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2016 Recipients and Finalists

As part of the 2016 Student Life Awards, we’re proud to feature student leaders from across campus that were nominated and won the various leadership awards for their contributions to and leadership of the University community. These students/student groups were nominated by their peers, faculty and staff and were selected from outstanding candidate pools.

We congratulate them and all of our award nominees and thank them for their accomplishments during the past year!

A special thanks to our award sponsors: The UConn Co-Op, the Division of Athletics, the Office of Community Outreach, the Office of Public Engagement, the Office of Scholarships & Student Employment, the Vice Provost for Global Affairs, Graduate Education, SUBOG, Office of First Year Programs &Learning Communities, and the Office of Veterans Affairs and Military Services.

Donald L. McCullough Leadership Award

Recipient: Julian Rose

Julian is a member of the Rowe Scholars Program, where he has been engaged in activities and conversations around equity and diversity for the last four years. As President of ManyMentors, Julian involved the organization in STARBASE, arranging for mentors to work with elementary students on STEM-based projects to provide exposure and excitement about the field. Julian was a 2015 cohort member of UConn’s Leadership Legacy Experience and has also been an active participant in several equity issues campus-wide including the Vigil for Victims of Police Brutality, the March for Civility, Diversity, and Equity, and the Speak Out: Standing with Mizzou Rally. Julian will be participating in Teach For America after graduation.



Finalist: Quian Callender

A senior majoring in Health Care Management, Quian is an active member in UConn’s Honors Program and was recently selected to testify in support of UConn’s budget at the state legislature. He has participated in the Sexual Violence Prevention Focus Group and through that group helped name UConn’s Bystander Intervention Initiative, “Protect Our Pack.” Quian joined the Student Union Board of Governors his freshman year and now serves as their Vice President for Finance and Administration. He created a new student organization, Honors in Business Association, to support students interested in business, regardless of their major.



Finalist: Erin McMahon

As a senior involved in UConn’s Student Alumni Association, Erin has served as a general member, Vice President of Programming, OOzeball Coordinator, and currently is President of the Association. Erin has dedicated significant time in developing traditions and campus-wide school spirit, including working with the Huskies Forever Weekend, coordinating and expanding the 32nd annual OOzeball tournament, and helping develop the “81 Things to Do Before You Graduate” bucket list. Erin has also been an active member of Alpha Beta Epsilon, UConn Club Figure Skating, the Spring Weekend Committee, and the Public Health House Learning Community.



Finalist: Jovonne Pullen

Jovonne has actively served in several roles within UConn’s Women’s Center since the Fall of 2012, and she currently sits as the Center’s representative to the Vice President for Student Affairs Leadership Council. Jovonne is the co-founder of Sisters Inspiring Sisters (SIS), which provides support and resources for female students of color. She also helped reactivate UConn’s chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., and she currently serves as their President. She also is a spoken word poet active in the student organization Poetic Release, where she uses artistic expression to shed light on issues in today’s society.



Finalist: Nehan Saleem

Nehan (Maha) has worked at the Women’s Center since the Fall of 2013 where she has created activities to support the recruitment and retention of women in STEM. She joined the Persistence of Women in STEM committee and developed a mentoring program for women in STEM at UConn, including the recruitment, training, and support of all mentors and mentees. Maha was the recipient of the Ella T. Grasso Leadership in Action Award and was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame. She currently serves as a Biochemistry Teaching Assistant, a member of the Collegiate Health Service Corps, and is a recipient of UConn’s Day of Pride Scholarship.


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Individual Husky Pride Award

Recipient: Rachel Conboy

Rachel is a senior majoring in Political Science, and serves as the President of the Undergraduate Student Government. During her time as President of USG, she has advocated to create and develop a more diverse and safe campus culture through the Safe Nurses Program, testifying at the State Legislature and representing UConn at Capital Day. This year, Rachel worked with the Women’s Center on the ElectHer program to inspire more women to join USG, and for her work with USG she was named to HerCampus’ “22 Women Under 22” list. She has also worked with the Student Alumni Association in order to bring back old traditions, such as a revival of Founder’s Day and a unified bucket list for graduating seniors.



