Kent State Honors College Graduate Announced as 2023 Portz Scholar

Serene (Hawes) Montgomery Named 11th Portz Scholar in History of Kent State

The National Collegiate Honors Council has announced Kent State University Honors College graduate Serene (Hawes) Montgomery as a 2023 Portz Scholar. Montgomery is the 11th honors student from Kent State to be named a Portz Scholar since the national competition began in 1990.  

Serene Hawes Montgomery, 2023 Portz Scholar

“Each year, the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) awards four Portz Prizes to undergraduate honors thesis writers in four broad academic areas, in a competition for most excellent undergraduate thesis,” Honors College Dean Alison J. Smith, Ph.D., noted. “Serene (Hawes) Montgomery receives this year’s Portz Prize in the Humanities, becoming our 11th Portz Scholar. We are so proud of Serene for her outstanding scholarship and we note the excellent advising she received from her thesis advisor, Professor Ronn Daniel, in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED).” 

Montgomery graduated magna cum laude with University Honors from the Honors College at Kent State University in May of 2023. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Kent State in interior design. Montgomery stated that she has always been interested in academia, including learning, teaching, researching and writing, which led her to the journey of completing a Senior Honors Thesis. She said, “The Senior Honors Thesis was the perfect undertaking to further explore these avenues while also being a wonderful opportunity to work closely with amazing faculty.”  

Montgomery’s award-winning thesis, completed in the spring of 2023, is entitled, “Atmospheres of Light". She explained, “…it was my goal to capture the elusive nature of light, make sense of the influence it has on human beings in the built environment, and to inspire more thoughtful lighting design. It is my opinion that light, in space, is the most powerful atmospheric element and as designers, it is our responsibility to recognize its ability to shape space both in form and in ambience.” Montgomery also touched upon the opposite of light – darkness – and stated, “This does not exclude (but rather praises) the qualities of darkness as well, exploring it not only as the counterpart to light, but also as a deeply sensual and powerful architectural element.”  

During the three-semester process to complete her thesis beginning in her junior year, the Honors College alumna had many supporters of her work, not just in the Honors College, but across the university as well. “My thesis advisor, Ronn Daniel, was an absolutely amazing support in the writing of this thesis and I simply could not have asked for a better advisor,” she commented. “He undeniably went above and beyond as an advisor and I would not be a Portz Scholar if it wasn’t for his efforts.” She also mentioned that her husband, Mark Montgomery, who she wed in the summer of 2023, was incredibly supportive in the many phases of writing the thesis, and also, the many phases of life and school that they have experienced together. “He really is the most wonderful life partner and my biggest support in everything that I take on,” she said.  

The award-winning thesis writer emphasized her interest in light and its inspiration for her work, as she explained, “I consider lighting to be an incredibly powerful spatial and atmospheric tool and I have always been interested in the ways that lighting design can shape space and influence human experience.” The Portz Scholar recognized one specific experience as particularly influential, “…I was inspired by a research trip that I took to Iceland, courtesy of a CAED Traveling Fellowship Grant. I was also incredibly inspired by (and wrote very much in the spirit of) Jun'ichirō Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows (1933, translated 1977).”  

Montgomery, having grown up in south Texas, was accepted into the Honors College as a freshman in 2019 and spent the first years of her collegiate career living in the Honors College Living-Learning Community in Stopher Hall. While attending Kent State, she served as the Co-President of the Interior Design Student Collaborative, while also volunteering as a student representative to the board for the American Society of Interior Designers. She had two separate pieces of student work which were featured in the CAED X Gallery in the fall of 2022 and also in the spring of 2023. 

Her impressive resume includes accolades as a recipient of the CAED Travelling Fellowship Grant, which took her to Iceland for her research, as well as a second-place finish in the Undergraduate Research Symposium, with classmate Olivia Mansier. Cleveland IES also sponsored the alumna during her undergraduate time to attend NYC LightFair 2023, a comprehensive continuing education program highlighting workshops, a trade show and programming related to the lighting industry. 

Montgomery is one of only four students selected as a 2023 Portz Scholar from a pool of highly competitive honors students from across the country. NCHC institutional members may submit only one thesis written by an undergraduate Honors College student per institution to nominate as a Portz Scholar each academic year. Montgomery, along with her three fellow scholar recipients, will present a 20-minute lecture about her thesis research at the National Collegiate Honors Conference in Chicago this fall.  

The Portz Scholars Program of the NCHC began in 1990 to recognize John and Edythe Portz for their involvement with and support of honors education. The Kent State University Honors College continues to rank as one of the top Portz Scholar recipient-producing honors programs in the country, with a total count of 11 scholars to date, including Montgomery. The most current Portz Scholar recipients of the Honors College prior to Montgomery include Sarah Hagglund (2021), Megan Swoger (2018) and Dorvan Byler (2015). 





PHOTO CAPTION 1: Kent State student Serene (Hawes) Montgomery shares her presentation 'Daylight and Design' to CAED.
PHOTO CAPTION 2: A black and white photo of Serene (Hawes) Montgomery, the 2023 Portz Scholar.
MEDIA CONTACT:Stephanie Moskal,, 330-672-2312 

POSTED: Thursday, September 7, 2023 10:20 AM
Updated: Thursday, September 7, 2023 10:47 AM
Stephanie Moskal, Associate Director of Strategic Communications and External Affairs