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  May 1, 2000

McCullough's Memory Lives on Through Awards to Outstanding Student Leaders

Two student activists and high achievers, each with a solid campus leadership track record and a strong desire to make the world a better place, have been selected as the recipients of the 2000 Donald L. McCullough Outstanding Student Leader Award.

The two, Elizabeth Conklin, an eighth semester political science/peace studies major, and Martin Sybblis, a sixth semester psychology major, received the long-running award during the 21st Annual Student Leaders Reception on Wednesday in the Student Union ballroom.

Both students received standing ovations from the audience of peers, faculty and staff. Also applauding the winners were 31 other students who had been nominated along with Conklin and Sybblis for the University's highest student leadership award.

"This is truly a UConn and Division of Student Affairs tradition," said Kevin Fahey, senior associate director, department of campus activities, who opened the program. "Since 1980, we have gathered to recognize students and the contributions and accomplishments they have made to their campus community.

"Over the years, there are fewer and fewer in the audience who knew Don McCullough," said Fahey, "but at the same time, more and more have come to know him and what he stood for."

McCullough was the beloved director of the Office of Student Activities when a motorcycle accident claimed his life in 1979. He was known for his professional leadership and the annual award in his memory serves to honor students who have also made significant contributions to the University community through leadership and service.

"This is the last thing I was expecting," said Sybblis in spontaneous acceptance remarks. He is a New England scholar and president of the West Indian Club. The title New England Scholar is given to students who maintain a 3.5 grade point average or higher for both spring and fall semesters in the same calendar year.

"My philosophy is One Love," Sybblis he said, referring to the popular Bob Marley reggae song.

Sybblis, who has maintained a 3.7 cumulative grade point average, said he hopes to travel to England to pursue graduate studies in clinical psychology.

Vicky Triponey, vice chancellor for student affairs, introduced the award recipients and also had high praise for all the students nominated.

"You are all winners," she said. "You are all making a profound difference."

Triponey said Sybblis has served the campus community well and in many capacities.

"His commitment to being a part of a community is most likely the impetus that compelled him to assist others in achieving academic greatness," said Triponey. She cited his work as chairperson of the Honors Council revitalization committee and his mentoring of fellow students in the UConn Connects program, which is designed to lend a helping hand by connecting students to the various academic assistance programs offered at the University.

"His many talents, unquestionable leadership and contagious enthusiasm have certainly helped to enrich the living and learning environment for all of our students," Triponey said.

In announcing Conklin as an award recipient, Triponey described the senior as having had "terrific vision" to achieve great things both in and beyond the University.

"Through her extensive organizational efforts, she has diligently followed her commitment to involve the community to make a change in the world around us on issues that affect not only students but also citizens," Triponey said.

"She's been integral to the success of events sponsored by the University's Public Interest Group," she added. Those events include the "Hunger and Homelessness" campaign, the "Filthy Five" campaign that was formed to clean Connecticut's air by regulating various power plants in the state to meet modern clean air standards, and the "Save the Arctic Campaign," in which Conklin mobilized students statewide to build a grassroots structure to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

She was also involved in the start up of the Chordials, an all-female a cappella group.

"I don't think you can succeed in the world without people around you," Conklin said as she accepted her award.

"Everyone in this room has had an impact," she said, applauding the leadership of the other student nominees.

Conklin said she plans to take a year off to explore opportunities that might include law school, so one day she can legally protect the environment.

Also taking part in the awards program was Verna McCullough, Don McCullough's widow, who teaches in an elementary school.

"I always feel honored to be asked back for this ceremony," she said. "I also feel overwhelmed because I'm usually talking in one-syllable words to my students."

In a comment that encompassed reference both to the University's early days as an agricultural college and to today's national championship women's basketball team, she offered these closing thoughts on the student leaders at the ceremony:

"You're the cream of the crop," she said. "I'm looking at the champions of UConn."

Claudia Chamberlain