EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State's Student-Athlete Support Services (SASS) hosted the 20th annual Spartan Academic Excellence Gala on Monday evening at the Breslin Center. The event recognized the academic success of Spartan student-athletes during the 2016-17 academic year and celebrated the event's 20th-year anniversary.
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, 315 student-athletes were honored on Monday evening.
For the seventh straight year, the Academic Gala was grand sponsored by Dr. Bruce and Linda Cohen.
As part of the 20-year reflection of the Spartan Academic Excellence Gala, Michigan State University President Dr. Lou Anna K. Simon and former Spartan student-athlete Leah (Nilsson) Kareti spoke on the importance of the event. Kareti, who was a three-year captain on the cross country team and two-year captain on the track and field team, received the Chester Brewer Leadership Award in 2000 and was a Rhodes Scholar nominee. She is now the Principal of 3 Fold Group, a company that specializes in NCAA Division III intercollegiate athletics and small college strategic initiatives.
The President's Award, the night's most prestigious award, was presented to cross country and track athletes Alexis Wiersma and Garret Zuk. The award recognizes the male and female graduating senior with the highest cumulative GPA and who has exhausted their eligibility in the 2016-17 school year.
Alexis Wiersma received the President's Award at the Spartan Academic Excellence Gala on Monday evening.
Wiersma's career at Michigan State University has been nothing short of extraordinary. A member of the 2014 NCAA National Championship women's cross country team and a 2015 NCAA All-American in cross country, Wiersma has simultaneously worked to balance a full academic course load and maintain a 3.956 cumulative GPA in marketing. Her dedication to academics has earned her numerous accolades and honors, including being named a three-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and a three-time USTFCCCA All-Academic Cross Country and Track and Field team member. Wiersma has been involved in several community outreach initiatives, including the Lansing City Rescue Mission Infant and Child Care, March is Reading Month, Student-Athlete Food Drive and MSU Safe Place Run. She is planning on pursuing a career in marketing after graduation.
As a top student-athlete, Zuk has embraced every aspect of his Michigan State experience. The Honors College member, who is double majoring in mathematics and Spanish, carries a 3.987 cumulative GPA and serves as the 2016-17 Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) Vice President. The three-year letterwinner in both cross country and track is not only an active participant on the team, but in the community as well. Zuk has been a pivotal contact in the coordination of various community outreach initiatives, including Student-Athlete Relay for Life, Random Acts of Kindness Week, and the Student-Athlete Food Drive. He has devoted countless hours to helping his fellow student-athletes have a voice within the department and works with others to create a more engaging and interactive experience for all. Upon graduation, Zuk will be a student teacher at Novi High School.
The men's soccer 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 2016 semester. The women's golf team, coached by Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll, was recognized with the honor for the sixth straight year after the team boasted a department-high cumulative GPA of 3.561 with all eligible members qualifying for the Gala for the sixth year in a row. Led by head coach Damon Rensing, it marked the second consecutive year that men's soccer has won the Athletic Director's Award. All 18 team members qualified to attend the Gala and the team posted an overall GPA of 3.488.
The men's soccer team won the Athletic Director's Award for the second consecutive year with a team GPA of 3.488.
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.
Koenen holds a 3.40 GPA as a hospitality business major and is a member of the ETA Sigma Delta Hospitality Business Honors Society. The three-year letterwinner and 2016-17 team captain devotes countless hours to his sport and also works to promote a more inclusive and engaging college experience for his fellow student-athletes. As the president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), Koenen participates in a number of activities in the Greater Lansing area. His impact and involvement, however, doesn't stop at the borders of Michigan State's campus. Koenen also served as the Big Ten representative for the 2016 NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum and participated in a mission trip to South Africa during the 2015 winter break. This summer, Koenen will be interning at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.
Track & field sophomore Taylor Mullins was the recipient of the Multicultural Award, presented to the student-athlete who promotes inclusion as well as exhibits strong leadership in the areas of community service and diversity. Mullins serves as a member of the MCP Executive Board and the Athletic Director's Leadership Group. Additionally, she has been on the Flint Water Crisis Committee, participated in the 2016 Day After Election Event, and was a member of the RISE Focus Group. The 3.35 GPA advertising major also won first place in the Martin Luther King Jr. Pecha Kucha Student Leadership Conference Presentation, as a member of a student-athlete team.
Karrigan Smith (women's cross country/track and field, kinesiology major) and Khari Willis (football, political science/pre-law major) 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 2017 Steve Smith Philanthropy Award was presented to John and Rebecca Duffey 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 soccer senior Michelle Dear performed Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me" at the event.
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 -- Matthew Van Dyk
WOMEN'S BASKETBALL -- Tori Jankoska
MEN'S CROSS COUNTRY -- Garret Zuk
WOMEN'S CROSS COUNTRY -- Kelcy Welch
FIELD HOCKEY -- Kristin Matula
FOOTBALL -- Chase Gianacakos
MEN'S GOLF -- Michael Sharp
WOMEN'S GOLF -- Katie Sharp
WOMEN'S GYMNASTICS -- Nicola Deans
HOCKEY -- Joe Cox
ROWING -- Maya Regalado
MEN'S SOCCER -- Brian Winterfield
WOMEN'S SOCCER -- Michelle Dear
SOFTBALL -- Kristina Zalewski
MEN'S SWIMMING & DIVING -- Adam Henley
WOMEN'S SWIMMING & DIVING -- Kara Dean
MEN'S TENNIS -- Michael Dube
WOMEN'S TENNIS -- Alexa Baylis
MEN'S TRACK & FIELD -- Noah Gary
WOMEN'S TRACK & FIELD -- Katelyn Daniels
VOLLEYBALL -- Rachel Minarick
WRESTLING -- Mitch Rogaliner