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21 Students Honored with Tufts Presidential Award for Civic Life

The Presidential Award for Civic Life is the highest recognition for service, leadership, and civic engagement conferred by Tufts University. Each year, Tisch College is proud to help select and celebrate outstanding students who combined academic achievment with a profound impact on communities near and far, helping address some of the biggest problems in our society.

In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are compelled to celebrate these remarkable young leaders a little differently. Their commitment to a wide array of civic involvement reminds us how much we need the passion, innovation, and civic commitment of Tufts students now more than ever. The 21 students to whom we present this prestigious honor make us proud and optimistic about the future even in these difficult times.

Check out a special video celebration of our award winners and read more about them below!

Undergraduate Students

Sylvester Bracey, A20

Sylvester BraceySylvester has been a force for change on campus, working with a variety of organizations across Tufts to create a more equitable, inclusive, and democratic campus. As chair of the Africana Center’s Africana Advisory Alliance (AAA) and the TCU Senate’s Africana Community Representative, he has worked to institute policy changes to address the needs and concerns of the Africana community on campus. Sylvester’s peers clearly look to him for leadership on civic issues: he was voted an executive board member of the Black Student Union and he was selected to serve as the first black Vice President of the TCU Senate. He is also a trusted mentor both on and off campus, serving as a Queer Men’s Group Facilitator at Tufts, supporting local high school students who face educational inequities, and creating activities for middle and high school students at the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University. 

Maureen Kamanu, A20

Maureen KamanuFor the past three years, Maureen has served as a STEM Ambassador through Tufts’ Center for Stem Diversity, where she works with underserved high school students in Medford, Somerville and Chinatown to inspire interest in stem subjects through hands-on presentations and activities. Maureen also worked with the Somerville Homeless Coalition providing essential resources and services and helping the homeless fill out Section 8 housing documents. Maureen has also been a leader on campus in promoting and supporting diversity. For two years, she worked with the African Students Association to plan cultural events to build community among members and ensure a smooth transition to Tufts. Maureen also promoted diversity through thoughtful programming and speaker selection as a leader of the Minority Association of Pre-Med Students. 

Harry Kong, A20

Harry KongA TCU Senator since his freshman year, Harry spearheaded a wide range of projects to benefit the Tufts community, including advocating for the creation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day and leading a team of eight to enhance student life. Harry has also been a dedicated member of Tufts Student Giving for two years, eventually becoming the organization’s President. His leadership helped increase student participation by 40% and streamlined philanthropic events like Giving Tuesday, April Giving, and Senior Series. Harry is a strong leader of diversity and inclusion work on campus. As the Vice President of Tufts Financial Group, Harry supported students from underrepresented backgrounds to secure prestigious employment opportunities. And as a campus ambassador for the Out for Undergrad Conference, a scholarship-based annual conference for high-achieving LGBTQ+ students, Harry tripled the attendance of students from underrepresented backgrounds. 

Kella Merlain-Moffatt, A20

Kella Merlain-MoffatDuring her time at Tufts, Kella was heavily involved with the Africana Center as a Peer Leader, leading discussions at monthly meetings, collaborating with her fellow Peer Leaders to develop community events, and mentoring first year students and her colleagues. She was also lead organizer, as a sophomore, for the inaugural Same Roots, Different Soil cross-cultural conference, bridging gaps between those who inhabit the African Diaspora, providing networking opportunities for students, and educating two prominent communities about their shared cultural origins. The conference also served as a connector for Black New England with participants coming to a new understanding of one another and what it means to be a member of the African Diaspora. Kella was also a leader of the Caribbean Student Organization, organizing and performing in events both on and off campus. 

