Vanegas named 2020 Outstanding Senior

Vanegas named 2020 Outstanding Senior 

April 11, 2020 

Maria Vanegas, a political science major from Kingston, Tenn., was named the 2020 Outstanding Senior at Maryville College.

Finalists for the award included Chris Fernandez, a mathematics and computer science double-major from Maryville, Tenn.; Cameron Moore, a biology major from Clinton, Tenn.; Kelley Wandell, a political science major from Powell, Tenn.; and Katherine Zacapa, an international business and international studies double-major from San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

Established by the Maryville College Alumni Association in 1974, the Outstanding Senior award recognizes those students whose overall record of academic achievement and participation in extracurricular activities stand out as most exemplary.

Specifically, the award seeks to recognize a senior who has been active in a broad range of activities in college, who best exemplifies an “ideal” Maryville College graduate and who has the potential to be an outstanding alumnus/alumna – both as a representative of the College and in his or her service to the institution.

Only those seniors with a minimum grade point average of 3.0 are considered for nomination for the Outstanding Senior Award. A committee that includes student, faculty and staff representation is given the responsibility of choosing five finalists. Those finalists are invited to respond in writing to questions about their view of their future role as alumni of Maryville College, their goals for the future and their understanding of how the College has influenced them and helped shape those goals.

The Outstanding Senior Award is typically given out during the Academic Awards Ceremony, held every April in the Clayton Center for the Arts; however, the ceremony, along with other campus-sponsored events scheduled through May 31, were cancelled, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Instead, awards are being mailed to the student recipients.

The finalists were introduced on social media during the week leading up to the award announcement. The social media announcements included brief videos of faculty members introducing their advisee finalists (see videos below).

Dr. Scott Henson, associate professor of political science at Maryville College, introduced Vanegas. Henson described his advisee as an outstanding student and “genuinely wonderful person.”

“In fact, probably the greatest characteristic – and maybe underrated in our society – about Maria is that she’s just a genuinely nice person,” Henson said. “[She’s] someone who you love to be around, and just her demeanor, her countenance, her view of life makes everyone feel better and just makes your day better.”

At Maryville College, Vanegas is the co-president of the Latino Student Alliance, a resident assistant, an Isaac Anderson Scholar and involved in the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance and the Keepers of the Covenant Committee. She also has served as secretary of the Student Government Association.

Vanegas, a native Guatemalan, chose to study political science because she believes that in this divisive time, it is crucial for people to find commonalities and remember that “diversity makes us flourish.” Her minor is in international studies, and she is in the process of obtaining her nonprofit leadership certification.

Vanegas is passionate about social justice issues, especially immigration reform, gender equality and climate change. For the past two summers, she has been a technology intern for, a bipartisan, policy-driven organization focused on immigration and criminal justice reform. After graduation, she would like to work for the organization full-time. Eventually, she hopes to attend graduate school to pursue a degree that combines politics and technology – and use that degree to obtain a job that allows her to continue working in social justice advocacy.

“She cares about everyone. She’s a true human rights advocate, but especially for Maria, the lives of minorities, underrepresented people and those who face unique challenges are very important to her,” Henson said. “She just wants everyone to have an equal opportunity and to make the best of their potential, which I believe she has done. As a Maryville College student, as a member of her community, as a fellow student – just everything about Maria has been outstanding.”

As this year’s Outstanding Senior, Vanegas received a framed award along with a $500 cash award. Her name will be added to the Outstanding Senior plaque displayed on campus.

Vanegas also received this year’s Outstanding Spanish Minor Award, which is given to the Spanish minor demonstrating the best academic performance judged by classroom performance, overall scholarship, study abroad experience and grade point average.


Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”