Matthew Gillett ’22, a political science major from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, has been named the 2021-22 Richard Clarke Sommerville Scholar. The award, the University of Lynchburg’s highest academic honor, was presented Friday, Oct. 29, at the Daura Museum of Art.
Addressing the award’s selection committee, the Westover Honors Fellow and Student Government Association president wrote, “Not only has Lynchburg pushed me to understand the wider world, but I have also been inspired to seek deeper understanding for the things I am passionate about.”
Gillett added that he has long been “invested in the news and understanding the political world” and has “always sought to understand why decisions are made and how they affect people.” As a political science major at Lynchburg, he said he’s learned to use research and data to reach his own conclusions.
“The political science department has given me countless tools in which to understand the realm of politics,” he wrote. “In addition, [it] has helped me understand how to analyze the current news for myself, and not fall into the trap of seeing the world through the standard views perpetrated by the media, but instead to do my own research and analyze based on data, not popular explanations.”
Dr. Timothy Meinke, professor of political science at Lynchburg, has seen evidence of this over and over in the classroom. By next spring, Meinke will have had Gillett in nine classes, at least one a semester.
“Matthew stands out in my mind as one of the handful of students who are really curious and willing to put in the work necessary to satisfy that curiosity,” Meinke wrote in a letter recommending Gillett as the Sommerville Scholar.
“Not just a few hours here and there, but many hours every day. From his work in my research methods class and during our meetings this semester on his thesis, it was obvious that he devoted much time not only to reading the assigned materials, but also to thinking about and critically analyzing those materials and my comments on his drafts.”
Meinke concluded, “I have been tremendously impressed with Matthew Gillett as a student, a serious adult, and as a young man who has incredible potential, based on the combination of his academic ability, leadership traits, curiosity, work ethic, and enthusiasm for new life experiences.”
Gillett, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in public administration after graduating next year, was one of five finalists for the 2021-22 Sommerville Scholar. According to Sandra Perez ’16, administrative assistant for academic affairs, a record number of applications were received for the award this year.
“The committee spent five days reviewing the materials for 37 students representing every program taught at the University,” Perez wrote in an email to the five finalists. “These students rank in the top of their class academically, are athletes, activists, and scholars, but mainly they embody all that we wish Hornets to be.”
In addition to Gillett, the finalists were Rachel Garnett ’22, a biology and chemistry major and Westover Honors Fellow from Lynchburg, Virginia; Rebecca Parks ’22, a psychological science major and Westover Honors Fellow from Madison Heights, Virginia; Niraly Patel ’22, an accounting major from Forest, Virginia; and Mallory Yowell ’22, a criminology and psychological science major from Charlottesville, Virginia.
Dr. Allison Jablonksi, Lynchburg’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, presided over the ceremony, calling it “one of the favorite parts of my job, where we get to recognize top students.” Having served on the selection committee in years past, she added that it’s a “difficult decision, a tough, tough decision, but it makes you so happy to celebrate with such fine students.”
Established in 1963, the Sommerville Scholar is named for Richard Clarke Sommerville, a professor of philosophy and psychology at Lynchburg from 1928 to 1947. Sommerville Scholars must be of good character, as evidenced by ideals, attitudes, observance of University regulations, and personal behavior, with an overall GPA in academic subjects of 3.5 or better. They also must exhibit qualities that were important to Sommerville: academic achievement, broad intellectual curiosity, and contributions to the University community.