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Award winners credit college’s contributions

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary when senior Stephen Schwartz was asked to attend an online meeting discussing how to improve advising appointments for students with multiple majors, like himself. Video conferencing had become the new normal for Schwartz, who will soon graduate with degrees in agronomy’s crop and soil management and agribusiness management.

Stephen Schwartz presenting research

However, when Dean of Students Katie Sermersheim unexpectedly joined the call, Schwartz knew something was up.  Another 50 people joined the call, and Schwartz slowly recognized the dozens of faces were friends, family members and mentors.

Virtually surrounded by those he is closest to, Schwartz learned he had won the G.A. Ross Award, given annually to Purdue’s top graduating senior man. Schwartz says the honor was made possible by the support of those who had joined the call.

“I must admit, I was crying pretty heavily on the call,” said Schwartz. “It was a complete surprise and honor, I didn’t even know that I’d been nominated.”

Winners are selected by their commitment to scholarship, leadership and service, as well as grade point average and character. The G.A. Ross Award’s equally prestigious counterpart, the Flora Roberts Award, is given to Purdue’s top graduating senior woman.

“We are proud to add Stephen Schwartz to the College of Agriculture’s storied history of G.A. Ross and Flora Roberts Award winners,” said Karen Plaut, the Glenn W. Sample Dean of the College of Agriculture. “Stephen’s selection as the university’s top male student honors his passion for excellence inside and outside the classroom.”

Since 2003, 14 of the 36 G.A. Ross and Flora Roberts Award winners have been from the College of Agriculture. Justin Couetil, a biochemistry student, won the G.A. Ross Award in 2019. Cameron Mann won the Flora Roberts Award in 2017, representing agricultural communication and agribusiness.

Schwartz serving ice cream to Dean Karen Plaut and others during the College of Agriculture Ice Cream Social (Photo by Tom Campbell)

“When I was a freshman, I always heard people talk about Cameron Mann,” Schwartz recalled. “She was the best. Cameron won the Flora Roberts Award, was in Mortar Board and was on Agricultural Council.  She inspired me because I saw her as the peak of excellence in the College of Agriculture.

Cameron worked with Schwartz on the Purdue Honor Pledge, an organization Mann helped found. “That was the door that opened up a lot of things for me at a university level,” said Schwartz.


“Coming from home school, I was in a class of one.  I never had the opportunity to work in teams or collaborate on group projects,” said Schwartz. “Through my education at Purdue, I’ve learned how much I love collaboration. Not just in classes, but also in organizations. The ability to work together and build off everyone’s strengths will be extremely valuable as I move forward into the industry.”

Mann, who now serves as a director of development for the College of Agriculture, grew similarly as a student. “My Purdue education challenged me to think critically about the perspectives I held. The bright students and faculty members I interacted with at Purdue helped me see many issues in a new light.”

“The College of Agriculture emphasizes transformational learning,” Mann continued. “In addition to excelling in the classroom, the college’s culture focuses on developing well-rounded leaders by encouraging learning experiences outside of the classroom like student organization involvement, studying abroad, participating in research, and having summer internships. These experiences cultivate College of Agriculture students to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

Last year’s G.A. Ross Award recipient Justin Couetil is now at the Indiana University School of Medicine, pursuing a medical degree. He agrees that relationships and diverse experiences contributed greatly to his success. “I was successful because the biochemistry department, and especially my advisor, paid special attention to me,” said Couetil. “They made sure I knew of scholarship opportunities, advocated for me (for example nominating me for Mortar Board), and made sure that I could complete my different curricula, study abroad, and graduate on time.”

“When I think about how frequently the College of Agriculture produces top students and leaders, the first thing that comes to my mind is the strategy class I’m in this semester,” said Schwartz. “We talk about how ‘culture will beat people every day.’ I think the culture in the College of Agriculture is unique across campus. From the things the college does to integrate freshmen into the university, to the way people interact in the classroom and with faculty members, we are a family.”

Justin Couetil as he tapped Stephen for Mortar Board in the Spring of 2019


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