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School of Education Honors Outstanding Seniors [05/20/2024]


2024 outstanding senior award recipients.

2024 Baylor School of Education Outstanding Seniors — front row (L-R) Lexi Whitney, Genesis Santos, Cailyn Riordan; back row (L-R) Hannah Hensarling, Ashlyn Bergethon, Jessica Best; not pictured Vanessa Mendez

Baylor School of Education (SOE) recognized seven seniors as outstanding students at the 39th annual Senior Recognition Banquet in late April. Seniors were honored for their excellence in academics and fieldwork in education programs and their readiness to impact the world. Baylor SOE senior award recipients (biographies below) for 2024 are:

  • Genesis Santos — EDICUT Preservice Educator of the Year Award
  • Hannah Hensarling — Dolores Coker Phi Delta Kappa Outstanding Student in Education
  • Lexi Whitney — Lorena B. Stretch Award for Outstanding Student in Elementary Education
  • Jessica Best — Award for Outstanding Student in Middle Grades Education
  • Ashlyn Bergethon — M.L. Goetting Award for Outstanding Student in Secondary Education
  • Cailyn Riordan — Award for Outstanding Student in EC-12 Education
  • Vanessa Mendez — Award for Outstanding Student with Minor in Education

EDICUT Preservice Educator of the Year Award

Genesis Santos

Genesis Santos, an elementary education major from Waco and summa cum laude BSEd graduate, received the 2024 EDICUT Preservice Educator of the Year Award. Known as the “Dean’s Award,” the honor is presented at each private university education program in Texas by the Education Deans of Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas (EDICUT).

During her senior year, Santos was a student teaching intern at South Bosque Elementary School in Midway ISD, serving in the fifth-grade classrooms of Nancy Patel (science/social studies), Alexa Van Hal (reading/language arts), and Monique McIntyre (math).

Santos said she chose teaching because, “I am fulfilled by showing students their potential and building their confidence, especially when they begin to believe in themselves and flourish.”

Andrea Martinez, Santos’ intern supervisor, said Santos has the heart of a teacher. “It is clear she enjoys teaching, and her students love her! She is resilient, resourceful, and reflective in her practice and is committed to growing as an educator,” she said

Mentor teacher Patel said, “Genesis is aware of students’ needs — academically, emotionally, and socially — and sets high expectations for them. I appreciate how present and purposeful she is with every interaction and conversation with adults and students.”

Santos graduated from McLennan Community College (MCC) in 2021 and was named the highest honor graduate.

While at Baylor, Santos volunteered in Waco through Transformation Waco, Region 12’s Upward Bound program, and Waco ISD. She served as an ambassador on the SOE’s Student Advisory Council and volunteered with Baylor’s First in Line program.

Santos was a member of Baylor honor societies Kappa Delta Pi, Phi Theta Kappa, and Alpha Lambda Delta and was a Provost’s Scholar. She was also a McNair Scholar, was named a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates Fellow, and is recipient of a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship.

Delores Coker Phi Delta Kappa Outstanding Student in Education

Hannah Hensarling

Hannah Hensarling, a middle grades mathematics major from Homewood, Alabama, who graduated from Baylor magna cum laude, received the 2024 Delores Coker Phi Delta Kappa Award for Outstanding Student in Education. She was a student teaching intern in the classroom of Austin McClinton, BSEd ’16, MA ’23 (school leadership), at Midway Middle School in Midway ISD. Her intern supervisor was Sheri Sowder.

Phi Delta Kappa is a professional education association for educators around the world, and Dr. Coker was a longtime faculty member in Baylor SOE.

Hensarling wants to teach in order to create a positive environment where students are supported and learning is fun. “Teaching is fulfilling because I get to teach math content in creative ways that are specific and engaging for students and create a place where students want to learn,” she said.

Mentor teacher McClinton said, “One of Hannah’s many strengths is finding unique ways to engage students in lessons — whether it’s bringing bags of rice to discover volume, using playing cards to understand box plots, or hand cutting more than 300 nets to help students understand surface area. Hannah does an incredible job of fostering a positive learning environment for her students through relationships, her positive attitude, and exercising an impressive amount of patience.”

At Baylor, Hensarling served as a peer coach for the SOE’s Student Advisory Council and events chair for Chi Omega. She was also a member of Student Foundation and Kappa Delta Pi.

Lorena B. Stretch Award Outstanding Student in Elementary Education

Lexi Whitney

Lexi Whitney, an elementary education major from Pleasanton, Calif., and a summa cum laude graduate of Baylor, received the Lorena B. Stretch Award for Outstanding Student in Elementary Education. The award’s namesake, Dr. Lorena Stretch, was dean of the Baylor School of Education from 1935 to 1957, the school’s longest serving dean.

Whitney was a student teaching intern in the third-grade classrooms of Cassidy Gibbs (math, science, social studies) and Jessica Richardson (English language arts) at Robinson Elementary School in Robinson ISD.

Whitney said, “It makes me happy when students seek to learn something new and even happier when they successfully do so. Teaching is fulfilling to me because it provides the special opportunity to educate future generations. I value the chance to assist students in developing the necessary knowledge and skills to be leaders in their community, the workforce, and wherever life takes them.”

Whitney’s intern supervisor, Stacey Voigt, said, “Lexi displays knowledge of learning strategies to help students develop their skills and master the curriculum, designing rigorous lessons based on district curriculum and state standards. She stays abreast of current research to implement best practices and innovative technology and embeds differentiation strategies to ensure every child is successful in her classroom.”

Both mentor teachers praised Whitney’s rapport with her students. Richardson said, “Lexi is organized, professional, and has great relationships with her students. She is an amazing teacher!”

