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April 4, 2014
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab

Senior captures PASSHE Ali-Zaidi award

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Rebecca Burcher, a graduating senior at Slippery Rock University from Walnut Creek, Calif., is this year's winner of the Syed Ali-Zaidi Award for Academic Excellence presented by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

Burcher, nominated by SRU, is the first SRU student to win the honor, which includes a medallion and $1,000. The formal presentation ceremony will be part of a PASSHE board of governor's meeting in Harrisburg.

SRU will recognize Burcher as part of its Academic Honors Convocation at 1:30 p.m., April 5, in Morrow Field House.

"The candidates for this award are outstanding students and citizens and serve as a testament to the opportunities PASSHE provides not only for success, but to excel," said Frank Brogan, PASSHE chancellor. Each PASSHE university is permitted to submit one nominee.

Burcher has a 4.0 grade point average and will graduate from SRU in May with dual degrees in dance and community programs for Americans with disabilities with a specialization in adapted physical activity. She has been part of the fifth-year master in science program in adapted physical activity at SRU and will earn her master's degree in 2015. She plans to also earn a master of fine arts degree.

"The recognition of Rebecca Burcher with this honor is especially exciting for Slippery Rock University because no SRU student has been previously honored with this award," SRU President Cheryl Norton said in presenting Burcher to the SRU Council of Trustees at its recent session.

In addition to citing Burcher's academic majors, Norton said, "With your minor in adapted physical activity and because you are engaged in the fifth-year master of science program in adapted physical activity, you are on track to complete that degree in 2015. So, in the five years Rebecca plans to be at SRU, she will have completed three degree. Congratulations. But apparently, earning three degrees is not enough. Rebecca's future plans include completion of a master of fine arts, the terminal degree in that field, and then to pursue a career as a professional dancer, choreographer and, hopefully, someday direct a dance company to partner with agencies that serve children with disabilities."

"Ms. Burcher's resume highlights an impressive blend of academics, research, service and performance," wrote one nominator. "What I find particularly extraordinary is that Rebecca is not focused only on academics or performance or research, but she blends these areas together using information from one to direct another demonstrating the effectiveness of an applied research model. More importantly, despite a heavy academic workload, Rebecca has volunteered her time with campus and off-campus organizations that serve individuals with special needs. ln this way, Rebecca has chosen to share her knowledge, athletic gifts and passion to truly make a difference in the lives of others."

Her faculty nominations characterize her as "a dedicated student who has achieved a

perfect grade point average while balancing performances and 19 hours of coursework a semester that often includes graduate-level studies. As a result, Rebecca has been recognized outside of the Slippery Rock community for her academic and performance achievements. For example, her work with the Afro-Colombian Dance Ensemble has allowed her to research historic dance pieces and present them to the Butler County community."

Dance faculty cited her "high level of artistry, commanding stage presence and mastery of advanced technical skill that sets her apart." She was said to "exemplify the meaning of academic and artistic excellence in the quality, inventiveness and creativeness of her work that separate her from her peer group. She brings passion, dedication and an unparalleled level of commitment to all that she does."

"Examples of her research epitomize her ability to examine dance from multi-level perspective; kinetically, intellectually and culturally. She has used dance to reach out to young people who have often been left behind. Whether they are autistic or deaf, Rebecca has used dance to give their thoughts and ideas expression."

"This is a young lady with a vision and the determination to make it happen," Norton said.

Ali-Zaidi nominees must demonstrate outstanding academic performance; be recognized by members of the university faculty; participate in extra/co-curricular activities; and submit an essay addressing how the university has prepared them for the next step in their career.

The Ali-Zaidi Award, which is presented annually to a graduating senior at one of the 14 PASSHE universities, was created by Syed Ali-Zaidi, a charter member of the PASSHE board of governors in honor of his grandfather Mir Wilayat Hussain.

Runners-up for the award were Sara Dickson from Clarion University and Gretchen Heine from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Both will receive $500 awards.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.