INDIANAPOLIS -- The 2018 NCAA Woman of the Year Award went to University of Georgia track and field athlete Keturah Orji, but Bates graduate and three-time NCAA Division III women's rowing champion Amelia Wilhelm's star shined brightly, as she was one of nine finalists feted at an awards dinner Sunday night in Indianapolis.
Orji was selected from an elite group of nine student-athletes, three from each NCAA division, including Chicago's Ade Ayoola (track and field), Claflin's Trisana Fairweather (cross country/track and field), Newman's Delaney Hiegert (softball), Whitworth's Kayla Leland (cross country/track and field/basketball), Angelo State's Kami Norton (track and field), Minnesota's Sidney Peters (ice hockey), Oklahoma State's Vanessa Shippy (softball) and Wilhelm (rowing). All finalists demonstrated excellence in academics, athletics, community service and leadership throughout their collegiate careers.
The award honors graduating student-athletes who have distinguished themselves throughout their collegiate careers in the areas of academic achievement, athletics excellence, service, and leadership. It has been given annually since 1991.
Wilhelm helped Bates win three NCAA Rowing Championships in four years, before graduating in May with honors in chemistry.
A four-year dean's list student, she was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, the scientific research society Sigma Xi, and Bates' College Key. She received the Mary Brushwein Award from the Bates chemistry department and the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association Scholar-Athlete Award, and was named to the NESCAC All-Academic Team three times.
"Amelia is perhaps one of the most positive, thoughtful, and welcoming members of our team," rowing head coach Peter Steenstra said. "Her primary goal was always fixed on the success of the team as a whole, but like any good athlete she used this to motivate herself as well."
On the strength of her academic promise, Wilhelm was invited by the Bates chemistry department to conduct an honors thesis in her senior year. Her completed thesis is titled Investigating the Relationship between Osmotic Stress and mRNA Degradation Rates in Borrelia burgdorferi, the Causative Agent of Lyme Disease.
"Amelia is a superb and truly exceptional student, and I am thrilled that she is receiving this honor," Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Paula Schlax said. "In terms of pure talent, understanding, and potential as a scientist, she is among the top students, of more than 90, that I have collaborated with in my research laboratory."
View the video about Amelia Wilhelm that aired at the awards dinner:
In her lab at Bates, Schlax and students explore the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, and how it moves from tick to mammal. In joining the research, Wilhelm "quickly became an expert, both in conducting and troubleshooting experiments," Schlax said. "More importantly, she quickly gained understanding in how environmental factors regulate gene expression in bacteria."
Wilhelm developed a passion for helping and teaching others during her time at Bates. She served as a student manager for the Academic Resource Commons at Bates, overseeing peer tutors and developing workshops for supplemental learning for students. She also assisted the Residence Life staff, working as a Junior Advisor and Residence Coordinator, and was a fellow for the Bates Career Development Center.
Wilhelm worked as a teaching and research assistant in the Bates chemistry department and guided campus tours for the Bates Admission Office. Off campus, she volunteered as a teaching assistant in a science classroom in the Lewiston public schools and volunteered at St. Mary's Regional Medical Center.
Earlier in the summer, Wilhelm was one of two student-athletes nominated for the award by the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), becoming the first Bobcat to be nominated by the NESCAC since Vantiel Elizabeth Duncan in 2010. On Sept. 6, Wilhelm was named one of 30 finalists for the award, and one of 10 from Division III.