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 SRU Academic Honors Convocation salutes scholars 




March 18, 2009

Contact: K.E. Schwab  




For photos click on name:

Merhaut            DiMarco       Busch          Rupell         Ritzert 


SRU Academic Honors Convocation salutes scholars


SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Nearly 2,600 Slippery Rock University students named to the 2008 spring and fall dean's lists, those honored as Presidential Scholars and participants in a variety of academic and athletic honor programs along with a number of faculty and staff will be recognized April 5 at the University's annual Academic Honors Convocation.

            The 2 p.m. formal academic event is in Morrow Field House and is expected to draw more than 2,000 parents, family members and friends.

            Jessica Rupell, a communication major from Gilbertsville and seven-semester dean's list student with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average, will be the senior speaker.

            Faculty and staff award recipients are:

  • Joseph Merhaut, assistant professor of special education, who will receive the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching;
  • Danette DiMarco, professor of English, who will receive the President's Award for Scholarly Achievement; and
  • Sandra Busch, publications manager in the Office of University Public Relations, who will receive the President's Award for Outstanding Service.

 The event will also present Nicole L. Ritzert, a chemistry major with minors in mathematics and physics who has a perfect 4.0 GPA, as Slippery Rock University's candidate for the Syed R. Ali-Zaidi Award for Academic Excellence presented by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

The top 20 sophomores, juniors and seniors, by grade-point average and credits earned at SRU, will be honored as Presidential Scholars. Graduate Presidential Scholars and Graduate Scholars with 4.0 GPAs, Scholar Athletes with 3.25 or GPAs and Service Learning Scholars will also be recognized. SRU students receiving an academic scholarship will also be spotlighted.

            "Each year the University sets aside the entire month of April to salute the outstanding accomplishments of our students, faculty and staff," said Robert Smith, SRU president. "The achievements of our University family are astounding. The research activity our students and faculty are involved in, the contributions of our staff and the leadership seen in all areas of the campus are worthy of special recognition. Academic Honors Convocation is our way of turning the spotlight on our academic programs and the successes that make this a great University."

            Anna Cypher, a voice major from Evans City, Alexander McDaniel, a music major from Pittsburgh and the SRU Brass Ensemble, directed by Brian Meixner, assistant professor of music, will provide musical selections.


President's Award for Outstanding Teaching

Student letters of support and recommendation were the driving force behind the selection of Merhaut as recipient of the 2009 President's Award for Excellence in Teaching.

            Merhut, a member of the special education faculty since 2002, was described as, "The best teacher I have ever had," by Brittany Smeltz, a special education major from Monroeville. "He makes sure everyone knows the information of the course and does whatever he can to help you with whatever you need. He is dedicated to having his students succeed. He is not only a great teacher, but a great person," she wrote in her nomination.

            Megan Wislie, an elementary and special education from Natrona Heights, described Merhaut as a "very knowledgeable professor whose desire and commitment to teach is infectious. Knowing that Dr. Merhaut has a daughter with special needs, it was quite evident to witness and understand his passion for special education. Maintaining a classroom that promotes a high degree of student learning and engagement, Dr. Merhaut involved his students in meaningful discussions. His classes are always centered on the students. Dr. Merhaut is not only an excellent professor, but an inspiring mentor to all of his students."

Merhaut was cited for his involvement in creating SRU's Assistive Technologies Laboratory in which SRU students, and others, learn how to make use of technology, including computers and other high-tech equipment to help those with learning difficulties. 

            Located in the Jack C. Dinger Special Education Building, the laboratory is funded by a $100,000, four-year grant from the Pittsburgh-based Edith L. Trees Charitable Trust. The trust specializes in funding programs that benefit those with mental retardation.

            The laboratory, open to special education majors and others, is filled with equipment designed to help those with communication, vision, motor skill and audio difficulties. One device helps stimulate those with severe or multiple disabilities by offering light, acoustic and nerve stimulation that engages their interest. Other equipment helps with motor skill development and a large key computer keyboard helps those with motor skill difficulties refine their talents. Individual keys can be programmed to offer entire sentences on the computer screen to help those who are challenged better communicate with others.

