UNCG School of Education students Kasey-Lynn Schmidt and Aliyah Prontaut have been chosen to receive the Student Excellence Award, UNCG’s highest academic honor for undergraduates.

The award recognizes excellence as a student both in and out of the classroom for qualities of creativity, originality, motivation, analytical skills, and the ability to communicate effectively.

Schmidt, a senior in the Department of Specialized Education Services, was nominated by Dr. Stephanie Kurtts, an associate professor in the department.

Kasey-Lynn Schmidt reading a book to her class
Kasey-Lynn Schmidt

“Kasey is one of the most dedicated and committed teacher education candidates I’ve had the pleasure to teach,” said Kurtts. “She is highly regarded by her peers and by the teachers in her schools.”

Schmidt has maintained a 4.0 grade point average while at UNCG and upon graduation will be hired as a long-term substitute teacher at Joyner Elementary School while her cooperating teacher is on maternity leave.

“When I got the letter about the Student Excellence Award I sobbed because I could never have imagined that someone would nominate me for something like that,” Schmidt said. “I took every step of college one day and one assignment at a time. I promised myself to give all that I had. This award is a testament to the fact that hard work pays off, that perseverance is worth it in the end, and it is a huge testament to all of the amazing teachers I had along the way that believed in me before I believed in myself.”

Her list of accomplishments includes serving as a tutor at HOPE Academy and for Beyond Academics at UNCG. In addition, she is a Sunday School teacher at mercy Hill, where she is working with church staff to make the children’s ministry more disability friendly.

“Kasey has been highly self-motivated, working with community agencies to ensure services to individuals with disabilities,” Kurtts continued. “Kasey also completed an academic service-learning leadership and self-advocacy project during her junior year in which she provided academic peer tutoring for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

Schmidt will also be the first person in her immediate family to graduate with a college degree.

“It’s very hard to put into words what this award means to me. It’s so much bigger than just winning something – it’s the perfect conclusion to a very significant journey for me,” Schmidt said. “I had a very hard time through my K-12 school years and believed deep down that I was not able to learn. I am the first in my immediate family to go to college and I thought I would give it a try but I expected to fail. Now, four years later, I am a strong and confident teacher and all I want to do is help kids that were like me to find their self-worth much sooner then I did.”

Prontaut is a senior in the Department of Teacher Education and Higher Education and was nominated by Marilyn Preddy, her team leader and Dr. Jennifer Mangrum, sssistant professor in the department.

Portrait of Aliyah Prontaut
Aliyah Prontaut

“I first met Aliyah in my Introduction to Elementary, Middle Grades and Special Education course,” Mangrum said. “Aliyah has demonstrated creativity and originality; motivation, initiative and perseverance; analytic, synthetic, and critical thinking skills; and the ability to communicate ideas both orally and in writing throughout her college program.”

Prontaut, a non-traditional student, has worked full time in realty, banking, sales, and at the Greensboro Science Center before enrolling at UNCG in 2010.

“I went to school to pursue a dream and a second career,” Prontaut commented. “My husband and I did not expect to receive our bundle of joy in the middle of my college career but she just made me work harder.”

Mangrum commended Prontaut and her determination saying, “Aliyah is a great wife and a mother to her three year old daughter, excels academically, volunteers in the community, and has been stellar in her student teaching practicum. Maintaining that routine throughout the program demonstrates perseverance and initiative both in and outside the classroom!”

Preddy is proud of Aliyah’s professionalism, leadership and contributions to teaching. Preddy shares, “This year Aliyah presented with a group of her peers at the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCCTM) at the state conference. Comments from the forty attendees indicated that this presentation was the most informative and the best of the two-day conference. Later this year, she will work with the mathematics leaders from across the state at the NCCTM Leadership Conference, where she will network and interact with these leaders in a leadership capacity.”

While at UNCG and because she is committed to helping students develop their love of reading and learning, Prontaut volunteers with the Hooked on Books program. Sponsored by the Teague Foundation, this program helps children in high poverty schools start a personal library of books that inspire and interest them. Prontaut is also committed to celebrating children’s diverse backgrounds and cultures in her future classroom and has concentrated in history in order to broaden her own understandings and cultural competence.

She has earned a 3.98 grade point average and has been on the UNCG Chancellor’s List throughout her career in the SOE.

“I am still in shock on even being nominated for this award,” Prontaut continued. “I always worked hard because that is just what I expect of myself. I never intended to be recognized and I am awestruck over winning!”

Schmidt and Prontaut will receive their awards at the 54th Student Honors Convocation on April 27.