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Commencement Carries Special Meaning for Three Educational Studies Majors

The relationships forged throughout a student’s undergraduate journey can often be long-lasting and impactful. As first-year students, Autumn Murphy ’21, Thea Pastras ’21, and Matthew Schmitz ’21 began a friendship that carried each of them throughout their four years at Ursinus, culminating in outstanding academic achievement and a memorable commencement ceremony.

To complete their Ursinus careers, the friends attended each other’s honors thesis presentations and recently reflected upon their four years in Collegeville.

“It was so rewarding being able to attend each other’s thesis defenses,” Schmitz said. “After having classes together for years, using each other as sounding boards, practicing our proposal in front of each other, and meeting to discuss our research, those defenses really felt like the perfect culmination of all the work we’ve done side by side since our freshman year.”

Schmitz and Pastras were recognized with the Lawrence Lange Award, presented annually by the faculty of the education department to graduating seniors who best exemplify outstanding work in the field of education, and who are committed to nurturing the lifelong learning of others through a career in teaching. Murphy was one of two students who earned the Barbara Olmo McInnis ’57 Prize, awarded annually to an outstanding student in teacher education.

“Ursinus has made me into the teacher I will be, and it has been such a cool journey to be able to pursue a teaching certification in French alongside honors research in the education department,” Murphy said. “I couldn’t have done it all without the support of the Ursinus community and people around me who showed me they believed in me.”

That community included Schmitz and Pastras. The three students experienced the Common Intellectual Experience together and were student consultants in the Teaching and Learning Institute (TLI). They credit the growth they encountered to the experiences they shared.

“We have been a constant resource for each other, answering questions, workshopping ideas, sharing book recommendations, and providing encouragement,” Schmitz said. “We were especially active in each other’s projects during the initial planning and proposal phases, even practicing our proposal presentations for each other over Zoom late last semester. Hopefully, we will continue to be active with that support, finally getting the time to read through each other’s full papers this coming summer.”