            Merhaut's concept in creating the lab was to better prepare SRU students to be able to work with such equipment as they taught those with special needs - and to encourage facilities without such devises to consider including them in their own therapy programs.

            Merhaut earned his Bachelor of Science degree at Slippery Rock University, his master's degree from California University of Pennsylvania and his Doctor of Education from Duquesne University.

            He is a former high school principal and teacher and served as an adjunct faculty member at Duquesne and Point Park universities. He has consulted for numerous school districts throughout western Pennsylvania offering ideas for inclusive practices schools can employ to benefit not only mentally challenged students, but their fellow students as well. 

Merhaut has served as a child advocate, workshop presenter and member of the Pennsylvania Department of Education Peer Monitoring Special Education Audit Team for a number of school districts. 

            In 2006, he traveled to Kosovo as part of a four-year University of Pittsburgh project to help the country's school systems recover from years of war and destruction.

            He is a member of the Council for Exceptional Children, Phi Delta Kappa, the National Association for Secondary School Principals, the Pennsylvania Association for Secondary School Principals and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. In the community, Merhaut serves as a member of the Pine-Richland Youth Foundation board of directors and was a member of the Pine-Richland School District school board.

            He received the Duquesne University Henderson Award for Educational Leadership in 2000 and the Twyla Hord Memorial Award for Outstanding Seniors in Special Education as a student at SRU.


President's Award for Scholarly and Creative Achievement

            DiMarco, will receive the President's Award for Scholarly Achievement for her work titled "Misfortune's Monsters/The Human�Race': Mina Loy's American Lineage and an Urban Poetry of Economic Deprivation."

            Her work was published in 2006 in Sagetrieb, the journal of the National Poetry Foundation. The issue was devoted to the topic of women poets of the 1950s, and DiMarco's article received critical support from modernist scholars Linda Kinnahan, author of "Poetics of the Feminine: Authority and Literary Tradition in William Carlos Williams, Mina Loy, Denise Levertov and Kathleen Fraser," published by Cambridge University Press.

            "Sagetrieb" is a word coined by poet Ezra Pound to denote a humane tradition in music and poetry gleaned from the past and passed on to the future. 

            In nominations supporting her recommendation for the award it was noted, she "is a scholar and a teacher, and it is only to be expected that her scholarship reflects both sides of her. She has published numerous pedagogical works focused on teaching writing to first-year students, including a chapter concerned with recording observations in primary research in the fourth edition of 'The Subject is Writing.'" The book was published by Heinemann Publishers.       DiMarco was also cited for the student text titled "Sense of Direction: The Experience of Argument," which she is co-authoring with Nancy Barta-Smith, also a professor of English at SRU.

            DiMarco's critical scholarship has been concerned with feminist authors in Victorian and 20th-century British and American literature. Her most recent work in this area, for which she is being honored, was selected in the jury-reviewed special issue of "Sagetrieb."  

            Lynda Szabo, chair of the Geneva College English department and an editor of the special issue of "Sagetrieb," which included DiMarco's work, wrote, "Dr. DiMarco's essay presented a cogent argument regarding Mina Loy's poetry of the 1940s and 1950s as these poems assert a critique of poverty and the treatment of the urban poor. Furthermore, DiMarco's essay posits Loy as a literary foremother of sorts for contemporary Nuyorican women poets who also critique urban poverty." 

            Szabo cited DiMarco for demonstrating a thorough command of the scholarship on Loy, comprehensive knowledge of economic theory pertaining to the 1940s and '50s, as well as a sophisticated rendering of the connections between Loy and contemporary poetry and theory.

            "Her thesis is innovative and expertly argued through the essay. Her prose style is clear, intelligent and polished," Szabo wrote. She also offered high praise and support for DiMarco as a literary critic, scholar of American poetry and culture, and professional writer.

            DiMarco earned her undergraduate, master's and doctorate degrees at Duquesne University.