Finalist: Marissa Carbone

Marissa is a junior majoring in Communication and serves as the current Chair of the Major Weekends Committee for the Student Union Board of Governors (SUBOG). In this capacity, Marissa is responsible for putting on two of the most visible and recognizable weekends here at UConn: Homecoming and One Ton Sundae. Her work with LipSync this year included collaborations with cultural centers, Greek Life, Student Organizations, the Town of Mansfield and over 5000 attendees. Despite a snow storm, she coordinated One Ton Sundae and served a record number of attendees. Beyond SUBOG, Marissa works at the Homer Babbidge Library and is a Dancer Rep for HuskyTHON.



Finalist: Nathan Francis

Nathan is a junior who is involved in the Connecticut Reparatory Theatre on campus. Most recently, he was the dramaturg for the production of Sense and Sensibility. He has constantly pushed himself outside of his comfort zone on multiple occasions, including developing a play that he wrote. In addition to Nathan’s involvement with the Connecticut Reparatory Theatre, he is also a tour guide and desk operator at the Lodewick Visitors Center and he consistently volunteers for the Department of Dramatic Arts in their recruiting efforts.


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Individual Community Service Award

Recipient: Amaris Vazquez

Ami has worked with the Jumpstart program for the last three years and as the Community of Practice Coordinator this past year. This program serves twelve different communities engaging pre-school children and enhancing their learning of language and literacy skills. Ami currently supports the leadership development of the student leaders involved with Jumpstart. Ami also serves as a mentor in the Office of First Year Programs and Learning Communities helping first-year students transition into UConn and this year she also helped organize a writing contest for K-12 students and teachers in Connecticut.



Finalist: Sara Butter

Having been a volunteer well before she enrolled at UConn, Sara has been involved with Community Outreach for three years, serving as a student coordinator for the past two and a half. She works with Community Outreach’s Special Projects section to plan and implement large service opportunities, overseeing several student leaders. Sara hopes to continue in the medical field and will be joining the Peace Corps after graduation.




Finalist: Zane Grady

Zane has recruited incoming engineers and potential students to participate in various summer programs through the Diversity and Outreach Center. These opportunities include alternative breaks, engineering tour programs, serving on presentation teams, and other ways to explore the field of engineering. Zane has served as the head tutor of the Explore Engineering Program, overseeing 12 undergraduates who gave 150 high school students the opportunity to see engineering at a university setting. Zane has led alternative breaks through Mississippi, New Orleans, and New London and also participates in BRIDGE, an organization serving engineers from underrepresented populations.



Finalist: Shawn Henderson

Shawn has served as the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program Coordinator for the past year through his organization, Beta Alpha Psi. Through Shawn’s work as the program coordinator, he helps international students and scholars with their federal and state income tax returns. Shawn successfully recruited 39 tax preparers and 15 reviewers into this program and worked with advisors and external tax professionals to provide trainings for the volunteers.




Finalist: Lauren O’Malley

Lauren has been involved with Husky Sport, a sport-based service learning program designed to connect members of the Hartford community with UConn students. Lauren most recently created professional development opportunities for other undergraduate and graduate student participating in the program and its related courses. Lauren has helped to develop, deliver, and evaluate a professional development curriculum for 50+ UConn students and assisted in developing trainings for UConn student volunteering in Husky Sport. Lauren is also a community project coordinator for the student organization, United Against Inequities and Disease (UAID), where she teaches sexual education to students at Windham Middle School.



Finalist: Rachel Reed

As a student leader with Community Outreach for the past year and a half, Rachel has served as the Director for Stafford Teen Night – a teen center for at-risk youth. Rachel spends every Friday night at the center working with the teens and finding ways to improve the center. She also designs trainings and activities for the 14 student volunteers she supervises. Rachel is currently creating a service day for the teens in the center, and the rest of the community, to improve the conditions of the center.




