For the first time in the history of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, a set of siblings has earned the title of Top 100 Most Outstanding Student.
Sarah Grace Fraser, the middle child in an IUPUI family, was awarded the trophy March 31. Her brother Andrew did so as a junior in 2012. But don’t let the fact that Sarah Grace is the second in her house to claim the honor distract you from her impressive – and sometimes absurd – portfolio.
“Tell me about yourself.”
It seemed a simple enough way to start our conversation shortly after the Top 100 Recognition Dinner. Sarah Grace’s response, in her calm, soft-spoken manner, managed to both be modest and still display deep ambition, proving why she was selected as the best of the best among IUPUI undergraduates.
“I’m a senior in the School of Liberal Arts, and I have an English major, concentrating on linguistics. And I have minors in French, English literature, and global and international studies.”
That’s a major and three minors. “I had trouble deciding what major I wanted coming into college,” she admitted.
If she had difficulty picking a single academic focus, however, she was clearer on what she wanted out of her overall college experience. “The things that were really important to me coming into college were community service and international experiences and international engagement,” Fraser said.
“Then I wanted to do a lot of community service. I have the Bepko Scholarship, so I have a community-service requirement with that. I wanted to pick an organization and really invest in it, and use my hours as a way to really impact an organization.”
Fraser has volunteered with after-school programs throughout her time at IUPUI, spending her first two years as a reading tutor at Shepherd Community Center and the next two doing crafts and other activities with children in the Fountain Square neighborhood.
On campus, her focus remains on teaching. As a student in the Honors College, she transitioned from being a mentee to a mentor in its mentorship program. She fills a similar role with the Office of International Affairs, working with a group of fellow students who are in the United States for the first time, and has worked in the University Writing Center.
With two study abroad experiences in Costa Rica and another in China, Fraser has clearly checked off her goals of community engagement as well as involvement with the international community. The next step was bringing it all together into one neat package.
She combined the skills she gained working with the Honors College, Office of International Affairs and University Writing Center to develop a tutoring program for the Program for Intensive English that just opened on the first floor of Cavanaugh Hall.
To finalize the program, Fraser contacted other universities around the country with their own intensive English programs and compiled a list of best practices. She then combined that research with her own experiences through the pilot program she had been running. The program is operating at full force, but Fraser is still learning about the ever-changing nature of international mentorship.
“The thing with intensive English is that students have a range of requests,” she said. “It could be anything from someone coming in and just wanting an hour of conversation about anything and everything, or someone who comes in and wants tutoring for a language proficiency exam that is going to determine whether they get into graduate school. I learned a lot because I didn’t know much about those proficiency exams.”
Graduate school is also on Fraser’s mind, but not quite how you might expect. In the midst of that major and trio of minors, she’s also mixed in some graduate-level courses and hopes to have her master’s degree in TESOL – teaching English to speakers of other languages – within a year’s time.
“Do you hear the absurdity in what you’re trying to do?” we wanted to know.
“I do,” she answered, laughing a bit before turning more reflective. “I think it’s because I’ve had some really wonderful advisors who have helped me work through all the puzzle pieces of what I want to do and what I love, and who have gone to bat for me in helping me get the grad classes and getting those to count. It’s not something I could have put together on my own.”
Sarah Grace again became thoughtful when talking about the significance of earning Top 100 status. She sees it as a sign of excellence and a unique connection with the 99 other undergraduates recognized for their success in the classroom, campus and community.
This cohort of Top 100 students has the distinction of being the first selected using the new award format adopted by the IUPUI Alumni Council and the Student Organization for Alumni Relations. This spring, they moved from recognizing the top 10 male and 10 female students to honoring the best 11 overall. And whereas Andrew Fraser was the top male undergraduate as a biomedical engineering student five years ago, his sister stands alone as the top award recipient.
“For me, it’s also a chance to look back and reflect on what has happened,” she said. “To think about the things that I’ve done and the people who have helped me and use it as a kind of bookmarker or placeholder, like ‘These are the things that have happened, and these are the people who have invested in me.’”
No doubt, some of the people who have invested in Fraser are found in her own family. Andrew is now at Johns Hopkins University pursuing an M.D. and a Ph.D. Both of their parents are Purdue graduates, something that causes Sarah Grace and her younger brother, Ryan, a freshman in the Kelley School of Business in Indy, to joke that IUPUI is the family compromise.
But if Sarah Grace, and the rest of the Frasers, once thought they were compromising with IUPUI, they certainly don’t feel that way now.
“I looked at multiple places, and my younger brother also looked at multiple places,” she said. “It just seemed to be the perfect place. For all of our majors, it was a place that brought together strong teaching with lots of opportunities for internships or research or whatever it would be. We loved the Honors College. We loved the professors.”
And now she’s loving that Most Outstanding Student trophy.