2016 Commencement Awards Recognize Students, Faculty, Spartanburg Community Members

Brenna Bylar receives the Elford C. Morgan award from President Betsy Fleming

Each year, Converse recognizes students, faculty and Spartanburg community members for their outstanding accomplishments and impact in a variety of areas. The following awards were presented during the 2016 commencement ceremonies for undergraduate and graduate students, held May 14:

Elford C. Morgan Award

Brenna Bylar receives the Elford C. Morgan award

The highest academic honor given to a student in the disciplines of art and sciences bears the name of Elford C. Morgan, who served Converse from 1932 until 1959 as Professor of English and Dean of Administration. The memory of Dr. Morgan is associated with the noblest ideals of scholarly life. The award is given by the family of Dr. Morgan to the senior with the highest academic record in the College of Arts and Sciences. The 2016 recipient is Brenna Byler, a Converse II student who double majored in philosophy and psychology. Last year, thanks to support of Converse faculty members Dr. Monica McCoy, Dr. Kyle Keefer and Dr. Kevin DeLapp, Among her many accomplishments, Brenna was named a finalist for the prestigious national Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics.

Pi Kappa Lambda Award

Mallory Hayes receives the Pi Kappa Lambda Award

The Pi Kappa Lambda Award recognizes the graduating senior with the highest grade point average in the Petrie School of Music Chapter of this national music honor society. The 2016 recipient is Mallory Hayes, who majored in violin performance. Hayes became the second principal violinist for the Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra during her sophomore year at Converse, making history as the youngest person ever to earn a leadership position with the orchestra. She performed Dvorak’s Sonatina in G major for Violin and Piano, Op.100 during the commencement exercises.

Mary Mildred Sullivan Award for Outstanding Citizenship – Student

Christie Monohan receives the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award for Outstanding Citizenship

Each year Converse honors a graduating senior who has made exemplary contributions to the life of the College and her fellow students as well as to the community at large. The Mary Mildred Sullivan Award for Outstanding Citizenship recognizes a student who demonstrates unselfish service and is dedicated to sharing with others, bringing to Converse a spirit of humane participation in the life of her community. Our 2016 recipient is Christie Monahan. Christie Monahan is a dedicated student who has used knowledge and skills acquired at Converse to serve the underserved in our community and beyond. A Biochemistry major and licensed pharmacy technician, she served as a Chemistry lab assistant and participated in mentored student research with Dr. Jeff Brotherton. Christie has been selected for inclusion in Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges and recognized as a member of academic honor societies, including Converse’s most prestigious, Gamma Sigma. She is a member of the Biology honor society, Beta Beta Beta, and of Alpha Lambda Delta, where she received the Maria Leonard Senior Book Award and the national ALD Miriam Shelden Graduate Fellowship Award. Her membership in Omicron Delta Kappa, the national leadership honorary, reflects how Christie takes her many academic accomplishments and turns them to service to others. Christie volunteers as a pharmacy technician at St. Luke’s Free Medical Clinic in Spartanburg and as a volunteer pharmacy technician at the Old Fort Baptist Church Non-Profit Medical Clinic in Summerville, South Carolina. In 2014, Christie spent the summer as a hospital volunteer with the Caring Touch Program in Summerville. At Converse, she served her fellow students as a Chemistry tutor and as a Peer Academic Coach.

Mary Mildred Sullivan Award for Outstanding Citizenship – Spartanburg Community Member

Margie Cates receives the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award for Outstanding Citizenship

Each year Converse presents the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award to a member of the greater Spartanburg community, recognizing unselfish service, dedication to sharing with others, and humane participation in the life of her community. The service of the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award recipient makes her an example to all of us at Converse, one to whom we look for inspiration. Our recipient this year is Marguerite McGee Cates. Ms. Cates is a native of Spartanburg, working as a teenager in our city’s first department store, which was founded by her grandfather. She attended Columbia University and Converse and her daughter, Kathleen Cates, graduated from Converse in 1980. Ms. Cates loves the arts as a patron and participant and has worked to promote the Spartanburg Little Theater and other arts organizations in our area, even helping to build sets for productions for the Little Theater.  She pursued education in order to expand her knowledge of history, politics, and business, stating that she wanted to know as much as she could in order to be able to take a stand.  She combined her passion for the arts with her educational accomplishments to better our community. As she said, “I came from a family that taught me the value of volunteering at a young age. I was fortunate to have a comfortable home. And I was taught that if you get good things, you should give of yourself, as well.” Her work resulted in the creation and production of “Textile Girls,” a musical revue featuring textile women from all over the state. Undaunted by the fact that nothing of this sort had been done before, she succeeded in focusing attention on the struggles of the textile industry. For her strong support of both the arts and education in Spartanburg and our region, work that she has linked to the betterment of our community, it is a distinct pleasure to honor Marguerite McGee Cates.

