2019 Recipients and Finalists

As part of the 2019 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 Office of Community Outreach, the Dean of Students Office, the Office of Student Financial Services, the Vice President for Global Affairs, Graduate Education, SUBOG, Office of First Year Programs & Learning Communities, the Office of Veterans Affairs and Military Services, and the Werth Institute. 

Sincere thanks are extended to Amanda Foxen, Anna Milot, and Alfredo Ramirez for their hard work in organizing and coordinating the 2019 Student Life Awards Program.


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

Trisha-Ann Hawthorne · Dan Doerr · Morgan Coleman · Jessica Gramajo · Miguel Colón · Steve Drasdis· Lindsey Materson · Andrea Dennis-LaVigne · Joe Briody · Kaitlin Heenehan · Lauren Berberich · Taylor Stiller· Kayla Brown · Terrence Abney · Alfredo Ramirez · Ashely Vrabely · Kristen Carr · Jennifer Morenus · Kathy Fischer · Kathryn Libal · Sasha Richardson ·  Gabrielle Erestain · Melissa Foreman

Andrea Dennis LaVigne Scholarship for Advancing Diversity

Recipient: Batouly Camara

Batouly Camara is a Sport Management student and women’s basketball player who believes in the power of dialogue to foster an inclusive campus. Batouly serves as the President of Collective Uplift, collaborates with the Muslim Student Association and Asian American Cultural Center and volunteers for Husky Sport. Batouly is also the founder of a non-profit in Guinea, West Africa, for girls ages 6 to 16, which facilitates and organizes sport-based youth development programs..



Recipient: Imani Morgan

Imani is a Biological Sciences major and has worked to get involved with organizations that promote cultural diversity and create sustainable relationships throughout the community.  Imani currently serves as the President of Hearts Over Latin America and is the Event Co-Coordinator in the UConn Afro-Latinx organization. As the President of Hearts Over Latin America, Imani aims to educate people on becoming more culturally competent and discuss what is happening in Latin America not only with the members of her organization but also throughout campus.



Finalist: Avolyn Nieves

Imani is a Biological Sciences major and has worked to get involved with organizations that promote cultural diversity and create sustainable relationships throughout the community.  Imani currently serves as the President of Hearts Over Latin America and is the Event Co-Coordinator in the UConn Afro-Latinx organization. As the President of Hearts Over Latin America, Imani aims to educate people on becoming more culturally competent and discuss what is happening in Latin America not only with the members of her organization but also throughout campus.


Building Community Award

Recipient: Nathan Schacter

Nathan is a senior majoring in Communications and serves as the Vice President for Marketing of the Hillel Student Board. Since his first semester, he has contributed to building community among Jewish and non-Jewish students alike around campus. He has rebranded the organization with a new website and built relationships with students and departments around UConn. He also created initiatives such as a semesterly Shabbat with the Rainbow Center and the development of two gender-inclusive bathrooms at the Hillel building.



Finalist: Kelli Bates

Kelli is a senior majoring in Sports Management and is the Vice President of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. She also serves as a committee member of Special Olympics Connecticut and as a three-year captain of her Division I softball team. Kelli is part of conference-wide initiative to create more awareness about the value of mental health for student-athletes, and has contributed to the production of a UConn Athletics mental health awareness video that was shared across campus.




Finalist: Emily Fountain

Emily is a senior majoring in Exercise Science and has worked to create a community for transfer students at UConn. She spends her time engaging in dialogue with other transfer students, learning procedures and protocols on best ways to lead a student organization, and thinking up new ways to support transfer students. She has volunteered for multiple semesters to be serve as a transfer student representative at events such as UConn Open Houses and Resource Fairs. As President of the Transfer Student Association and Tau Sigma, Emma meets weekly with her fellow e-board members to create a positive environment for other transfer students.



Finalist: Qimei Liu

Qimei is a junior majoring in Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies and has worked as an Asiantation Mentoring Program (AMP) coordinator to expand the program to be more inclusive to international students. She has co-facilitated more than 20 workshops and social events working with AMP mentor groups to promote connectedness on campus. She co-founded the student organization, Queer, Asians, and Allies, to provide a safe space for the Asian and Asian American LGBTQ+ community.

