Dr. Cassia Oliveira will give the Williamson Prize Lecture on Tuesday, March 9, at 11 a.m. in the Nucor Auditorium of the Lyon Building.
Lyon College awarded the Lamar Williamson Prize for Excellence in Teaching to Oliveira for the 2019-20 academic year. The College awards this prize annually to the faculty member considered the most outstanding in four categories: professional competence, scholarly ability, exemplary humane values and contributions to the community.
Oliveira, Associate Professor of Biology, will present “Metagenomic Analysis of Microbial Diversity in Ozark Caves.”
Her research training emphasizes genetics and evolutionary biology, focusing on understanding the process of speciation by studying traits that are responsible for reproductive isolation in the early stages of species divergence.
Since joining Lyon College in 2012, Oliveira has published a book chapter and co-authored seven scientific papers that have been published in internationally recognized journals.
“For the Williamson Prize talk, I will be presenting the results of a research project that I have been involved with for the past six years in collaboration with Dr. David Thomas and several Lyon students.”
In 2017, the group published some of their results in an article, “16S rRNA Gene-Based Metagenomic Analysis of Ozark Cave Bacteria,” in the journal Diversity.
“Five Lyon students were co-authors in the paper,” Oliveira said. “Our work was the first culture-independent study of microbial diversity in Arkansas caves.”
Her research has been funded by the Arkansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), the Arkansas Space Grant Consortium (ASGC), and Lyon College.
Lyon College’s Advancement team received three awards from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) District IV.
The team received a Grand Gold award for its reimagining of The Piper magazine. This was the top award for all institutions in the magazines and publications category.
The team also won a Silver award for Annual Fund Improvement and a Bronze award for Alumni Relations Improvement.
CASE is a membership association serving educational institutions and the advancement professionals who work on their behalf in alumni relations, communications, development, marketing and allied areas. CASE District IV is the chapter of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education representing 2904 members from 261 institutions in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. It was formally incorporated on July 10, 1975.
Vice President for Advancement David Hutchison said this is the first time the College’s Advancement team has been honored by CASE.
“This recognition by our peers is an incredible affirmation of the work that the Advancement and Alumni Relations team has done the last several years,” he said, “improving how we share the Lyon College story with our communities and creating lasting opportunities to connect people’s passion with the mission and vision of the College.”
Director of Alumni Engagement Cindy Barber was excited to hear that Lyon College’s team received three awards.
“It is gratifying to have our hard work recognized by CASE. We will continue working hard to stay connected with our amazing alumni!”
Assistant Director of Stewardship Mary Lemings said the Advancement team feels honored to be recognized by case for their “high level of professionalism” and as an “example of best practices in [their] fundraising and alumni engagement efforts.”
“I’m proud of the innovative and inspiring ways our team promotes Lyon College and excited for what’s next,” she said.
“I’m deeply honored to serve such a talented and committed group of professionals, and am delighted to see them receive these well-deserved awards,” said Hutchison.
The basketball program made Lyon College history this February when both the men’s and women’s teams won the American Midwest Conference (AMC) Regular-Season Championship.
This is the men’s team’s first Regular-Season Conference Championship since the 1982-83 season. The women’s team won its second-straight AMC Regular-Season Championship this year.
Senior Faris Verlasevic, of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, said winning the championship “felt surreal.” It had been his goal ever since coming to Lyon four years ago.
“It feels great to close out my career at Lyon with a ring on my hand!”
Junior Christopher Craig, of Denton, Texas, said winning the championship was a good reward for all the difficulties the team faced this year.
“It’s been an unpredictable experience,” said sophomore Winston Peace, of Blytheville, Ark. “Coming into the season, we had this as one of our goals, and it’s an incredible feeling to accomplish it.”
Head Women’s Basketball Coach Tracy Stewart-Lange, ’86, said it was gratifying to overcome so many challenges this year to achieve something the program had never done before: winning back-to-back championships.
“I feel a deeper sense of pride and investment because this is my alma mater and my program where I played,” she said. “I want each of our young women to invest and take ownership so that we stay at a high level and hopefully go even higher in the years to come.”
Senior Jade Giron, of Houston, Texas, said she was able to really focus on basketball while classes were online this year.
“It felt really good to be able to come to Lyon my junior year and be a part of two winning seasons!”
Assistant Women’s Basketball Coach Julie Church, ’04, said this year brought more obstacles than any other. Not having the women’s team together this fall to go through a pre-season, not starting practice at the normal time and not playing non-conference games were huge hurdles, she said.
Fortunately, she said, the students have been very resilient, even while playing and practicing with only portions of the team due to injuries and COVID.
“It’s very satisfying to see them reap the benefits of that work by winning a regular season championship and qualifying for a 10th straight NAIA national tournament.”
Head Men’s Basketball Coach Chad Tapp said the men’s team faced the same circumstances, not being able to have face-to-face contact with each other until December and persevering through shutdowns due to COVID and winter weather.
