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Donald R. Whitaker and Erika Gil Winter, graduates of Eastern Kentucky University, were each presented the EKU College of Science Award during ceremonies on Sept. 9. The college’s highest honor is presented to individuals who have made impactful contributions to the college.

Donald R. WhitakerWhitaker earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from EKU in 1962. He later earned a master’s degree inmathematics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a doctoral degree in mathematics education from the University of Wisconsin Madison. After completing his doctoral degree, he enjoyed a distinguished, 34-year career that included chairing the Department of Mathematics for 14 years and directing the Office of Academic Assessment and Institutional Research at Ball State University.

Whitaker remains grateful for his EKU education, always seeking ways to give back to the University. He has served on the Board of Directors of the EKU International Alumni Association and was inducted into the EKU Hall of Distinguished Alumni. In 2010, he and his wife, Sue Whitaker, established the Raymond Benjamin and Ruth Levi Whitaker Endowed Scholarship Fund in Mathematics Education, in honor of his parents. He currently serves on the Foundation Board of Trustees.

Recalling the instructors who were very important people, or “VIPs,” in his life at EKU, Whitaker offered some advice to students: “Life is a journey with VIPs who have made a meaningful mark in our lives,” he said. “Ponder all those individuals who have impacted your life and how you, too, may be a VIP to others.”

Born and raised in Mexico, Winter came to EKU to pursue a degree in forensic science from EKU, graduating in 2007. She has worked as a laboratory technician with Lexmark International, Inc. and at the Sherwin-Williams Company, where she currently serves as team leader in the Automotive and Aerospace Division. She is also an adjunct professor in the forensic science program at EKU.

Erika Gil WinterWhitaker and Winter accepted their awards at the annual College of Science Alumni Lecture series, for which Winter was this year’s speaker.

In her inspiring speech, Winter recounted the challenges she had to overcome, such as being bullied, her parents’ divorce, losing her mother to cancer and the lack of opportunity in her home country to pursue her dream of studying forensic science. Once she relocated to EKU, she faced homesickness, a language barrier and a challenging curriculum. But she began to thrive after joining the EKU International Students Association, which she later led as president.

Winter’s advice to students reflected that theme of overcoming adversity:

“Find a goal in your life and do everything you can to reach that goal, Winter said. “And if along the way you aren’t certain about your goal, don’t be afraid to change it. Change happens. Do not be afraid of venturing outside of the box or leaving something you love behind. There will be people along the way who will judge you. Do not let any of that keep you away from your dreams. With perseverance and effort, dreams do come true.”