The Hilltop Excellence Awards is SMU's most prestigious awards ceremony, annually recognizing the outstanding accomplishments of students, staff, and faculty at SMU. Each spring, the Division of Student Affairs invites nominations from the entire SMU community for the many awards listed below.
Congratulations to all of the 2023 Hilltop Excellence Award winners!
Watch the livestream
Watch the livestream
The "M" Award
Presidential Awards of Excellence
|Scholar Athlete: Courtney Sebazco
Scholar Leader: Willy MacCluskey
Scholar Volunteer: Reagan McGinnis
James E. Caswell Award
Umphry Lee Award
Willis M. Tate Award
A. Kenneth Pye Outstanding Greek Leader Award
John L. Freehafer Award
Dr. K.C. Mmeje
Emmie V. Baine Legacy Award
Outstanding Faculty/Staff Volunteer
Dr. Brett Story
Dr. Dawn F. Norris
Sheri Mooney Memorial Recognition Award
Extra Mile Award
Avella Winn Hay Award
The "M" Award is the highest recognition bestowed upon students, faculty, staff and administrators on the SMU Campus. The recipients' efforts have been continuous during their years at the University and are not limited to a narrow vested interest. The "M" Award honorees are an inspiration to others, giving unselfishly of their time and talents in order to make the University, and indeed the world, a better place.
Nominees must be students of senior standing or graduate/professional students who will graduate during Spring commencement (undergraduate or graduate) of the same year of the selection process or who have already graduated in December of the semester prior to the selection process. Faculty/staff nominees must have at least six (6) years of continuous employment at SMU. The "M" Award may only be received once; previous recipients are not eligible.
The A. Kenneth Pye Award was first awarded in 1996 to recognize students with an outstanding balance of scholarship, community involvement, campus involvement and a personal commitment to the ideals in their fraternity and sorority rituals. The award is named in honor of one of SMU's finest past presidents, A. Kenneth Pye. President Pye was an advocate for students, and had a strong belief in the value of student leadership at SMU. It was during Dr. Pye's term of office that a student representative was added to the Board of Trustees. A maximum of 6 students may receive the award each year.
- Campus Involvement - chapter, council & other student organizations
- Community involvement & service
- Scholastic achievement (at least a 3.0 GPA)
- Commitment to the ideals in their fraternity/sorority values
- Senior graduating in May or December
This award is given to a graduating senior based on scholarly excellence, exemplary character, and significant contribution to the SMU community. This award is generously funded by the Avella Winn Hay Award Endowment.
- Nominee must be an undergraduate student who will graduate by August of the same year the award is given.
Emmie V. Baine Legacy Award
This award is given to a student who has made outstanding contributions to gender equity on campus and is in honor of our former Dean of Women and founder of the SMU Women's Center, Emmie V. Baine.
- Nominee must be a graduating Senior. The nominee, or his/her nominator, should indicate ways in which s/he has contributed to gender equity efforts in the University community while a student at SMU.
Faculty-Staff Volunteer of the Year Award
SMU annually honors a faculty or staff member who has demonstrated exemplary, sustained, and consistent services to the community outside the University. Nominations are reviewed by a panel of previous recipients of the award.
- A faculty or staff member who has contributed to the community beyond SMU.
The Dr. James E. Caswell Award will be presented to a student who has served Residence Life and Student Housing and the resident students of SMU with distinction.
- Current SMU undergraduate student with Junior or Senior standing (could have been a December graduate that will walk in May) who has worked for RLSH and/or held a student leadership position for RLSH for at least two academic years.
- Lives up to the principles of
- Exemplifies the legacy of Dr. Jim Caswell
- Has provided significant service to the RLSH and SMU Resident students
Who was Dr. Jim Caswell?
SMU President Kenneth Pye appointed Dr. James E. Caswell as Vice President for Student Affairs in January of 1998. As Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Caswell was responsible for most of the out of classroom programs and service at the University.
Dr. Caswell earned his undergraduate Bachelor of Arts, a Masters of Sacred Theology and a Bachelor of Divinity from Perkins School of Theology at SMU. He earned his Doctorate and Masters degrees at Columbia University. In addition, he did his post-doctoral studies at Harvard’s Institute of Educational Management in 1984. And finally, in 1999, Dr. Caswell was presented the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Oklahoma City University.
Dr. Caswell began his work within student affairs at SMU as a member of the Housing Department. As an undergraduate he lived in Boaz Hall. He then moved on as a graduate student to serve 6 years as a Hall Director in Morrison-McGinnis and Cockrell-McIntosh residence halls.