Finalist: Erin Szymanski

Erin has been a student leader with community outreach for the past year working with the Big Brother Big Sister program at Windham Center School. Erin strives to provide a safe, healthy, and enjoyable mentoring environment for UConn students and the children they mentor. Erin has been described as the first one to step up and help with the program, and currently oversees 20 volunteers. Next year she will transition to the Program Director role, which oversees nine student leaders and 150 volunteers at six different sites.



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Emerging Leader Award

Recipient: Jennifer Akosa

As an incoming student, Jennifer participated in the UConn First Summer program in 2014. The following year, Jennifer was hired as a mentor for the First Summer program, taking on many responsibilities as a rising sophomore. She is a member of the Pharmacy Club, Alpha Epsilon Phi National Sorority and its HIV/AIDS committee. Jennifer also helped create the Multicultural Honors Collective, which supports students in building a sense of community and is a venue to celebrate cultures, and demonstrate pride in heritage.




Finalist: Matthew Lin

Matthew, a sophomore STEM Scholar in the Honors Program, currently serves as the first Executive Director of the STEM Scholar Executive Board. This student group works to support the STEM Scholar Community through a mentor program, study groups for scholars in similar classes, and a partnership with East Hartford Public Schools. Matthew also has supported the University’s Day of Pride and Nutmeg Scholars program through his work to plan events, attend meetings, and bring together both current and prospective students. His efforts have resulted in increased scholarship acceptances. Finally, Matthew also traveled to Guatemala over winter break to do medical humanitarian service.



Finalist: Rachel Sanacora

Rachel is currently working towards an Individualized Major in Global Health in the hopes of providing medical care to underserved communities throughout the world. She is a STEM Scholar in the Honors Program, and participated in UConn’s Premedical Society’s Alternative Break to the Dominican Republic as one of two freshman participants. She later was selected to be a trip director for the group. Rachel, who interned at a lab at Yale University, is a peer mentor for the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program and the Peer Allies Through Honors program, and was recently selected into UConn’s Making More Health program.



Finalist: Aziz Sandhu

Aziz is a first-year student and a member of the Public Health Learning Community, UConn Empower, the Medical Humanitarian Society, Husky Ambassadors, and Community Outreach. Aziz was selected as one of two freshmen to participate in an Alternative Break trip to Birmingham, Alabama where the focus was Civil Rights and Urban Poverty. Aziz hopes to continue working with Community Outreach’s Alternative Breaks program, as well as become a First Year Experience mentor for her living and learning community. She serves as an informal leader on her floor, and was a finalist for the Public House Learning Community Resident Assistant position.


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Edward Victor Gant Scholarship

Recipient (Graduate): Jesse Mala

After serving in the United States Armed Forces, Jesse returned inspired to pursue his education and is now working towards his Ph.D in Sport Management within the Learning, Leadership and Educational Policy Program. His commitment to helping intercity youth through sport is evidenced by his service through Husky Sport, as well as his research on sport and school connectedness. Jesse has developed a working framework to create and implement an intervention for middle school boys around sport and the life skills of Grit and Leadership.




Finalist (Graduate): Shang Lin (Tommy) Lee

A second year Ph.D student in the Department of Psychological Sciences, Tommy has maintained a commitment to the university through teaching and mentoring students both on and off-campus. He supervises 18 honors students through Dr. Etan Markus’ lab, works with the AsACC KUBE mentoring program, and facilitates the UConn First Summer program, where incoming students can come to campus early to take classes and get acclimated to the campus. In addition to his service, his interdisciplinary research with Dr. Markus integrates animal behavior, neuropharmacology, electrophysiology, and computational neuroscience to uncover mechanisms underlying learning and memory in the brain’s hippocampus.




Recipient (Undergraduate): Brock Chimileski

As a junior double major in Physiology and Neurobiology and Molecular and Cellular Biology, Brock oversees the volunteers of the Community Outreach Generations Family Health Care program and has increased the number of volunteers while in this position. He has shown commitment and excellence to research in the field of neuroscience with his professor and at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Emergency room. He is in the Honors Program, a University Scholar, IDEA grant recipient, and SURF award recipient, able to balance his workload in the lab as well as his commitment to service, including his participation as a Peer Research Ambassador.



