Three Texas A&M Graduates Honored With Top Awards


By Elena Watts, Texas A&M University Marketing and Communications

Texas A&M University recently recognized three students with the highest honors given to graduating seniors at the Learning Communities, Academic Excellence, Undergraduate Research Opportunities, National Fellowships, Capstones and Honors Programs (LAUNCH) Recognition Ceremony as well as commencement.

Joshua Fuller of Flagstaff, Arizona, and Layeeka Ismail of Houston earned Brown Foundation-Earl Rudder Memorial Outstanding Student Awards for their strong leadership, superior academic achievement, and extracurricular involvement in campus and community activities. The Brown Foundation, Inc. in Houston endowed the Brown-Rudder awards to recognize students who embody the traits of the late Gen. Earl Rudder, World War II hero and president of Texas A&M from 1959 to 1970.

Joshua Sutton of Evans City, Pennsylvania, received the Robert Gates-Muller Family Outstanding Student Award for his leadership, patriotism and courage. The Gates-Muller prize was established by the Muller family of Galveston to reward students who demonstrate the ideals of Robert M. Gates, president of the university from 2002 to 2006 and U.S. Secretary of Defense.

Every college can nominate as many as two students for the Brown-Rudder awards and one student for the Gates-Muller award. Special committees appointed by President Michael K. Young select the recipients from the group of accomplished nominees, and each of the awards includes a financial gift of $5,000.

Joshua Fuller being acknowledged during the graduation ceremony for earning a Brown Foundation-Earl Rudder Memorial Outstanding Student Award.

Joshua Fuller

Fuller, who was described by one of his nominators as having an “active mind that makes teaching at the college level a rewarding experience,” graduated magna cum laude with a dual bachelor’s degree in psychology and Spanish and a minor in neuroscience.

“I knew about half of the nominees for this award, and the way they pursue A&M’s core values in everything they do is inspirational and makes receiving this honor all the more humbling,” Fuller said. “Many of them have persevered through personal and financial challenges while keeping the core values, and that made me realize that no matter my circumstances, I should always strive for excellence and avenues to serve others.”

Countless people have inspired Fuller. He credits his parents with his success because they encouraged him to follow his passions and helped to support him financially and emotionally while he was a student at Texas A&M. He described his first research adviser, Steve Balsis, associate professor of psychology and director of clinical training at Texas A&M, as a constant supporter, particularly during the stressful graduate admissions process for doctoral programs.

Among numerous accolades and appointments during his undergraduate career, Fuller was in the University Honors Program and on the Dean’s List; he earned several significant scholarships and fellowships; he participated in the Cornerstone Liberal Arts and Research Program; he served the university as an Undergraduate Research Ambassador; he received the Buck Weirus Spirit Award; and he was named the 2017 Jack Nation Outstanding Psychology Senior.

Fuller earned a prestigious student poster award from the National Academy of Neuropsychology for his research, which he presented at local and national research conferences. He serves as the lead author of an article that is currently in revision. Of his accomplishments, his nominator noted: “This creation of new knowledge in novel, unique and collaborative settings and the self-reflective learning that goes into presenting and formulating this discovery is the very essence of what we promote in the Quality Enhancement Plan.”

While working to advance assessment and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease in the lab, Fuller also worked part time for the Alzheimer’s Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing Alzheimer’s disease research, support and care. He devoted his time, expertise and energy to numerous other groups around campus and the community. He volunteered as an Aggie Fish Camp counselor, adviser for the Honors Housing Community, president of the Honors Student Council, chair of the Student Affairs Fee Advisory Board, and founding member of both the Texas Aggies Fighting Alzheimer’s and Christian Healthcare Leaders organizations.

“The most incredible aspect of Josh Fuller is that he is so well rounded and balanced,” his nominator continued. “He works; he is involved in leadership in multiple organizations; he attends church; he plays the piano; he enjoys photography; he volunteers in the community; and enjoys Aggie sports events.”

Fuller will pursue his doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Boston University and join researchers at Harvard University’s Massachusetts General Hospital for an Alzheimer’s study in Antioquia, Colombia. He aspires to contribute in meaningful ways to advance diagnostic research and treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, which has affected his family as well as the lives of an estimated 40 million people around the world. A portion of the financial gift that accompanied his award will help him make his cross-country move to Boston, and another part will return to Texas A&M in conjunction with a financial gift his family intends to make.

“For me, it is important to give back to the university that has set me on such an excellent path,” Fuller said. “Thanks to the generosity of Aggies and friends of the university, I was afforded incredible opportunities as a student, and I look forward to helping create those opportunities for future students.”

Layeeka Ismail, a Brown Foundation-Earl Rudder Memorial Outstanding Student Awardee, being recognized on stage during commencement.

Layeeka Ismail

Ismail graduated summa cum laude with her bachelor’s degrees in business honors and accounting and her master’s degree in financial management through the Professional Program in Accounting. Quoting a classmate, her nominator described her as “like any of us, except more.”

“She is always more compassionate, more articulate, more friendly, more everything, really,” her classmate’s quote continued. “I now pay closer attention to this way about her…I think we all should…because if everyone at Texas A&M were just a bit more like Layeeka, then the Aggie core values would hold new weight; the 12th Man would stand taller and yell louder; and the Spirit of Aggieland would burn brighter than the bonfire of old.”

