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UC Names Six Winners of Highest Award for Undergraduates

Winners of the Presidential Leadership Medal of Excellence will be honored at the Undergraduate Commencement Ceremonies. It is the first time in the history of the award that there are six honorees.

Date: 4/23/2015 7:57:00 AM
By: Tom Robinette
Phone: (513) 556-1825
Photos By: Jay Yocis, UC Creative Services
Talented and inspirational students are in abundance at the University of Cincinnati, even among the best of the best. And for the first time, UC has selected six students as recipients of the universityís most prestigious honor for undergraduates, the Presidential Leadership Medal of Excellence. The previous high for awardees was five, which happened in 2014, 2013, 2006 and 2004.
UC Presidential Leadership Medal of Excellence winners pose with President Ono
UC Presidential Leadership Medal of Excellence winners pose with President Santa J. Ono, from left, Cory Murphy, Sally Amkoa, Brian Barney, Ono, Bhavik Modi and Elliana Kirsh. (Not pictured: Caroline Hensley)

This yearís winners are Sally Amkoa, Brian Barney, Caroline Hensley, Elliana Kirsh, Bhavik Modi and Cory Murphy. Their achievements will be acknowledged at the All-University Commencement Ceremonies on May 2 in Fifth Third Arena.

Established in 2002, the medal is awarded by the university president to exceptional graduating students who best exemplify scholarship, leadership, character, service and the ideals of the University of Cincinnati.

The 2015 honorees were selected from applications of 29 graduating seniors from across the university. A UC committee represented by faculty, staff and student leaders reviewed the 13 finalists. This yearís medalists are:


Sally Amkoa is from Vihiga County, Kenya. Amkoa is in the University Honors Program and is graduating this spring with a masterís degree in business analytics from UCís Carl H. Lindner College of Business. Before coming to UC, Amkoa earned a prestigious scholarship from the Zawadi Africa Education Fund to study in top universities in the U.S. As a UC freshman, Amkoa immediately displayed her active leadership skills as vice president of the Stratford Heights Association, leading hall government meetings and approving disbursement of student life funds for social programs. Amkoa also participated in Activists Coming Together (ACT) where she created a proposal for the improvement of the reception and integration of international students at UC, and later became director of international affairs in Student Government. Amkoaís off-campus leadership efforts include participating in the Accelerating Racial Justice leadership retreat facilitated by Racial Awareness Program, and the Miracle Corners of the World International Youth Leadership Retreat in Vermont. Amkoa is a passionate advocate of UN Womenís HeForShe campaign, and her ultimate vision is to see a world where gender equality is not viewed as a men-versus-women issue, but as a humanity issue. Amkoa has demonstrated strong global engagement through her study abroad experiences in Costa Rica, Panama, South Africa, Belgium and France. Amkoaís excellent academic record earned her a nomination by the Economics Department to present at the annual Global Studies Conference at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, and a two-week graduate program in Natural Resource Management and Policy at the Norwegian School of Economics in Bergen, Norway. And in 2013, Amkoa was awarded the Carl H. Lindner Outstanding Junior Award. After graduation, Amkoa plans to return to Kenya to pursue a career in commercial real estate investment. 
The six UC Presidential Leadership Medal of Excellence winners
Top row, from left: Sally Amkoa, Brian Barney, Caroline Hensley. Bottom row, from left: Elliana Kirsh, Bhavik Modi, Cory Murphy.


Brian Barney is from South Holland, Illinois. Barney is in the University Honors Program and is graduating summa cum laude this spring with a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences from the College of Allied Health Sciences. Upon entering his freshman year, Barney was awarded the Cincinnatus Presidential Scholarship for his academic excellence, and he also started his career as a Division I NCAA track and field athlete. Barneyís leadership skills, love for a challenge and pushing the academic boundaries earned him the title of captain of the track team, Greek Lifeís Male Athlete of the Year and nominations for the Rhodes Scholarship and Fulbright Fellowship Program. In addition to his goal of becoming a practicing physical therapist, Barney has had success as an undergraduate academic researcher. Through his work in neuroexcitability and stroke recovery, Barney has earned an Undergraduate Research Fellowship Grant for his first summer as a research assistant and he later published his work and presented it at several presentations at the university and national level. Barney has demonstrated excellence for service, not only to the university, but also internationally through a Serve Beyond Cincinnati trip to Croix-des-Bouquets in Haiti where he helped build a house for a family in need.  In 2014, Barney served as the African American Cultural and Resource Centerís Mr. Kuamka and currently serves as president of the ADVANCE Organization, a student group providing leadership and professional development for students of color. In addition, he is president of the Lambda Theta chapter of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and is the menís track and field representative for the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Barney has engaged in the University Honors Program and has completed the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Scholars Program in preparation for applying to graduate school. Barneyís long-term goal as a physical therapist is to serve those in need around the world.  


