October 23, 2009

Toni Whitfield named student Lincoln Laureate

by Tim Crosby

Toni Whitfield

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A Southern Illinois University Carbondale civil engineering student is this year’s student laureate at the Lincoln Academy of Illinois.

Toni Whitfield, a senior from Johnston City, received word this week that she will represent SIUC with the honor during a Nov. 7 ceremony in Springfield. The Lincoln Academy of Illinois presents the award annually to one distinguished senior at each of Illinois’ four-year college and universities, as well as to one student from each of the state’s community colleges.

The daughter of Lori and Randy Valdez, Whitfield said she the letter she received notifying her of the award brought a big smile to her face.

“It was the first letter I opened, and as I read it, my reaction was a big smile,” she said. “Right away, I thanked those who had recommended me and then called my mom to tell her about the honor.”

Professor Lizette Chevalier of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering, said she has known Whitfield since she was a freshman. Chevalier wrote a letter recommending Whitfield for the award based on her academic achievements and dedication to the University and fellow students.

“She is one of the most amazing students that I have met,” Chevalier said. “She has excelled in the highly technical and challenging curriculum of engineering, earning a 4.0 grade point average. Faculty, staff and students all a respect her academic achievements and recognize her as a role model, a classroom leader and a resource for teaching and learning.”

The Lincoln Academy of Illinois started the student laureate award program in 1975, 10 years after the founding of the academy. Award winners receive a medallion of Lincoln, a certificate of merit and a small stipend. The award goes to those students who show overall excellence in their fields of study and also a commitment to worthy extracurricular activities.

Whitfield is on track to graduate in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering and minors in mathematics and business administration.

A member of the University track and field and cross-country teams, Whitfield is a Wrophas and Dianne Meeks Athletic Scholar. She earned outdoor all-conference honors in 2008 and indoor all-conference honors in 2009, achieving scholar-athlete honors during both years.

Whitfield also is also involved in many student organizations and is the recipient of numerous honors. Earlier this year, she was one of 19 engineering students statewide selected for the Illinois Department of Transportation Civil Engineer Scholarship Program, an elite statewide honor. The scholarship provides up to $7,000 per academic year, with recipients qualifying for $3,500 this semester.

She also is a Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society scholar, a member of the University Honors Program and is on the dean’s list for the College of Engineering. She is a member of National Society of Black Engineers, serving as secretary in 2008-2009, and of the Society of Women Engineers. She also is on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee.

Whitfield has worked as a supplemental instructor for pre-calculus students and as counselor for the Summer Bridge Program, mentoring incoming freshman students and tutoring algebra students. She works with the Saluki Athletics Halloween Carnival, Kid’s Night Out, Parrish School Halloween Carnival, Beautify Southern Illinois and other groups.

Whitfield said her success at SIUC comes from a combination of factors.

“It all depends on the time and effort you are willing to put forth and your willingness to ask for help,” she said. “SIUC is filled with people willing to lend a hand. You just have to find them. For me, the biggest part of success is staying focused and doing the things that need to be done whether I want to do them or not.”

After graduation, Whitfield said she has a number of aspirations and interests.

“I could see myself in any three of these fields (civil engineering, mathematics or business),” she said. “I'm also big on physical fitness. My plan for the near future is graduate school. From there, I'll just keep working hard to find my niche.”

Chevalier said she is confident Whitfield will make the University proud as its student Lincoln Laureate.

“She will represent us with intelligence, confidence and integrity,” she said.