Honorary Class Speakers

2019 Honorary Class Speakers



Robert Powers was a bit unsure when he arrived at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise four years ago, but that quickly changed when he immersed himself into academic work, travel abroad, and undergraduate research.

The Dungannon, Virginia native found he had an affinity for language and history, and he soon realized that faculty and staff at the College went beyond the norm when it came to helping students grow stronger and experience all aspects of life. Powers said the College created many opportunities for him and his fellow students.

His freshman year was a memorable one because Powers decided to travel to Ireland with a Study Abroad group, and he said that was one of the best decisions of his life. It was soon afterward that Powers, with the encouragement of Dean Amelia Harris, spent six months in Dortmund, Germany learning more about the culture and honing his German language skills. He met friends that he still keeps in contact with all over Europe.  Powers has made several more trips abroad, including Scotland, England, and a two-week World War I tour that he won’t soon forget.

“I’m a lot more outgoing and confident in myself,” Powers said. “You don’t get opportunities like this at a lot of colleges. It was the moment I knew I had a passion for traveling. I really needed that boost.”

Powers said the generous financial support from the College was a tremendous help in his undergraduate research and travel abroad. He decided to double major in History and German, and he managed to finish both in four years, which is quite a feat for the young man who works as a tutor in the Writing Center and with various summer programs.

Various graduate schools were on Powers’ list, but Louisiana State University got the nod because it boasts one of the most renown intellectual historians in the nation.  He views LSU as the perfect place for him to complete his master’s degree and eventually a doctorate program.

“I’m just an average kid from Southwest Virginia, but I’ve had all these opportunities at UVa-Wise,” Powers said. “You don’t have to be exceptional, you just have to work hard.”

Powers is graduating Summa Cum Laude and with College Honors from the Peake Honors Program. The program requires students to take three interdisciplinary honors seminars, attend eight honors cultural events and produce a capstone project.

He plans to spend the summer on campus working with the Upward Bound program before he heads to LSU and his new venture.



Shannon E. Bennett is no stranger to hard work. The Covington, Virginia native is not only a double major in Mathematics and Software Engineering, she also spends many hours on the softball field.

Bennett, who was valedictorian of her high school, worked for the majority of her four years at UVa-Wise. She was the first intern for the cybersecurity company known as Atomicorp. The company partnered with UVa-Wise and Mach37.

The student-athlete worked for Atomicorp for over a year when she stopped to focus on her recovery from surgery following a season ending injury on the softball field. She roared back from the injury and was named team captain.

In her first two seasons of softball, Bennett was named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All American Scholarship Athlete team. She received the Highland Cavalier Club award in 2018 year. The award is given annually to the male and female athlete who displays the most leadership skills on and off the field.  In recognition of Bennett’s dedication and perseverance in athletics and academics, she was awarded the 2019 Faculty Athletic Award.

She also began working for the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science as a student grader and a data science intern. Bennett has been on the UVa-Wise Dean’s List for seven out of seven semesters and will graduate Summa Cum Laude. She has presented at Research Day for the past two years, and presented her research at National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR).

Bennett plans to attend Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science to complete a master’s degree in Information Technology-Software Engineering. Upon graduating from one of the best computer science schools in the nation, she wants to enter the workforce in the field of high-risk/high-stake company such as SpaceX or enter the Federal Bureau of Investigation.