– Rebecca Burcher, a senior at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania who will graduate in May with dual degrees in dance and community programs for Americans with disabilities, has been named the 2014 winner of the Syed R. Ali-Zaidi Award for Academic Excellence. She will receive $1,000 along with a commemorative medallion for her achievement.
Sara Dickson from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and Gretchen Heine from Indiana University of Pennsylvania were selected as runners-up for the award. Each will receive $500.
The Ali-Zaidi Award is presented annually to a graduating senior at one of the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities. It recognizes outstanding academic achievement and participation in extra- and co-curricular activities. The award was established by Syed R. Ali-Zaidi, a founding member of the PASSHE Board of Governors.
Candidates for the award are recommended by their university president at the conclusion of a campus application and selection process. Selection criteria comprise academic scholarship, including prizes, honors and honorary societies; participation in extra/co-curricular activities; and a two-page essay by the nominee addressing how the university has prepared him or her for the next career step.
Burcher of Walnut Creek, Calif., has earned a 4.0 grade point average at Slippery Rock. Her degree in community programs for Americans with disabilities also will include a specialization in adapted physical activity. She also is part of the fifth-year Master in Science program in adapted physical activity at SRU and will earn her graduate degree next year. She plans to also earn a Master of Fine Arts degree.
Among her many extra-curricular and co-curricular activities, she has volunteered with a fitness and aquatics program for individuals with disabilities and an after-school recreation program for youth with autism and at the Storm Harbor Equestrian Center Pre-Job Training Program for Teens with Autism. She has participated in numerous research projects and has received several academic and performance-based scholarships in the field of dance. She also served as the fundraising chair of both Sigma Rho Delta, a dance honorary, and the American Sign Language Club at SRU.
Dickson of Saegertown has earned a 3.7 grade point average at Clarion. She will receive a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, with a minor in political science and a concentration in pre-law in May. She was elected president of the Clarion University Student Senate in May 2012 and served for two years. She also was appointed to the PASSHE Board of Governors in October 2012, serving since then as one of three student members on the governing body of the State System. She was enrolled in Clarion’s Honors Program and also participated in numerous undergraduate research projects and in The Washington Center Internship program.
Heine of Frederick, Md., will earn Bachelor of Science degrees in Spanish and history, both from the Robert E. Cook Honors College at IUP, in May. She has been involved in numerous research projects and has studied abroad in Mexico, Bermuda and Germany. She also worked as a teaching assistant in both Nicaragua and Italy. Working with two of her professors, Heine helped revive and reinstate the Spanish Honors Program at IUP. She also was a member of the university’s Leadership, Governance and Administration Sub-Committee for Middle States Accreditation.
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is the largest provider of higher education in the Commonwealth, with about 112,000 students. The 14 PASSHE universities offer degree and certificate programs in more than 120 areas of study.
The state-owned universities are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities of Pennsylvania. PASSHE also operates branch campuses in Clearfield, Freeport, Oil City and Punxsutawney and several regional centers, including the Dixon University Center in Harrisburg and PASSHE Center City in Philadelphia.