Rabecca Musiega, A20

Rabecca MusiegaThe winner of a prestigious $10,000 grant from Davis United World Colleges, Rabecca launched Let’s Travel Kenya, which uses travel, cultural exposure, and mentorship as tools for peace-building, education, and poverty reduction in rural Kenya. Rabecca’s leadership at Tufts and in Boston is also remarkable. As a Tisch Scholar, she worked with the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, participating in legal clinics, conducting eligibility screenings for pro bono services, and creating a research and reference library. Rabecca was also the co-president of LCS at Tufts, spearheading an initiative to fundraise over $30,000 to purchase a new club van. And as a Tisch Summer Fellow in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, she conducted important research, analyzed data, and planned an annual conference. Rabecca also served as the Elections Commission Public Relations Chair for the TCU Senate. 

Leticia Rocha, A20

Leticia RochaAs a Tufts student, Leticia was devoted to supporting historically marginalized groups, ensuring that her peers felt empowered and part of a vibrant community on campus. She served as a pre-orientation peer leader and mentor for BEAST (Building Engagement and Accessibility for Students at Tufts), which supports the experience of first-generation, low-income students through their college transition. Leticia continued this work as a QuestBridge Chapter President at Tufts, fostering a community for first-generation students through events and resource sharing, and as the TCU Senate Latinx Community Senator. As a Tufts Summer Scholar, Leticia designed and conducted research that focused on mental health disparities in immigrant populations, particularly for young people. She also served as an LGBT Center intern and artist, member of United for Immigrant Justice, and as a FIRST Center Peer Leader. 

Daniela Sánchez, A20

Daniela SánchezDaniela distinguished herself early in her college tenure as part of the inaugural cohort of the Tufts 1+4 Bridge-Year Program, which sends students across the U.S. and abroad to do a year of community service before beginning their undergraduate studies on campus. Upon her return to Tufts,  Daniela served as a 1+4 Peer Leader, mentoring students and preparing them for service abroad. As a Tisch Scholar, she also mentored and supported her peers as a TA for the program’s foundational course. Daniela has a keen interest in art, particularly as a vehicle for social change. At the Museum of Fine Arts, she worked on accessibility issues and provided opportunities for visitor reflection of artwork on social justice themes. And for her Tisch Scholar capstone project, Daniela created an art exhibition devoted to political participation. She also served as a Laidlaw Scholar, conducting research on bilingual education and language justice along the U.S.- Mexico border.

Madeline Weir, A20

Madeline WeirDuring her time at Tufts, Maddie has seamlessly combined her analytical mind with her passion for art and storytelling. As part of the inaugural Tufts 1+4 Bridge-Year Program, she was a force for positive change during her time in Madrid, Spain working with at risk girls and coordinating volunteers and service projects through a nonprofit called Serve the City. She continued her involvement with Tufts 1+4 as a Peer Leader and to support alumni engagement. On campus,  Maddie has a gift for turning complex data into understandable, compelling stories through film. As a Tisch Scholar, Maddie worked with Eastern Research Group and Grassroots International to create videos for the Environmental Protection Agency on nutrient sensors and on climate justice issues, respectively. She continued this work with NOVA, creating accessible public media to explain complex scientific concepts. 

Seblewongel Yigletu, A20

Seblewongel YigletuWhile at Tufts, Seble has fought to improve the lives of those on campus and around the world. Seble has been involved with many organizations on campus, including BLAST, the FIRST Resource Center, the Africana Center, MAPS, and the Bridging Differences Task Force, where she has provided mentorship, created opportunities for critical dialogue, and worked tirelessly to build a more supportive, inclusive campus environment. Seble is particularly passionate about equitable healthcare. Working extensively to destigmatize health disparities for marginalized groups, she’s conducted research for Massachusetts General Hospital, Tufts Medical School, Harvard University, and Tufts’ Community Health Department, and even co-authored academic papers with Tufts faculty. As a Tisch Scholar, Seble continued this work by co-founding Stigma Unstuck: A Mental Health Art Series that aimed to demystify mental health stigmas through community-centered art programming. 