Donald L. McCullough Leadership Award

Recipient: Wawa Gatheru

Wawa, an Environmental Studies major, considers herself an environmentalist and has actively engaged in grassroots efforts on campus to ultimately pass an initiative to add an environmental literacy requirement into the general education requirements. She has also interned at the Office of Environmental Policy, served as the student services chairwoman of the Undergraduate Student Government, and served as an FYE mentor and a volunteer for the SOS Food Recovery and the Cross Cultural Connections organizations.




Finalist: Batouly Camara

Batouly, a Sport Management major, is in her third year as a member of the women’s basketball team. She serves as President of Collective Uplift and as an active member of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and the Muslim Student Association (MSA). Batouly started her own nonprofit called Women and Kids Empowerment (WAKE), which focuses on empowering and educating young girls and women between the ages of 7 and 22 in their native country of Guinea through sport. She has used her experience with sports as a vehicle to open conversations regarding race, gender, and class in relations to the world we live in today.



Finalist: Derek Pan

A molecular cell biology major, Derek serves as the Chair of the USG Student Services Committee. In this role, he has steered USG's efforts towards advocating for the wellness of the student body, with a focus on Mental Health. He led an initiative to provide free Mental Health First Aid Certifications to the student body, and is currently working with the UConn Fire Department Chief to train his first responders in mental health first aid in order to give them skills to respond to wellness checks - one of the most frequent type of calls they respond to at UConn.




Finalist: Justin Pedneault

Justin, a senior Nursing major, serves as President for UConn Rescue which works to provide CPR classes to the UConn community and has been a part of an initiative that has trained over 1,000 individuals in the last 2.5 years. Justin was also a leader of a multi-department group that has placed Automatic External Defibrillators (AED's) and Stop the Bleed kits throughout all of the academic buildings at UConn, resulting in the entire University becoming the first HEARTSafe Campus in Connecticut.

Edward Victor Gant Scholarship

Graduate Recipient: Anastasiia Minenkova

Anastatsiia is a PhD student in Mathematics and serves on research projects for UConn Health’s Center for Quantitative Medicine and the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine. She focuses on creating iron-oncogene interactions in cancer cells, such as melanoma. Anastasiia has given Math Club talks, mentored an undergraduate in the Directed Reading Program, and has taught for UConn SSS Summer Program. In addition, Anastasiia is the president of the American Mathematical Society Chapter (AMS), has published mathematical papers in applied analysis, given multiple research presentations, and participated in several conferences.



Graduate Finalist: Kiera Dalmass

Kiera is a graduate student in Statistics and is a member of the women’s lacrosse team. She is also the President of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), where she oversees 46 members and 7 executive board members. She is a representative for her peers and speaks on panels, in all-staff meetings, and on other platforms as a primary voice for student-athletes on campus. She is currently a part-time statistician for a defense company in the Philadelphia Navy Yard for the United States Navy.




Graduate Finalist: Anna Ziering

Anna is a PhD student in English and serves as a Teaching Assistant for Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS). Her first peer-reviewed article was published in the Journal of Multi-Ethnic Literature, and Anna has received the AETNA Graduate Writing Prize for best graduate student essay, an AETNA Graduate Research and Travel Award, and first prize in the Wallace Stevens Poetry Prize. In addition, Anna is the President of the English Graduate Student Association, serves on the UConn Reads Committee, and serves on the University’s Diversity Council.




Undergraduate Recipient: Mitali Banerjee

Mitali, a senior majoring in Physiology & Neurobiology and Molecular & Cell Biology, serves as a STEM Scholar in the Honors Program and a floor mentor for the Honors to Opportunities (H2O) Learning Community. Mitali is also involved with research at UConn Health and teaches UConn Rescue emergency medical service courses where she shares critical life-saving knowledge. In addition, she exemplifies her professionalism through her leadership in Peer Allies Through Honors (PATH) by pairing Honors students with mentors.




Undergraduate Recipient: Timothy Mason

Timothy is a senior majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology and serves as the Undergraduate Coordinator for the Peer Mentoring Program in the biology department. Timothy was accepted into the McNair Fellows Program and currently researches dysenteric chromosome formation in drosophila. He also held a research position at the UConn Health Center and was awarded the Cato T. Laurencin Travel Fellowship Award. In addition, Timothy attended the Society for Biomaterials National Conference and met with professionals and leaders in the fields of medicine and biomaterials.



