Amanda Gurnon, Gamma Iota - Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Excellence: 'It's All About Balance'

What makes Collegian of the Year Amanda Gurnon so special? More than we can say here...

September 10, 2009

WHEN EVERY PHI SIGMA SIGMA IS AN AMAZING WOMAN IN HER OWN RIGHT, how incredible does the 2008-2009 Beverly Parkes Collegian of the Year have to be to earn this distinguished honor?

Pretty incredible. And that describes Amanda Gurnon of our Gamma Iota Chapter at
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts to a tee.

Not that she’d tell you that, of course. Indeed, it’s so against Amanda’s nature to speak about herself that when she was interviewed for this story, she repeatedly credited her chapter and school for making the award possible:“It’s a tribute to them – and to the opportunities Phi Sigma Sigma and WPI gave me to become the person I am today.”

Diverse and balanced life

So what makes Amanda, a chemical engineering major who became a Phi Sig in 2006, so special?

Well, as it turns out, it isn’t any one thing. It’s a carefully crafted combination of multiple activities creating what she calls a “balanced” life: excellence in academics, interpersonal relationships, athletics, philanthropy and professional pursuits.

“It’s important to know your core values, and to find a balance in all aspects of your life that works for you,” she explains about her stellar collegiate experience, which she describes as “fun” and “well rounded.”

“Phi Sigma Sigma’s values (i.e., scholarship, inclusiveness and leadership through service) align perfectly with mine, so my involvement in the sorority has definitely reinforced all my best qualities and, I believe, helped me to achieve even more.”

Here are just a few of the reasons Amanda won this top Fraternity honor – named for a beloved past Supreme Council leader and bestowed upon the collegian who, in her activities and character, personifies the ideal Phi Sigma Sigma sister:

  • President of WPI’s 100-year-old Skull Senior Honor Society, a highly selective group of students who excel in campus involvement, academics and leadership. (She joined as a junior, one of 13 students in her class of 700 invited to participate.)
  • President of 50-person local chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.
  • Captain, WPI’s women’s varsity track and field team (which earned a national award last year for outstanding academics); also a member of the women’s varsity soccer team.
  • Key leader in creating the school’s handbook for first-year athletes, guiding them on achieving excellence in sports and academics simultaneously.
  • Member of multiple honor societies, including Omega Chi Epsilon (chemical engineering), Tau Beta Pi (engineering, reserved for the top fifth of the junior class) and, of course, Rho Lambda and Order of Omega.
  • Recipient of not just one but two four-year scholarships: WPI Dean’s Scholarship and Roy G. Gullberg Scholarship.
  • Outstanding Greek leader on campus, named “Greek Alumni Council Risk Manager of the Year” (2008) and “Greek of the Term” (2007).

There’s more, actually.... These are just a few of the highlights, and don’t even begin to touch upon many, many other accomplishments, including her Phi Sig involvement or efforts as a philanthropically focused student leader who, among other things, worked on a project in Capetown, South Africa, to improve conditions for traders in makeshift settlements, trying to eke out a living in truly challenging environments.

Aiming higher

So what’s next – and how does Amanda plan to “aim high” going forward?

She’s about to begin her doctoral program in chemical engineering at the University of Delaware this fall, with the goal of eventually becoming a professor. “It’s been a dream of mine for a very long time,” she says.

And it’s consistent with her role as a mentor to younger sisters and teammates. “Being involved in so many activities has made it possible for me to help other people,” she explains, “and that’s been very rewarding. If I can incorporate that into my career, even better.”

Her advice to younger sisters – perhaps even those aspiring to win this coveted award one day?

First, use your resources – all of them: campus, Phi Sig, the people you know, the people you have yet to meet…. My mom has always said, ‘Keep your circle of friends big.’ So I am friends with Phi Sigs, academics, Spanish speakers, professors, coaches and athletes. I know that life would be so boring if I only had one group of friends!

Secondly, ask questions of your older sisters and people you trust. Don’t be afraid to learn from them. It has made all the difference to me, having people I can rely on.

And finally, help sisters who are younger than you. Sometimes this means pulling them along in the ‘right’ direction… and that’s not always easy. But it’s worth it in the end.”

Excellent advice for every Phi Sig, regardless of age – and just another testament to this outstanding collegian’s qualifications to win one of our most prestigious, historic awards.


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