McPherson student wins FHSU award as outstanding graduating senior

St. Augustine, Fla., ceramic artist receives inaugural Lighthouse Award for graduate students

HAYS, Kan. – Keshawn Sewell, McPherson, was named today as the recipient of the Torch Award as the outstanding graduating senior from the class of 2018 at Fort Hays State University, and Herrick Smith, St. Augustine, Fla., was named the recipient of the first Lighthouse Award for an outstanding student completing graduate studies.

Sewell, a native of Jamaica who was raised in McPherson, will receive a Bachelor of Science degree in health and human performance.

Smith will receive a Master of Fine Arts degree.

They will receive their degrees at Commencement ceremonies beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday in Gross Memorial Coliseum. Saturday’s event is for graduates from the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and the College of Health and Behavioral Sciences.

Commencement for the W.R. and Yvonne Robbins College of Business and Entrepreneurship, the College of Education, and the Peter Werth College of Science, Technology and Mathematics begins at 6 p.m. today in Gross Coliseum.

Fort Hays State will graduate 4,533 students this year, the total from summer and fall 2017 and spring 2018. Of those, 3,064 are from the spring 2018 semester.

The announcement of the Torch and Lighthouse awards came at the annual Graduate and Faculty Luncheon, sponsored by the FHSU Alumni Association. The Pilot Award for outstanding faculty member and the Navigator Award for outstanding faculty advisor were also announced. All four recipients will be recognized at Commencement ceremonies.

Dr. Robert Channell, professor and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, was the Pilot Award recipient, and Dr. Craig Smith, associate professor of agriculture, was named the recipient of the Navigator Award.

Mike Koerner, vice president of the FHSU Alumni Association Board of Directors and 2000 and 2005 graduate of FHSU, introduced Sewell, a 2014 McPherson High School graduate, and Smith, who works as a ceramics laboratory technician at the University of Northern Florida.

Koerner cited Tiger Pals, a student organization founded by Sewell to serve young people with disabilities. The organization, with 50 active volunteers, is active in five local schools and serves 100 students.

Quoting from the nomination form for Sewell, Koerner said, “Many students are engaged in university and community service. Fewer students assume leadership roles and responsibilities of those important organizations. However, only a handful of students across the country actually create and sustain an organization that makes such an impact on the lives of so many people.”

Research into ceramics techniques by Smith, winner of the Lighthouse Award, was selected by the FHSU Graduate School as the outstanding non-thesis research project and won first place at the 2017 John Heinrichs Scholarly and Creative Activities Day.

Koerner quoted a faculty member who said, “I think this individual would be an outstanding choice for the Lighthouse Award as he exemplifies the best qualities of a graduate student: engagement, growth, leadership, achievement and professionalism.”

Introducing the Pilot Award winner, Koerner quoted a student who praised Channell’s enthusiasm and knowledge, and Channell’s supervisor, who said, “Great teaching requires more than a great mind. It also requires the capacity to care about students as individuals and dedicate yourself to their success.”

Channell, who joined the FHSU faculty in 1999, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from FHSU and his doctorate in zoology from the University of Oklahoma. His research focuses on the application of large-scale ecology and biogeography to the conservation of biodiversity.

Brent Hirsch, Abilene junior majoring in technology studies and the vice president of the Student Government Association, introduced Craig Smith, the winner of the Navigator Award for outstanding academic advising.

The Navigator Award was created in 1998 to recognize an outstanding academic advisor based on how closely he or she adheres to the university goals for academic advising. Candidates are nominated, interviewed and selected by graduating seniors in a process conducted by the Student Government Association.

The Alumni Association instituted the Torch and Pilot awards in 1974 to emphasize the importance of excellence in teaching and learning. They are presented every year at the Graduate and Faculty Luncheon in advance of Commencement.

Torch Award candidates are nominated by members of the faculty on the basis of classroom excellence, participation in professional organizations, and involvement in student or civic activities.

The Lighthouse Award, approved by the Alumni Association last year, was created this year to honor an outstanding student who is completing graduate studies. The award was named the Lighthouse in honor of the late Dr. James Forsythe, a former dean of the Graduate School and the university historian, whose book “Lighthouse on the Plains” documents the history of Fort Hays State.

The Pilot Award is given on the basis of classroom excellence, ongoing research and service activities. Candidates are nominated by graduating students.

The Alumni Association, established in 1916, is dedicated to identifying and serving the needs of more than 66,000 graduates living throughout the United States and in more than 70 foreign countries. For more information, contact the Alumni Association at 785-628-4430 or


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