Edwards earns prestigious Derryberry Award

COOKEVILLE – Shelley McKayla Edwards has been named the recipient of the 2020 Derryberry Award, the university’s highest student honor.

A native of Rockwood, Edwards recently earned a degree in chemical engineering with a concentration in biomolecular engineering.

“I’m really thankful for everyone who has supported me through my college years and who has been there along the way,” said Edwards. “I just feel really thankful.”

Edwards was named the recipient of the prestigious Derryberry award for her leadership in educational goals and demonstration of the highest intellectual integrity; leadership in entrepreneurship-focused efforts; and, leadership in community-outreach services efforts.

“Shelley is an outstanding student in our program of Chemical Engineering and a very promising and holistic-style leader that has shown an exceedingly high commitment for the success of her college studies,” said Pedro Arce, chemical engineering chair and professor. “She has devoted extensive efforts to serve her classmates at the College of Engineering, has invested considerable amounts of time to support impactful university and community events for the benefits of students at large and has led successful efforts focused on the development of new technology for detecting heart conditions.”

A 4.0 student, Edwards was an active participant in an undergraduate research project focused on alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency under advisor Robby Sanders. This is an inherited condition that predisposes those affected to early-onset emphysema that often arises in the third or fourth decade of life. Edward’s work was pivotal to help inform the direction of the research. 

“Shelley epitomizes everything positive about a student,” said Sanders, a chemical engineering professor. “She is hard working, highly intelligent, exhibits effective leadership, takes initiative, is respectful and has a highly positive attitude. She is eager to learn, quickly catches onto new concepts and is resourceful. She routinely shows initiative and embraces difficult challenges with an enthusiastic ‘I can’ and ‘we can’ attitude.”

During her studies at TTU, Edwards displayed an abundance of examples of activities indicating a very high commitment to good citizenship, interest in one’s fellow person and instincts for leadership. These efforts include involvement in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, College of Engineering Student Ambassadors, Big Emory Baptist Association Navajo Mission Trip, Tau Beta Pi and volunteering at Goodwill.

“I didn’t really have much free time outside of school,” said Edwards. “That was a good break for me was to get out and volunteer and have these activities.”

After graduating from Rockwood High School, Edwards attended Roane State Community College for two years. She then decided that engineering was the field she wanted to study, and Tennessee Tech was the perfect school for her.

“I knew it was a great school for engineering. The class sizes are small and it’s just a beautiful campus. All of those things helped me decide where to go,” said Edwards. “I found my passion with chemical engineering and within the medical side of it, looking at diseases and things people go through and things you can do to help people.”

Edwards’ final semester at Tech didn’t look like she thought it would. When COVID-19 hit, students never returned to campus after an extended spring break and finished up classes online. Commencement for seniors was postponed from May 9 to Aug. 8.

“It was definitely different having classes online and not seeing professors,” said Edwards. “I know the university did a lot of great things, making sure graduates felt appreciated and knowing we will have a commencement service.”

There were three finalists for this year’s Derryberry Award. Madison (Mik) Davis, a double major in communication and political science, and Kaitlyn Victoria Shipley, an exercise science major, were also nominated.

The Derryberry Award was established in honor of Everett Derryberry, who served as Tech president for 34 years. He retired in 1974.

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