Two engineering students are among the 10 graduating seniors at the University of Kansas to receive 2011 Chancellor’s Student Awards. The group will receive special recognition as part of the 139th Commencement. The awards recognize students’ academic, volunteer and leadership accomplishments during their time at KU.
Joe Deneault, earning a degree in chemical engineering, and Angela Oguna, earning a degree in electrical engineering, were honored with the Class of 1913 Award, which annually goes to a graduating man and woman who show evidence of intelligence, devotion to studies, personal character and promise of usefulness to society.
Recipients will be honored at a reception Saturday, May 21, at the Kansas Room in the Kansas Union. The honorees also receive special recognition during the Commencement ceremony May 22 in Memorial Stadium. In addition, their portraits will be in the Commencement program.
The Chancellor’s Student Awards committee selects the winners from throughout the university from nominations submitted by students, faculty and staff. The selection committee includes students, faculty and staff.
Joseph Benjamin Deneault will receive a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. He has maintained a 4.0 grade point average, the highest attainable, and earned 90 percent of his college expenses through scholarships and employment. Since his junior year, Deneault has served as an undergraduate researcher with the KU Biodiesel Initiative, working with Susan Williams, associate professor of chemical engineering. Williams and her research team investigate processes to create fuel from waste products.
Deneault entered KU with a Summerfield scholarship, the university’s premier four-year scholarship offered to top male graduates of Kansas high schools. During his sophomore and junior years, he worked as an instructor and tutor for the Kansas Algebra Program at KU, teaching college-level math to a class of 20 students. Deneault has completed internships with CRB Consulting in Kansas City, Mo., and Hill’s Pet Nutrition Plant and the Kansas Department of Transportation, both in Topeka.
Concerned that his public speaking skills were weak, Deneault joined a local chapter of Toastmaster’s International. He recalled, “It was truly amazing how working on my public speaking skills helped me improve and understand the power of getting out of my comfort zone and bettering myself.” For the past two years, he has served as a KU Engineering Ambassador, which includes leading tours for prospective students. He has been elected treasurer of the KU chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers for two years. He is also a member of Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society.
Following graduation, he will be working as an assistant chemical engineer with Burns and McDonnell, consulting engineers in Kansas City, Mo. His goals include earning a professional engineer’s license and eventually attending graduate school to prepare to teach at the university level. Deneault noted, “The scholarships and support I have received from generous donors has eased the financial burden of college for me and for that I will be forever grateful.” He hopes one day to “be able to provide to future generations what has so generously been provided to me.” He is the son of Edward and Kathy Deneault and a graduate of Hayden High School, where he was the 2007 class valedictorian.
Angela Ndhuya Oguna, a transfer student from Kenya, is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and has maintained a 4.0 grade point average, the highest attainable. She has also worked 20 hours a week to supplement college expenses. Her first jobs were in food service but she quickly moved to KU’s Information and Telecommunication Technology Center as an undergraduate research assistant. She also landed a summer internship with Black & Veatch Corp. in Kansas City, Mo. This academic year, Oguna is an intern with the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities.
Oguna was one of 17 students nationally to receive a U.S. Department of Energy Development Research Grant from the American Public Power Association for projects related to improving efficiencies and lowering service costs. Her undergraduate research project, funded through the University Honors Program, identified technologies that municipal utilities could use to improve performance and lower customer costs. In 2010, Oguna was one of 32 students nationally and the first ever from KU to win a Google Anita Borg Scholarship, a highly competitive scholarship to encourage women to pursue careers in computer science and technology and to become leaders.
She came to Kansas through a childhood friend of her father’s who had learned of her top performance on the Kenyan college entrance exam. Although her father had died 15 years before Oguna had finished high school, his friend kept in touch with her family and encouraged her to attend the KU School of Engineering, where his sons had earned their degrees. In 2008, Oguna transferred to KU from Jomo Kenyatta University College of Agriculture and Technology. As a campus food services employee, Oguna not only got her first taste of pizza, she also learned how to prepare it and to interpret dining hall customers’ hurried orders. Within two weeks, she was promoted and “for the first time, walking home that evening in the biting cold did nothing to dampen my spirit.”
Oguna lived in Watkins Scholarship Hall, where as the Academic Resource Chair she revived the Women of Watkins mentoring program to provide a link and networking base between current and past residents of the hall. This year, Oguna has served as president of KU’s National Society of Black Engineers. As the society’s secretary in 2008, Oguna noted that 75 percent of the incoming class did not return because of failing grades. She formed a mentoring program to ensure that future incoming classes would have a better experience. The following year, with one exception, all freshmen earned a grade point average above 3.0. She was in the University Scholars Program and is a member of Tau Beta Pi, an engineering honorary society. She is the daughter of Grace Oguna of Nairobi, Kenya.
Marlesa Roney, vice provost for Student Success, and Kathryn Nemeth Tuttle, assistant vice provost for Student Success, recently visited the students in class to present the awards. Winners receive cash prizes, except recipients of the Agnes Wright Strickland Award, who receive lifetime membership in the KU Alumni Association.
The other eight winners are:
Donald K. Alderson Memorial Award: Gerald Francis Wohletz Jr., Lawrence
Alexis F. Dillard Student Involvement Award: David Jeremy Cohen, Leawood, and Tonia Nicole Salas, Wichita, Kan., and Alameda, Calif.
Rusty Leffel Concerned Student Award: Michael Wade Smith, Goodland, Kan., and Naperville, Ill., and Alexander R. Earles, Salina and West Des Moines, Iowa
Caryl K. Smith Student Leader Award: Emily Anne Loyd, Lawrence
Agnes Wright Strickland Award: Mathew James Lawrence Shepard, Lenora, and Caitlin Maureen Wise, Mulvane