If there was any wonder whether former Students of the Year would live up to their potential, rest assured the three previous honorees are rising above expectations.
The award program began in 2017 as a way for the community to recognize outstanding students for their academics and service to the community. The Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, Patriot Auto Group and Truity Credit Union sponsor the awards program.
Last year’s honoree, Aarya Ghonasgi, is studying psychology on the pre-med track at the University of Oklahoma as well as minoring in art history and media studies.
“It was great getting the recognition from the community,” she said. “It was a really great honor knowing that there were people who were really proud of what I’ve been doing academically and outside of school.”
Ghonasgi was one of 125 freshman selected from among 12,000 applicants to join the OU President’s Leadership Class. The organization cultivates student leadership and provides networking opportunities with outstanding alumni for its members.
During her freshman year, she tutored other college students in biology and organized OU’s Dance Marathon, which raises money for the Children’s Hospital Foundation to help pay for research, patient care and support for sick kids.
As a high school student and even now, she spends time as a volunteer for the Washington County Society for the Prevention of Cruielty to Animals. So it is natural that she also works with Norman’s Second Chance organization to help animals.
Ghonasgi has found that the coronavirus pandemic has limited her ability to work in clinics and shadow physicians as pre-med students typically do.
“It’s kind of difficult being pre-med because you have to do a lot of prepping for applications for medical school,” she said. “A lot of places simply won’t take students because there are fewer slots and those are filled by medical students.”
But in go-getter fashion, Ghonasgi has found a place that will not only allow her to gain experience, but will help an organization that needs it. This fall, she begins volunteering at the Manos Juntas Free Clinic in Oklahoma City that serves people who don’t have insurance.
“It relies on volunteers, so that’s the one thing I can do,” she said.
Allison Biddinger, who was Student of the Year in 2018, attends Purdue University and majors in biological engineering with a concentration in cellular and bioemolecular with a pre-med focus.
“As a student attending an out-of-state university, the Student of the Year award helped relieve some financial pressure for both me and my family to attend my dream school — Purdue University,” she said.
This summer, she is driving the Hyundai Elantra she won all around Indianapolis where she is finishing up a drug discovery and development internship at Eli Lilly & Company’s Medicines Innovation Hub. Among other activities, Biddinger is involved with the Purdue Student Engineering Foundation, the Boiler Gold Rush student orientation program and the Women in Engineering program.
A rising junior and member of the Honors College, Biddinger carried over her love of competitive swimming from Bartlesville High School to the Purdue swim team. She qualified for the National College Club Swimming Championship during her freshman and sophomore years.
This fall, Biddinger will be a resident assistant in a college dorm to to help develop community among residents and help them adjust to college life.
She also will have her traumatic brain injury research from the previous summer at the University of Georgia published this fall in the Journal of Purdue Undergraduate Research.
“Growing up in the Bartlesville community, I was endlessly supported by my teachers, coaches, peers and family, and this honor has provided me with the confidence to pass on the mentorship I received to youngers students in the Purdue community,” Biddinger said.
In 2017, Abigail Hales had only hoped to be a runner-up to the Student of the Year. It was the first year for the regional honor and she didn’t dare think she could win it.
“When they announced it was me, I was in shock,” she said. “Everyone else was so accomplished and smart. I don’t know what the deciding factor was.”
After graduating from Bartlesville High, Hales headed to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where she majors in applied mathematics. She consistently made the Dean’s List in the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.
After three semesters, Hales felt called to serve a year-and-a-half mission in Bakersfield, California, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
“It is like one of the weirdest things I think I’ve ever done but it’s awesome,” Hales said, adding that partnering with a fellow missionary who she didn’t know was an interesting way to make a friend.
“You meet this person on the first day, who is going to be your companion 24/7, and you automatically become instant best friends,” she said. “It’s kind of like a missionary partner in crime or partner in Jesus.”
For more than a year, she and her fellow missionary companion were able to go out and share with people in person the peace that Hales has found in Jesus Christ. More recently because of the coronavirus, she used technology to reach people.
But that is right up her alley. She is heading back to BYU to complete to work toward her goal of a career in software development or computer science.
“I love math because it’s straight black and white and it’s right or wrong. You’re solving problems. Computer science seems to be more like how we solve problems today,” Hales said. “ I really like the idea of fixing things and making them better.”