Women Inspiring Success & Excellence Award Winners Honored at March 3 Event

Florida Tech to Recognize Alumna, Student, Faculty and Staff Members

MELBOURNE, FLA. — Four amazing women will be honored at Florida Tech’s Women Inspiring Success & Excellence (WISE) Awards luncheon on March 3.

The event runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Hartley Room at the Denius Student Center on the university’s Melbourne campus. The event, which features a buffet lunch, is open to the public. Tickets are $20 per person and must be purchased by March 1.

In recognition of Women’s History Month, the Florida Tech Alumni Association will celebrate four people – a student, an alumna, a staff member and a faculty member – who embody the spirit of promoting women’s participation and development within the Florida Tech community.

The keynote speaker is Elaine Larsen, a two-time world champion jet dragster driver and co-founder of Florida Tech partner Larsen Motorsports. Larsen has been the longtime driver of the Florida Tech jet dragster.

The 2022 recipients are:

  • Alumna Legacy Award: Deirdre Gonsalves-Jackson, Ph.D. ‘04
  • Student Catalyst Award: Alyssa Carson
  • Faculty Excellence Award: Toby Daly-Engel, Ph.D.
  • Joan Bixby Staff Impact Award: Cat Nanney

These awards were inspired by Bixby, a Florida Tech alumna and former university administrator. Bixby started her university career as a development director in 1965 and remained an active member of the university community until her death in December 2011.

A bit more about the awardees:

Deirdre Gonsalves-Jackson is the dean of the Virginia Wesleyan University global campus and associate professor of biology. She obtained her Ph.D. in marine biology from Florida Tech.

Focusing her primary research on marine invertebrates such as sea slugs, Gonsalves-Jackson’s other projects include STEM education and outreach. She is engaged in initiatives that recruit and retain underrepresented groups in STEM. Her initiatives have resulted in collaborative National Science Foundation awards totaling over $1.4 million.

Alyssa Carson is a Florida Tech astrobiology student with the goal of training as an astronaut and being selected for future human spaceflight to Mars. She was inspired at age 3 by a cartoon and went on to attend U.S. Space Camp in 2008, the first of several she would attend in the U.S. and abroad. At 15, she joined Project PoSSUM and took courses with the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences. She received her applied astronautics certification at age 17, certifying her to do research missions in suborbital space.

Carson is a scuba diver, pilot, skydiver and aquanaut. She has appeared in Olay’s 2021 Super Bowl commercial and has been recently featured in campaigns for Frito-Lay’s Back to School Blast Off, Mattel’s Barbie Role Models #YouCanBeAnything series, Elle Magazine’s Modern Heroines and the “I’m Going to Mars” campaign from The Gap.

Toby Daly-Engel is the director of the Shark Conservation Lab at Florida Tech, where she and her students work with collaborators from state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations and public groups to conduct biomonitoring of Atlantic sharks, understand the impacts of rising temperatures on shark movement patterns, and identify novel species.

She earned her Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Hawaii in 2009 and has authored over 20 peer-reviewed publications. Her expertise and research have generated several media appearances, including major roles in multiple Shark Week and SharkFest programs and appearances on Fox News and elsewhere.

Cat Nanney is director of student involvement at Florida Tech, where she oversees clubs and organizations, fraternity and sorority life, orientation, civic engagement, homecoming – and most other student-related activities. She has worked at Florida Tech for 13 years, joining after graduate school. She received her B.S. in political science and her M.Ed. in higher education from the University of West Florida and is pursuing her Ph.D. in higher education leadership from the University of the Cumberlands. 

Nanney has volunteered for her international sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta, for over 11 years and serves multiple additional fraternal organizations. She has been awarded Campus Administrator of the Year from the Chi Phi Fraternity and Campus Professional of the Year from the Pi Lambda Phi Fraternity.

The Florida Tech Alumni Association’s WISE task force oversees the nomination and selection process in conjunction with the Alumni Affairs office. As per the WISE criteria, winning entrants are those who:

  • Earn the respect of community and colleagues as a role model/mentor for other women and girls;
  • Act as leaders in their field of expertise and reinforce practices that emphasize inclusion and equality;
  • Invest in their personal, professional development through networking, mentoring, education, etc.;
  • Embody the spirit of promoting women’s participation and development.
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