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 2016 includes several such students, but one in particular who for his academic excellence, his commitment to discovery, and his all-around creative energy, is highly deserving of this special honor.

2016 Recipient: William Massey Bartolini

The recipient of this year’s Phyllis Betts Award for outstanding scholarship goes to a student with diverse interests. Yes, this person has maintained a 4.0 GPA in a challenging major course of study and numerous Honors courses, but that number says little about this person’s passion for learning, patience in the practice of their discipline, and perspicacity in combining ideas from remarkably disparate fields. The consummate scholar of the liberal arts, Massey Bartolini balances academic excellence with humanity, humility, and friendliness.

Where to begin? Massey's academic adviser notes he “is by far the most intellectually superior student I have encountered in my eight years at UNC Asheville.” Massey's adviser says that while on a work-intensive field course during the summer, Massey “invariably asked intelligent and deep questions of the professionals with whom we spoke...his thirst for knowledge and understanding is something that I wish all students would possess.” Another one of Massey's atmospheric science professors notes about his presence, “it will be strange in the department (and university) next year when Massey is not here exuding his positive influence.”

The instructor of Massey's Honors senior capstone course notes “Massey is a very deep thinker. Though quiet in discussions, Massey will often sit silently processing.  But then, all at once, he'll alight on a point many in the class have been missing, or dancing around, or trying to find a way towards. Out he'll come with it, in his reserved, unobtrusive, steady way, dramatically altering the thoughts of others.” Another Honors instructor agrees, saying that “Massey's contributions to our discussions were always thoughtful and meaningful. So meaningful, in fact, that when he spoke, he frequently added an insight that we hadn't yet arrived at and his insight often turned the discussion that followed in a new and fruitful direction.”

Other folks in the Honors Program have noted our recipient’s ability to simply be. Wes Sparks, instructor of our weekly Honors yoga class, reflects on Massey, who was a regular in the Wednesday sessions:

In working with Massey, he is always willing to accept without judgement, whether or not he is in a good place or a bad place with his body on a particular evening. This compassionate awareness of his performance, along with his ability to not get caught up in results, demonstrates an emotional intelligence and maturity far beyond his years.

Luckily, I can count myself among the folks who’ve had a class with Massey – two classes, in fact. In the first, a Calc III course I taught three years ago, a course in which I frequently used his flawlessly typeset problem sets as answer keys for everyone else’s work, he ended the term with a humbly-earned 101.5% in the course, the highest mark I’ve ever given in any class at UNCA. In the second, my Fall 2014 origami course, his designs, always impeccably made, were almost always the most popular. His patience in helping others master the craft of origami was rivaled only by his patience in his own practice of the art, as we can see both from his involvement and leadership in the long-term Plate House project and from his work on building a gigantic origami Menger sponge that took up a corner of the Laurel Forum for weeks.

I could go on and on, about

  • Massey's roles as a peer tutor and as the treasurer and president of the student chapter of his department’s professional organization,
  • about the research he’s presented at national conferences in his discipline,
  • about the position he earned in one of the nation’s top grad schools in that discipline,
  • about his participation (and star performance!) in an annual nationwide weather forecasting contest, and, of course,
  • about his role as the official unofficial Honors Program meteorologist.

But I won’t. It gives me great pleasure to announce that this year’s Betts Award goes not only to one of the Honors Program’s most outstanding scholars, but also to one of its kindest, most generous, and most modest. It is my pleasure to grant the 2016 Phyllis Betts Award to atmospheric science major Massey Bartolini.

Past Awardees

  • 2015: Giovanni Figaro, Accounting
  • 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