Ismail described falling in love with Texas A&M even more when she became an ambassador for the Texas A&M Foundation Maroon Coats, an organization that she eventually served as vice president. She built upon the university’s spirit of giving and helped to sustain valuable relationships by thanking donors and sharing her Aggie story. She also was heavily involved in the business school in various leadership positions with Business Honors, Business Fellows, Horizons, the BI Norwegian International Case Competition Team, Delta Sigma Pi, the Tanner Fund, the Maroon Fund, Titans of Investing and the Freshman Business Initiative. These experiences provided more challenging coursework and increased opportunities for personal and professional development.

“As a younger student, I grew a lot through these organizations, and as an older student I enjoyed giving back to the students behind me,” Ismail said. “I was able to really impact and help shape these programs.”

Ismail also was involved in the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) and the Islamic Community of Bryan-College Station, groups she described as giving her a home away from home. Through her leadership, she helped to promote the organizations on campus, to shape programs in the surrounding community, and to rebuild and develop the alumni group. She remains actively involved with the two organizations as an alumna to encourage other students to take advantage of local faith-building and educational programs and to help them to find a comfortable community in College Station as she did.

“My parents are originally from India, and my mom really inspires me because she took a huge leap of faith and moved to America to pursue her career and her dreams after she completed her education,” Ismail said. “She has always worked hard to leave an impact wherever she goes, and that’s a lot of what inspires me to make things better wherever I go.”

In September, Ismail begins a job with Bain & Company in Houston, a leading global management consulting firm that helps businesses, non-profit organizations and governments solve their most critical challenges. She is spending part of her summer interning at Health For All, a non-profit free health care clinic in Bryan, and she plans to use her financial gift to make the Hajj Pilgrimage to Mecca with her parents in August.

Joshua Sutton, the Robert Gates-Muller Family Outstanding Student Awardee, is recognized during commencement.

Joshua Sutton

After serving for six years in the U.S. Army as a crew chief and flight engineer on Chinook helicopters, Sutton enrolled as an undergraduate student at Texas A&M. When he graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in food science and technology and a minor in business administration from Texas A&M, he joined two of his siblings as first-generation college graduates. His nominator described his “leadership, dedication and motivation to assist others” as a key to success for countless student veterans.

“Josh brought ‘real world’ perspective to college and has engaged in a multitude of opportunities to expand his horizons…his military experience served as a springboard for his success at Texas A&M,” his nominator noted. “He understands the time commitment to do a job first class.”

Sutton joined the Corps of Cadets’ Delta Company and, as an upperclassman, served as both the company’s first sergeant and commander. He was selected for the Ross Volunteer Company, the Corps’ oldest special unit, which acts as the honor guard for the governor of Texas, among other ceremonial and charitable services. As a staff member with the General O.R. Simpson Corps of Cadets Honor Society, Sutton also enjoyed coordinating academic support services for cadets.

The GI Bill, which provides educational assistance to service members, veterans and their dependents, was the reason Sutton joined the military. Consequently, as his military career wound down, he enthusiastically began exploring his academic options. Eventually, he narrowed his preferences to three universities: Texas A&M, Penn State and the University of Maryland. Both of his siblings earned degrees from Penn State, the university nearest his hometown, so it seemed this most likely choice—until he learned about the veteran benefits for Aggies.

“The veterans’ benefits set Texas A&M apart from the other universities…the ease of information about the GI Bill and other veterans’ benefits drew me here,” Sutton said. “And as it turned out, it was the right place for me.”

While Sutton had already learned to balance his work in the military with the joys of family life, he found the transition from his military mentality to an academic state of mind challenging. Although he did not initially plan to join the Corps of Cadets, he changed his mind with encouragement from his wife and others, and his decision proved beneficial. He established instant connections with several other married veterans in the Delta Company.

“We were in similar situations…we shared that familiarity, and we helped each other out,” Sutton said. “I thought I’d never wear a uniform again when I started college, and I ended up wearing one for another four years.”

Throughout the university’s history, especially after World War II, veterans have returned from service as representatives of their branches of the military and as resources for other cadets, Sutton explained. He described sharing knowledge gained during active military duty and mentoring other cadets and students through the Corps and the Ross Volunteer Co. as some of the most rewarding experiences during his time at Texas A&M.

“They can learn what to expect if they choose to continue careers in the military,” Sutton said. “I was proud to be part of the long history and tradition of the Corps…to help it continue so others could be proud cadets…and I liked that I was given more responsibility each year.”

Sutton’s campus involvement was not confined to the Corps or the classroom. He was an Aggie Fish Camp counselor, a project manager for the Big Event and a student ambassador for the Texas A&M Foundation Maroon Coats.  He earned the Buck Weirus Spirit Award, the Texas A&M Foundation Board of Trustees Outstanding Student Award, and the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences Senior Merit Award. He acquired several academic scholarships as well as internships with the Spoetzl Brewery and the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, which also helped him to weather the financial struggles of being a full-time student and husband.

“From observing Josh in class and conversations with him over the years, I have come to know him as a man who is courageous in setting high standards and tenacious in achieving them,” his nominator said. “Josh possesses a vibrant intellectual curiosity that leads him to explore a broad range of topics, and as a result, he is a stimulating conversationalist who presents his ideas forthrightly while remaining open to others’ points of view.”

Sutton finds inspiration in food, and he is beginning a position as an associate product development manager for H-E-B at the corporate headquarters in San Antonio. The $5,000 financial gift that accompanied his award is helping him to make the move.

“I love cooking and creating things…it combines the best of everything in life…chemistry, science and food, so it made sense that I pursued a food science degree,” Sutton said. “My interests are perfectly in line with my new product development job.”


Media contact: Annabelle Aymond, Program Coordinator for LAUNCH: Undergraduate Research, (979) 458-0039 or, or Elena Watts, Division of Marketing & Communications, at (979) 458-8412 or

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