Undergraduate Finalist: Alexis Bazydol

Alexis, a junior majoring in Sports Management, plays a large role in the First Year Programs office, serving as a mentor and as a Teaching Assistant for EPSY 3080. Alexis is the Associate Vice President of UConn Sports Business Association and has also been an administrative assistant for the Men’s Hockey Team since her freshman year. In addition, she held a position as an operations intern in the front office for the Nashville Predators, a National Hockey League team. Alexis’ long-term goal is to become the first female General Manager in the National Hockey League.



Undergraduate Finalist: Odia Kane

Odia is a senior majoring in Cognitive Science and Political Science and serves as a New Haven Promise Campus Ambassador. In her role as ambassador, Odia helps first-year students get acclimated to college, and she is a representative for minority and first-generation college students at UConn. She has conducted research with the Writing Center, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and the Nunnally lab in political science. In addition, Odia has been Vice President of Sisters Inspiring Sisters, as well as Secretary and President of the African Students’ Association.




Undergraduate Finalist: Abigail LaFontan

Abigail is a senior majoring in Political Science and is an active participant in University organizations such as UConn Mock Trial Society and the Special Program in Law. She has been both a facilitator and an elected representative of her class while also serving as the Captain of the B Team and SecretaryAbigail is the recipient of an IDEA award, was selected as an UConn BOLD Women’s Leadership Scholar, and plans to dedicate her BOLD service project to lobby for improved school food policy in Connecticut and Washington D.C.



Emerging Leader Award

Recipient: Erdit Abendini

Erdit is a sophomore Exploratory major and has been awarded a grant to start up a soccer club for underprivileged students in Hartford. After extensive planning and recruiting on his part, the camp launched in the summer of 2018 with 35 players registered. Erdit ran the camp with several volunteer assistant coaches, using the grant funds to purchase equipment and uniforms, and for transportation to and from the High School Summer League at Farmington Sports Arena, where the team played.




Finalist: Emily Burke

Emily Burke is a sophomore majoring in Youth Development and Wellness. She serves in a variety of roles on campus such as a Bodywise Instructor at the UConn Recreation Center and as an active member of Husky Nutrition. She is also an active member in UConn's Jumpstart Program as an AmeriCorps member in which she works with UConn students at preschools in low-income neighborhoods to help the students build up their literacy skills in preparation for Kindergarten.




Finalist: Alexandra (Sasha) Goldblatt

Sasha (Alexandra) is a first-year student majoring in Political Science and Communications. She is a member of the UConn Consulting Group (UCG), a student-run strategy consulting group on campus that works with companies to solve their business problems. Sasha expressed concerns about the inclusiveness of the organization and met with the Talent Director for improvement, and created a list of new interview questions along with a rubric for scoring answers for the next stage of recruiting. She has strived to make changes to the organization to promote the recruitment and retention of future women and people of color.

First Year Excellence in Innovation Award

Recipient: Michael Aisevbonaye

Michael is a first-year student majoring in Mechanical Engineering and is a member of the ScHOLA2RS House Learning Community. He co-founded and is Vice President of the UConn Maker Club, an organization focused on utilizing the Werth Tower Innovation Zone to design and construct different devices that the members vote on. Additional involvement includes Publications Chair of the National Society of Black Engineers and the Major Weekends Committee and Outreach Committee of SUBOG. His goal is to be seen as a source of inspiration to people from underrepresented communities who are skeptical to enter a STEM field.

Organization Husky Pride Award

Recipient: Student Union Board of Governors (SUBOG)

The Student Union Board of Governors (SUBOG) is the largest programming board on campus and prides itself on serving all huskies while supporting the social, recreational, cultural and educational environment here on campus. SUBOG has created community through events such as Homecoming Week, the UCONNIC Music Festival, and comedy shows. SUBOG hosts events that celebrate students, and they create an atmosphere where students feel represented, appreciated and heard. By hosting these events and creating this atmosphere, the public is able to see the pride of being a Husky.