President's Award for Outstanding Service

            For Busch, the key word is "service" and the degree of service she exhibits resulted in her being named to receive the 2009 President's Award for Outstanding Service.

            Busch consistently strives to exceed the performance standards of her position by providing service to meet the myriad of design and publication needs of the University community.

            "Sandy is an independent, self-directed person who is able to communicate effectively to meet even the most demanding challenges. As the leader in an area that routinely processes more than 400 design projects annually, Sandy must efficiently (and with good humor) juggle client needs, student designer schedules, vendor deadlines, budgets and work flow to insure that every job reflects positively on the University," Rita Abent, executive director for University Public Relations, wrote in her letter of nomination.

            Since taking the post in 2001, she has set exacting stands for the department and has brought new designs and looks to a wide spectrum of campus publications. She brought a good sense for balance, the right mix of colors, textures and photos to her design work, and her broad knowledge of functional design, coupled with cutting-edge principles has resulted in numerous individual project accolades from the University community and off-campus professionals. The University recently won a CASE award and two CUPPIES for three projects under her direction.

            Since joining the public relations operation, she has demonstrated excellent managerial and decision-making skills. She has continually approached her role in a friendly and respectful manner and is attentive to tasks at hand. In addition, she voluntarily works overtime and takes work home to meet deadlines. She is clearly a customer-focused employee always following a problem through to successful completion."

            Busch consistently excels in working with student designers, Abent wrote. "She is supportive, cooperative and collaborative in dealing with students and is focused on their individual talents. By the time students leave her tutelage, they take along a full portfolio of design experiences that position them ahead of their peers in applying for employment or graduate school.

            Faculty and staff from across the University praise her design work and have been complimentary in explaining how her work has helped achieve their goals.

            Busch has been instrumental in helping the University establish and maintain its brand in the marketplace. She routinely meets with clients to help educate them about the importance of a strong brand and how their projects can contribute to the University's goals.

            She is frequently called one of the University's most consistent and helpful employees. She consistently brings a great attitude to her work and the overall office atmosphere, inspiring those around her through her dedication.

            Nominations for the award cited her work as a contemporary designer who brings creativity, and enthusiasm to each design project, including her recent leadership in the redesign of The ROCK magazine, the University's publication produced three times each year and distributed to nearly 60,000 SRU alumni and friends.

            She is a graduate of La Roche College.

            The Presidents' Award for Outstanding Service was made possible in 1981 through the generosity of the late Robert and Donna McMullen, long-time Slippery Rock University patrons. It continues through the support of their son Doug and his wife, Linda. The award recognizes a University staff member who consistently contributes in ways that support the University's advancement as did Mr. McMullen, a member of the Class of 1951 and chair of the Slippery Rock University Foundation Inc. board of directors. Both he and his wife were involved in campus programs and offered continuing support to SRU throughout their lives.


Senior Convocation Speaker

            Rupell, was selected by the convocation committee for her outstanding academic work, here campus community involvement and her leadership. She plans to graduate in May.

            Rupell has used her college years to broaden her understanding of her community, the nation and the world while serving as a reporter and editor for The Rocket, the weekly student newspaper at Slippery Rock University.

            She served as assistant editor and editor of the newspaper's Focus Section, where she budgeted and assigned stories and photographs. She also handled writing and layout of the section, and has served as an opinion staff writer for the student newspaper.

            A staff intern this year for Views & Voices Women's Magazine, based in Sharon, she wrote stories for the monthly publication and assisted with copy editing and photo planning. She is co-founder and an employee of the AP Style Help Center at SRU and assisted students with Associated Press style questions.

            In other off-campus work, Rupell served as an intern reporter for The Butler Eagle newspaper in Butler and at the Daily Local News in West Chester, where she wrote news, feature and business stories. 

            At SRU, she joined the Ireland Study Abroad Program to study Irish history at the University of Limerick and had the opportunity to travel to France, England, Italy and the Czech Republic.

            She was named a Presidential Scholar at SRU and received the Yearly Academic Scholarship from the University for 2005-2009. She participated in the SRU Honors Program and was a research paper presenter at the 2008 New York State Communication Association Conference. 

