Averitt Award Winners 2019

Each year, Georgia Southern honors at least two graduate students for their excellence in research and instruction. The winners of the Averitt Award, which is the highest honor bestowed within the Jack N. Averitt College of Graduate Studies, are presented with a $1,000 cash prize and a Crystal Eagle trophy. This year, Jessica Watts of the College of Science and Mathematics received the award for Excellence in Research and Carson Hollingsworth of the Waters College of Health Professions was recognized for Excellence in Instruction.

Carson Hollingsworth

Teaching, Coaching and Mentoring

Carson Hollingsworth started at Georgia Southern as an undecided major; however, a conversation with an adviser helped him realize “health and physical education was the perfect fit” because of his love for kids and sports.

He earned his bachelor’s in the College of Education’s health and physical education program and stayed to complete his graduate degree in kinesiology in the Waters College of Health Professions. As a graduate student, he taught kinesiology elective classes, and supervised and mentored undergraduate students in Georgia Southern’s health and physical education program.

“The most enjoyable thing about teaching is the relationships you build and the ability to be a positive role model in students’ lives while seeing them grow and learn,” he said. “I have been very blessed in terms of physical education teachers and coaches and I want to be able to give students that same experience.”

Upon winning the Averitt Award, Hollingsworth singled out faculty members Tony Pritchard, Ed.D., Gavin Colquitt, Ed.D., Starla McCollum, Ph.D., and Kellie Penix, Ed.D., for the instrumental role they played in shaping his educational path.

“They have supported me throughout my time here at Georgia Southern,” he said. “They show that hard work pays off and display a passion for all aspects of health and physical education. They have opened many doors for me and enabled me to pursue my passion for health and physical education. I can’t thank them enough for everything they have done for me.”

In addition to teaching, Hollingsworth is the boys head basketball coach at Southeast Bulloch Middle School, and an assistant coach for the baseball team. Although he grew up in suburban Atlanta, Hollingsworth enjoys the community aspect of living in a small town and is now teaching at Stilson Elementary School in Stilson, Georgia. The teacher/coach is hoping to inspire his students to continue to learn about physical activity and pursue it for a lifetime.

— Sandra Bennett

Jessica Watts

Willing to Help

Jessica Watts likes to say she’s a marine biologist by trade and a real fan of oysters.

“I think oysters are really cool,” she said. “I think that they don’t get enough credit. They help with storm buffering and erosion. They filter water. They do so many cool things for us.”

Watts received her undergraduate degree in marine biology from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) and graduated last summer from Georgia Southern with a master’s degree in biology with a focus on marine biology. She worked with oysters and conducted molecular biology and ecology research on them while here.

John Carroll, Ph.D., associate professor and Watts’ advisor, thought Watts’ research and her willingness to help others in the laboratory was the kind of effort worthy of the Averitt Award.

“She was able to balance her teaching load with active research, making presentations at national conferences and securing research and travel funding,” said Carroll. “More importantly, her work at Georgia Southern is valuable for oyster management and restoration, not only in Georgia but throughout the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts.”

Watts thinks the Averitt Award really helped her to get a job quickly after graduation this summer. Currently she’s in Wilmington, North Carolina, near her family and working for UNCW at the Center for Marine Science in the shellfish genetics lab.

Why does she think Carroll nominated her for the award?

“I guess I wasn’t necessarily asked to take on the role of managing the lab. But that semester I mentored 10 undergraduate students, and I just kind of did it. Every student that came in, I’d just train them and make sure that they had projects to work on. So I think John just felt like I was willing to help.”

And Carroll agrees.

“I could not think of a better candidate for the Jack N. Averitt Award than Jessica.”

— Liz Walker