Finalist (Undergraduate): Samantha Lawrence

A third year student working towards a double major in Psychology and Human Development and Family Studies in the Honors Program, Samantha is actively involved in the Office of Undergraduate Research Ambassador program and the Peer Pals program on the UConn Hartford campus, helping first-year students with their transition. Her research is on the relationship between eating and anxiety disorders and victimization in adolescence and exclusionary victimization and she been selected as a SHARE award recipient, SURF award recipient, and a Babbidge Scholar.




Finalist (Undergraduate): Marissa Piccolo

As a Babbidge, University and Holster Scholar, Marissa has shown great dedication to local, state and federal politics from her involvement as President of the UConn College Democrats and co-founder of UConn for Hillary to her work with various Democratic Town Committees. She has studied abroad in London and is currently working on her University Scholars project, which looks at female participation in politics. She is in the Honors Program, a participant in the Leadership Legacy experience, and a research assistant for the Roper Center for Public Opinion research.




Finalist (Undergraduate): Kavisha Thakkar

Pursuing a dual-degree in Physiology and Neurobiology and Accounting, Kavisha is passionate about healthcare and serving others. She is a Resident Assistant, Asiantation Mentoring Program mentor, Discovery Leadership Program participant, serves on the Rowe and STEM Scholars executive boards, and volunteers at Southeast COPE, which teaches coping skills to children. Her research is through the School of Nursing where she studies the differences in brain development of incarcerated individuals and the effect that race has on treatment of inmates in prison settings.


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Andrea Dennis LaVigne Scholarship for Advancing Diversity

Recipient: Victoria Ho

Victoria, a senior, is a member of the Resident Assistant Social Justice Educators. In this role she actively engages her residents and the wider UConn community in conversations and programs on a variety of social justice topics. Victoria pushes herself, and those she surrounds, to recognize the voice they have on campus and the ability they have to make an impact on their community through outreach, programming, and education.




Finalist: Micheca Fevrius

Micheca, an Honors student, is a sophomore majoring in International Business and Chinese. She is the inaugural President of the Multicultural Honors Collective, an organization that seeks to celebrate, empower, and unify members of underrepresented backgrounds in the Honors program. In her role, Micheca works to create a more complete, welcoming, and diverse student community both in the Honors program and at UConn as a whole.


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Building Community Award

Recipient: Nehan Saleem

Nehan (Maha) has worked at the Women’s Center since fall of 2013 where she has created activities to support the recruitment and retention of women in STEM. She joined the Persistence of Women in STEM committee and developed a mentoring program for women in STEM at UConn, including the recruitment, training, and support of all mentors and mentees. Maha was the recipient of the Ella T. Grasso Leadership in Action Award and was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame. She currently serves as a Biochemistry Teaching Assistant, a member of the Collegiate Health Service Corps, and is a recipient of UConn’s Day of Pride Scholarship.


Husky Pride Award

Recipient: Nutmeg Publishing

Nutmeg Publishing has been responsible for the development of UConn’s student yearbook since 1915. The organization has undergone significant changes and developments over the past few years, transitioning the organization from Nutmeg Yearbook to Nutmeg Publishing. In this restructuring, Nutmeg continues to publish a high quality yearbook and now also publishes a quarterly digital magazine that targets issues of importance to current UConn students. The aim of this restructuring was to address financial challenges as well as increase awareness from non-seniors, meeting both challenges with creativity, determination and forward-thinking.

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Program of the Year Award

Recipient: METAS

METAS seeks to create smoother transitions for predominantly first year Latinx students at the University. The organization has been active on campus this last year through workshops, trainings, socials and informational sessions. Noteworthy activities include a resume critique workshop, a weekend retreat that provided deeper connections within cohorts, a sexually transmitted infection workshop and a visit to Journey House in Natchaug to volunteer with adolescent females in the court system. Frequent programming sponsored by METAS includes Spanish Hour and Café Con Leche. METAS strives to develop a holistic approach to building student leaders, encouraging them to take initiative and promotes a healthy lifestyle to achieve academic success.

