SPRINGFIELD, Missouri – Evangel University graduates Cecilia Corbin and Kendra “Desi” Smith are the recipients of the 2021 Anne Spence Award for Meritorious Christian Character and Service. The award includes an engraved crystal and a monetary gift.
Each year, faculty and staff members nominate deserving graduating seniors for the award. Two students are selected by a committee of faculty, staff, and student leaders. The awards were presented during Evangel’s annual baccalaureate ceremony on May 6.
“The purpose of this award is to recognize students who demonstrate outstanding and meritorious acts of Christian service or displays of Christian character that reflect the highest ideals of the university and the Church,” said Gina Rentschler, director of community life.
“It provides a venue for rewarding and affirming students for reasons other than solely academic or athletic accomplishment.”
“Cecilia is a visionary and is always thinking of others. She is a world-class leader and humble Christ follower,” said Campus Pastor Greg Johns in his nomination letter. “Her character is beyond reproach and she is wise beyond her years. Working with Cecilia has been the highlight of my year.”
Corbin stepped up to the plate this year in the absence of an associate campus pastor, taking leadership of the student-led ministry group “CrossWalk”. This included leadership training, mentoring of Crosswalk board members, training of devotional leaders, and providing pastoral support and care to students and leadership alike.
“Cecilia literally saved and preserved CrossWalk this year when it could have easily folded or become much less than what it was,” said Johns. “She maintained a spirit of selfless service to her team, to me, and to the larger campus community.”
In addition to her active role in Crosswalk, Corbin, a double major in Psychology and Biblical Studies, was a member of the Forensics team, a member of Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology, and worked as an office assistant in the Communications Department.
“Cecilia is an outstanding student, a natural leader, a gifted speaker, and an authentic, caring, respectful person,” said Dr. Heather Kelly, chair of the Behavioral and Social Sciences Department. “She is engaged and passionate about her studies, not as a means to achieving higher grades, but as a transformational process toward achieving a higher good. She is a beautiful example of fulfilling Evangel’s mission, and it has been my pleasure to know her both in and out of the classroom.”
Dr. Brandon Schmidly, chair of the Theology Department, reflects, “Cecilia is an exceptional individual. She is a rare combination of talent clothed in grace and wisdom. She is the perfect selection for the Anne Spence award.”
Corbin, a Branson, MO native, will serve Evangel full-time as student ministries and discipleship coordinator this fall and plans to continue her education at EU by pursuing a graduate degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.
“I feel humbled to receive this honor, especially in light of the incredible service demonstrated by its namesake Mrs. Anne Spence. Anything I have contributed to Evangel feels menial in comparison to what it has given me,” said Corbin. “I will forever be grateful to have been a part of this community. I never dreamed I would gain so much by simply saying yes to God when He called me here.”
Kendra “Desi” Smith
Kendra Smith, or Desi, as she is known around campus, found her way to Evangel via the experience she had as a young girl attending EU’s women’s basketball summer camps and a collegiate basketball scholarship. The mentorship she received and leadership opportunities she was given are what kept her at EU.
“On my visits, I quickly fell in love with the campus and its community,” said Smith. “My professors got to know me, care for me, and value my life and interests. My coaches also played a strong role in my life. They taught me how to persevere, believe in myself, and be true to who I am and the roles I play.”
During her time on campus, Smith served as the devotional leader and team captain for the women’s basketball team.
“Desi is a proven leader on and off the basketball court,” said Megan Leuzinger, EU women’s basketball head coach, in her nomination letter. “Her desire to inspire and encourage those she comes in contact with is something I have noticed about her. Desi has a warm and caring personality, a great sense of humor, and truly wants those around her to excel. She will never shy away from hard work.”
Smith is known as the “team mom” on the court, and as the lone senior player this year, has taken it upon herself to offer guidance and support to her younger teammates.
“The girls have really enjoyed having Desi to look up to,” said Leuzinger. “Not only have I seen her character shine through with her teammates, but I have also seen her put service into action as we have participated in community events as a team. She is always willing to lend a helping hand with whatever needs to be done.”
In addition to her hard work on the basketball court, Smith has maintained a 4.0 GPA in her study towards a Social Science Education degree.
“Desi is an outstanding student-athlete. She is dedicated to everything she does and sets the highest standards for herself. It’s been a joy and privilege to work with her,” said Dr. Shonna Crawford, Education Department chair.
Crawford added, “Desi excelled through her student teaching experience so much so that her supporting teacher was inspired to implement several of Desi’s positive motivational techniques in her role as a teacher and a coach.”
Smith and her husband, Jacob, who also graduated from Evangel, now live in Willow Springs, MO where Smith accepted a job as a special education teacher, middle school girl’s basketball head coach, and high school girl’s basketball assistant coach.
“I am aware of the true value in receiving the Anne Spence award,” said Smith. “Anne believed in what Evangel stood for and did everything she could to make EU the perfect home for any student that walked on campus. To be receiving an award named after her and dedicated to the kind, caring joy she shared is truly an honor.”
The Anne Spence Award
Anne Spence served as vice president of the Evangel Auxiliary throughout the 40 years of her husband’s presidency. She helped raise millions of dollars for campus projects and scholarships, and she was often referred to as Evangel’s greatest student recruiter.
In addition to the engraved plaque and a monetary gift, awardees also receive a certificate, white cord, and medallion to wear at the baccalaureate and graduation ceremonies.
Previously called the Silver Shield Award, it was renamed the Anne Spence Award by the Board of Directors in 2013, to honor her 40 years of service to the Evangel family.
Evangel University, with the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS), is a comprehensive Christian university committed to excellence in educating and equipping students to serve the Church and society globally. Evangel and AGTS serve more than 2,200 students from all 50 states and numerous foreign countries, offering 70 undergraduate majors and 19 master and doctoral degrees.