Elizabeth McDonnell, a senior majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing, was named “Student of the Block” for the Sixth Block at Tusculum College.
McDonnell, who is from Memphis, Tenn., was recognized in a ceremony on March 24. The Student of the Block Award is presented each block by the Office of Student Affairs to recognize students for academic achievement, leadership on campus and contributions to the college community. A plaque describing McDonnell and her accomplishments will be displayed in the Niswonger Commons and then rotated through other academic buildings on campus.
An academically gifted student who also devotes much time to community service, McDonnell’s accomplishments, quiet and modest demeanor and reflective personality have made her a favorite among the Tusculum English Department faculty and staff. She received an unprecedented four nominations for the award.
“Elizabeth has lived up to every hope I had for her,” said Wayne Thomas, assistant professor of English and journalism. “I have asked Elizabeth to facilitate a class or two in my Intermediate Creative Writing course this spring. I asked Elizabeth to do this for me because I’ve noticed that students look forward to the days she’s up for a workshop as much as I do.”
“In addition to her hard work and intelligence, Ella (as Elizabeth is known to many on campus) has many other stellar qualities,” said Dr. Shelia Morton, assistant professor English. “She has won several awards … with all of this, however, one of the things that further impresses me about Ella is her very real consideration of ethics and her responsibility to a world in need.”
“Early in her time at Tusculum, Elizabeth set her goals and her primary focus remained aimed at reaching those goals,” said Pat Stansberry, administrative assistant to the Academic Resource Center. “And four years later, she has reached them with excellence … she is articulate, dependable, creative and an all around example of what a Tusculum graduate is expected to be.”
Noting that McDonnell won the Meacham Workshop Creative Nonfiction Award in 2010, Assistant Professor of English Dr. Desirae Matherly said that in addition to doing promising work in non-fiction, “she is dependable and dedicated to her craft and her dedication to service learning at projects at Tusculum College represents her commitment to helping other people.” McDonnell was also recently named winner of the non-fiction category of the Curtis and Billie Owens Literary Awards, which recognizes Tusculum students for excellence in creative writing, and was a presenter at the Blue Ridge Undergraduate Research Conference.
McDonnell is heavily involved in student organizations, participates in service-learning opportunities on campus and enjoys playing a large role in the English Department writing publications, including the Tusculum Review literary magazine and The Pioneer Frontier student newspaper. “These experiences have heavily influenced the person I am today, in so much that they are in many ways the foundation of growth in all areas of my life,” she said.
That involvement includes being a member of the Alpha Chi National Honor Society, Association of Writers and Writing Programs, English Student Organization, The Pioneer Frontier staff, Sweatshop Press, Residence Hall Association and the Open Door Society.
Balancing her busy schedule of classes, writing assignments and student organization involvement is not easy, but McDonnell finds time to volunteer to help better her community. She has worked as a tutor at Chuckey-Doak High School to help students improve their writing skills and take an active interest in their school work and worked with Common Ground Relief in rebuilding homes in New Orleans as part of a service-learning course. In her native Memphis, she has served as a day care counselor with Cooper Cottage Daycare and served breakfast to the homeless at the Calgary Church soup kitchen.
The daughter of James and Donna McDonnell, she chose to attend Tusculum because she loved the campus and considered the college’s block schedule, which involves taking one course at a time, a good way to become immersed in classes. Though she originally was interested in education and a career in working with the kindergarten age group, she quickly realized that her passion lay in writing and changed her major to creative writing.
McDonnell lists Heather Patterson, assistant professor English; Robin Fife, assistant professor of social science; Dr. Angela Keaton, assistant professor of history; Dr. Troy Goodale, assistant professor of political science; Deborah Bryan, assistant professor of art; Dr. Matherly; Dr. Thomas and Dr. Morton as her favorite and most influential professors.
“The entire English Department has been a family to me throughout my years at Tusculum, including Ms. Stansberry,” she said. “They have offered me support, insight, opportunity, encouraged me to do what I love, and they have been there for me through challenging moments in my life … as both friends and family.”
McDonnell said her proudest moment will be when she graduates in May as the first member of her immediate family to obtain a college degree. “When I graduate, I think I will feel good because I have worked and put everything into the time I have had at Tusculum,” she said. “I am proud of myself for being self-driven, my own motivator and sometimes my own worst critic because it has gotten me where I want to be.”
After graduation, McDonnell plans to attend graduate school. She has received early acceptance into Chatham College’s prestigious non-fiction master of fine arts program.