Photo by Lee Pellegrini
For exceptional academic performance, outstanding contributions to research in the field of cancer biology, and exemplary service to others both on and off campus, Huel (Trey) Cox III is this year's recipient of Boston College’s Edward H. Finnegan, S.J. Award. Presented at Commencement by BC President William P. Leahy, S.J., the award recognizes the graduating senior who best exemplifies the University’s motto, “Ever to Excel.”
Cox has distinguished himself in the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences as a biochemistry major in the Chemistry Honors Program, and has conducted research at some of the Boston’s preeminent medical institutions, including Mass General Brigham and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
“As a first-generation college student, he serves as an excellent role model for all Boston College students who are striving to live lives of meaning and purpose,” according to Morrissey College Interim Associate Dean Thomas Mogan in Cox’s Finnegan nomination. Mogan also cited “his impressive academic endeavors in the classrooms and scientific laboratories at Boston College,” his undergraduate research off campus, and his plans to pursue a career in medicine.
“Coming into Boston College as a freshman, I would not have dreamed of finishing with such an honor,” said Cox, who grew up in Lake Oswego, Oregon. “But with the encouragement of many professors and administrators, I have been able to thrive alongside my incredibly talented classmates. It’s a wonderful honor for me, but most importantly, it’s a reflection of the immense support I have received from family, friends, and mentors at the school.
“As a first-generation college student, I faced challenges when applying to and subsequently attending college," he said. "I struggled to navigate the college admissions process and, upon admission my family balked at the financial burden of attending many schools, which was not the case at Boston College.”
And though he said acclimating to demanding college courses took time, “the Boston College infrastructure to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds financially, academically, and emotionally helped more than I can put into words. I’d like to give a special shout out to all my professors, and all those involved with CTP [College Transition Program] out of LTL [Learning to Learn].”
“Coming into Boston College as a freshman, I would not have dreamed of finishing with such an honor. But with the encouragement of many professors and administrators, I have been able to thrive alongside my incredibly talented classmates. It’s a wonderful honor for me, but most importantly, it’s a reflection of the immense support I have received from family, friends, and mentors at the school.”
After graduation, Cox will continue to volunteer at a local hospice service and work in the cancer biology lab at Dana-Farber, as he has for the past three years. Following a gap year, he hopes to matriculate into an M.D.-Ph.D. program to study cancer biology, and go on to pursue a career in adult or pediatric oncology. “I plan to split my time between my passions for caring for those in need and scientific exploration,"he said.
His care for others and commitment to service are important hallmarks of his BC experience. Cox has engaged in volunteer and leadership activities with schoolchildren as a tutor and mentor in the Allston-Brighton community. He also has been a Big Brother and leader in the BC Bigs Program, as well as assisted campus peers as an adviser and Mendel Society mentor. He also was a student member of the Morrissey College Educational Policy Committee.
“I sought to become involved with some of the many campus service programs,” Cox said. “Mentoring children from backgrounds similar to mine caught my eye and became dear to me. The resiliency of children amazes and inspires me. The opportunity to support children in attaining their goals and thriving in their life is something that I highly value. The culture of service at Boston College cannot be overstated and is, in my opinion, one of the greatest features of our school. This culture stems from one of the tenets of a Jesuit education that I admire: to develop a whole, well-rounded world citizen.”
These varied service and leadership experiences “have allowed him to utilize his strong interpersonal skills and to demonstrate his deep capacity for empathy which will serve him well as he pursues his future medical career,” Mogan noted.
Outside of his STEM courses, Cox appreciated the core curriculum and electives which allowed him “to engage with English and philosophy in ways that have had meaningful influences on my approach to life and how I orient myself in the world. Much of my academic success has been facilitated by a coherent philosophy of self, which I was able to refine in humanities courses.”
Cox also cited the value of his research pursuits in enhancing his studies. He completed a Scholar of the College project while at Dana-Farber, and last summer received the Scholars Book Award for Outstanding Research Project from Harvard University’s Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology,
“The opportunity to perform research in cancer biology complemented my degree perfectly,” he said. “There were many instances when I would learn about something in the classroom that translated directly into how I performed or approached my research. There was something deeply satisfying about having a foot in both camps.”
He also credits campus mentors in supporting his work and successes. “Danielle Taghian [professor of the practice of Biology; chair, Faculty Pre-Health Advising Committee] has been one of my most influential mentors and advisors since my first semester. She was always in my corner and has supported me through some of my toughest semesters and the strenuous medical school admissions process.” He also credits Associate Dean Rafael Luna, director of Pre-Health Programs, “who has pushed me to excel in and outside of the classroom since I was a freshman.”
As graduation approached, Cox reflected on his defining undergraduate experiences. “While it was one of my most difficult times, the second semester of my sophomore year is the most memorable. It was the COVID year, and despite its ups and downs, I was forced to be resilient in a way that I had not been since I was a child. While I wish that many things had gone differently—not having been in a pandemic and witnessing unspeakable hardship in the world—it is in the toughest of times when we see who we are, and who others are.
“Having seen who many of my friends were in the face of adversity, it is being able to live and learn with them that I will miss the most. Additionally, I will miss the people of BC. All of the students I’ve met here share the quality that I think makes BC so unique: a selfless desire to make the world better than they have found it.”
Finalists for the 2023 Finnegan Award
Jessie Cheng, Carroll School of Management
Major: Management (Marketing & Business Analytics); Minor: Film Studies
Undergraduate dean’s office peer advisor; teaching assistant; Against the Current; Campus Activities Board; youth minister; advocate to address eating disorders, author of related work of young adult fiction. Post-grad will work at “Calling All Crows,” a non-profit organization which aligns with her passion for social impact and creative expression.
Lucille (Lucy) Rubenstein, Lynch School of Education and Human Development
Majors: Biology; Special Education
Active member of St. Ignatius parish, mentor to young Catholic women. Involvements include the Student Admission Program; Pre-Dental Society; volunteer with BC Campus School, BC Special Olympics, Best Buddies, Buddy Up Tennis. Post-grad will attend University of Louisville to pursue special needs pediatric dentistry training.
Karen J. Aldana, Connell School of Nursing
Involved with El Centro; the Connell School Seacole Scholars program and Keys to Inclusive Leadership in Nursing; research presenter at the Eastern Nursing Research Society conference; Boston Children’s Hospital oncology fellow; peer mentor; Alpha Chi Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. Post-graduation, will enroll in the Connell School’s Doctorate of Nursing Practice Pediatric Nurse Practitioner program.
Rosanne Pellegrini | University Communications | May 2023