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Exceptional students honored at CGC commencement

At The Citadel Graduate College commencement exercises Saturday, May 10, 2014, in McAlister Field House, more than 250 degrees were conferred and awards were presented. Entrepreneur and founding chief technology officer of Scott Case delivered the commencement address.

Today CGC’s offerings include 28 graduate degree programs, five evening undergraduate degree programs and eleven graduate certificates. During the ceremony students were honored for outstanding leadership and academic achievements, including three new awards that were presented by the graduate college to honor a faculty member, a graduate student and an evening undergraduate student.


Commencement speaker Timothy Scott Case was awarded an honorary degree. A visionary and an entrepreneur,Case combines technology with innovation to produce companies that have changed the landscape of business today.

As the founding chief technology officer of, the internet travel-service company that reached $1 billion in annual sales in less than 24 months, Case created the technology that redefined the travel industry.

In recognition of his brilliant innovations in business as well as his humanitarian spirit, The Citadel Board of Visitors presented Case an honorary Doctor of Commerce degree.

The new Faculty Award for Outstanding Contributions was awarded to Computer Science Professor Dr. Shankar Banik.

Banik received his undergraduate degree in Computer Science and Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, and he received his master’s and doctorate degrees in computer science from the University of Oklahoma. He joined The Citadel Department of Mathematics and Computer Science as an assistant professor in 2006.

Banik has served as director for the Master of Science in Computer Science (a joint degree program with the College of Charleston) and as a member of the Graduate Council since 2011. In addition to his role as academic advisor for graduate students, Banik frequently teaches graduate courses in the program, and he mentors students on graduate-level research projects. He is also responsible for major cybersecurity initiatives in the graduate program, including a new course entitled Advanced Cybersecurity, a new specialization in cybersecurity for the master’s degree, and a graduate certificate program in cybersecurity.

The Graduate Student Award for Academic Excellence and Leadership was presented to Cassandra Thomas. Thomas has a 3.86 GPA and has worked as a graduate assistant for the Department of Political Science for the past three years. She is also a research assistant for Dr. Gardel Feurtado on projects in international terrorism and African leadership. Thomas currently has three Internships: Evans-Ellis Publishing (Washington, DC), owned by Citadel alumnus Tevan Green, for whom she manages two political interest websites remotely; The Charleston Council for International Visitors, a program run by Dr. Donald Sparks, where she has assisted in proposal research writing and program development, and Scranton Dulles, a local international investment firm where she performs a variety of marketing tasks.

Thomas has been part of the Student Government Association, serving as secretary and as a senator since 2012. She is also part of the ONE campaign on campus. ONE is an affiliate of a global grassroots organization working to raise public awareness about severe poverty throughout the world.

The Evening Undergraduate Studies Award for Academic Excellence and Leadership was presented to Stephen R. Johnson.

Johnson, who came to Charleston from Richmond, Va., in 2006, is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society. After completing his associate’s degree at Trident Technical College, he enrolled in The Citadel Evening Undergraduate Studies program. Recently, he was hired by Wells Fargo and he believes that his Citadel connections helped him get the job. He was featured in The Citadel Dare To Lead campaign and can be found on different brochures and website images.

The Hirshey Awards are presented each spring to both graduate and cadet students exemplifying excellence in education in honor of Dr. Charles Hirshey, the head of the Department of Education from 1969 to 1979. Hirshey is a pioneer of graduate education in the Lowcountry and a founding member of what is now The Citadel Graduate College.

This year’s Hirshey Award recipients are Deborah Haven Cruse who is graduating with a master’s degree in educational leadership, Mary Catherine Kassinger who has earned a master’s degree in counselor education, Nicole Louise Sellazzo who is receiving a master of education in literacy education, and Yasemin Tokmakci who has completed a master of arts in teaching in social studies.

Debbie Cruse epitomizes the principles of the Charles T. Hirshey Award through excellence in teaching, modeling instruction and service to her school and her community. Cruse, who graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education, will earn her degree today in Educational Leadership.

Cruse has an exemplary performance record in her more than 29 years education, teaching grades kindergarten through third grade. She has a dedicated passion for education and a commitment to optimizing student and school success. She was named Dorchester District 2 teacher of the year in 2000, PTA Teacher of the Year in 2013 and she served as chairman for Fort Dorchester Elementary School’s Personalization Committee where their school was honored as one of Palmetto’s Finest in March 2013.

Mary Catherine Kassinger earned her Master’s degree in Counselor Education with certification in Elementary School Counseling in December. She also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business from Clemson University.

Kassinger, who spent 15 years working the financial industry, became a student at the age of 48 because of her long-term love of working with children. During her Citadel tenure, Kassinger managed to juggle the responsibilities of a graduate student, wife, and mother to five children.

In her spare time, Kassinger works in foreign missions, primarily in projects involving children. In addition to serving on the missions’ board in her local church and managing several non-profit organizations, she actively participates in projects in Romania, Liberia, Burundi, and Kenya.

Nicole Sellazzo received her undergraduate degree in Early Childhood Education from Winthrop University. She has taught for three years in Charleston County and currently teaches at Jennie Moore Elementary.

Sellazzo wanted to obtain a master’s degree in Literacy Education to improve the literacy rate of underachieving students. Throughout her graduate program she has worked to become a better reading teacher and to change the lives of children through literature.

