects. In addition to research, he has sought out numerous independent studies in real analysis, partial differential equations, algebraic topology, commutative algebra and algebraic geometry.

James has the rare distinction of serving as a tutor in both the Mathematics Learning Center and the Writing Center, sharing his academic expertise with students across the campus. He has been an active member of the Math Club and an integral member of the UM-Dearborn Mathematics competition team. His team placed first in two competitions, the Lower Michigan Math Competition and the Autumn Math Challenge; both wins were firsts for UM-Dearborn in the 26-year history of the competitions. He has also helped to shape the Honors Program's mentorship project and has served as a mentor since its inception.

James received many offers to attend highly ranked graduate programs in both Mathematics and Statistics. Upon graduation, he will pursue a Ph.D. in Statistics at Carnegie Mellon University.

Islam M. Jaffal, College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters

Islam M. Jaffal will receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Behavioral Sciences with a minor in Law and Society, and is graduating with the honor of High Distinction. Islam was recognized as the James B. Angell scholar in 2019 and 2020, earned University Honors for four terms throughout 2018 and 2019, and was on the Dean's List seven times. She also received the UM-Dearborn Honors Scholarship for three years, the Billy and Bobby MacFarlane Scholarship for two years, and the Academic Internship Scholarship in Winter 2021. In 2018, Islam was one of two Honors Program students to be awarded the Honors Program Stipend. Furthermore, Islam received a scholarship award in 2018 from the local organization Leaders Advancing and Helping Communities (LAHC). 

Islam was an Honors Program student throughout her time at UM-Dearborn. In 2019, she began working as a research assistant for an interdisciplinary Mcubed project with four faculty investigators about sexual harassment. Islam is also a research assistant on two projects: one with Assistant Professor of Anthropology Rose Wellman on a research study regarding Dearborn's Muslim community; the other with Professor of Sociology Pamela Aronson, who is conducting a research study that examines the transition to adulthood during COVID-19. Moreover, Islam is currently participating in an internship with Judge Susan Hubbard at the Third Judicial Circuit of Michigan.

In 2018, Islam started as a secretary of the UNICEF Club at UM-Dearborn and later rose to become the Vice President and then President. The organization’s goal is to help children and families locally and abroad through awareness campaigns, fundraisers and volunteering. Islam also volunteers with the Islamic Center of America during their food drives. In addition, Islam is an Honors Program Mentor for the Honors Program at UM-Dearborn.

On a personal note, Islam was born in Dearborn but moved to Lebanon in 2009. She came back to Dearborn in 2017 to pursue higher education and a career. Islam has previously interned with the United Nations Development Program and the Ministry of Finance in Lebanon, and has also participated and won awards at the Lebanese American University's Model United Nations competition. Islam is passionate about human rights and advancing equality and loves to study history, culture and religion. After graduation, she is interested in pursuing a career in either academia or law.

Brandon Queen, College of Business

Brandon Queen will receive a Bachelor of Business Administration degree with dual majors in Finance and Information Systems Management, and will graduate with the honor of High Distinction. He was the recipient of the Chancellor’s Scholarship and he was awarded the Victor J. Streeter Management Information Systems Scholarship. He was also recognized as a James B. Angell Scholar and a UM-Dearborn Difference Maker for 2020. 

Along with his academic accomplishments, Brandon has been active in service on and off campus. He is one of the founding members of the First Gen Student Organization at UM-Dearborn. The organization helps to inform, connect, support and celebrate first-generation students as they navigate higher education. The organization’s advisor described Brandon as “nothing short of incredible in serving the organization and the many first-generation students,” and they credit Brandon’s work as organization president with growing membership and leading a very successful Giving Blue Day funding effort. Brandon has also volunteered as a coach and mentor of a high school FIRST Robotics team for the past several years, and he has been a Supplemental Instruction Leader at COB.

