SASS Academic Excellence Gala Celebrates MSU Student-Athletes
Twenty-first annual gala honors success in the classroom and community.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State's Student-Athlete Support Services (SASS) hosted the 21st annual Spartan Academic Excellence Gala on Monday evening at the Breslin Center. The event recognized the academic success of Spartan student-athletes during the 2017-18 academic year.
Student-athletes with at least a sophomore academic standing and a 3.0 or better cumulative GPA were honored, as well as a number of individual award winners who excelled not only in the classroom, but in other endeavors as well. In all, 350 student-athletes qualified for this year's gala.
For the eighth straight year, the Academic Gala was grand sponsored by Dr. Bruce and Linda Cohen.
President's Award winner Michael Sharp and MSU interim president John Engler.
The President's Award, the night's most prestigious award, was presented to men's golfer Michael Sharp and softball pitcher Kristina Zalewski. The award recognizes the male and female graduating senior with the highest cumulative GPA and who has exhausted their eligibility in the 2017-18 school year.
A top student-athlete, Sharp has embraced every aspect of his college experience while executing his path to success. Not only has he excelled on the golf course, but also in the classroom by carrying a 3.98 grade-point average as an actuarial science major. The 2017-2018 men's golf team captain is a member of the Honors College and has made the Dean's List every semester. The three-time Academic All-Big Ten and Big Ten Distinguished Scholar recipient is also a member of the Athletic Director's Leadership group. In this role, he represents and provides a voice for all student-athletes by discussing ways on how to enhance the student-athlete experience at Michigan State University. In addition to his academic, athletic, and leadership accomplishments, Sharp has played an integral role in numerous community outreach initiatives. Upon graduation, he plans to pursue a professional golf career.
Kristina Zalewski, winnner of the President's Award, alongside MSU interim president John Engler.
Zalewski's collegiate career is noted not only for her softball accomplishments, but also her excellence in the classroom and the community. The Honors College and Dean's List member carries a perfect 4.0 grade-point average while pursuing a double major in nutritional sciences and psychology. As a four-year letterwinner, the 2017 second-team Academic All-American currently sits at second all-time in strikeouts and saves. In addition to all of her success in the classroom and on the field, she still finds time to be actively involved within the community. She has served as a volunteer at Sparrow Hospital in numerous departments, helped with the Special Olympics, and read to elementary school children during March is Reading Month. Zalewski plans on attending medical school after graduating.
The men's swimming and diving team won the Athletic Director's Award after collecting a 3.544 GPA in the fall semester.
The men's swimming and diving team and the women's golf program were honored with the Athletic Director's Awards for achieving the highest team cumulative GPA after the fall 2017 semester. The women's golf team, coached by Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll, was recognized with the honor for the seventh straight year after the team boasted a department-high cumulative GPA of 3.585 with all eligible members qualifying for the gala for the seventh year in a row. This marks the second time the men's swimming and diving team has won the award under head coach Matt Gianiodis, boasting a 3.544 GPA this past fall, including 20 team members qualifying for the gala.
Executive Associate AD/Student-Athlete Services Jim Pignataro and Jasper Koenen.
For the second consecutive year, Jasper Koenen of the men's tennis team was the winner of the Gwendolyn Norrell Community Service & Leadership Award. The award is presented to the student-athlete who best exemplifies the goals of the PACT (Putting Athletes and Community Together) program, excelling in the field of community service and outreach.
Over the course of his Spartan career, Koenen has set a new standard of excellence in leadership and community service. As the first ever two-year President of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), Koenen has elevated the organization to new levels and provided a platform of success for all those who follow. Through his positions as men's tennis team captain, SAAC President, MSU Athletic Council Member, and Big Ten SAAC Representative, Koenen has been able to be a voice for student-athletes at every level. Koenen's involvement and leadership continues into the community as well where he is a very active participant in numerous outreach activities including Accessible Trick or Treating, March is Reading Month, Random Acts of Kindness Week, and spearheading the Student-Athlete Food Drive. A hospitality business major, he is a four-year letterwinner, three-time captain and three-time selection to the Academic All-Big Ten and ITA All-Academic Team. Upon graduation, Koenen will begin his career at Nike Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.
Track & field junior Denise Spann was the recipient of the Diversity and Leadership Award, presented to the student-athlete who exhibits strong leadership in diversity initiatives within athletics, on campus, and in the community. Through her involvement with the Athletic Department's Diversity and Leadership Committee, her position on the Athletic Director's Leadership Group, and her involvement with the Vice President for Student Affairs and Services, Spann has used her platform to collaborate with others in order to raise awareness and improve relationships among her peers. Spann has demonstrated a high level of engagement on issues that impact students from diverse backgrounds by helping plan events involving various student groups, taking part in campus wide MLK Day activities, and remaining current on diversity topics nationally. Her contributions have been central to improving the student-athlete experience and has promoted student-athlete involvement within the greater campus community.
Gabriella Douglas (gymnastics, kinesiology major) and Anthony Scarsella (ice hockey, packaging) were presented with the Harold & Raynor Shnider Office of the Provost Awards. The honor is given to a freshman or sophomore student-athlete who embodies the characteristics promoted by Student-Athlete Support Services, with emphasis on academic performance, community involvement and leadership ability.
The 2018 Steve Smith Philanthropy Award was presented to Byron and Dee Cook and Ben and Barbara Maibach for their continued support and generosity toward the Michigan State Athletics Department.
A long-standing tradition and highlight of the gala is the musical entertainment provided by MSU's own student-athletes, highlighting the talents that stretch beyond competition and the classroom. This year, women's golfer Greer Clausen and rower Nicole Marek performed "Blackbird" at the event.
The keynote address was given by former Spartan women's tennis captain Molly Fletcher, CEO of the Molly Fletcher Company. As a CEO, she shares her unconventional and unique techniques that made her one of the first female sports agents in the high stakes world of professional sports and now a successful entrepreneur. Formerly, as president of client representation for sports and entertainment agency CSE, Fletcher spent two decades as one of the world's only female sports agents. She was hailed as the "female Jerry Maguire" by CNN as she recruited and represented hundreds of sport's biggest names, including Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz, PGA TOUR golfer Matt Kuchar, broadcaster Erin Andrews, and basketball championship coaches Tom Izzo and Doc Rivers. As she successfully negotiated over $500 million in contracts and built lasting relationships, she also observed and adopted the traits of those at the top of their game.
The Scholar-Athlete Awards were presented to the individual from each team who has reached at least junior academic status, has received a minimum of one varsity letter, and while meeting these requirements, maintains the highest cumulative grade point average on their team.
SCHOLAR-ATHLETE AWARD WINNERS
Baseball: Dan Chmielewski
Men's Basketball: Kyle Ahrens
Women's Basketball: Lexi Gussert
Men's Cross Country: Matthew Thomas
Women's Cross Country: Emily Steffke
Field Hockey: Lauren Bonness
Football: Cole Chewins
Men's Golf: Michael Sharp
Women's Golf: Logan Otter
Women's Gymnastics: Anna Gamelo
Hockey: Jerad Rosburg
Rowing: Nicole Marek
Men's Soccer: Brad Centala
Women's Soccer: Madison Duncan
Softball: Kristina Zalewski
Men's Swimming & Diving: Nick Leshok
Women's Swimming & Diving: Courtney Aycock
Men's Tennis: Michael Dube
Women's Tennis: Lexi Baylis
Men's Track & Field: Noah Gary
Women's Track and Field: Kayla Janevski
Volleyball: Rachel Minarick
Wrestling: Matthew Okaiye