Campus senior Grant Schroeder was awarded the University Medal for the 2017 graduating class for his extensive academic success and participation in research and campus athletics.
As a student, Schroeder has participated in research at Harland Lab, studying how stem cells grow into organs. His time as part of the research group has been among his most meaningful experiences as a student, Schroeder said.
As part of the research group, Schroeder co-authored a paper set to be published in Science magazine and served as a mentor to other students entering the lab.
“I was really lucky to become involved in a research group that was committed to fostering my development and really letting me grow in that lab setting,” Schroeder said.
Established in 1871, the University Medal celebrates “the most distinguished campus senior” who then receives $2,500 and delivers a speech at graduation. University Medal recipients are determined by the Academic Senate Committee on Prizes, after an application process is completed by eligible students with an average GPA above 3.96.
As Schroeder moves on from his time at UC Berkeley, he intends to translate his work at Harland Lab to orthopedic research. Schroeder plans to take a gap year working at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, and he will apply to medical school in the summer.
For Schroeder, an integrative biology major who has maintained a 4.0 GPA, academic success has come from a love for his courses.
“It’s really easy to motivate myself to study when I’m captivated by the material,” Schroeder said. “It doesn’t even feel like hard work when you’re studying a lot.”
Schroeder has also been involved in athletics since his first year on campus. As a freshman, he joined the water polo team as a walk-on athlete, where Schroeder said he had to work hard to prove himself.
He has remained involved in campus athletics as captain of the Cal Triathlon team and directed the Bearathlon, which brought the NCAA Women’s West Regional Qualifier to UC Berkeley this past fall.
The campus additionally recognized four other finalists for the University Medal, including graduating seniors Helia Bidad, Giana Cirolia, Tucker Huffman and Sam Kumar, who will each receive a $500 award.
For each of the finalists, their work engaging in research both on and off campus have offered experiences they said have shaped their time as students.
“(Doing research) puts (you) in this close proximity with people you aspire to be and people whose life trajectories you can only imagine,” Cirolia said.
To conduct fieldwork for her honors thesis, Bidad traveled to Iran this past summer, her first time returning to the country after immigrating to the United States at four years old. Bidad was later able to present her research at the poster session of the Fifth International Symposium on Saffron Biology and Technology in Agadir, Morocco, where she received the award for best poster presentation.
A number of the finalists also found their experiences teaching and working as mentors, as well as the connections they formed with other students and professors, to be rewarding.
Huffman, a chemical biology major, defined his time teaching in the Chemistry Undergraduate Teacher Scholar Program as among his most rewarding experiences on campus, as he was able to help other undergraduate students from underrepresented groups through teaching an adjunct chemistry course.
Bidad said in an email that since being assigned to the UC Gill Tract Community Farm as part of a service learning project her freshman year, her experience with the farm has been “pivotal” for her. This semester, she served as a facilitator for the “Urban Agriculture and Food Justice at the UC Gill Tract Community Farm” DeCal, where she was able to share with other students “the place that brought my education to life,” according to an email.
Since joining an electrical engineering and computer sciences honor society, Kumar, who has been involved in research related to software-defined buildings, has spent each semester volunteering time as a tutor, allowing him to give back to a community that he said has been instrumental to his time as a student.
For Cirolia, who came to campus as a freshman with the intention of studying English, the individual connections she formed with professors helped her discover a love for biochemistry and motivated her throughout her studies.
“Over and over, I would have teachers see something in me that was this potential I didn’t necessarily notice in myself and would go out of their way to say something encouraging,” Cirolia said.
Both Kumar and Huffman plan to pursue doctorates, with Kumar returning to campus in the fall to continue studying computer science, and Huffman attending a program at Scripps Research Institute. Bidad intends to take a gap year before attending law school, pursuing her passion for environmental law. Cirolia will be working at Chan Zuckerberg Biohub in San Francisco on a team studying single cell genomics development.
For Schroeder and the finalists, studies throughout their time on campus helped develop passions and skills they hope to apply to their work in further exploring and advancing different fields.
“I think a lot of people who come to Berkeley are really really qualified,” Schroeder said. “But Berkeley kind of orients you towards how those skills can be used to better the world.”