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UNC Grads Honored with Dickeson Award

June 7, 2021

At the University of Northern Colorado commencement ceremonies in early May, two UNC graduates – Blake Harrington and Yessica Rodriguez – received the Robert & Ludie Dickeson Presidential Prize for Leadership.

 This $1,000 award was established by the eighth President of the University of Northern Colorado, Robert Dickeson, and his wife, Ludie, to acknowledge and reward student leadership at UNC.

For more than 30-years, the award has been presented annually to two graduating seniors who demonstrate outstanding campus leadership, had a minimum grade point average of 3.0, and were recognized as leaders by fellow students, faculty, and staff. Both faculty and students write letters recommending recipients for the award.

Blake Harrington 21
B.A. History, minor in Legal Studies

Blake HarringtonIn recommending Harrington for the award, Professor of History Robert Weiss, Ph.D., said Harrington always exceeded expectations, growing from an “eager transfer student who wanted to take on impossibly vast research projects into a clear-eyed, dedicated scholar.”

He went on to describe Harrington’s enthusiasm for education. “For him, taking university classes with professors who challenged him and appreciated his intelligence was a privilege and he was going to take full advantage. Even when he had to rush back to Louisiana and Texas to help family beset by floods, he always completed his work on time, according to the most exacting standards… Blake understood that college is not about getting good grades; for him, it’s about the fundamental joy and obligation of learning.”

Christopher Miller, a fellow student, spoke of Harrington as a gracious leader. “A good leader is one who employs the use of their colleague’s insights and gives credit where it is due, and Blake is always gracious for his peers’ contributions and uses them to support his leadership qualities. There are no awkward lapses of classroom activity when Blake is present, for he always seeks to drive substantive learning onward for everyone.”

In thanking the Dickesons for the award, Harrington spoke of some of the challenges he faced growing up, and of his decision in his 20s to turn his life around.

“As someone who has literally and figuratively fought for everything I have and to be where I am now, it is humbling and a bit overwhelming to have been selected to receive this generous award. I have strived to help my fellow students avoid some of the pitfalls that I experienced while simultaneously instilling in them the thirst to learn more and look at life from a different perspective,” he wrote.

Yessica Rodriguez 20
B.S. Biological Sciences

When fellow student Daisy Solis recommended Rodriguez for the award, she wrote of her strength, leadership and joy, saying she was a “force to be reckoned with.”

Yessica Rodriguez“As a Biology student, she found ways to stay involved in her community as well by helping her local high school as a tutor for first-generation seniors. She advocated for her goals as a future medical professional by taking on the leadership as a certified nursing assistant. With her ongoing schedule, she still managed to be patient, kind, resilient, and a leader in all she did.”

Krista Caufman, director of UNC’s McNair Scholars program, also spoke of Rodriguez’s leadership and resilience. “Yessica has never hesitated to step into a leadership role, using her patience and vision to foster a collaborative environment where other students can also succeed. She is relentlessly optimistic, and others naturally look to her for encouragement and solutions. She overcomes whatever challenges emerge in her life, and her resilience, particularly when doubters have asserted that she does not belong and should not pursue her dreams, is inspiring.”

Rodriguez, who plans to use the award to help her this fall as she pursues her master’s in Biomedical Sciences, shared with the Dickesons how much the honor meant to her.

“What you have established is truly a blessing to students every year. You inspire us to expand our leadership, even post-graduation. There is a mantra I have been told since childhood—ponte las pilas. This mantra I have lived by translates to ‘pursue your excellence.’ Through your help, I have and will continue to pursue my excellence. Being selected to receive this award is the catalyst for eventually having “Dr.” at the beginning of my name, creating a legacy for a last name I am honored to have, and a testament to the people that helped me along the way, including each of you.”