Congratulations: Maria Jernigan named 2018 Undergraduate Student of the Year

>May 3, 2018

Congratulations: Maria Jernigan named 2018 Undergraduate Student of the Year

Maria Jernigan named 2018 Undergraduate Student of the Year

Maria Jernigan, a triple major from Virginia Beach, Virginia, thinks about how virtual reality could enhance high school learning. She absently taps an old-fashioned fountain pen against her notebook as she outlines a project that transports students to Washington, D.C., and Beijing to explore political issues that affect both the United States and China. She hopes the technology will motivate students to solve global issues through collaboration.

The four years that Jernigan has spent at Virginia Tech exploring ways to make learning more meaningful for high school students have led her on a journey of academic excellence, culminating with two honors: the Virginia Tech Undergraduate Student of the Year Award and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Outstanding Senior Award.

Jernigan’s quest to explore a nontraditional combination of majors led her to choose Virginia Tech and be part of its Honors College. She received a Calhoun Liberal Arts Scholarship that covered not only her tuition and expenses, but also summer enrichment funds. The Honors College, she said, encouraged her to explore combining majors in a way that would fulfill her interest and goals.

She chose to major in philosophy, Spanish, and theatre arts. Philosophy was a natural choice, she said, because she knew she wanted to explore deep philosophical questions. Spanish made sense because she wanted to travel the world and understand it better.

“Learning a second language has helped me comprehend not just how to conjugate verbs but how language can be a window into understanding how someone else thinks or views the world,” she said. “It helps create empathy.”

And then there was theatre arts. In that major, she said, she learned the importance of listening, how to be heard, and how to live in the moment.

Together these disciplines have given her the skills she hopes will help her change the world of secondary education, a desire that began in high school when she wondered why students seemed engaged in some classes, but not others.

One of her mentors, Joseph Pitt, a professor in the Department of Philosophy, encouraged her to explore that question.

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