Yasemin Tokmakci earned a Bachelor of Arts in History and International Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2010. Tokmakci served as a Graduate Assistant for the School of Education from 2012 to 2013. After completing her Student Teacher Clinical Internship at Hanahan High School in December 2013 and completing her Master of Arts in Teaching Secondary Education for Social Studies, Tokmakci was employed by the Wake County Public School System in Cary, N.C., where she currently teacher social studies.

The Aline M. Mahan Award honors college’s first full-time female professor, who taught at The Citadel from 1974 to 1991. Through her leadership as founder and coordinator of the school psychology program, the program first achieved official approval by the National Association of School Psychologists.

The award is presented annually to a graduate who has demonstrated an outstanding record of scholarship, technical skill, and community service in the School Psychology program. This year’s recipient was Megan Zalla for her outstanding record of accomplishment in the School Psychology graduate program.

Zalla, who received her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from the College of Charleston in 2011, has proven herself to be an exceptional student in every manner possible. Zalla is a selfless, compassionate professional who routinely seeks out opportunities that serve to better the lives of others.

While enrolled in in the psychology program, Zalla was involved in a number of charitable and volunteer initiatives. She was actively involved in the Summerville Miracle League and also volunteered her time for Special Olympics.

The J. Patrick Leverett Award honors Professor Pat Leverett, a beloved faculty member and a devoted mentor whose 10-year service to the department of psychology ended abruptly when he died in a plane crash in Alaska.

This year’s award was presented to Byron D. Brooks. While Brooks has excelled in the classroom, his most notable achievements have been in the area of research. Beginning with a required course assignment he created and validated a scale to measure test anxiety. His preliminary work has been accepted for publication in a scientific journal and more recognition is expected the coming years. In addition to his work in this area, Brooks has conducted independent research on stressors among first responders and is part of research teams at The Krause Center here at The Citadel and in the Pediatric Neurology Clinic at the Medical University of South Carolina.

The first recipient of the newly established Citadel Graduate College Scholarship, Brooks will continue his education in the East Tennessee State University clinical psychology doctoral program.

The MBA Outstanding Student of the Year award is presented to a graduate student who has demonstrated an exceptional record of academic achievement and principled leadership within the MBA program. This year’s recipient was Shawna T. Rogers.

While on duty in 2006 as an operations intelligence analyst, Rogers, who had enlisted in the Air Force, graduated with a degree in criminal justice. In 2010, she earned her commission as an officer in the United States Air Force. As an officer, she was recognized as a superior performer. As an intelligence standardization/evaluation officer, she created and currently manages the Intelligence Training program, which has been noted as a best-in-practice program. Rogers currently works at South Carolina Research Authority in the Administrative and Finance Department, and she has been inducted into the Business Honor Society, Beta Gamma Sigma.

This year’s recipient of the Business Evening Undergraduate Student of the Year is Melissa Dawn Barnett.

Barnett has faced many challenges along the path to obtaining a college degree, including the loss of her mother to cancer and the start of her family. Barnett worked full time for Science Applications International Corporation from 2009 to 2014, beginning as a technical writer and advancing into the field of proposal writing and development. During this time, she enrolled in the 2+2 program and completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Business administration with a 4.0 GPA. In 2014, she was recruited by ABeam Consulting out of Dallas, Texas, to lead new proposal efforts.

Each year MBA students are asked to select an MBA Professor of the Year. This year’s recipient was Dr. Timothy Keogh.

Keogh teaches Leadership Communication and Negotiations in the undergraduate and MBA programs. Formerly, he taught Management Communication at the Tulane A.B. Freeman School of Business and was director of the Freeman School's Language Orientation Program for International MBA students.

A linguist in Army Intelligence, he received a degree in Modern Standard Arabic from the Defense Language Institute. He was a writer and editor for the National Institute of Education in Washington, D.C, and he was awarded a Fulbright Grant for graduate study in the humanities at the University of Strasbourg in France.

This year’s recipient of the Business Evening Undergraduate Professor of the Year Award is Lancie Affonso. Affonso is an enterprise technology consultant who has taught management information systems, international business, and technology entrepreneurship courses for cadets and online evening students at The Citadel since 2009.

Affonso has a master’s degree in Computer Science and Information Systems from The Citadel and the College of Charleston as well as an International MBA from the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina. He is a certified Entrepreneurship teacher and an advocate for future Silicon Harbor technology entrepreneurs at the YesCarolina Entrepreneurship programs for middle and high school students. His current research interests include predictive analytics.

The Charles Lindbergh Award is given annually to an undergraduate evening student in civil and environmental engineering for outstanding academic achievement, service to the engineering profession and to the community. The award honors Charles Lindbergh, Citadel class of 1958, who served as head of the civil engineering department from 1981 to 1993.
This year’s Lindbergh Award goes to Elizabeth Ashley Watkins for her teamwork, leadership and academic accomplishment in the School of Engineering and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, her high degree of collegiality, dependability, and her positive influence upon others.

Watkins exhibited excellence and commitment both in and out of the classroom. In class, she excelled in her studies and worked with others to elevate the learning for everyone around her. Watkins is a member of the engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi and her contribution led to The Citadel’s 2nd place finish in the Carolina’s Conference Concrete Canoe Competition.

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