rachel berns holding cheverton award

SGA President Rachel Berns ’24 Named Cheverton Award Winner Chapman University’s Campus Leadership Awards recognized outstanding graduates in the Class of 2024.

Rachel Berns, a health sciences major, Honors student and nutrition minor in Crean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences, has been awarded the 2024 Cheverton Award.

The Cheverton Award is the oldest and highest undergraduate student honor, awarded by a vote of the full Chapman faculty. A gift of the class of 1929, the original bronze Cheverton Award cup remains on exhibit in Argyros Forum along with its successor, a silver bowl. These trophies are engraved with the names of all Cheverton awardees since 1929.

“The vibrancy of the Chapman community has 1000% paved the way for me to be the Cheverton recipient,” said Berns, thanking faculty as well as peers for supporting her along the way. “I’m winning it for them. Honestly, to me, it’s like a thank you to everyone else on campus, saying, ‘Look! I promise you didn’t invest your time and your resources on me for nothing.’”

rachel bernsBerns, who will be graduating summa cum laude, entered Chapman as a Presidential Scholar and an Honors program student. She credited her academic success to involving herself in other areas of education.

”It wasn’t just that I was a diligent student in my classes,” she said, “I also loved giving back in the education sphere. Working as a teaching assistant and a lab intern, a supplemental instructor, all those sorts of things, allowed me to continue to invest in my educational successes while also investing in others.”

Among her academic highlights, she said that her research experience in the Neuromechanics of Human Movement Lab was the most transformative. 

“I got to conduct doctoral-level research for almost 2 ½ years. I got to present at conferences and work on data processing and analysis and abstract writing. I attribute the availability of this experience to the way that Chapman’s faculty invest in the success of the students and trust them in ways that a lot of other undergrads at different institutions aren’t necessarily trusted,” she said.

Berns was encouraged by her faculty mentor Jo Armour Smith to present at the annual conference of the American Physical Therapy Association two years in a row – a rare opportunity for any undergraduate. “My faculty mentor for this research said, ‘I want to challenge you. I want you to have this experience and to prepare yourself to be in that space for the rest of your life,’” Berns said.

After a 10-day study abroad trip as part of a food science and nutrition course, Berns was given the opportunity to be a guest lecturer in President Daniele C. Struppa’s “History and Culture of Food in Italy” class last fall. Her topic, cultural attitudes towards ethnic cuisine in Italy, evolved into her Honors capstone project, which examines food as a political tool and how eating choices reveal social biases.

“There are a number of faculty in the Department of Health Sciences and Crean College that have just been incredible cheerleaders and supporters of me, and who have really let me run free with my ideas,” said Berns, singling out Jim Herkimer in particular. “He’s this glimmering example of the type of clinician that I want to be, but also the type of educator I want to be.”

Alongside her academic accomplishments, Berns was an active campus leader throughout her four years at Chapman, culminating in her term as president of the Student Government Association (SGA) during her senior year. 

“A lot of the work that we did this year has been really foundational,” said Berns of her time leading the SGA. “It’s coming to fruition. It just won’t be in my time, but I see it.”

Some of the SGA’s projects this year include a forthcoming app that will help reduce food waste on campus, a bike loaner program, the culmination of a three-year diversity, equity and inclusion asset inventory, and conversations around campus space that will impact the design of the planned Student Success Center. The SGA also passed amendments to its governing constitution for the first time since 2017, with a nearly 29% voter participation rate – the highest in SGA history. 

“Starting in our spring election and moving into next year, it’ll be a new structure with a lot of updates and hopefully be a more effective government overall,” said Berns. 

She thanked Chris Hutchinson, associate dean of students, for his support during her time as SGA president. “I would not have made it through the job if I did not have such intentional and empathetic advising as I did from Chris,” she said. 

This summer – just a day after she celebrates her graduation from Chapman – Berns will begin graduate studies at San Diego State University, where she will pursue a doctorate in physical therapy, a dream she’s had since she was in sixth grade. 

“I’ve been so grateful for my time at Chapman and for all of the ways I’ve been able to serve others who have served me, and I’m so thankful for all of the times that the university kind of called on me to represent the school’s core values,” said Berns. “I think this award is reflective of not just me as a student, but of the opportunities that a student has at Chapman to thrive.”

In addition to the Cheverton, the following awards were announced during the May 3 Campus Leadership Awards

table with multiple trophiesGloria and Julian Peterson Award for Outstanding Leadership
Emily Veloz

Ronald M. Huntington Award for Outstanding Scholarship
Bernadine Cortina
Kevin Nguyen

Paul S. Delp Award for Outstanding Service
Mo Hijazi

Outstanding Diversity Leadership Award
Lorena Munoz

Jerry Price Campus Leadership Award
Devin Saddler

James L. Doti Outstanding Graduate Student Award
Katie Kitchens (Ph.D.)
Audrey Fong (MA/MFA)

Outstanding Seniors
Sophie Hasson,Todd Soo, Nathan Mermilliod, Michael Pepito, Rhyan Warmerdam, Jackie Cheng, Bryan Molina, Julian Vlad, Natalia Trejo, Ashley Wielenga, Riya Belani, Willoh Tyler, Valentyna Simon, Noelle Clark, Anne Marie Santich

Outstanding Juniors
Szymon Kozlowski, Andrew Tahhan, Annika Carlson, Daisy Fernandez-Reyes, Rylie Lee, Madeleine Chang, Raniyah Chishti, Paige Ho, Ruthie Weeks, Cristina Inboden

Outstanding Sophomores
Makaylee Dahms, Micah Kim, Javier Serrano, Reid Omilian, Sydney Chung, Cintya Felix, Mandy Fang, Abigail Harsche, Fumiya Shinagawa, Analisa Vavoso

Outstanding First Years
Ashley Agatep, Austin Aldridge, Reya Syed, Ruthie Zeidman, Kaitlyn Clark, Noah O’Mahony, Abby Sellman, Gil Lopez Garcia, Yasmine Hourie

Staci Dumoski

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