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By Katya Hrichak
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  • Department of Communication
  • Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • Department of Entomology
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Plant Biology Section
The Graduate School Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement (OISE) and the Graduate and Professional Student Diversity Council presented the 2021 Distinguished Awards on May 26 at the Graduate Diversity and Inclusion Awards and Recognition Celebration.

This annual event recognizes the excellence represented within the graduate community and celebrates students for their accomplishments, and the awards presented at the celebration honor members of the community who have demonstrated leadership and commitment to advancing efforts around diversity, inclusion, outreach and student engagement.

Historically hosted as an in-person banquet, this year’s celebration took place online.

“We’re all eager for when we can gather again in person for celebratory events like today’s, but I’m very grateful, and I know so many others are grateful, that we can still come together in virtual community,” said Sara Xayarath Hernández, associate dean for inclusion and student engagement.

Faculty and staff were also recognized with awards for their unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion and promotion of the personal and professional development of graduate and professional students, especially those from backgrounds historically excluded from and underrepresented within the academy.

“Receiving this award means a lot to me because it is, in effect, institutional recognition for some of the work I find most meaningful and rewarding—work that often goes unrecognized,” said Neil Lewis Jr., assistant professor of communication and social behavior, of receiving a faculty champion award.

“I would not be on this side of the desk if I did not have champions when I was a student, so I am glad to now be in a position to pay it forward by supporting the next generation of students, particularly those on the margins of our institution.”

“We wanted to talk about issues specific to the field of archaeology and put our heads together on what we can do to fix them. Since then, the support we’ve gotten from our faculty, the Graduate School and our graduate community has made us really optimistic—even though the issues we are trying to tackle are really heavy and difficult, having people supporting us makes a big difference,” said Ruth Portes, a classics doctoral student and the Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies, Anti-Racism Anti-Colonialism Interest Group organizing committee member. “This award creates a renewed sense of responsibility, too. We’re looking forward to honoring it.”

2021 Award Winners:

  • Exemplary Service – Early Graduate Career Award: Taylor Brown, natural resources doctoral student; Andrea Darby, entomology doctoral candidate; and Marguerite Pacheco, biomedical engineering doctoral student
  • Exemplary Service – Advanced Graduate Career Award: Irma Fernandez, biochemistry, molecular and cell biology doctoral candidate; and Stephanie Tepper, psychology doctoral candidate
  • Excellence in Leadership Award: Casey Ching, civil and environmental engineering doctoral candidate; Kavya Krishnan, soil and crop sciences doctoral candidate; and Tibra Wheeler, biomedical engineering doctoral candidate
  • Social Justice Award: Samantha Bosco, horticulture doctoral candidate; The Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies, Anti-Racism Anti-Colonialism (ARCO) Interest Group; and Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (IDEEAS) Working Group
  • Community Outreach Award: Claire Fox, Ph.D. ’20, ecology and evolutionary biology; Kimberly Fuqua, M.P.A. ‘21; and Robert Swanda, biomedical and biological sciences doctoral candidate
  • Unsung Hero Award: Tina Nelson, city and regional planning academic programs coordinator
  • Faculty Champion – Junior Faculty Award: Amal El-Ghazaly, Ph.D., assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Neil Lewis Jr., Ph.D., assistant professor of communication and social behavior
  • Faculty Champion – Senior Faculty Award: Hector Abruña, Ph.D., Emile M. Chamot Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology; Corrie Moreau, Ph.D., Martha N. and John C. Moser Professor of Arthropod Biosystematics and Biodiversity and Director and Curator of the Cornell University Insect Collection; and Chelsea Specht, Ph.D., Barbara McClintock Professor of Plant Biology and Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Students in attendance were also recognized for achievements in the areas of academics, funding, community service and milestones and completion. Members of the Graduate and Professional Student Diversity CouncilDean’s ScholarsNextGen Professors Program participants, Graduate Student Ambassadors and Bouchet Graduate Honor Society inductees were also acknowledged.

Katya Hrichak is a communications assistant in the Graduate School.

This story first appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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