Brandon made an immediate impact in his internship with Robert Bosch, LLC. His supervisor explained that Brandon was given a variety of projects and tasks that were often reserved for permanent employees, saying “I have been working with interns for many years by now and I can say that I have never felt so comfortable having an intern work on important tasks like with Brandon.“ The supervisor was so impressed by Brandon’s work that they helped Brandon secure post-graduation employment. After graduation, Brandon will be working at Bosch in a Project Management role focusing on electronics and software systems for their automaker customers.

Alexis Zerbst, College of Business

Alexis Zerbst will receive a Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a major in Human Resource Management and a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Political Science, and will graduate with the honor of High Distinction. She was the recipient of the Chancellor’s Scholarship and she was awarded the Michigan Competitive Scholarship. Her academic efforts earned her the James B. Angell Scholar recognition and the William J. Branstrom Freshman Prize.

Alexis has been engaged in a variety of campus activities and organizations. She has served as both an Office of Admissions Orientation Leader and a College of Business Supplemental Instruction Leader.  These roles have allowed her to connect with and influence younger students. As one of Alexis’ nominators described, “I observe students gravitate towards Alexis’ positivity, which is highly contagious.” She is also a student member of the College of Business’ Academic Integrity Board. Alexis has been active with student organizations, including the Society of Human Resource Management and Phi Mu Fraternity. She has held several leadership roles in the latter organization. In addition to her campus activities, she has found time to volunteer for St. Veronica’s Youth Group, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and Beaumont Hospital.

Alexis has been driven to complete her degree since she was 16 years old, when she started taking courses while enrolled in high school. She has also been working up to 30 hours a week across multiple jobs to help fund her education. In one of those jobs, working as a law clerk in a local firm, Alexis found a passion for the law. Her employer notes that hiring an undergraduate student with no formal legal training required finding someone with extraordinary qualities, including “high quality of character, her drive to succeed, willingness to take the initiative, and her academic record.” Perhaps most telling is when her employer writes, “I have no idea what I am going to do without her. That is how much she means to my law office.” Alexis has already been accepted at a number of law schools, and she is still deciding on which one to enroll in this fall.

Sarah Bloem, College of Education, Health, and Human Services

Sarah Abigail Bloem will receive a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education with a major in Special Education and a minor in Mathematics Studies, and will graduate with the honor of High Distinction. She has been on the Dean’s List every semester from Fall 2016 through Winter 2021 and was the recipient of the Honor’s Scholar Award in Winter 2020.  

Sarah’s desire to work with children with special needs began in high school. During that time, she volunteered for programs such as the Friendship Circle, Miracle League and ICanBike. During college, she became a caregiver for a woman with a chromosomal abnormality. Part of her job as a caregiver included finding opportunities for her client to interact with others in the community. In 2019, Sarah and the woman she cares for began volunteering at Huron Valley Humane Society, performing tasks such as laundry, cleaning cages and petting animals. 

Sarah also worked as a daycare teacher at Childtime Learning Center while in college. This job gave her the chance to work with children ages 3 months to 12 years. She was also hired as a nanny for twin 6-year-old girls while they participated in school and summer activities virtually. Lastly, Sarah served as president for the Student Michigan Education Association (SMEA) Club at the university during the 2017-2018 school year. This program allowed her to meet many students who had similar interests and gave her the chance to learn more about Michigan educators. 

Upon graduation, Sarah plans to work as a special education teacher in the public school system. She has already started interviewing for positions in local school districts and is excited to work with students with special needs. Sarah also plans to go back to school to get her master’s degree in emotional impairments. This endorsement will allow her to work with students impacted by the legal system, many of whom are often stigmatized by the community. Sarah is confident that combining an emotional impairment endorsement with her learning disabilities endorsement will provide the knowledge to support a broader range of students in their educational journeys.

Olivia Sichterman, College of Education, Health, and Human Services

Olivia Sichterman will receive a Bachelor of Science in Health and Human Services with a concentration in Pre-Health Professions and will graduate with the honor of High Distinction.  She has been on the Dean’s List for five of the past six semesters.  