At Baylor, Whitney was a member of Delta, Delta, Delta and served as assistant director of first-year experience.

Award for Outstanding Student in Middle Grades Education

Jessica Best

Jessica Best, a middle grades social studies education major from Hewitt, Texas, and summa cum laude graduate of Baylor University, received the Award for Outstanding Student in Middle Grades Education. Best was a student teaching intern at Robinson Junior High School in the classroom of Travis Horton.

Best said she chose a career in education because she takes seriously the interdependence of communities and believes the highest expression of trust is placing confidence in those who educate children. “Being an educator after a lifetime of being a student feels like I am, in a way, thanking those who took the time to teach me — by passing on my time, effort, and care toward the next group of students,” she said.

Dr. Neil Shanks, Best’s intern supervisor, said he hopes his own children have a teacher like her someday. “Ms. Best exemplifies what we want a Baylor teacher to be — hard-working, caring, and always willing to go the extra mile to ensure that her students are seen and receive the best education possible,” he said. “She has demonstrated the utmost professionalism in her placement and coursework.”

Mentor teacher Horton said Best looks for ways to go deeper into the subject matter of the class, but more importantly, the development of the students. “During conference periods, we tend to get philosophical about ways of learning or obscure topics in history, and we both believe that you have to be a student of your subject in order to do best by your students,” he said. “It is her thirst to explore that makes me have all the confidence that we are going to see some great things in the future from Jess.”

At Baylor, Best was a member of Kappa Delta Pi and a volunteer for Texas Rising, a non-partisan progressive student organization that advocates for voter registration and student and community organizing.

M.L. Goetting Award for Outstanding Student in Secondary Education

Ashlyn Bergethon

Ashlyn Bergethon

Ashlyn Bergethon, a secondary mathematics education major from Virginia Beach, Va., and cum laude graduate of Baylor University, received the M.L. Goetting Award for Outstanding Student in Secondary Education. The award is named in honor of Dr. M.L. Goetting, who was dean of the School of Education from 1957 – 1971. Bergethon was a student teaching intern at Robinson High School in the classrooms of Meaghan Lewis and Aaron Snow.

Bergethon said her dream of being a teacher began in grade school and solidified when her sixth-grade teacher noticed her passion and assigned her to write and deliver a lesson. “I love to help others,” she explained. “Whether guiding an advanced student through a new concept or helping a student with math phobia succeed, I love coming alongside students to help them grow.” She finds teaching fulfilling because of the impact she can make every day.

Bergethon’s intern supervisor, Dr. Rachelle Rogers, said Bergethon’s creativity in instructional lesson design stood out. “Every lesson that I observed connected to students’ interests and real-world events,” she said. “Ashlyn eagerly embraces every learning opportunity available and does so with the desire to be the best educator she can be for her students.”

At Baylor, Bergethon served as head peer coach for the SOE’s Student Advisory Council, chaplain of Alpha Phi, a college community group leader at Highland Baptist Church, and a volunteer for Vertical Ministries.

Award for Outstanding Student in EC-12 Education

Cailyn Riordan

Cailyn Riordan, an all-level Spanish education major from Stayton, Ore., and summa cum laude graduate of Baylor University, received the Award for Outstanding Student in EC-12 Education. Riordan was a student teaching intern in the Spanish classroom of Ivette Torres at Midway High School in Midway ISD.

“I want to teach because I want to show students how exciting learning can be,” Riordan said. “I desire to support my students as people by not only teaching them Spanish, but also encouraging them to grow as individuals.”

Riordan’s intern supervisor, Dr. Lee Anne Brannon, said she knows how to make Spanish relevant to her students’ lives and urges them to use Spanish outside the classroom. “Cailyn has excellent knowledge of Spanish and makes a special effort to bring additional tips, fun facts, and tools for her students to help them succeed,” Brannon said. “She brings an energy to the classroom that puts her students at ease.”

Mentor Torres said Riordan’s lesson plans were filled with challenging and engaging activities. “She also challenged them to grow and discover things by themselves,” Torres said, “and that is a skill that enriches the learners beyond the classroom. Cailyn is a good listener and very observant. These skills helped her provide honest and constructive feedback to our students, so they can improve academically and personally. The students know that she cares about them and that they can count on her.”

At Baylor, Riordan was on the SOE’s Student Advisory Council organizing special events and service projects and is a member of Kappa Delta Pi.

Award for Outstanding Student with Minor in Education

Vanessa Mendez

Vanessa Mendez, a secondary education minor from Grand Prairie, Texas, and a history major graduate of Baylor University, received the Award for Outstanding Student with Minor in Education. She was a student teaching intern at La Vega Junior High School George Dixon Campus in La Vega ISD in the classroom of George Stonikinis.

Mendez said, “I want to teach so I can help guide those who walk into my classroom down a path that will bring them true happiness. Being able to help them along crucial stages in their lives makes me feel like I am doing some good in this world and gives me a sense of purpose. Even if my students’ passion is not history, I will always be there to support their dreams.”

Dr. Neil Shanks was Mendez’s intern supervisor. He said, “Ms. Mendez is diligent with her coursework, collegial with her classmates, and considerate with her questioning about the relationship between curriculum and social issues. She developed meaningful lessons that connected her deep content knowledge with the vital material required in a high-stakes subject.”

Mentor Stonikinis said, “Ms. Mendez is a credit to the profession and is an exemplar of how the Baylor School of Education prepares its students for the workplace. She has demonstrated an ability to assess student needs and react accordingly, often pivoting to a new strategy.”

At Baylor, Mendez was involved with the Japanese Student Association, serving as both vice president and president.


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