Upper Iowa University recognized a pair of graduates for their UIU community leadership during the May 7 commencement ceremonies at its Fayette, Iowa, Campus. Kiersten Koch of Freeport, Illinois, and Sara Zainal of Morgantown, West Virginia, were each recognized as Csomay Honors Program graduates for their representation of the University through community involvement, engagement and student success.

Koch, a secondary English education major, joined the honors program to push herself to further excel in college. As part of her honor’s project, she created a study on Title IX and how it is implemented in the UIU Athletics Department. Working with the department, she surveyed UIU’s Fayette Campus students to gain their opinions on women’s equity in sports and how it could be improved at the University. The results of the study are being used to create further equity between UIU’s male and female athletes.

Title IX was passed into United States Law in June 1972. In part, the federal civil rights law states: No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

“From this project, I learned how recommendations can be successfully applied if someone is willing to research and implement strategies for the betterment of others,” Koch said. “I enjoyed the Csomay Honors Program because it gave me an avenue to explore something that I was passionate about but yet did not directly relate to my major or studies. I have always been an advocate for women’s equity in sports and the program provided me with an opportunity to create change while still completing my degree.”

Planning to student teach in Des Moines Public Schools in the fall, Koch noted the honors program also provided her more experience in collaborating with others and deepened her knowledge of world issues.

“When I first decided to attend a small school in rural Iowa, I did not expect to have such a strong bond to the school as I do now at UIU,” Koch said. “The opportunities this university provides to its students are ones that I have not seen at other schools. The faculty and staff care about each student’s well-being and want them to succeed, and will do anything necessary to help students achieve their highest potential. UIU was the best choice I could have made for my college experience. Both academically and socially, I discovered amazing people and created experiences I will never forget.”

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Zainal’s interest in the Csomay program arose from a desire to be involved in an accelerated program that would expand her knowledge even further. This was accomplished during her Csomay project when she created a hydroponics model system for growing and providing access to fresh produce on Campus.

“I wanted to do something that would not only benefit the Fayette Campus and its students but hopefully the entire community,” explained Zainal. “Throughout the project there were moments where something did not go as planned, but I studied the problems and created solutions. Working with plants in a controlled environment requires attention to detail and being consistent with all the variables to grow the plant successfully. Maintaining a disciplined routine while working on the system each week is what made the project successful. Trial and error, consistency, and discipline are all things that I believe applies to being successful with anything in life.”

Majoring in software engineering, Zainal also minored in mathematics, information systems, and graphic design at UIU. In addition to serving as the Student Government Association treasurer, she was involved with the Japanese Korean Culture Club, Peacocks for Progress, and the International Student Association. This summer she is slated to intern with Ernst and Young.

“The overall UIU experience allowed me to meet a diverse group of people and will open many more doors of opportunities in my life,” said Zainal. “People here love to come up with new ideas that keep students engaged, and some professors really do go above and beyond their regular duties to the further benefit of all students. I think that the education and skills we have all developed in our classes is directly applicable to our future careers.”

Prior to her death, Barbara (Rankin) Csomay ’46 established UIU’s Csomay Honors Program. Csomay, who graduated from UIU with a teaching degree, committed $847,000 toward the creation of the Csomay Center for Honors at Fayette Campus and the Csomay Endowed Scholarship.

To be accepted into the Honors Program, students must have at least a 26 ACT score and at least a 3.5 high school grade point average. Students admitted to the Honors Program in any given year take the same courses as their fellow honors students. Each course generally is interdisciplinary and team taught, with active, participatory learning. All honors courses require extensive, integrated, advanced writing skills. Seniors complete both an honors project and a thesis in their area of interest. Extracurricular experiences – such as service learning, attending professional conferences and other special events – are an integral part of the program.

For additional information about the Csomay Honors Program and UIU, visit uiu.edu/honorsprogram.