While taking classes at UM-Dearborn, Olivia has worked at a large hospital on a postpartum unit, which has given her invaluable practical training and experience while inspiring her to pursue her education in Pre-Health. Olivia has also taken time to volunteer at Gleaners Community Food Bank, various women’s shelters, and several local co-op farms, as she is deeply invested in her community and serving those around her.

After graduation, Olivia plans on attending an accelerated nursing program so she can ultimately work on a labor and delivery unit to gain experience working with women and children. From there, Olivia hopes to go on to midwifery school to become a certified nurse-midwife and an empathetic practitioner who works as a passionate advocate for patients of all ages. Olivia’s focus as a midwife will be to educate and instill a sense of gratitude in her clients for the amazing things that their bodies can accomplish through both pregnancy and childbirth, as well as treating and healing various women’s health issues. She also plans to serve clients in both the hospital and clinic setting, as well as through outreach programs that help women and children suffering from domestic violence or women who lack any kind of support during their pregnancies.

Kawthar Badran, College of Engineering and Computer Science

Kawthar Badran will receive a Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering and is graduating with the honor of High Distinction. Upon admission to UM-Dearborn in Fall 2018, Kawthar was a recipient of the university’s International Student Scholarship. In recognition of her high academic achievement, she has been named to the College of Engineering and Computer Science Dean’s List for four semesters throughout her collegiate career. Kawthar has been awarded University Honors three times and was named a James B. Angell Scholar in 2020. She was selected as the Honors Scholar recipient for the Software Engineering program in 2021, a recognition awarded annually to the top undergraduate student in each major. 

Kawthar has served as a grader for the Computer and Information Science Department for two semesters. Faculty in the CIS Department describe her as an outstanding, responsible and trustworthy student grader and leader.

Kawthar completed two co-op semesters as a software developer at Ancor Information Management, a leading Tier 1 automotive supplier of data management and VIN specific label solutions located in Troy, Michigan. Due to her exceptional performance and technical capabilities displayed through her co-op work, she was nominated by her supervisor and was named the winner of the 2020 CECS Co-op Student of the Year award.

Kawthar has accepted a full-time software developer position at Ancor Information Management and has future plans to pursue a graduate degree in Cybersecurity. She looks forward to furthering her interest in software security and has ambitions of becoming a successful penetration tester and working on new encryption algorithms in her career pursuits.

Bjordis Collaku, College of Engineering and Computer Science

Bjordis Collaku will receive a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in Computer Engineering and is graduating with the honor of High Distinction. In recognition of his high academic achievement, Bjordis has been named to the College of Engineering and Computer Science Dean’s List for six semesters throughout his collegiate career. He was awarded University Honors in 2018 and 2020, and was a recipient of the University’s International Student Scholarship.  

Bjordis is described by faculty in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department as uniquely driven and determined toward academic excellence. He also prioritizes helping his classmates, having worked as a tutor in the Math Learning Center, for which he was recognized with the Mathematics Mentor certificate. Bjordis has completed two internships during his undergraduate career: one with Deloitte as a Python and Java developer, and one with Synapse Advanced Technology Services, where he was responsible for testing, development and maintenance of servers and software services.

Bjordis has conducted extensive research as an undergraduate student with faculty in the ECE Department in the areas of quantum technology and embedded systems design. As a research assistant, he programmed a library with self-derived formulas into Wolfram Mathematica computing software, which was used to process large summation files that directly contributed to faculty research. His work was presented to the CEO of Wolfram Mathematica and led to an invitation to visit Wolfram Research in 2019. His work was also the only undergraduate submission to the Michigan Institute for Computational Discovery and Engineering (MICDE) in 2019. His current research is focused on Android software development and integration with wearable sensors that can facilitate communication between physical therapists and their patients. Bjordis is expecting his first publication soon related to his research during his undergraduate studies.

After graduation, Bjordis plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Engineering and seek industry projects in the areas of automotive, space and quantum technology.

Back to top of page