Caroline Hensley is from Wheaton, Ill., and graduated from Wheaton Warrenville South High School in 2012 in the top 5 percent of her class. The University Honors Program student is graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and a Bachelor of Science in Biology, Biomedical Studies, from the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences. Hensley has served as the Volunteer Internship Program Coordinator for Crossroad Health Center in Cincinnati since February 2014. In this position, Hensley recruited, trained and managed a team of 45 volunteer interns at a Level 3 Federally Qualified Health Center. She also helped establish a relationship between the program and UCís College of Allied Health Sciences, Division of Professional Practice and Experiential Learning, University Honors Programs, and UC College of Medicineís Christian Medical Association. Hensley has worked as an undergraduate researcher at Cincinnati Childrenís Hospital Medical Center since February 2013, where she has investigated heart valve development of zebra fish embryos in the Developmental Biology Department under direction of Saulius Sumanas and Jennifer Schumacher. Hensley has received a variety of awards throughout her academic career including the Truman Scholarship Endorsed Candidate (2014); Edward Coughlin Scholarship and two Pat OíConnor Grants for International Study from UCís Romance Languages and Literatures Department (2013, 2014, 2015); the Medical Staff Scholarship from Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Ill. (2013 to present); and the Cincinnatus Presidential Scholarship (2012 to present). Hensley is also part of Cincinnati Women in Excellence and Spirit Together Honorary and Phi Beta Kappa. During her time at UC, Hensley has studied abroad a number of times, where she has been able to utilize her Spanish-speaking skills and deepen her understanding of social determinants of health. Hensley began coursework for a Masters of Public Health, Health Services Management, in fall 2014 and plans to complete the program by May 2016. She intends to continue on to UCís College of Medicine as part of the Connections Dual Admissions BS/MD Program in fall 2016.


Elliana R. Kirsh is from Cincinnati and a graduate of Seven Hills High School. She is in the University Honors Program and is graduating with a Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance from the College-Conservatory of Music and a Bachelor of Science in Neurobiology from the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences. Kirsh has leadership experience as the vice president of membership for Sigma Alpha Iota, an international music association dedicated to promoting fellowship among women in music. Music always has played a large role in her life. A talented soprano, Kirsh has performed in several professional operas, concerts and international music festivals in Italy and Luxembourg. A dedicated researcher, she has been published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Voice, presented at national conferences and was a keynote speaker at the Cincinnati Music and Medicine Conference. Kirsh has volunteered extensively in the community, instructing at Cincinnatiís Music Resource Center and assisting in group therapy sessions at the Cincinnati Childrenís Hospital Medical Center. Recently, Kirsh was able to bring her research interests to the MRC community, successfully implementing a songwriting and rap intervention program in order to study how music affects the mood, stress levels and self-esteem of urban, disadvantaged teens. She has studied three languages as well as centuries of music history and theory. Last year, she won UCís Award of Highest Achievement in Organic Chemistry. Kirsh plans to earn an MD at Harvard Medical School, where she will combine her passion for vocal performance with her knowledge of voice science to pursue a career focusing on the integration of vocal health, wellness and neuroscience.


Bhavik Modi is from Mumbai, India, and graduated from William Mason High School. Modi is in the University Honors Program and is graduating this spring as an Honors-PLUS Scholar with a Bachelor of Arts in Finance from the Carl H. Lindner College of Business. As a freshman at UC, Modi began displaying his exceptional leadership skills by turning UCís Business Tribunal into the dynamic Student Action Team, which has since given birth to many student organizations Ė including the Bearcat LaunchPad New Venture Accelerator. Early on, Omnicron Delta Kappa chose Bhavik as UCís Sophomore Leader of the Year and later the Lindner College of Business chose him as Student Leader of the Year. He is an international vice president for the Supreme Council of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and has been tapped into Phi Rho Chi, Omnicron Delta Kappa, Order of Omega and Sigma Sigma. He exemplified service to the university as the undergraduate director of UCís Bicentennial Commission, working to build an interdisciplinary student organization to plan the 2019 Celebration in conjunction with faculty, alumni and various constituents. In addition to speaking three languages fluently, he is embracing cultural diversity through his many study abroad experiences to over 20 foreign countries. Among Modiís most prestigious national awards for environmental and community initiatives, he served on the Southwest Ohio Council for Higher Education as featured speaker, as well as the PowerShift Conference in Washington, D.C., as a student delegate. Modi has served on the Provostís Student Advisory Board and on the search committee for the dean of libraries at UC, as well as the Decanal Review Committee for the Lindner College of Business. As an undergraduate student, Modi worked for private equity firms in Cincinnati and San Francisco, ultimately being offered a place in Fifth Third Bankís Commercial Leadership Program where he will start full time in Chicago after graduation.

Cory Murphy is from Pennsylvania and graduated cum laude from UC in December of 2014 with a bachelorís degree in business administration Ė double majoring in operations management and international business Ė from the Carl H. Lindner College of Business. As a first-generation college student, Murphy entered UCís Lindner College of Business and the University Honors Program. Murphy quickly joined six student organizations and earned nine scholarships, including the Benjamin A. Gilman scholarship from the U.S. State Department, which allowed him to spend more than a year in Istanbul, Turkey, as a foreign exchange student at Bogazici University. His global mindset resulted in his tenure as president of the UC International Business Club. As president, he piloted the Early Exposure Program, which introduces high school students to UCís study abroad opportunities. As a result of the great impact from his Early Exposure Program, several other universities around the country are now creating similar programs. Murphy also served as president of the Professional Development Committee for GE Aviation where he displayed a strong inclusive leadership style organizing meetings and career sessions for more than 130 student employees. As a student in the International Co-op Program, Murphy completed an intensive German language program and interned for eight months with GE Aviation at its plant in Regensburg, Germany. After graduation, Murphy accepted a position with GE Aviationís Operations Management Leadership Program, which will allow him to hold various leadership roles within the organization for the next two years. He later intends to attend graduate school in Europe or the U.S.  

Zack Hatfield, Amona Refaei and Melanie Schefft contributed to this report.

Learn more about the Presidential Leadership Medal of Excellence, the selection criteria and previous winners online.

May Commencement ceremonies celebrating the spring 2015 graduates will be held from May 1-2 in Fifth Third Arena.

This yearís Presidential Leadership Medal of Excellence honorees are among the best examples of what it means to be Cincinnati Smart.