First Year Excellence in Innovation Award

Recipient: Britney Reynolds

Britney is a first year student at UConn, double majoring in Management Information Systems and Psychology. She is currently a member of Innovation House and will hold a student leadership role in the community next year. During the past year, Britney worked with a team to develop an app that will encrypt the data stored on our phones, so that when it is retrieved and accessed by other apps, no meaningful data is given out, protecting our security. In addition to her work in Innovation House, Britney is also a Murray Freedman Memorial Scholar and a Connecticut Information Technology Scholar.



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Organization Community Service Award

Recipient: Husky Sport

With University students on the frontline, Husky Sport recruits and empowers passionate, driven and relationship-oriented lifelong-learners who support the vision of Husky Sport, which is rooted in the framework of Sport Based Youth Development (SBYD) and focused on developing right, meaningful and reciprocal relationships through the pillars of nutrition education, physical activity, life skill development, and academic enrichment. Committed to the Hartford North End community for 13 years, Husky Sport offers four school day programs, collaborates with five after school partners, and supports 250 students and 25 teachers six days a week with the assistance of fourteen seven-passenger vans of student-staff and volunteers.

Matthew B. Schechter Scholarship

Recipient: Josephine Ankrah

Josephine is a Human Development and Family Studies Major on a health careers path. She embraces the ideals of respect for the amazing diversity of humanity and believes that in order to appreciate the human experience we must cultivate a sincere respect for our fellow man. She has served as a UNESCO Student Ambassador for two years and has found the experience to be transformative. She has also taken the initiative to participate in two Alternative Break
trips: working with the homeless in Boston and a 10-day journey to the Dominican Republic to directly involve herself with rural medical clinics with UConn’s Pre-Med Society. She has demonstrated how to take what she learned in class and applied it through public service and hopes to one day be a part of the UN providing medical care for international communities.

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Sprier/Dueker Student Humanitarian Achievement Award

Recipient: Eric Cruz-Lopez

As an active leader for the C4D (CT Students for a Dream) organization, Eric spends countless hours working to advocate for the rights of undocumented students. He works to organize allies, plan and execute events, and campaign for change at the institutional and state levels, providing access and support for undocumented students in Connecticut. Most recently, Eric worked with administrators at UConn to offer training in support of students’ access and assistance during their time at UConn. Eric also works weekly with a local school system to help plan lessons, support students, and develop a program that promotes public service and action. He seeks out opportunities to contribute to his community and to teach others the importance of finding their voice and using it to promote positive change.

Student Organization Advocacy Award

Recipient: USG- Undergraduate Student Government

Over the past year, the Undergraduate Student Government has worked on three big issues: increasing access to resources regarding sexual violence, collaborating with groups to promote diversity and inclusiveness on campus, and brining student voices to the forefront on issues affecting students. USG partnered with state senators and representatives, the Women’s Center, and the Office of Diversity and Equity to help develop a SAFE Nurse program and testify on behalf of SAFE Nurses legislation. USG created a flow chart with ODE to help students navigate the complicated legal process of reporting. The External Affairs committee of USG has partnered with Students for a Dream to write legislation which would grant access to financial aid for undocumented students. Lastly, USG is working to get the UConn student voice out far beyond the boundaries of Storrs by advocating for another undergraduate student on the Board of Trustees and working with regional campuses to advocate across the state.

Student Employee Supervisor Award

Recipient: Jennifer Murphy

Jennifer, a staff member in the Learning Community Office demonstrated encouragement, dedication and leadership qualities in her role as a supervisor of student employees. Jennifer is responsible for training and managing the student employee workflow to ensure that the tasks of other staff members is balanced and allows her students to be self-starters and more efficient.



