Alexis Rae Teevens '13 arrived at Franklin & Marshall College four years ago quiet and shy, not sure what she wanted to pursue other than competitive athletics.
Yet, when John Stoudt, coach of F&Ms men's and women's cross-country teams, first contacted her by phone, he sensed in her a drive and purpose.
"She had a maturity about her that came over the telephone," Stoudt said. "Alexis is a very intelligent, articulate and mature young lady."
Over the next four years, Teevens would endure as a runner, excel beyond what her academics required, and achieve such personal and intellectual growth that faculty and select administrators voted her the 2013 recipient of the College's most prestigious academic award for student achievement, the Williamson Medal.
"She's very ambitious, hard-working and accomplished, but she's also humble and soft-spoken," said M. Alison Kibler, associate professor of American studies and a mentor to Teevens. "It's an intriguing combination, very endearing."
Much less shy than when she arrived four years ago, Teevens talked in an interview about how the F&M community -- her friends, Kappa Delta sorority sisters, coaches and professors -- encouraged her to exceed at the challenges and opportunities presented to her.
To receive the Williamson Medal -- which was awarded at F&M's Commencement ceremony May 11 -- is humbling, Teevens said, noting there are others on campus just as worthy.
"It definitely means a lot to me to be recognized by my professors," she said. "I've had a lot of wonderful opportunities."
Teevens expected to study economics or mathematics, but instead majored in American studies, with mathematics as a minor. She found herself transformed by two particular courses, "American Enemies," taught by Adjunct Associate Professor of American Studies Daniel Frick, and "Ethnic America," taught by Associate Professor of American Studies Dennis Deslippe.
"These courses challenged me to think socially and critically,” she said.
Carla Willard, an associate professor of American studies, taught Teevens her junior and senior years, and co-advised her honor thesis. Teevens' thesis examined America's educational disparity through the lens of federal policy and feature films depicting urban schools.
"She is a person who is a very meticulous scholar, and because she is meticulous, she has taken time to find her voice," Willard said. "I saw her grow from someone who was much more an analyst and an observer of the problem, to someone who is an actual participant in solving the problem."
Through researching and writing her thesis, Teevens developed opinions about educational inequality, Willard said. She became critical of standardized tests and federal policies that fail to address the social and economic conditions underlying the violence in urban schools.
"That's personal growth, and that has evolved in her academics," Willard said.
Kibler, who heads the women's and gender studies program, also advised Teevens on her honor thesis, as well as her final paper that examined an early 1970s feminist court challenge over the depiction of women in programming provided by a Lancaster-area broadcaster.
Teevens' relentless research on her final paper impressed Kibler. She had located pertinent historical documents in a Lancaster attic, and found some of the people involved in the court challenge. She interviewed them to compile an oral history.
"It was a really great paper, and it struck me at how different it was from her honor thesis," Kibler said. "She's an extremely versatile scholar."
Growth Outside the Classroom
In addition to her scholarly pursuits, Teevans found other opportunities to grow at F&M. She plays flute and did not plan to continue the instrument, but Instrumental Conductor Brian Norcross convinced her otherwise. She performed in F&M's Orchestra and Symphonic Wind Ensemble.
"I was pretty sure I wasn't going to stick with it, but he's been a wonderful teacher," Teevens said.
As a cross-country runner, Teevens pursued athletics with determination, despite repetitive stress fractures that would sideline her during her junior year.
"She was pretty tough," Stoudt said, noting she contributed significantly to the team.
Still recovering from painful leg injuries, Teevens ran in the Centennial Conference Track & Field Championships, one of the nation's elite small-college conferences, in the fall of her senior year.
Stoudt tried to keep her off the track, but Teevens was unmoved, telling him her mother was coming from their Westborough, Mass., home to watch her compete. Teevens performed well in the conference meet.
"From a coaching standpoint, she's the kind of athlete you like to coach," Stoudt said. "She does whatever you ask of her."
Not just an athlete, Teevens is a sports fan, particularly of New England teams. She enjoys engaging others on the subject. Stoudt said it's one of the many ways that she finds common ground with people.
"My assistant coach, Tommy Pearson, and I often talk about how Alexis knows more about sports than anyone on our team," Stoudt said. "We routinely ask her for her opinion on a hot sports topic, or just the state of the New England teams."
To broaden her social network and meet new people, Teevens joined Kappa Delta in her sophomore year and took a lead role in recruiting, the first of many leadership roles she would take at F&M.
"That's where I learned to be a leader," she said.
Teevens' drive to accomplish is reflected in her athletics and her academics, where she takes an in-depth approach to issues before forming conclusions and opinions.
"She's someone who has a critical lens and an open mind," Kibler said.
Getting Involved in Issues
In researching the American public education system for her thesis, Teevens was enlightened by the fact that students in wealthy school districts enjoy far greater opportunities. It shaped her opinion, and motivated her in helping to address the issue. She started the F&M chapter of Students for Education Reform.
She was a member of the Black Pyramid Honor Society and the Junto Society, a salon to debate issues, modeled after F&M Founder Benjamin Franklin’s organization by the same name. Teevens wrote a paper for a Junto Society publication that examined how school segregation persists.
Teevens said she has become deeply interested in urban education issues and has realized how out of balance the system of public education is in this country.
"It very much depends on where you come from and what neighborhood you live in," said Teevens, who lived in a wealthy district in Massachusetts. "I had so many opportunities."
For insights into teaching, Teevens volunteered at Reynolds Middle School and Wharton Elementary School in Lancaster. She worked with students individually and in groups, and observed how teachers taught in the classroom.
Through the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement's Manheim Summer Mentoring Program, Teevens worked on social skills with a handful of students, some with disabilities, from tough family environments. She showed them how to talk through and resolve problems.
"I really liked having students being part of the resolution," Teevens said. "I think it's more helpful for them to know how to be better people going forward."
With her interest in urban education, Teevens heads to Boston, where she will work at the Brooke Charter Schools, a free public school for underprivileged children, where she will start her apprenticeship as a teacher.
"I'm really lucky that I ended up at a small liberal arts school," Teevens said. "I don't think I would have predicted what I would be doing."