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NCAA names 2020 Byers Scholarship recipients

Whitworth’s Kayla Leland and Harvard’s Xavier Gonzalez will receive $24,000 grants

An NCAA committee with oversight of the Walter Byers Graduate Scholarship selected two former student-athletes as recipients of the 2020 awards.

Kayla Leland, who earned her undergraduate degree in health science while competing in basketball, cross country, and indoor and outdoor track and field at Whitworth, and Xavier Gonzalez, who earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics while competing in tennis at Harvard, are this year’s recipients.

Leland is in her second year pursuing a Doctor of Pharmacy degree at Washington State. Gonzalez, a 2018 Rhodes Scholar recipient, plans to pursue a doctorate in statistics.

Established in 1988, the Walter Byers Scholarship program each year awards $24,000 grants to one male and one female recipient. The grants can be renewed for a second year. Recipients chosen by the NCAA Walter Byers Scholarship Committee are recognized as combining the best elements of mind and body to achieve national distinction for their achievements and to be future leaders in their chosen field of career service.

Kayla Leland

Kayla Leland

Before receiving the Byers Scholarship, Leland earned several athletic and academic accolades as a middle- and long-distance runner in cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field. She also played basketball her freshman year.

Leland was a three-time Division III indoor track All-American, in the 800-meter, mile and 5,000-meter runs. In outdoor track, she was the national runner-up in steeplechase in 2018 and was an All-American in both the steeplechase and the 1,500 meters. Leland added two All-America honors in cross country.

Academically, Leland graduated summa cum laude with a 3.96 GPA. She also made the Washington State College of Pharmacy dean’s list.

“Upon graduation, my short-term goal is to utilize my Spanish-speaking ability to serve as a pharmacist in underprivileged areas of the world,” Leland wrote in her application essay. “As for my long-term goals, I want to pursue cancer research. … As a future pharmacist with extensive knowledge of pharmaceuticals and various drug properties, looking for cancer developments and eventually cures is of upmost importance.”

Leland was a finalist for the 2018 NCAA Woman of the Year Award, and she plans to continue training in the steeplechase with dreams of someday competing in the event during the Summer Olympics.

Xavier Gonzalez

Xavier Gonzalez

Gonzalez began his tennis career as a walk-on at Harvard. He was voted by his teammates as the Crimson’s most improved player during the 2014-15 academic year.

Gonzalez finished his career as a four-year letter winner.

Before being named a Rhodes Scholar, Gonzalez graduated summa cum laude with a 3.97 GPA.

In 2018, Gonzalez co-authored a paper, “Moonshine for all finite groups,” in Research in Mathematical Sciences. He also presented a paper at the 16th annual Undergraduate Shakespeare Conference, titled “Unrestored Shakespeare in Restoration England,” in 2017.

“I will build on my college math major and my internships in mathematical biology to earn a Ph.D. in statistics,” Gonzalez wrote in his application essay. “To produce, in the long term, impactful research that shows why innovation in math and statistics matters for areas of public interest, such as our understanding of the genetics of diseases.”