April Weintraub, E20

April WeintraubApril has been an advocate for those in need both at Tufts and in our communities. Passionate about education, she has worked with a number of organizations like Jumpstart, Tufts Literacy Corps, and LCS, where she tutored local kids and developed lesson plans to improve their math and reading skills. For three years, April has worked with Project Linus as Treasurer and Co-President to make blankets for children in local hospitals who are in need of extra support. And as an active member of Tufts Food Rescue Collaborative, she also provided food to local food pantries and packaged healthy meals for those in need every week. In addition to her work in the community, April developed and implemented a need-based financial aid system for the Tufts Ultimate Frisbee Team to use endowment funds to help players offset club expenses. 

Graduate and Professional Students

Cyatharine Alias, AG20

Cyatharine AliasCyatharine came to Tufts with a keen interest in environmental issues and social justice, working tirelessly to increase diversity and inclusion and provide resources for fellow students. In partnership with several peers, Cyatharine co-founded People of Planning, a student group that supports and mentors UEP students from underrepresented groups in an effort to diversify the urban planning field. She is also a committed member of the Environmental Working Group of the Asian American Resource Workshop. Beyond the Tufts campus, Cyatharine served as a communications intern for the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, where she published advocacy tools and helped cultivate more diversity and equity within the organization’s leadership. She also worked with Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts, after winning a highly competitive environmental fellowship, on the Month of Action on Transit Justice in collaboration with the Green Justice Coalition.

Camila Barrios-Camacho, GBS20 & Vanessa Yanez, GBS20

Vanessa YanezCamila BarriosCamila and Vanessa have been agents of change at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. After noticing a lack of community, diversity, and inclusion on campus, they founded Tufts Scientists Promoting Inclusive Excellence (SPINEs) to more create a supportive and inclusive community for their peers. Through SPINEs, every semester they organized social events like community discussions, movie nights, and professional development workshops and panels. Camila and Vanessa also launched a Distinguished Speaker Series for the group, highlighting one early-career scientist or established scientist each year to share their professional journey. Over the past three years, together they have built a strong, supportive community so that future students can thrive in a rigorous academic environment.

Grace Flaherty, N20

Grace FlahertyGrace’s diverse interests in nutrition, public policy, and community engagement intersect in academic and service work at Tufts’s Friedman School of Nutrition. A research scholar for the Friedman School’s Public Impact Initiative, Grace has a genuine eagerness to advance the School’s public impact efforts by drafting policy reports, public comments on proposed regulations, and opinion editorials to inform the national conversation about food and nutrition policy. She also advocated for this work on campus as co-president of the Friedman Food Policy Action Coalition, where she successfully advocated for the first-ever Food Policy Action Day at the Massachusetts State House. In her free time, Grace volunteered to promote health equity and justice locally among low-income and diverse populations at the Somerville Union Square Farmers Market SNAP redemption tent as part of the Healthy Incentives Program and at Rosie’s Place women’s shelter.

Tatiana Henry, V21 

Tatiana HenryTatiana Henry has been an effective champion for diversity and community engagement at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. She served as a student representative and later co-chair of the Tufts Veterinary Council on Diversity, developing and leading initiatives to enhance inclusion at the school. She was also the student representative on the Joint Council on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at Tufts Health Sciences Schools, and provided leadership in the search for a new Associate Director for Diversity and Inclusion Education for the Health Sciences campuses and a new Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at Cummings. Tatiana has also held a number of other leadership positions, like symposium chair and executive board member of Tufts WAZE (Wildlife, Aquatics, Zoo, and Exotics) and co-president of the Spanish Club.

Anthony Norman, M20

Anthony NormanFor two years, Anthony served as the president of IDEAS in Medicine, a longstanding  partnership between the Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM) and the Wright Science and Technology Academy in Chelsea. A Chelsea native himself, Anthony took on this demanding leadership role, which involves fundraising, recruiting and supervising volunteers, scheduling, budget management, and planning lessons and activities for the middle school students. He excelled in the role, expanding the curriculum and securing financial support for a special field trip to Boston’s Museum of Science. He also sat on the Multicultural Fellows Council and the Student National Medical Association, earning praise. Throughout all of his service and leadership activities, he earned praise from teachers, supervisors, and peers for his passion and commitment, as well as his academic excellence as he prepared to become a cardiothoracic surgeon.