            The Keystone Press Awards, Collegiate Level, honored her writing last year with an honorable mention in the personality profile category, and she attended the 2007 ACP/CMA National College Media Convention in Washington D.C. 

            Rupell also received a Pennsylvania Students Working Against Tobacco Scholarship during her freshman year.

            She is a member of Lambda Pi Eta and Zeta Phi Eta, communication honoraries, Phi Kappa Phi, academic honor society, the Public Relations Student Society of America and served as an international student mentor and Honors Program mentor as a student. She played on the women's rugby club team and was a community assistant in SRU's Residence Life Program. 


Syed R. Ali-Zaidi Award for Academic Excellence nominee

Ritzert is among those nominated for the $1,000 state system award. The selected recipient will be honored at the student's home campus during spring commencement.

The award, established by Ali-Zaidi, a charter member of the Pennsylvania Sate System of Higher Education board of governors and a strong advocate for the system's universities, honors students who excel in the pursuit of knowledge. The award was inspired by Ali-Zaidi's memory of his grandfather, Mir Wilayat Husain.

Criteria for the award include outstanding academic performance in the student's academic major and other areas of study; recognition of scholarship by university faculty; participation in extra- or co-curricular activities as an undergraduate; and submission of an essay on how the university has prepared the student for the next step.

            Following her graduation from SRU, Ritzert plans to pursue a doctorate in physical and analytical chemistry. Her research experience at SRU includes work with Donald Zapien, associate professor of chemistry.

Her work already includes publication with S. S. Casella and D. C. Zapien on research titled "Electrochemical Characterization of Horse Spleen Ferritin Covalently Immobilized on Self-Assembled Monolayer Modified Gold Electrodes" published Jan. 26 in "Electoanalysis." The three also wrote "Surface-Electrochemistry of Ferritin Adsorbed on 8-Mercaptooctanoic Acid-Modified Gold Electrodes" that appeared in the Feb. 12 online publication "Electrochemical Communications." 

She presented a poster titled "Electrochemistry of Ferritin Adsorbed in Carboxylic Acid Terminated Monolayers on Gold Electrodes" at the American Chemical Society National Meeting in Salt Lake City in March, and a poster titled "Comparison of Electrochemistry of Adsorbed and Covalently Attached Ferritin" at the American Chemical Society National Meeting in Philadelphia last August.

Her other poster presentations were offered at the Electrochemical Society International Spring Meeting in Phoenix, the American Chemical Society National Meeting in Boston and the American Chemical Society National Meeting in Chicago. She also presented at Slippery Rock University's annual Symposium for Student Research and Scholarship.

A member of the SRU dean's list since enrolling at the University, Ritzert was named a Presidential Scholar during her sophomore, junior and senior years. She was named the Outstanding Sophomore Chemistry Major in 2007 and the Outstanding Junior Chemistry Major in 2008. She is a recipient of an SRU Merit Scholarship, the Robert C. Byrd Scholarship, the College of Health, Environment and Science Chemistry Scholarship and earned the Ritts Scholarship, Coen Family Scholarship, Lynne Ernes Woman in Science Scholarship, Joseph and Eva Puntureri Memorial Scholarship, Leadership in Science Scholarship and a George Smith Memorial Research Grant.

Ritzert won the SRU department of chemistry recipient of the Society for Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh College Chemistry Award. She is a student affiliate of the American Chemical Society and the Electrochemical Society.

Her campus activities include serving as treasure of the SRU Chemistry Club where she helped organize and supervise the Chemistry Games program for area high school students. She served as a floor representative and later as treasurer for the Rhoads Hall House Council and was involved with the Association of Residential Hall Students.

She served three years as a judge for the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science Region IX Meetings hosted by SRU and assisted in developing the chemistry department's Web page.

A reception will follow in the field house.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Photos of the faculty/staff award winners and the student speaker are available from, the click on the "Convocation" story.


Dean's lists were previously sent to the local media and are available from the SRU homepage.


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.

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