Texas A&M University’s LAUNCH office recognized four outstanding undergraduate students at a ceremony in the Memorial Student Center’s Bethancourt Ballroom Wednesday, presenting them with some of the most prestigious and selective awards given to Texas A&M students.
A unit of the Division of Academic Affairs’ Undergraduate Studies office, LAUNCH offers an enriched curriculum and other enhanced educational opportunities to highly motivated students in all disciplines. Of those students, a select few from across the university are honored at the LAUNCH Recognition Ceremony each year. Winners for the 2021-2022 school year are as follows:
Michael Pitonak – Brown Foundation-Earl Rudder Memorial Outstanding Student Award
Biology major Michael Pitonak is a recipient of this year’s Brown Foundation-Earl Rudder Memorial Outstanding Student Award. Considered the highest honor given to graduating seniors, this award is bestowed on students who best represent a set of key qualities: leadership, patriotism, fortitude, courage, humility, love of Texas A&M and willingness to uphold the principles for which the university stands.
A first-generation American born to Slovak immigrants, Pitonak has shown his dedication to these values throughout his time at A&M, getting involved in organizations such as Biology Honors Council, Fish Camp and the College of Science’s peer mentoring program. As an Undergraduate Research Scholar and Undergraduate Research Ambassador, Pitonak has already gained substantial experience in the realm of scientific study, serving as first author on a paper under review by one of the world’s top academic journals, Nature Communications.
Pitonak has also served as executive director of the MSC Hospitality Service Committee and volunteered in the community through the Brazos Valley COVID-19 Vaccine Hub, Habitat for Humanity and the Brazos County Food Bank, among many other organizations.
References who nominated Pitonak for the award describe him as “a natural leader with a passion for helping other students to succeed.”
Sunjay Letchuman – Brown Foundation-Earl Rudder Memorial Outstanding Student Award
Also honored with the Brown-Rudder Award this year is Sunjay Letchuman, a business honors major and Maroon Coat described by nominators as “a brilliant and patriotic innovator.”
An avid health policy researcher, Letchuman has published multiple academic articles in this area and has even served as a health policy intern on Capitol Hill. He currently publishes interviews with key healthcare leaders on his personal blog.
During his time on campus, he has served as a member of the University Disciplinary Appeals Panel and president of the White Creek Community Council, among other roles.
He has served the surrounding community through participation in food and health drives and his involvement in organizations like Patriot Paws. Letchuman has also spent time volunteering in St. Joseph Health’s ER and critical care units.
Hamzah Ahmed – Robert Gates-Muller Family Outstanding Student Award
In recognition of his leadership, patriotism, courage and service to his country, school and nation, biomedical engineering major Hamzah Ahmed is the recipient of this year’s Robert Gates-Muller Family Outstanding Student Award.
An engineering honors student with a passion for helping others, Ahmed spent more than 250 hours volunteering with the Tarrytown Volunteer Ambulance Corps outside New York City during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also developed a unique web-scraping tool designed to match students with jobs that fit their qualifications, making the daunting task of job hunting during the pandemic a bit easier for his fellow Aggies.
Ahmed has been heavily involved on campus, volunteering with the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs, serving as a mentorship group facilitator for the Muslim Students Association and leading the new Engineering Honors Professional Development Subcommittee.
Christopher J. Thompson – Class of ’80 E. King Gill Selfless Service Award
University studies-leadership studies major and US Army veteran Christopher J. Thompson received the Class of ’80 E. King Gill Selfless Service Award, which recognizes the student who has best demonstrated the core value of selfless service. His references to him noted that Thompson has a “true gift of assessing situations and addressing tough issues.”
Thompson is a former Army Green Beret who earned three Bronze Stars for his decade of military service. He has held leadership roles in organizations such as Veterans’ Voices, Student Veterans of America, GORUCK, and the Bryan-College Station chapter of Team Red, White, & Blue, which he founded. During his time on campus, he conducted undergraduate research contributing to a paper that was recognized by the American Educational Research Association.
Thompson is a TEEX search-and-rescue volunteer, and was heavily involved in water rescue operations in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in 2017.