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 2015 includes one such student, who for his academic excellence, his commitment to community and for his outstanding ability to turn theoretical ideas into practical good, is highly deserving of this special honor.

2015 Recipient: Giovanni Rey Figaro

The recipient of this year’s Phyllis G. Betts Award for academic excellence and engagement in the Honors Program exemplifies all that it means to be an Honors student at UNC Asheville. With a nearly spotless academic record and a résumé bursting with service to the greater Asheville community, our recipient, Giovanni Figaro, models intelligence, wisdom and tireless humanitarianism.

“‘Integrity’ and ‘hard work’ are the two phrases that would best describe Giovanni,” said the director of the community organization with whom the recipient performed service learning for his Honors LA 478 course. “Gio never took shortcuts, never made excuses, and most importantly…completed every task requested…with excellence…he challenges himself in all aspects possible.” His Honors 478 instructor, Reid Chapman, sings similar praises, calling Giovanni “a keen scholar and an engaged community member. Giovanni approaches his studies with great seriousness, thinking deeply about provocative issues and sharing freely his observations. He manages to balance this with an ability to listen thoughtfully to others – a rare trait, to be sure.” Few faculty at the university are more familiar with Giovanni’s record than his long-time academic adviser, Dr. Reed Roig, who notes that he “has unusual initiative for his age. He does not wait for events; he works to see that they happen.” Offering the student’s internship as an example of his initiative, Dr. Roig says students who wish to have an internship must find their own. Many of these internships are acquired shortly before the student applies for the [internship] course. Giovanni found his internship by making a cold call on a host who didn’t even know they needed an intern until they met Giovanni and recognized the potential he had to help them. By the time he was ready to sign up for the internship, he was ready to take on a level of responsibility beyond the basics.

Dr. Roig goes on to say that “he innately recognizes that there are more worthwhile things to do in the world than there is time to do it and he spends his time thoughtfully and effectively. He is intentional in his choices and that enables him to be consistently effective.”

So what has he done with his time? Besides his considerable service-learning commitment to the Urban Mentoring Academy, Giovanni took part in the summer youth leadership program “Me2We,” aimed at building the social justice leadership skills of Asheville youth. During a seminar on diversity put on by his Honors capstone class, Giovanni demonstrated the leadership skills he acquired through that program, by organizing the scripting and filming of several complex scenarios, and by inviting many community members to attend the seminar. Indeed, he is clearly connected with the community, and this connection has earned him the distinction of sharing the stage with some of the university’s most prominent recent guests, including Arthur Levine, recipient of one of UNC Asheville’s 2014 honorary doctoral degrees and James Ferguson, the keynote speaker for the October 2014 conference “African-Americans in Western North Carolina.”

For his academic excellence, his commitment to his community, and his outstanding ability to turn theoretical ideas into practical good, we are delighted to grant this year’s Phyllis G. Betts Award to accounting major Giovanni Figaro.

Past Awardees

  • 2014: Caroline Ketcham, Environmental Studies; Kyle Cavagnini, Chemistry and Philosophy; Corey McClintock, Chemistry and Creative Writing
  • 2013: Charlotte Pate, Anthropology
  • 2012: Kristina Bender, Literature & Language and Mathematics
  • 2011: Tiffany Yates, Literature & Language
  • 2010: Jordan Wolfe, Political Science