Top Bethel students honored

The Kansan
Bethel students Adam Sigwig of Halstead, left, and Alayna Wallace of McPherson were named recipients of the 2021 Thresher Awards for top academic achievement.

Alayna Wallace (psychology) and Adam Sigwig (biology) received 2021 Thresher Awards, Bethel's highest academic award, presented to them by faculty earlier this spring. 

Thresher Awards are given to graduating seniors who have made a “truly outstanding and sustained contribution” in a performance area (e.g., music, visual arts, drama) or a “truly outstanding creative achievement” in the applied sciences, or have completed “a truly outstanding and substantial project” in any academic discipline.

Wallace, a McPherson native, received a Thresher Award in psychology, presented by department chair Bradley D. Celestin, assistant professor of psychology, and Professor Emeritus of Psychology Dwight Krehbiel, Ph.D.

Wallace graduated magna cum lauded from Bethel on May 16 with a double major in natural sciences and psychology.

Among other things, the Thresher citation noted her multi-year research project that worked at developing “knowledge at the intersection of psychology and dentistry.”

Wallace looked at the effects of dentists’ interactions and procedures on patient anxiety and satisfaction, and how likely they were to continue treatment.

Her research was chosen for the competitive Posters on the Hill event sponsored by the National Council on Undergraduate Research, which took place virtually in April this year.

“Her professionalism, enthusiasm, communication ability and good-natured spirit make her easy to work with,” Celestin and Krehbiel wrote in the citation, “and her leadership as the head of research groups and student organizations [Wallace served two years as student body president] … has allowed her to grow and shine.”

Sigwig, a Halstead native, received a Thresher Award in biology, presented by Professor of Biology Jon K. Piper, Ph.D.

Sigwig graduated from Bethel May 16 with a major in biology.

Piper noted that he knew Sigwig as a student interested in science even before college, when Sigwig attended Bethel’s Summer Science Institute for high school students.

Sigwig entered Bethel with a clear interest in studying biology, having been awarded a competitive STEM Science Scholarship for his four years.

In addition to successfully completing his biology major, Piper noted, Sigwig has been involved in Bethel’s Environmental Action Club, spearheading a successful native plant sale fundraiser for the group, and has helped manage the prairie restoration at Kauffman Museum.

He has worked as a summer field assistant to Piper and gone a half-dozen times with Professor of Biology Francisca Méndez-Harclerode and groups conducting small-mammal surveys in Oklahoma.

But Piper’s main reason for giving the Thresher, he said, comes from the fact that “never during my nearly quarter-century as a faculty member at Bethel have I been aware of another student who has devoted three academic years, including summers, to a thesis project. This, in particular, is what makes Adam an extreme rarity as an undergraduate.”

When Sigwig was a sophomore, in 2018, he began working as the student assistant to Piper in a two-year, multisite study in cooperation with researchers at the University of Kansas and funded by the National Science Foundation to examine the role of soil microorganisms in maintaining plant biodiversity within tallgrass prairie.

The original goal was to complete the study in the summer of 2020 – and then COVID-19 threw a huge monkey wrench, extending what was designed as a two-year project into a third year.

“As a result,” said Piper, “Adam – who has invested a colossal amount of time and energy in this research year-round – will graduate before he sees it to come to its final fruition, and the study will be handed over to a successor to complete.”

Sigwig has begun an internship with the Scientists in Parks program operated by the National Park Service and the Geological Society of America, assisting in the collection of field data for the Grassland Monitoring Project.

“I expect nothing but greatness from Adam in the future,” Piper said, “and anticipate the day when he will become an important contributor within the field of environmental conservation.”