Batesville’s ChrisTina Okolo receives 2020 R.E. Lee Wilson Award — highest honor for an A-State graduate

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Featured image: Chancellor Kelly Damphousse (left) and ChrisTina Okolo

UPDATE: Batesville High School Principal David Campbell comments on Okolo are now included below.

JONESBORO – The announcement of the 2020 recipient of the R.E. Lee Wilson Award, a longtime campus tradition at Arkansas State University, took on a special tone this year, as the winner’s name was revealed this evening during a special online presentation.

The R.E. Lee Wilson Award is Arkansas State University’s highest honor for a graduating student.

Perry Wilson of Little Rock, the award namesake’s great-great-grandson, announced the winning student during a Facebook Live presentation.

“My family and I are honored our name is affiliated with one of Arkansas State University’s longest traditions, that of recognizing its outstanding graduates,” Perry Wilson told the online audience. “I know my great-great-grandfather would be proud to see the type of students Arkansas State continues to educate.

“It is my pleasure to present the 134th R.E. Lee Wilson Award to ChrisTina Okolo of Batesville. Please join me in congratulating ChrisTina as the winner of the Wilson Award. Congratulations, ChrisTina, great job.”

Okolo, a graduate of Batesville High School, is a senior chemistry major who has been highly involved in campus life and student volunteer work — much like her days as a Batesville High School student.

“We could not be more proud,” Batesville High School Principal David Campbell told White River Now’s Gary Bridgman this morning. “ChrisTina is just an outstanding student, and the entire Okolo family — it was just a pleasure to have them at Batesville High School and in the Batesville community. She was on the advanced placement (AP) track and took all the AP classes, very high GPA (grade point average). And of course, [she was] an honor graduate. Very well-rounded in band. She was on All-State band, and of course, she was very active in her church, too. Very service-oriented.”

For several years, Wilson has carried out the tradition that calls for a descendent of R.E. Lee Wilson to make the award presentation. He and Chancellor Kelly Damphousse served as the online hosts for the video premiere, which substitutes this year for the usual private banquet with university representatives and the Wilson Fellows, the A-State alumni group of previous Wilson Award recipients.

The Wilson Award and Distinguished Service Award (DSA) winners were introduced and recognized during the 87th student honors awards ceremony. Ordinarily, this is the culminating event of the Convocation of Scholars at A-State, but the annual celebration was not held this year because of the national pandemic.

R.E. Lee Wilson, a Mississippi County planter and businessman, served on the institution’s board of trustees from 1917 until his death in 1933. The annual Wilson Award presentation began the following year, more than eight decades ago.

“I hope that I’ve just left a legacy of just hard work and trying to make the most of every opportunity that I’ve been given,” Okolo said in her video introduction. “It’s been a fast ride, but it’s been fun. And I hope that students can look at me and know that you don’t necessarily have to be involved in so many things. Just the things that you do put yourself in, just try to give 100 percent.”

Okolo also is one of six recipients of the Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes exceptional qualities of leadership, involvement, and scholarship during the student’s time at Arkansas State. The recipient of the Wilson Award is the individual judged by the Student Honors Award Selection Committee, which includes campus representatives and previous Wilson Award winners, as the most outstanding among the group of DSA recipients.

In addition to Okolo, the recipients of the 2020 Distinguished Service Awards are Samantha Brainard of Collierville, Tenn.; Sarah Bullington of Bryant; Braelen Hunt of Bergman; Shawna Martin of Gassville; and Tarendeep Thind of White Hall.

The DSA winners, who were featured in pre-recorded profiles prior to the Wilson Award announcement, are recognized as the institution’s most outstanding graduates. Faculty, staff, advisers to student organizations, and other members of the campus community may submit nominations for the prestigious awards.

Okolo was nominated by Jessica Blackburn, adviser to the Student Philanthropy Council (SPC), and director of foundation and corporate engagement in University Advancement.

“I could not be more happy to have had her as one of the first members of SPC, because she kind of set the bar for what we expect for a lot of our members,” Blackburn said in the introductory profile. “She is charismatic, she is kind, she really understands what she’s doing when it comes to philanthropy and knowing what it means to be a Red Wolf.”

A December 2019 graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the College of Sciences and Mathematics, Okolo’s career goal is to become a physician. The recipient of numerous scholarships on her way to a near-perfect grade point, her name was on the Chancellor’s List or Dean’s List every semester. Extensively involved in undergraduate research, her work has been published in prestigious scientific journals.

She won first place in undergraduate posters in the College of Sciences and Mathematics and the American Physiological Society Undergraduate Research Award in Physiology during Create@State in 2019.

Okolo, the SPC’s vice president in 2019 after serving as the president in 2018, helped to raise $100,000 for campus groups and projects that the organization helps support. SPC also established the Student Emergency Fund for A-State students who are undergoing temporary financial setbacks.

The DSA and Wilson Award winner also worked alongside the A-State Alumni Association to help create the Emerging Young Alumni Award, recognizing recipients for their professional accomplishments and continued engagement with the university.

The names of Wilson Award winners are permanently listed in a prominent display outside Centennial Hall in the Carl R. Reng Student Union. Previous winners of the award joined to form the Wilson Fellows, a chapter within the A-State Alumni Association. The Fellows will welcome Okolo into their group with the presentation of a $1,500 scholarship for post-graduate study.

For more on Okolo, click here.

White River Now News Team

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