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Graduating scholars earn APSU’s most prestigious student awards

By: Ethan Steinquest and Colby Wilson May 2, 2024


Senior biology major Emma Dalton, left, and graduate history major Madeline Thompson are recognized during the APSU Student Organization and Leader Awards. | Photos by Sean McCully

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - Two students preparing to graduate from Austin Peay State University (APSU) - senior biology major Emma Dalton and graduate history major Madeline Thompson - recently earned the University’s most prestigious student accolades during the APSU Student Organization and Leader Awards.

Dalton received the Harvill-Civitan Citizenship Award, while Thompson won the William McClure Drane Award. A panel of faculty members and selected staff chooses the recipients of both awards annually.


Graduate history major Madeline Thompson helps students map out sinkholes during an environmental science camp hosted at APSU. | Photo by Sean McCully

The Drane Award is presented to an outstanding member of the graduating class based on their character, scholarship, leadership and service to the University. Thompson was selected based on her academic achievements and leadership in several student organizations.

Thompson is graduating with a Master of Arts in history on May 3 and previously earned her bachelor’s and associate degrees from Austin Peay. She has served in leadership positions within the National Society of Leadership and Success (secretary), Sigma Kappa Sorority (Panhellenic delegate, DEI accessibility chair and vice president of recruitment) and the India Club (president), and as a member of Omicron Delta Kappa, History Club and the English National Honor Society. In addition, Thompson was an active member of the Phi Alpha Theta history honor society and served as an editor for the APSU chapter’s student-published Theta-Delta Journal.

“I was ecstatic when I heard that I had won the Drane Award,” she said. I’ve worked so hard in the past five years to represent Austin Peay in the best capacity I could and to grow academically and as a person. We have amazing students, faculty and staff on campus, and that environment makes it easy to want to get involved outside of the classroom.”

Thompson’s proudest achievement as a student was presenting at the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) in Arlington, Virginia, alongside her father, Dr. Antonio Thompson. SHAFR is a leading foreign relations conference, and the Thompsons were the only representatives from Austin Peay.

“I’m very proud that I was able to represent the APSU history department and further establish myself as an academic,” Thompson said. “Everyone at the conference was encouraging and easy to talk to, and it was very enlightening and helpful as a junior historian to be around individuals with the same interest in foreign relations.”

Beyond her academic pursuits, Thompson found a passion for community service through her involvement with Sigma Kappa.

“That’s really kept me involved on campus because we do different philanthropies and give back each year through volunteering,” she said. “The campus Greek community as a whole will come together to do fundraising and supply drives for different organizations, and that’s been very impactful for me.”

After graduation, Thompson will attend the University of Tennessee at Knoxville to earn a doctorate in history, and her education there has been fully funded for five years. She aims to expand her research and eventually become a history professor.

“I’m most interested in early American history and the roles minorities played in the American Revolution and the Civil War,” she said. “[I’ve previously researched] German Hessians’ involvement in the American Revolution, and African Americans who fought in the Civil War under German American officers. My goal is to study individuals who have been underrepresented within history and bring their stories to light.”

By sharing those stories, Thompson hopes to increase the public’s understanding of early American history while inspiring the next generation of historians.

“I want to work at a school like APSU that encourages individuals to visit the National Archives, present their works at conferences or travel to historical locations to learn more about their research interests,” she said. But I also want to be able to teach and inspire young minds, get them passionate about history and encourage them to go into the field.”


Biology major Emma Dalton enjoys a study session with friends in APSU’s Art + Design Building. | Photo by Madison Casey

The Harvill Award is presented annually to a graduate who has made an outstanding contribution to good citizenship during their college career. Dalton was selected for her commitment to fostering close ties among campus groups and selflessly serving others throughout her career.

Dalton is on track to graduate in August after completing her biology degree with a minor in psychological science in just over three years. She finished with a 3.90 GPA and made the dean’s list four times.

The Fishers, Indiana native got involved and stayed involved during her time in Clarksville. Dalton was a member of Chi Omega Women’s Fraternity, volunteered with Loaves and Fishes, served on the Austin Peay Curriculum Committee and Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) Committee and was a High School Leader for Young Life at Clarksville Academy — which she considers one of her most rewarding experiences during her time on campus.

In addition to her campus involvement and academic accolades, Dalton was a member of the Austin Peay soccer team, appearing in 21 matches and logging over 400 career minutes. She earned the OVC Academic Medal of Honor in 2022 and the soccer program’s Highest GPA Award in 2023.

Dalton also served on the Austin Peay Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), which serves as a voice for student-athletes within the athletics department and promotes further engagement on campus. As SAAC’s philanthropy chair during her senior year, she helped unite the athletics department and the Greek community by coordinating fundraising efforts for Turner’s Heroes and Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. Those events built relationships between athletics and the patients and families at the hospital.

With so much on her plate, Dalton is grateful for those on campus who took an interest in her academic and athletic career and offered guidance and mentorship as she navigated college.

“The people I got to work with on campus were so great and accommodating with my schedule,” Dalton said. “I’m grateful for Dr. Mollie Cashner, who was my evolution and animal behavior professor. I’ve been able to go to her and have a relationship with her outside of academics, as well as Dr. Cindy Taylor, who was my advisor and has done an incredible job working to set me up for success after my undergraduate degree.”

Making connections on campus allowed Dalton to serve as a voice for students, and working with the Curriculum Committee was a major goal and milestone.

“On the Curriculum Committee, we got to go over changes that we wanted to make to the curriculum — adding classes, changing course names and altering some of the material within courses,” she said. It’s about trying to figure out what works best for the students and the faculty. It was great to be part of that board and those conversations.”

After graduation, Dalton will start applying for physician assistant (PA) school next summer. Since those applications require many clinical hours, she hopes to build up patient care hours at Tennova, where she’s currently an emergency services volunteer. As her career evolves, Dalton will continue to showcase her spirit of giving, service and compassion to make the world a better place.