Founders’ Day celebrates excellence at UCF. We recognize staff, faculty, and students who have inspired us through their actions. It was a great day for the college, especially for the Dixon School of Accounting. They had three faculty who received university-wide recognition: Marcye Hampton for Faculty Advising, Donna Bobek Schmitt for Graduate Teaching, and Robin Roberts who became the college’s first Pegasus Professor: the highest honor UCF grants a faculty member. As my Aussie friends would say: Good on Ya, Mates.

Then there was our student award winner. With 8000 undergraduates it is a highly competitive process. First each department selects one student from among their many majors and then our executive committee (made up of the department chairs, associate deans and me) picks the winner from the group of five finalists. Just being a finalist is a huge honor. Each finalist is an amazing student and campus leader with a long list of accomplishments. We host a breakfast to recognize all of them the morning of the event. But ultimately we have to choose just one student to represent the college and this year’s award winner is Jessica Fears.

I could tell you how Jessica exemplifies a student who got out of her comfort zone, or how she has embraced data-driven decision making. I could also tell you about the physical obstacles she overcame in her last semester, but sometimes it is just about paying tribute to the unbridled pursuit of academic excellence. You see Jessica completed an economics degree with a math minor. She took four years of calculus, statistical theory, logic and proofs, mathematical economics, etc. She even took Ph.D level courses from Dr. Caputo. Federal regulations don’t allow me to reveal her GPA, so lets just say she did really really well. So well in fact that she will be attending an economics Ph.D. program in the fall at either Texas or UCF -Davis.

I often talk about how math geeks are taking over the universe and how in today’s world the pathway to prosperity involves customization and differentiation rather than standardization and conformity. Art involves risk and great students and faculty are ultimately artists looking to provide insight that changes the way we see the world. Jessica, like her mentor Dr. Caputo has been fearless about this. It is why she is our Founders’ Day student of the year. I look forward to the day when we can make her an offer to come back, join our faculty and put a UCF byline next to her provocative ideas.

Paul Jarley, Ph.D., is the dean of the UCF College of Business Administration. He blogs every week at This post appeared on April 22, 2013. Follow him on Twitter @pauljarley