Individual Community Service Award

Recipient: Grace Burns

Grace Burns, a first-year student in the Honors Learning Community, has worked with organizations that support financially struggling populations in local communities, such as the Windham Area Interfaith Ministry and the No Freeze Hospitality Project. Grace has worked with the United Way of Northeastern and Central Connecticut and hopes to start a "United Way" club at UConn. As a news writer for The Daily Campus newspaper, Grace hopes to bring awareness to various issues including public policy developments for socioeconomically discriminated populations.




Recipient: Peter Garmon

Peter is a senior psychology major and has contributed to increasing literacy skills for students at Sweeney, Verplanck, and Waddell elementary schools. As an aspiring school counselor, Peter has co-facilitated and volunteered at service events for middle school students in East Hartford. Peter is also active in additional service work such as organizing a shoe drive at UConn to deliver lightly worn shoes to local communities in need and collecting over 60 pounds of toiletries to distribute sanitation kits to the Mansfield homeless shelter.

Individual Husky Pride Award

Recipient: Ming-Yeah Hu

Ming-Yeah is a Molecular and Cell Biology and Allied Health Sciences major and serves as a student leader in a variety of roles. As a student leader for the SOS Food Recovery Program, cheerleader, student ambassador, and Honors Learning Community Floor Mentor, she is continually working to create a community that shows its pride for UConn at the University and in the greater community. She is known for her commitment to leadership, maturity, and energy that she contributes to the programs in which she is active.

International Student Leadership Award

Recipient: Thomas Briggs

Thomas is a graduate student studying political science and has served on the Graduate Student Senate. Additionally, he has advocated for better transportation to and from campus, brought attention to visa fees, and sat on a variety of committees where he served as a voice and advocate for international students at UConn. Thomas has served on university committees including the Senate Student Welfare, the President’s Working Group on Immigration Changes, and the Senate Scholastic Standards committees. Thomas serves as the Associate Director of the Humanities Learning Community where he works to improve the college experience of international students.

Learning Community Leadership Award

Recipient: Rebecca Feldman

Rebecca is a sophomore majoring in Civil Engineering and serves as an Engineering House Floor Mentor and Learning Community Executive Council Vice President. As Floor Mentor, she works with the Engineering House Leadership team to act as a role model to the first-year students in an effort to ease and support their transition to UConn while creating an overall comfortable safe space for the residential floor. Additionally, Rebecca has developed an evaluation process for programs in the learning community and remains committed to continuing her involvement and growth while giving back to the learning community.

Matthew B. Schechter Scholarship

Recipient: Daasebre Asante

Daasebre is a Political Science and Law and Society major. He is the founder of the National Black Law Student Association at UConn and founded this group in an effort to articulate the educational, professional, political and social needs of minority pre-law students and to promote direct representation of African Americans in the legal field.  Through his role, Daasebre works with students from various backgrounds and has organized events focused on social and legal issues facing the African American community and has brought Black legal professionals to speak to students interested in pursuing law. 

Outstanding Graduate/Teaching Assistant Award

Recipient: Semin Park

Semin is a Ph.D. student in Business Administration and Management and conducts an independent study where she teaches undergraduate students how to perform applied academic research in real-world settings, use text analysis, and learn the basics of social network analysis. Additionally, Semin teaches multiple sections of a junior-level management class, runs three interdisciplinary research teams, and mentors students in the Management Department. She has also served in a reverse mentoring role for a new management faculty member, working closely with them on syllabus development, ways to structure the courses, and strategies to assess students.

Program of the Year Award

Recipient: HuskyTHON

HuskyTHON is a student organization that plans an annual event by the same name in which students fundraise to support Connecticut Children's Medical Center (CCMC). To participate in HuskyTHON, students form teams with their friends or within a student organization, academic department, or other unifying entity. Teams work to raise funds and develop team spirit. Through this organization and program, members of the community have had the opportunity to engage in giving back and helping others. The members of the community involved with the HuskyTHON program raised over $1.3 million at this year’s event.

Protect Our Pack Award

Recipient: Jordan Theroux

Jordan is a first-year student majoring in Allied Health Sciences and believes being a part of the UConn community means looking out for others. She believes in the importance of exemplifying and utilizing the bystander intervention concept of Protect Our Pack. This past fall Jordan utilized the bystander intervention model through her work with the SUBOG fall concert, where she played a role on the concert committee. As a first year student, Jordan has been able to display her leadership while serving her peers on campus.