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Outstanding Graduate/Teaching Assistant Award

Recipient: Erin Jouliot

A second year in the Higher Education and Student Affairs Masters program, Erin has made a lasting impact on the Careers for the Common Good program, increasing employer registration and student attendance. Additionally, she founded the Grad Student Net-impact chapter, was selected to present at the UNESCO conference on Human Rights in South Africa and at the Ashoka U Exchange, focused on bringing social entrepreneurship opportunities into higher education. Her commitment to social entrepreneurship and helping develop undergraduate and graduate students across campus is evidenced in all of her work, including her ‘Inclusionary Practice’ professional development series for the Center for Career Development.


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Learning Community Leadership Award

Recipient: Aaron Plotke

Aaron has been a member and a student leader in the Learning Community Program over the last four years. He was a member of Business Connections House for two years and served as vice president on the BCLC council in his sophomore year. Over the last two years Aaron has assisted with the development the Learning Community Executive Council in collaboration with the Office of First Year Programs & Learning Communities. He currently serves as President of the Learning Community Executive Council and has been integral in the development of many new events and initiatives such as Learning Community Spirit Week and Learning Community Research Connections.


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Martha and Albert Cohen Scholarship for Enhancing Community

Recipient: Not Awarded

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Willis N. Hawley Service and Leadership Award

Recipient: Michael Castillo

Michael is a Veteran of the CT Army National Guard, and deployed to Iraq in 2003. Michael is currently in UConn’s MBA program with a concentration in Finance and Management. In addition to his work, school, and family commitments, Michael is honored to serve as the Secretary and Treasurer of a non-profit organization called the Veterans Advocacy Center. Their mission is to provide veterans with the skills and therapy they need to better their lives.




Recipient: Garrett Taylor

Garrett is a Veteran of the U.S. Army, with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He previously completed a degree in Finance at UConn and he has returned to pursue a second degree in Mechanical Engineering. In addition to his studies, Garrett volunteers his time as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for UConn’s Veteran Student Organization (VSO) for which he’s been an integral part of organizing a weekly social for veterans and a BBQ at the start of the year. Garrett also serves other student veterans through his VA Work Study job in the main office of Veterans Affairs & Military programs on-campus.


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International Student Leadership Award

Recipient: Juefang (Cassie) Zhang

As an international student from China, Cassie has gotten involved in numerous arenas that aim to integrate international students and their experiences into the UConn campus community. Cassie has been a First Year Experience mentor, an International Orientation Advisor, an active member of the Business Connections Learning Community, and was named the Asiantation Mentoring Program’s “Mentee of the Year” before becoming a mentor herself this year. Additionally, Cassie established a group chat for all international students living in the Alumni Residential Area in an effort to provide support, communication, and guidance on the UConn campus.


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Student Employee of the Year Award

Recipient: Brian Greco

Brian has been a student employee on campus since August 2013. His current role is as a Supplemental Instructor at the Academic Achievement Center. As a SI instructor for Chemistry, Brian dedicates his free time preparing lesson plans and other resources. Additionally he meets with fellow classmates during “office hours” to be sure that students are mastering the material. After graduation Brian plans to attend Dental School.



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Sincere thanks are extended to Krista O’Brien, Shari Latif and Anna Milot for their hard work in organizing and coordinating the 2016 Student Life Awards Program.

Additional thanks to the members of our Student Life Awards Selection Committees for their support of student leadership on campus:

Thomas Krumel Jr. · Angela Rola · Claudia Arias-Cirinna · Dan Doerr · Kyle Neary · Jessica Glynn · Miguel Colón · Steve Drasdis· Eileen Stone · Andrea Dennis-LaVigne · Chelsea Cichocki · Michelle Scali · Joe Briody · Kaitlin Heenehan · Nikki Cole · Shari Latif · Krista O’Brien · Dana Wilder · Kris Perry · Rob Passmore · Emily Pearson · Glenn Mitoma · Terrence Abney · Alexis Parrill · Kim Duby · Jamel Catoe · Andrea Dennis LaVigne · Ashely Vrabely · Kristen Carr · Kim Duby · David Ouimette · Cindy Garrison · Jennifer Murphy · Eric Sirois · Gina DeVivo Brassaw · Carol Polifroni