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Outstanding Students Medal winners look forward with passion and commitment

by the College of Education at Illinois / May 14, 2017

Oustanding Student Medal recipients at convocation

Every year faculty members of the College of Education nominate an undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral student for the Outstanding Student Medal (OSM). The awards are presented at the College’s convocation, where each OSM recipient delivers a speech to their peers.

These individuals display a superior level of scholarship within their departments and programs; offer their time and service to the college, campus, or community; and show promise as potential leaders in the education field.

Congratulations to the 2017 Outstanding Student Medal recipients

The recipients were honored May 13 and introduced by Jay Stortzum, Ed.M. ’71 Admin. & Suprvsn., an active volunteer of the College.

Riannon Szofer
Riannon Szofer
’17 Spec.Ed. (Bachelor’s Honoree)
Riannon will be teaching a sixth grade special education class at Marquardt Middle School in Glendale Heights.



Christine RinkenbergerChristine Rinkenberger, Ed.M. ’16 C&I (Master’s Honoree)
Christine will continue working at Urbana High School as a math teacher and will begin pursuing her second master’s degree in educational administration and leadership.



Gabriel MerrinGabriel “Joey” Merrin, Ed.M. ’10 EPOL, Ph.D. ’17 Ed.Psych. (Doctoral Honoree)
Dr. Merrin has accepted a postdoctoral position in the Department of Psychology at the University of Victoria in Canada. He has 11 published manuscripts, three of which are as a lead author. Merrin also has two published book chapters, eight manuscripts currently under review, and five publications he is submitting soon.   

During his acceptance speech, Merrin related the words of Professor Hua-Hua Chang, who once told students in his graduate class not to worry about the many inconsequential things happening around them. By patiently focusing on their work, Chang had said, good things will happen. The simple words stuck with Merrin.

“What’s truly important is your work and your scholarship,” Merrin told the convocation audience. “As we all move on to the next chapters of our lives, I ask that you remember Professors Chang’s words of wisdom. Because this graduation demonstrates our capability of accomplishing goals we commit ourselves to. This personal accomplishment is a testimony of how good we really are.”

A former resident of low-income neighborhoods in the inner city of Chicago, Merrin has had a distinguished career at Illinois. He conducted research on delinquency and youth gangs and last year was part of a team that competed in the prestigious Sloboda and Bukoski Society for Prevention Research Cup. At the time, Merrin said he and his team were inspired by the opportunity to show other scholars the methods they used to analyze longitudinal data.

The research interests of Christine Rinkenberger include equity in the classroom and mathematics teaching. She wants students to question the world around them and strives to be an advocate for positive classroom changes.

Rinkenberger, who grew up attending Urbana schools, pursued her master’s degree while working as a full-time teacher. She made a conscious choice “to come back and serve the district that gave me so much.”

Her solid mathematical background and enthusiasm for her students shines through in all her interactions, according to Dr. Gloriana Gonzàlez, who served as Rinkenberger’s graduate adviser.

“Christine brought important insights about teaching to our graduate courses,” said Gonzàlez, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction. “Her leadership regarding equity issues inside and outside the classroom makes her most deserving of the Outstanding Student Medal. Her commitment inspires us to promote social justice through education.”

During her time at Illinois, Riannon Szofer was the recipient of the William E. Albin & Charlotte C. Young Award and the William Chandler Bagley Scholarship. Her desire to someday work with students with autism stemmed from high school when she volunteered as an adaptive physical education leader. She hopes to foster in her classroom an environment of advocacy and a love of learning.

Szofer has been an active leader as an undergraduate, serving as vice president of Homecoming for the Student Alumni Ambassadors and as senator of the College. She was also co-president of Best Buddies in 2015-2016.

“We should go into our classrooms, our workplaces, and our new communities with the idea that we can shape students’ worlds,” Szofer said during her commencement speech.