Organization Community Service Award

Recipient: Brothers Reaching Our Society

Brothers Reaching Our Society is a cultural organization within UConn’s African American Cultural Center that has dedicated its time to cultivating a community of aspiring young men in the community. Members in the organization have created an event, A Day with the Bros (ADWB), which exposes students of O’Brien Elementary School in East Hartford, predominantly attended by young black boys and girls, to collegiate African-American males providing earnest mentorship to push their academic ambitions. This organization has also developed a leadership development program at East Hartford Middle School with a goal to provide EHMS students with a support system consisting of young leaders in higher education.

Spirer/Dueker Student Humanitarian Achievement Award

Recipient: Xavier Arriaga

Xavier is a senior Economics major and serves as a Trip Director for a Detroit Alternative Break trip that focuses on Urban Education, Development, and Civic Engagement. In addition, Xavier was a mentor with the Dean of Student Office and has been involved the Swift Factory neighborhood revitalization project with Community Solutions, and the Hartford Urban League. Xavier currently works with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and has analyzed data related to Child Fatalities and Arrest Reports to inform future research and funding efforts that will support policy change.

Student Employee of the Year Award

Recipient: Jessica Gagnon

Jessica is a senior Psychology major and is in the Honor’s program. She has been a student employee with the Honors Program as a student instructional specialist for a few years and has made her impact on her peers as well as the full time employees in the office. She exhibits empathetic listening skills during stressful and difficult conversations with her peers and is knowledgeable in the various resources available to guide students towards additional support. She is committed to her team, but more importantly, she is committed to the success of each first year honor’s student.

Student Employee Supervisor of the Year Award

Recipient: Stephanie Parker

Stephanie is a Program Assistant in the Dean of Students Office. She is dedicated, welcoming, and creates a comfortable work environment not only for the student employees, but also for the students and families that come to the office. As a supervisor, one of her main responsibilities is training the student, front line staff to be sensitive, knowledgeable and confident with varies tasks. Stephanie is known by her students as pushing them to make them better and by always being there as a professional and personal resource.

Student Leader of Character Award

Recipient: Kurt Daigle

Kurt is a senior majoring in Human Development & Family Studies and serves as a residential floor mentor for the Leadership Learning Community. Through his service as a mentor, Kurt has promoted memorable residential experiences and meaningful programs. He has also been actively involved with the Academic Achievement Center and UConn Connects. In his work he advocates for fellow students to become active, invested, and contributing members of the UConn community.




Finalist: Kaitlyn Luft

Kaitlyn is a Global Health Promotion major was has been actively involved on campus. She recently served as a primary trip leader for the 2019 Costa Rica alternative break. She also serves as a ‘Big’ in Big Brothers Big Sisters, has been involved in Honors UNIV Courses, and has led campus discussions on the use of inclusive language. Kaitlyn aspires to create an environment where everyone present is a “co-educator,” teaching and challenging each other and striving to value every person’s experiences and perspectives.




Finalist: Shilpa Rajbahak

A senior majoring in Psychology, Shilpa has spent the last two years involved with the Jumpstart Americorps program through UConn’s Community Outreach office and currently serves as a Team Leader in this role. She has also been involved on campus with multiple alternative break trips and with the Asian American Cultural Center. Shilpa strives to lead with both kindness and respect, and recognizes the need for leaders to be able to follow as well.

Student Organization Advisor Award

Recipient: Eric Bouchard

Eric serves as the primary staff advisor to two of UConn's largest student organizations, SUBOG and HuskyTHON. He has made it his goal to assist his students in creating goals for themselves and holding them accountable to following through with those goals. Eric has made it a part of his advising philosophy to serve his students and work collaboratively with them to make their aspirations come to fruition. Eric is known by his students to be a constant source of support, one who creates a welcoming environment, and someone who inspires and brings out the best in all students he works with.

Willis N. Hawley Service and Leadership Award

Recipient: Emily Lugo

Emily is a senior Human Development and Family Studies major who served in the Marine Corps for four years as a maintenance data analyst from 2012 to 2016. Emily has worked in Student Support Services where she has had the opportunity to work directly with veterans and military-affiliated students. She has overseen the establishment of the veteran oasis lounge, which makes certain that the veterans of UConn’s campus have a place to gather and support one-another. Emily has made it her mission to making UConn a more veteran-friendly campus.