Kathryne Amelia Brown Award

Dr. Kelly Vaneman receives the Kathryne Amelia Brown Award for excellence in teaching

The Kathryne Amelia Brown Award was established by the late Mr. and Mrs. James Douglas Brown in memory of their daughter, a member of the class of 1970, to recognize faculty members who have excelled in the classroom.  This year’s recipient is Dr. Kelly Vaneman, Associate Professor of Oboe and Musicology. One of her colleagues states that, “Professor Vaneman is a beloved teacher, a generous and devoted colleague, and an amazing musician” and that she “exemplifies the Converse spirit of collaboration.” Other colleagues praise her for her active involvement in Converse programs beyond the Petrie School of Music. She chooses those programs that are most keenly focused on student success and promoting the success of her faculty colleagues beyond music, including the Student Success Seminars, First-Year Seminars, and the Nisbet Honors Program. She has worked closely with our Theatre programs and has reached out to faculty in the Humanities, teaching Music and Monasticism with Religion professor Dr. Kyle Keefer. One student wrote of her teaching, “Dr. Kelly Vaneman is such an engaging and fun teacher. She does an excellent job of presenting cultures and their music, and inspires our appreciation of those cultures.” Another student, in a First-Year Seminar, praised both her “thoroughness and clarity” as well as her “charisma and enthusiasm.” An advanced student noted her “very enthusiastic, energetic, and positive” approach, adding that she “asks great questions and encourages class participation.”

Cato Award for Faculty Excellence


The Cato Award for Faculty Excellence is given to a faculty member who demonstrates excellence in undergraduate teaching, advising, and mentoring, including encouraging student recognition of the role of personal responsibility in their lives; promoting internship and service-learning experiences for students; preparing students to be productive, contributing members of their communities and society as a whole; and fostering international study for students.  The 2016 recipient is the Charles A. Dana Professor of History and Politics, Dr. Joe P. Dunn. The 2013 CASE U.S. Professor of the Year for South Carolina, Dr. Dunn’s record of promoting the internationalization of our students’ experiences begins in the classroom and reaches out to the world. His classes are intellectually and personally challenging. He and his departmental colleagues have one of the most impressive records of preparing students for successful graduate study at leading universities, including Duke, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, and Princeton. Many of his students participate in prestigious internships and after graduate study go on to distinguished careers in academia and public service. They all remember their encounters with Dr. Dunn and seek him out at reunions. He is the creator and director of the nation’s most successful Model League of Arab States Program, which has dominated competitions for decades. Dr. Dunn has promoted and arranged study-travel and study-abroad experiences for students throughout the Middle East. He has done all of this and more while serving as a clear example of the teacher scholar, producing numerous books, articles, and reviews. One colleague wrote of him that he encourages his students to question authority—including his own—while providing a space to “critically think through issues such as ethnicity, class, gender, race, and sexuality.” This same colleague noted that the result is students who “emerge as confident and caring global citizens.”

The O’Herron Award for Faculty Excellence


Established by the O’Herron Family Foundation, this award recognizes a faculty member who demonstrates exceptional teaching effectiveness, creativity, mentoring and advising, curriculum development, involvement in student-related activities, and achievement in scholarly and professional work.  The 2016 award goes to Associate Professor of Art Andrew Blanchard. Known as a demanding studio professional, Professor Blanchard holds his students to high standards of artistic production. He does so with a purpose: he is determined to help them make themselves into active and successful artists – artists who show their work in professionally juried exhibitions while still undergraduates; artists who are prepared for top graduate programs; artists who bring their visions to life. One student called his approach the “tough love” that was essential to her success—as she wrote, it made her a stronger artist. Students thank Professor Blanchard for his weekend framing demonstrations that help them save money by learning to build their own, professional-level frames. Once again, it is part of a plan to help them see how art can work. Professor Blanchard has an exemplary record of nearly 100 juried exhibitions in his relatively brief time at Converse, featuring his extraordinary artwork; work with a wide range of subjects and media. He has pieces in major permanent collections and shows his students how art works through his regular sales of what he produces. His colleagues note Professor Blanchard’s effectiveness as a recruiter of new student artists, visiting area and local schools to do workshops and offer critiques. He plays a critical role in the review of prospective student portfolios. He has also assisted the department and the college in taking on a safety training role, helping students and faculty colleagues make art in the safest possible way.

The Lovett Promising School Leader Award

The Lovett Promising School Leader Award was established in 2014 with the financial support of former Dean of the School of Education and Graduate Studies, Dr. Martha T. Lovett, who served Converse from 1986 to 2002. This award is given annually to a graduate student completing a degree in school administration. The 2016 recipient is Ken Kiser, who completed the requirements for the Converse Educational Specialist degree in Administration and Leadership. Mr. Kiser received his Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education/ Biology and a Master of Education degree from Converse. Mr. Kiser is an experienced classroom teacher and administrator. He served as an assistant principal for several years and then became the principal at Dawkins Middle School. He has been the principal at Dorman High School in Spartanburg School District Six for the past five years, known for his ability to build positive relationships with students and faculty. His co-workers have noted that he is an outstanding principal who always goes the extra mile for his students and colleagues. He was named Administrator of the Year in 2012-2013 by the South Carolina School Counselor Association and received the same award from the Spartanburg County Breakfast Optimist Club in 2014-2105.    

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