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When Christine Bender ’04 (Gibsonia, Pa.) graduates this month, she’ll receive a B.A. with honors in economics & business, a B.S. in neuroscience, and a special honor – the George Wharton Pepper Prize, awarded annually to the senior “who most nearly represents the Lafayette ideal.”

The prize was established in 1923 by George Wharton Pepper, a United States senator from Pennsylvania, an attorney, and a founding member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. In his gift, Pepper noted that the “ideal” Lafayette student combines a “sound academic record” with “noteworthy participation in College activities and student life.”

Bender, who was chosen for the Pepper Prize through a vote of the student body and faculty, already has received one of two People’s Choice Awards along with Pep Band Director Tom DiGiovanni ’96. She received that distinction, “given to students or employees known as unusually productive and concerned for the betterment of the college and its student body,” at the May 2 Aaron O. Hoff Awards.

She will attend the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine in the fall. Last summer, she volunteered three days a week at Easton Hospital Dental and Medical Clinic, working closely with a hygienist and local dentists to provide subsidized dental care to the needy. Eventually, she would like to work with low-income children in an urban clinic.

“Through this mentoring experience, I learned many things about oral hygiene and subsidized medicine, and most importantly, I realized the overwhelming need for more dentists to volunteer their time in the clinics,” she says.

For her honor thesis, Bender researched ways to improve access to Medicaid for the homeless. Her work included interviews with residents of the Safe Harbor homeless shelter and the Third Street Alliance, a shelter for homeless and abused women and children, both in Easton.

“A lot of the problem with coverage is getting through the red tape,” says Bender, one of 42 Lafayette students invited to present their work at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, hosted April 15-17 by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Bender was advised on her yearlong research project by Susan Averett, professor and head of economics and business. Bender says learning so much in Averett’s Women and the Economy Class made her excited to work with her on the thesis.

“Lafayette is a great environment in which to do a thesis. Professors give you so much personal attention and are always willing to work with you on topics that you are interested in,” she says. “Prior courses also prepare you well for an intensive research project senior year.”

“Christine is organized, motivated, curious, and asks a lot of questions,” says Averett. “She is easy to work with, doesn’t take prodding, and is focused. She has a goal.”

Bender became interested in finding out more about Medicaid coverage after taking a course on the public sector and volunteering through Lafayette’s Landis Community Outreach Center and other programs.

“I just feel that experience is invaluable,” she says. “I’ve seen so much in the Easton community, and have seen different ways of looking at it.”

Her long list of volunteer work ranges from coordinating and volunteering for a youth center to a field day for local impoverished children, from a walking event that raised more than $1,500 for the AIDS Fund to the Take a Stand 5K that benefited Heifer International, a hunger relief organization. She also has volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and Safe Harbor.

In addition, Bender participated in the Alternative School Break Club, in which teams of six to eight students conduct off-campus service projects. Students also raise funds to offset the cost of travel and their stay. One or two Lafayette faculty and/or staff members accompany each team.

Combining her degrees will benefit her career, she says. “I like social economics, applying theory to real world people, and for any dental or medical school there is a business aspect, so a knowledge of economics and business will help me in that respect.”

“I think it’s neat how she is bringing together her interest in class, volunteering, and career,” says Averett. “We don’t often see people bring those things together like that.”

Bender traveled to Germany and the Czech Republic with 25 other Lafayette students during the January interim session to take a course, The Open Wall and the New Europe: Berlin, Prague, and Munich.

She has been the recipient of Lafayette and National Dean’s List honors, and is a member of Omicron Delta Epsilon, the national economics honor society, as well as Psi Chi, the national psychology honor society. Bender was honored as an OxFam America Change Leader, for which she attended a weeklong conference in Boston on the social consequences of globalization in August 2002. She also received the Pittsburgh Panhellenic Alumni Scholarship and the Aaron O. Hoff Service Above Self Award, both for 2003.

She serves as a psychology lab assistant and is a member of the Alpha Phi sorority and the Newman Association. She has also been active as a resident adviser, Panhellenic Council president, and member of the women’s rugby team, Concert Choir, Madrigal Choir, an intramural volleyball team, and Residence Hall Council.

Categorized in: Academic News