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University Honors Program  

The Phyllis G. Betts Award for Academic Excellence


The Phyllis Betts Award is given annually to the graduating Honors student who most embodies the liberal arts ideal of polymathematical and well-roundedness, having excelled in distinct and often distant fields of study. The graduating class of 2014 includes three outstanding Honors students who have received this award. Each is talented in multiple academic areas, yet, as their mentors, advisers, and instructors attest, each of them remains modest, unassuming, and personable.

                                                2013-2014 Recipients:

              Caroline Ketcham, Kyle Cavagnini and Corey McClintock

Caroline Ketcham and Kyle Cavagnini                                Corey McClintock

    Caroline Ketcham and Kyle Cavagnini                                                                       Corey McClintock

Caroline Ketcham is an environmental studies major with a flair for creative writing. Her major adviser has effusive praise for her work: “Caroline is able to clearly synthesize materials from widely varied disciplines, demonstrating both a grasp of the complexity and nuance of deep subjects while clearly communicating apparent or subtle contrasts and parallels among subjects as seemingly disparate as law and biological metabolism, poetry and computer games, or the spread of fashion trends and institutional sustainability.”

In addition to outstanding work in the classroom, Caroline gained tremendous real-world experience through her yearlong tenure as an intern at UNC Asheville’s National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center. Her supervisor there notes, “It’s not often that we work with a student who possesses such depth of knowledge and breadth of interest—a combination of deep environmental science knowledge, insightful analytical thinking, and truly excellent written and oral communication skills. The fact that she always approaches her work with an open attitude, remains optimistic and cheerful throughout the process, and brings maturity and professionalism beyond her years is an added bonus.”

Caroline’s interests are not completely comprised by science. An outstanding creative writer, she was a contributor to the Southern Regional Honors Council’s arts and literary journal Sanctuary, for which she later served for a year as a student editor. Her writing has also appeared in The Great Smokies Review, a publication which she served as a student intern. She was a featured reader at Asheville's premier downtown bookstore, Malaprop’s.

I have been delighted to have worked with Caroline firsthand as well, in three (very different) courses of my own. In her second semester at the university she shone as one of the strongest students in my Calculus II class, showing computational quickness and mature understanding of difficult mathematical concepts. Two years later she showed me her talents as a creative writer when she took my course on Oulipo and constrained literature. Her work for that course was clever and fast-witted and fun, always a delight to read; it was clear to me that she’d deserved the literary honors accorded her. Finally, in my HON 479 class last fall she demonstrated intelligence and perspicacity matched only by her compassion. Her contributions to daily discussions showed empathy and understanding, and her outstanding presentation on community-supported agriculture and other direct-marketing techniques showed awareness, insightfulness, and deep humanity.


Kyle Cavagnini stands out for his achievements in chemistry and philosophy. His adviser in the former field, in whose lab Kyle has now worked for years, remarks “I consider Kyle one of the elite students I have encountered in my 11 years at UNC Asheville, and one of the most mature and poised individuals I have taught in my career…Kyle impressed me immediately with…enthusiasm, diligent study habits, and sure-handedness at the bench.” Kyle performed painstaking study on the physical and chemical properties of proteins related to kidney disease, presenting on his work at numerous conferences and in forthcoming research articles. Given this work, his adviser declares, “I am not sure I ever have encountered an undergraduate with Kyle’s ‘fire in the belly’ to perform scientific research.” Indeed, not satisfied with a single research question, Kyle took on another unrelated project quantum chemical calculations on interactions between nickel cations and cysteine anions as a model system for the transmetalation of the zinc finger region in HIV1.  His supervisor for this second project notes, “Kyle’s calculations have shown the preferred orientations of the amino acids and suggested reasons for unexpected results in the experiments, which were carried out at Cal State Fresno.”

It would have been enough for Kyle to have excelled in chemistry alone; he’s gone further, though, and shown equal excellence in the unrelated field of philosophy. In relating his successes as a first-year student in an upper-level seminar on Merleau-Ponty, Kyle’s adviser in that department remarks, “That has been the standard for Kyle: performing well beyond expectations of ANY undergraduate, let alone as a first year undergraduate! He has gone on to write essays in philosophy that were accepted at national undergraduate conferences – and won awards at these conferences!...In over twenty years of teaching at the university level, I have never seen a student as accomplished in research in two disparate fields of research.”

I consider myself lucky enough to have worked with Kyle in three courses, including two semesters of linear algebra and one of my current sections of Cultivating Global Citizenship. In all of these courses, he showed unparalleled excitement and curiosity, a gusto for learning most teachers are happy to see once every decade or so. In my math classes, he shows genuine curiosity and passion for a scientific discipline that is not, strictly speaking, his own. In HON 479, he is unafraid of difficult discussions. Kyle is critical yet compassionate in his handling of ideas, and unwaveringly kind and respectful of others’ views on complex ethical questions. Most amazing to me is that for the latter course he’s completed every one of seven difficult texts and played an active part in class discussion, despite the fact that he’s merely auditing the course, as he successfully completed it nearly three years ago.

Kyle was also awarded the prestigious Fulbright Award to support a year of study in chemistry at the University of Bergen in Norway.


Corey McClintock, the third winner of the Phyllis Betts Award, demonstrates excellence in multiple academic areas. A double major in chemistry and creative writing, she receives praise from talented faculty in both of these disciplines.

One of her mentors in creative writing declares, “Corey is humble, brilliant, strong, independent and responsible…[and has] demonstrated an extraordinary ability to craft a poem that puts into play many of the formal elements of poetry: fresh, striking metaphors, compelling rhythms, effective lineation, and other elements. She uses her talent to express subtle, nuanced feelings as she explores whatever subject matter she has chosen for a given poem.” Another of her instructors notes, “In every setting she is at the very top of her class. She’s a fine writer, an incisive thinker, a sensitive reader, an interesting contributor to the class conversation at all times.” Her work in creative writing earned her both the Gullickson Award from the Literature and Language Department and the Topp-Grillot Scholarship for creative writing. I had the pleasure of watching her read her own chemistry-inspired creative writing at the Fall 2013 North Carolina Honors Association Conference in Boone, and she too read at Malaprop’s Bookstore in downtown Asheville, sharing the stage, in fact, with fellow Betts-recipient, Caroline Ketcham.

Corey’s work in chemistry is equally outstanding. She has worked in Professor Bert Holmes’s lab, performing work on hydrofluorochlorocarbons and possible replacements for damaging aerosols and has presented her own research findings at regional and national chemistry conferences. Moreover, her name appears on multiple articles in mainstream chemistry research journals, including “Unimolecular Isomerization of CH2FCD2Cl via the Interchange of Cl and F Atoms: Assignment of the Threshold Energy to the 1,2-Dyotropic Rearrangement,” appearing in the Journal of Physical Chemistry, Series A.As if she hadn’t yet gained sufficient recognition for her diverse academic achievements, Corey also demonstrated tremendous athletic talent as well as a member of UNC Asheville’s track and field team, on which she serves as the team’s female thrower. She recently broke the school record for women’s hammer throw and earned distinction as the Blue Cross/Blue Shield North Carolina Athlete of the Week for this accomplishment.


Past Awardees

  • 2012-13: Charlotte Pate, Anthropology
  • 2011-12: Kristina Bender, Literature & Language and Mathematics

Last edited by on June 2, 2014

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