“There is a feeling of pride to have been able to accomplish this as a team during such a challenging year,” Tapp said. “We’re really proud of our guys.”
“The team just wanted to play the game we’re passionate about, and we banded together through it all,” Peace said.
Stewart-Lange said the women’s team focused on what they could control and talked a lot about being grateful that they had a season together.
“It was a motivating factor that no one really thought we could [win the championship] given our circumstances of not playing in the fall,” she said.
“I hope to see us winning the conference tournament and going far into the national tournament as well,” Giron said.
Despite this season’s challenges, both teams also experienced plenty of highlights.
The men’s team had its best overall winning percentage (10-4) since the 1979-80 season.
“Our staff has gotten better in regards to teaching,” Tapp said, “and it’s been great to see the improvement of our guys on and off the floor.”
Verlasevic said the highlight of the year was when the men’s team redeemed themselves against Central Baptist during the last regular season game and secured the conference title.
Stewart-Lange said highlights of the women’s season would be stepping up on the road early to beat Missouri Baptist and Columbia.
“That gave us a good opportunity to win the league if we took care of business at home,” she said. “I am so very proud of how the girls have handled so many distractions and overcome many hurdles to achieve their goals and have a successful season in a most difficult year.”
The men’s team now has its sights on winning the conference tournament and making it to the national tournament.
“We’re not done yet,” said junior Cole Anderson of Magnet Cove, Ark., “but it’s still very cool to do something that has never been done before.”
“I expect our team to go all the way to the national championship and win!” said Craig.
Stewart-Lange said the women’s team’s goal is to win the National Championship as well.
“We have young ladies here who believe they can do that,” she said. “That makes me very proud and excited.”
As a coach and an alumna, Church is “super proud” of what the women’s basketball program has accomplished over the last decade. She said it is a testament to the young women who have come through the College’s program.
“They are the ones who have put in the work and made the sacrifices to be successful, on and off the court,” Church said. “Each and every one of them have made a significant contribution, whether they played a little or a lot in their time with us.”
While each year presents different challenges for every team, she said the season of COVID-19 will never be forgotten.
Mary Claire Reece, of Marion, had a uniquely challenging first semester, moving during a global pandemic and undergoing throat surgery that left her barely able to speak. Fortunately, the support and community she found within the Lyon College Honors Fellows program helped her persevere through these hardships.
Reece was originally scheduled to have surgery in March 2020. Her tonsils and adenoids were not draining infections like they were supposed to, she said, leading to her catching strep throat frequently and having issues talking.
“Everything shut down so suddenly when COVID-19 hit that I never had the chance,” she said.
Her surgery was canceled, and, by the time the hospital was rescheduling appointments, Reece was in the middle of her first semester at Lyon. Since the College was holding remote instruction during the fall, a few of her courses were based heavily around in-class participation over Zoom.
“It wouldn’t have been the smartest decision to do a surgery that would fully take away my capability to talk for a period of time,” Reece said, laughing.
Waiting was putting a strain on her physical and mental health, however. She had to take three weeks off from work because she couldn’t have a mask on, talk and breathe at the same time.
The pandemic was an added struggle, putting distance between Reece and any friends she would make at Lyon during her first semester.
“I’m very much a social person, so that distance made it really tough to keep myself in a positive headspace,” she said. “I felt separated from the world.”
Over time, the Honors Fellows program grew into both a community and a source of comfort for Reece.
“When I told the Honors Fellows about what I was going through, they met me with so much love and compassion,” she said. “Lots of people were like ‘Do you need anything? I’m here for you.’”
Reece continued, “I've never felt so loved and welcomed in a group of people before.”
She ended up going through her referral appointment again in late October, scheduling her surgery for Dec. 1. As she moved forward with plans, she began to feel more positive and motivated again.
In November, Reece had the opportunity to work with ESPN, covering Arkansas State University’s basketball and football games. Drawing on her experience working with her high school’s newspaper and broadcast network, she did handheld photography underneath the goal line at basketball games and operated an aerial camera in the football arena.
The Honors Fellows were there to celebrate her victory as well.
“Everyone was so excited for me,” she said. “They have really been here for me in a way I was not expecting, but I’m so glad it happened.”
Now that the Fellows are on campus together, Reece said they have grown very close in a short amount of time.
“Almost every night people are in our common room, playing games and hanging out and watching movies,” she said. “We’re growing to be closer friends.”
Reece has also grown to appreciate her own strength during her freshman year. During a sermon at her church on perseverance, she realized she had been embodying that virtue in her life.
“No matter what happens, I’m pushing forward through it because I can tell there is something better for me at the end of this.”
She encourages others who are struggling with hardships to reach out to people in their lives.
“There’s always someone who has experienced something like you have,” Reece said.
She concluded, “The people you’re around can make such a big difference in your life. I’ve met some of the most loving and accepting people at Lyon, and I’m so grateful for it.”
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