Class Acts: Senior Stories of Distinction for 2009

Author: Arts and Letters

The University of Notre Dame’s Class of 2009 can be defined collectively, through a variety of numerical and statistical observations, as well as individually, through the stories of seniors with compelling tales to tell.

Some of the numbers are:

  • About 95 percent of the students who enrolled at Notre Dame as freshmen in the fall of 2005 will receive a diploma Sunday (May 17) — a graduation rate exceeded only by Harvard and Princeton Universities.
  • Some 80 percent of the graduates participated in volunteer and service-learning programs in the greater South Bend area, nationwide and around the world.
  • About 10 percent of this year’s seniors will continue in volunteer service to society, engaging in a year or more of work in programs such as the Peace Corps, Teach for America, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and Notre Dame’s own Alliance for Catholic Education and Holy Cross Associates.

Beyond the numbers, here are some individual senior stories of distinction:

Tara Brito , Bellevue, Wash. — Brito, a science preprorfessional major, was a key researcher in a study of social networking published this year in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, a JAMA/Archives journal. The study of several hundred 18-year-olds’ public online MySpace profiles showed that about half mentioned sex, substance abuse or other risky behaviors on the site. The results have been widely publicized in dozens of national and international media outlets. She hopes that the study she was involved in, as well as future studies and publicity, including recent news reports about a suicide in Missouri as a result of online bullying, will help raise awareness about online risks. Brito, who spent the summer between her junior and senior years participating in an International Summer Service Learning Program in Calcutta, India, with Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns, plans to attend medical school.
Brito can be reached at

Yamil Coln , Bayamn, Puerto Rico — Coln, a chemical and biomolecular engineering major, has been a research assistant for three years in the lab of Joan Brennecke, Keating-Crawford Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. He has been awarded a scholarship for graduate study from the Fulbright Program and will be working as part of the Separation Processes and Phase Equilibria group at the University of Santiago de Comopstela in Spain. The group is internationally recognized for its work with vapor-liquid equilibria (VLE) and ionic liquid research. Coln will be studying VLE phases and measuring physical properties of ILs deemed pertinent for industrial applications, including the removal of metal and other contaminants from water, carbon dioxide capture and the removal of sulfur compounds from diesel fuel. When not immersed in his exceptionally demanding undergraduate research experiences, Coln served as choreographer for Latin Expressions, an annual campus variety show, and was a leading member of the Notre Dame intercollegiate ballroom dance team.

Coln can be reached at

Andrew Manion , Coon Rapids, Minn. — Manion, a mathematics and music major, is the first Notre Dame student since 1963 to receive a prestigious Winston Churchill Scholarship for graduate work at the University of Cambridge in England. His research interests include algebraic and differential geometry and algebraic topology and he will study for the certificate of advanced studies in pure mathematics at Cambridge. A Goldwater Scholar, Manion has participated in two National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates and is the recipient of Notre Dame’s Balles Award for the outstanding senior honors mathematics major, the Talifaerro Prize for first place in the mathematics essay competition for sophomores, and the Aumann Prize for first-year students in mathematics. He plays percussion, saxophone, oboe, English horn and piano and was a member of the Notre Dame Marching Band (drum captain), Symphonic Winds Ensemble (saxophone section leader), Orchestra (oboist), and Chorale. After his studies at Cambridge, Manion plans to pursue a doctorate in theoretical mathematics.

Manion can be reached at
Andrew Nesi* , Fairfield, Conn. — An American studies major, Glynn scholar and finalist for valedictorian, Nesi completed his studies with a 3.99 grade point average and the “happiest senior thesis on earth.” After taking the courses “Disney in Film and American Culture” and “U.S. Environmental History,” Nesi decided to research the recreation and representation of nature at Walt Disney World. He received an Undergraduate Research Opportunity (UROP) grant supporting five days of research at Disney, where he toured the park’s Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, interviewed Disney employees and studied in the Orlando Public Library’s Disney Archive. Nesi determined that Disney has the power to shape, reflect and reinforce our consciousness of nature and offers more entertainment than education – relying on consumption as its primary means of environmental civic participation. Nesi also served as a columnist for the student newspaper The Observer, a member of the Arts and Letters College Council, and a coach for women’s interhall football. He had secured a career opportunity in investment banking, but has decided to explore other possibilities, including international and domestic service.
Nesi can be contacted at

Jessica Winschel , Pittsburgh, Pa. — Winschel, a civil engineering and geological sciences major, was one of the founders of Students Empowering through Engineering Development, a registered and approved 501 3 organization. The group solicited sponsors and teamed with Bridges to Prosperity, a not-for-profit organization that fuels positive change by helping impoverished rural communities around the world construct reliable footbridges, which provide access to schools, clinics, jobs and markets. Winschel and the group visited a Honduran village in October of last year to inspect a failing footbridge. They designed a new bridge and raised funds to build it, and following commencement ceremonies, Winschel will travel to the village help construct the new footbridge. While a student at Notre Dame, Winschel spent a summer at the Universidad de las Americas in Mexico to learn Spanish and gain exposure to infrastructure in less developed areas and studied at the University of Western Australia in Perth, where she was involved in research on high velocity water jet cutting.

Winschel can be contacted at

Originally published by William G. Gilroy and Shannon Chapla at on May 13, 2009.