Rachel Prestigiacomo, V21

Rachel PrestigiacomoRachel distinguished herself through both the breadth and depth of her civic leadership at the Cummings School. She was a student leader of You Be the Veterinarian, an outreach program that hosts community groups on the Grafton campus. She went above and beyond by creating additional presentations and teaching materials for new audiences. Rachel also organized an extensive visit for a biotechnology class at the Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School, which drew praise from teachers and students. She served as co-president of several organizations, including Cummings Thrive, the Christian Veterinary Fellowship, and the Student Livestock Organization. She also volunteered with the Pet Loss Support Hotline and the Tufts Community Cat Clinic.

Amanjot Sarao, D20

Amanjot SaraoDuring her four years at the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, Amanjot was a leader in global service learning programs. She participated in TUSDM’s service trips to the Dominican Republic and to Zambia, first as a volunteer and in subsequent years as a student coordinator for both trips. In that role, Amanjot managed participants before, during, and after the trips; in Zambia, especially, she showed exceptional leadership and creativity under difficult and changing conditions. Amanjot also served as a coordinator for the Tufts Give Kids a Smile project and as a member of the Hispanic Dental Association (HDA), and on the Executive Board of the Tufts Implant Study Club. She was selected as a Dean’s Research Scholar in 2016 and was inducted into the Robert R. Andrew’s Research Honors Society in 2018. 

Jessica Stieglitz, EG20

Jessica StieglitzJessica founded two new organizations to serve the growing needs of an expanding population of graduate students on the Medford campus. In 2016, she co-founded a graduate student Tufts chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, which has become an important community supporting the needs of female graduate students that also provides mentorship to undergraduate female engineering students. In 2017, she founded the Tufts Biomedical Engineering and Chemical Engineering Society (BEaChES), which strengthens connections and interdisciplinary research between students in both these departments. In addition, Jessica served as secretary of the Tufts Graduate Student Council, improving communication between graduate students at all Tufts’ schools. She has excelled in all of these initiatives while undertaking rigorous scholarship that has already resulted in publications in top journals.

Hiroki Tanaka, F20

Hiroki TanakaHiroki is a second-year Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy candidate concentrating in International Security and Public International Law at the Fletcher School, and he is on an educational sabbatical from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was a student representative on Fletcher’s Committee on Career Services, through which he organized the inaugural Meet n’ Mix event for foreign service offers to share their experiences. As a member of the Fletcher Student Council, he advocated for increasing funding for organizations that served marginalized students and communities, and he developed partnerships with the Committee on Diversity and Inclusiveness. Hiroki also served as co-leader of the Fletcher Diplomacy Club, the North Korea Working Group, the Asia Cultural Night, and as a student representative on the Tufts-wide Student Policy Working Group led by Vice Provost Kevin Dunn. In all his endeavors, he distinguished himself as a particularly kind and thoughtful collaborator committed to fostering friendship and mutual understanding among his peers.

Sara Wilner-Giwerc, EG22

Sara Wilner-GiwercSara has been a committed and multifaceted young leader while at Tufts: from being a captain of the women’s softball team as a Tufts undergraduate, to an excellent engineering education researcher, to a major leader in the STOMP program. An initiative of the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach, STOMP (Student Teacher Outreach Mentorship Program) helps local teachers bring engineering into the classroom. Sara has spent four years as a STOMP leader in Boston area schools, but she has also made this work international, traveling to countries like Spain, China, Rwanda, and Australia to conduct workshops, run after-school programs, and support maker spaces. She has impressed professors and supervisors with her upbeat, passionate, enthusiastic attitude in the face of any challenge.