Dr. Caswell has embodied the award’s principles of outstanding service, advocacy, ethical leadership and student focus throughout the years. His passion for the residential experience through his own positions, leadership and support have demonstrated the commitment SMU has for our students’ residential experience.
Dr. and Mrs. Lytle J. Freehafer established a memorial award in 1967 in honor of their son, John L. Freehafer, a 1965 graduate of SMU, who died October 6, 1965 in the Philippines on an around-the-world tour following graduation. In establishing the award, Dr. Freehafer, former Vice President at Purdue University, asked that a committee of student leaders and university administrators who are concerned with student personnel and student life, select the students who are to receive the awards. This award is generously funded by the John L. Freehafer Memorial Endowment Fund.
- The John L. Freehafer Memorial award is given to one or more sophomore, junior or senior students who have demonstrated an interest in people, in student life, in student activities and in student government and/or who have a special interest in how people govern themselves.
The Presidential Award of Excellence - Scholar/Athlete is given to an outstanding student athlete who has demonstrated outstanding ability on the field and in the classroom. This award is generously funded by the John L. Freehafer Memorial Endowment Fund.
- A graduating senior with a GPA of 3.5 or higher and an outstanding record on the field of play at SMU is eligible for the Presidential Award of Excellence - Scholar/Athlete.
The Presidential Award of Excellence - Scholar/Leader is given to an outstanding student leader who has shown qualities of leadership which have benefited the SMU community. This award is generously funded by the John L. Freehafer Memorial Endowment Fund.
- A graduating senior with a GPA of 3.5 or higher and an outstanding record of leadership at SMU is eligible for the Presidential Award of Excellence - Scholar/Leader.
The Presidential Award of Excellence - Scholar/Volunteer is given to an outstanding student who has volunteered his or her services to the greater Dallas community and beyond. This award is generously funded by the John L. Freehafer Memorial Endowment Fund.
- A graduating senior with a GPA of 3.5 or higher and an outstanding record of volunteerism at SMU is eligible for the Presidential Award of Excellence - Scholar/Volunteer.
“To know Christ and to make Him known" is the essence of the Sheri Mooney Memorial Recognition. This award is a unique opportunity within the SMU community to recognize students whose Christian faith is evident as a recognizable priority in their day-to-day campus life. This recognition was established by the Mooney family in an endowment as a living memorial to their daughter Sheri, who died in an automobile accident in Tennessee while participating in a program whereby she was sharing her faith with others.
- The Sheri Mooney Memorial Recognition is given to one or more sophomore, junior or senior students whose daily lives, in behavior, values and relationships, reflect the quality of their commitment to Christ.
The Umphrey Lee Award is named for the first president of the student body at SMU, who then went on to become the University's 4th President in 1939. In the spirit of the servant-leader role that defined his life, the Umphrey Lee Award is presented annually to a graduating senior who has demonstrated outstanding involvement in and contribution to the University community while a student at SMU.
- Nominee must be an undergraduate student who will graduate in same Spring term that the award is given. The nominee, or his/her nominator, should indicate ways in which she/he has been involved and what contributions have been made to the University community while a student at SMU.
Criteria for Awards
In order for an award to be presented at the Hilltop Excellence Awards, it must meet the following criteria. These criteria were established in 2010 and took effect in 2011. All awards presented prior to 2011 (including those listed below) are grandfathered in without meeting these criteria:
- Nominations must be open to a broad audience; ideally all faculty, staff and students. At a minimum, two of those groups must be able to nominate.
- The award must be presented to a broad recipient pool; ideally students. If faculty are included, staff should be as well.
- Requests to include new awards presented during the Hilltop Excellence Awards are not being accepted at this time.
We recommend that staff-only awards be presented at the Staff Recognition Ceremony produced by the Staff Association.
Criteria for Nominees
In order for an award nominee to be eligible to be a recipient at the Hilltop Excellence Awards, they must meet the following criteria. These criteria were established in 2012 and took effect in 2013. All award recipients prior to 2013 are grandfathered in without meeting these criteria:
- At the time of nomination and presentation of the award, recipients must currently be enrolled at or employed by SMU. An SMU Retiree may be nominated if they retired in the year of the ceremony.
- Students must graduate from SMU in the calendar year in which the award is given, except in the case of the Freehafer Award and the "M" Award.
- Student award recipients may be undergraduate or graduate students unless specifically proscribed in individual award criteria.