From left: Kaitlyn Benko is the 2021 recipient of the Dean’s Medal in the College of Kinesiology. Mason Clarke is this year’s Most Outstanding Graduate in the College of Kinesiology. (Photos: Submitted)

Clarke, Benko earn top graduating student awards

After earning the top awards in the College of Kinesiology, Mason Clarke and Kaitlyn Benko are now preparing to pursue their passion to be chiropractors.

By Alyssa Wiebe | Kinesiology Communications

Each year the College of Kinesiology at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) selects one student who stands out among their peers to earn the title of Most Outstanding Graduate. The successful student must demonstrate leadership and participation within the college, on campus, and in their community, with academic performance also taken into consideration.

This year’s Most Outstanding Graduate is Clarke, who comes from the community of Rosetown, Sask., and pursued a degree in kinesiology after discovering her passion for health and wellness.

“I am so honoured and honestly shocked to be named the top graduate,” said Clarke. “I am very thankful for this award and it makes all of the hard work, busy days, and stress throughout my degree worth it! There are so many outstanding individuals that I am graduating with and I am very grateful for the recognition.”

Clarke has been involved with the college through two student groups; Kinesiology Student Society (KiSS Council) and Do Something, a non-profit group that allows students to make a difference through partnerships with local charities and community initiatives. This past year, she was elected vice-president of the KiSS Council in which she led meetings, planned events, and served as a standing member on the college’s Undergraduate Planning Committee.

She continued to give back to the college as a note taker for Access and Equity Services, a support available to students who are unable to take notes in class due to medical or other reasons, as well as a volunteer with Physical Activity for Active Living (PAAL), and as a peer mentor to first-year kinesiology students. 

As a student and volunteer, Clarke found ways to continue to strengthen her experience as a dance teacher to youth from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, a league manager with Campus Recreation, as well as participating on multiple recreation sports teams.

“My time in the College of Kinesiology has been the four best, and fastest, years of my life. I absolutely loved my time as an undergraduate student, and I have met so many amazing people and learned so much,” expressed Clarke. “The professors within the college are amazing and although this past year has been difficult with the pandemic, the hard work demonstrated by the faculty has been outstanding.  Although stressful at times, being a student in the College of Kinesiology has been an amazing experience.”

The second major award in kinesiology at USask Spring Convocation is the Dean’s Medal, presented to the graduating student with the highest academic average. The recipient of the 2021 Dean’s Medal is Benko, who has always been thorough in her studies, which she attributes to helping her earn a 94.13 per cent average.

“Being diligent with my studies has been an important priority in my life over the past four years, so it is a huge honour to be recognized for that effort,” said Benko, who is from Martensville, Sask.

During high school, Benko became interested in learning about how the body functions and the impact that physical activity has on one’s health and day-to-day living. She grew up with a sport background in competitive figure skating and soccer and understood and valued the principle of living an active lifestyle and wanted to explore the diversity of kinesiology in more depth. Her interests were particularly in the areas of anatomy, sport psychology, and motor functioning. 

Earning the honour did not come without support and mentors. Benko was quick to recognize her mother, Kelly, for displaying qualities of endless creativity, patience, and generosity and helping her to emulate these in her own life.

In the college, she acknowledged her supervisor, Dr. Kevin Spink (PhD), who helped her conduct a novel research project, while developing a strong appreciation for research and writing a thesis.

“I am very grateful for his mentorship and support throughout the entire process and am so excited with what we were able to accomplish,” said Benko.

With their degrees in hand, Benko and Clarke are now focused on the future and the next steps in their careers. This fall, Clarke will be moving to Minneapolis to begin her Doctor of Chiropractic degree at North Western Health Sciences University, while Benko will be applying to chiropractic school.