NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Stephen F. Austin State University’s Office of Research and Graduate Studies recently awarded two honors and a scholarship to outstanding graduate students.

Presented annually, the awards recognize students dedicated to excellence in the pursuit of their graduate degrees. Daniel Morris of Lufkin received the Marilyn Odom Graduate Student Award; Christine Broussard of Nacogdoches received the William R. Johnson Outstanding Thesis Award; and Stella Westhoven of Village Mills received the Paul L. Boynton Scholarship for Graduate Study.

Marilyn Odom Graduate Student Award
A student in the DeWitt School of Nursing’s family nurse practitioner program, Morris knew attending graduate school while balancing family obligations and full-time employment as a critical care nurse at Woodland Heights Medical Center in Lufkin would be a challenge. What he didn’t expect was the wrench the pandemic would throw in his plans.

“My days have been filled with unimaginable anxiety, while several nights have been spent in isolation, away from my family, out of fear of potentially spreading the virus to them,” he said. “My study time often seemed beset by thoughts of the suffering of the ill and afflicted, but the understanding that I was preparing myself to provide a higher level of care for our community presented a semblance of hope that my efforts were for the greater good.”

Through the program, Morris has focused primarily on serving rural and underserved populations while working closely with faculty in the School of Nursing. He graduated in May.

“I will be forever grateful for the encouragement and guidance of those who are part of the program who have continued to believe in their students as we encountered an abundance of obstacles in the journey to becoming the newest generation of advanced practice nurses,” he said.

William R. Johnson Outstanding Thesis Award
When Broussard was deciding on a topic for her thesis while pursuing a Master of Arts in history, her mother suggested she research “something on Cajuns,” Broussard said. From a family of “Ragin’ Cajuns,” graduates of what is now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, she has been fascinated with Acadiana from a young age.

“We would take trips often when I was little to see our Lafayette family, and it felt like the moment you crossed the state border, you had entered another world entirely,” Broussard said.

Her thesis examines how Cajun music, musicians and musical iconography played central roles in the culture’s popularization between 1960 and 1980, specifically uncovering connections between Cajun activism and the national folk revival movement of the same era. Through this, Broussard shows how Cajuns used music to subvert negative associations of their culture.

During a course with Dr. Mark Barringer, associate professor in SFA’s Department of History, she wrote a draft of what would be the second chapter of her thesis. With his encouragement, she searched for more information on the subject, diving into archived newspapers from across southern Louisiana and books focusing on sociological and theoretical studies.

Broussard’s advisor, Dr. Court Carney, played a pivotal role in the development of her thesis.

“He kept me engaged with the subject matter even when I was overwhelmed, encouraged me to present at conferences and introduced me to historians with special insight on my topic,” she said. “Random conversations with him led to some of the most fundamental portions of my overall argument.”

Paul L. Boynton Scholarship for Graduate Study
Westhoven has served as a licensed professional counselor for more than two decades, earning a master’s degree in counseling psychology in 1998, but after learning about the shortage of specialists in school psychology, she decided to enroll at SFA to better serve the southeast Texas area where she currently lives.

Pursuing a master’s degree in school psychology, Westhoven is working toward becoming a licensed specialist in school psychology.

“This will allow me to provide additional mental health, behavioral and educational services to students and to help them have a more successful school experience,” Westhoven said.

A proud SFA student, she has enjoyed working with and learning from the faculty during her time at the university.

“I truly have loved my time at SFA,” Westhoven said. “I have met some of the most helpful and knowledgeable professors, and the staff in general has been superb.”

Westhoven discovered the scholarship as her son, currently enrolled in dual credit classes at SFA, was filling out scholarship applications for himself.

“I feel extremely grateful for this award,” she said. “Returning to school to pursue another degree has been very rewarding, but there is a definite financial impact. I feel honored to be chosen and am tremendously appreciative.”

To learn more about graduate studies at SFA, visit