22 Students Honored with Tufts 2023 Presidential Awards 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, in collaboration with partners from across the University, is proud to help select and celebrate outstanding individuals who combined academic achievement with a profound impact on communities near and far, helping to address some of the biggest challenges in our society.
We celebrated this year's recipients at an in-person ceremony in the Coolidge Room on our Medford campus on Friday, April 28, 2023.
School of Arts & Sciences
Siwaar Abouhala, Community Health, A23
"My work is inspired by the strong women who raised me, particularly my grandmother and mother, and who taught me the importance of empathy, sisterhood, and advocacy. From organizing annual fundraisers for families back home in rural Syria to regularly cooking meals for neighbors and friends in New York, they have constantly given back without ever expecting anything in return. Their kindness and support of disadvantaged communities, particularly Syrian women and children since the onset of the civil war, is a strong testament to their character and has shown me the value of service."
Ariel Derby, Sociology, A23
"There are so many ways to pursue civic engagement at Tufts... I think the best way to do so is to listen to other people's stories and then ask how you can fit into that civic space... It's about listening to others, not just asserting your own voice, and it's important that that you are cognizant of how you can be most helpful."
Shubhecchha Dhaurali, Community Health, A23
"As a first-generation immigrant and the first woman in my family to go to college, I am driven to become a maternal and reproductive medicine physician scientist and scholar activist because restricting reproductive health diminishes human dignity. It is this focus on human dignity that drives my academics, research, and practice."
Zachary R. Ferretti, Political Science, A23
"Sometimes, optimism is a necessity. It's easy to get caught up in what we can't fix or read the latest attention-grabbing headlines in the morning newspaper. Yet, this sense of optimism is what propels me forward each morning and drives me to work harder every day. Knowing that a better tomorrow is possible, or at the very least, *believing* that a better tomorrow is possible, energizes me."
Arielle Galinksy, Biopsychology, A24
"During my time at Tufts, civic service has entirely revolved around community. It has been my team members, those who have I relied on, and those who have consistently inspired me that make this work possible. As one person, our reach is only so far, but with a community, our reach is boundless. Furthermore, civic engagement relies on building community. Whether it be at Tufts, within our local host towns, or extending far beyond, civic service has allowed me to foster new connections, and through this develop multifaceted perspectives - a key component, in my eyes, to collaboratively working towards change."
Jaime Givens, Africana Studies, A23
"I used to feel guilty that I was never doing enough or that I could always do more. However, all of the moments of civic engagement that I have experienced throughout my time at Tufts has taught me that the work, no matter how small, matters. It matters to me, to the team I'm working with, and to the community I am supporting. Understanding that has made me much more motivated to continue the work that I am engaged in. I know that I want to go forward with my commitment to making change that matters to me, to the people around me, and to larger communities."
Fatima Lawan, Biology and Environmental Studies, A23
"I rely on other people, and I take just as much as I give... fundamentally, community is about caring -- especially caring about the people who look like me and fight alongside me. I exist at the intersection of many identities as a Black Muslim Nigerian woman, and I care about every one of those identities not just in a vacuum, but when they are taken all together. So I dedicate much of my time to fighting for those communities. It's really the least I can do, because God knows they have always fought for me."
Carolina Hidalgo McCabe, International Relations, A23
"My North Star is freedom. No, not the notion of freedom that people co-opt to harm others, but the freedom that comes from the beloved community. The one that is inextricably tied to Justice... I dream of the day when all beings experience the freedom to change, cross borders, start new lives, to pursue the freedoms that come with economic justice. The freedom to break out of binaries and boxes. Freedom to gather, to live free of violence or occupation, freedom of the press. Fighting for freedom means practicing deep-rooted solidarity with our brothers and sisters even when the fires are raging; especially when the fires are raging."
BR Rose, Community Health, A23
"I think my biggest learning from community engaged work is humility and coming to understand that I can only know what I've experienced. I've been lucky enough to be surrounded by so many others who open up and take time to share their experiences with me, opening my eyes to realities I'll never know first hand, and I hope to do the same in turn. My drive to stay engaged is fundamentally driven by relationships, and the belief that people are good. Connection with others who care about the work has grounded me, and so many people I've been fortunate to work with have held me true to my values and beliefs."
Isha Vazirani, Cognitive Brain Science, A23
Waideen Wright, Political Science, A23
"Civic engagement and a commitment to social change have guided and grounded me since the beginning of my journey at Tufts...Along the way, I was able to connect with other like-minded peers who became people who I consider my family. Learning from and seeing communities support each other first-hand, and building a community of my own, allowed me to further value the importance of community."
School of Engineering
Enrique Ernesto Rodriguez, Biomedical Engineering, E23
"[A] civic memory I have is going to the YMCA in Malden, MA, and teaching coding and robotics to the students using Lego Spike Prime Kits. This experience is particularly memorable to me because these kids reminded me of me, but I was giving them more opportunities than I had growing up. I love watching the kids break out of their shyness and grow to enjoy coding and robotics. One thing that I also love about this engagement was that I got to be represented as a minority in STEM for the students. I remember one of them tugging on my shirt and then telling me 'Your hair is just like mine, can you help me with XYZ thing," it filled me with such warmth and fulfillment because I am helping to create the world I wanted to live in."
The Fletcher School
Carlos Irisarri, F23
"Honestly, the Tufts community has changed me in many ways for the better. The student body has increased my solidarity greatly and has opened my mind to so many ideas which I would have never considered before. Tufts students would rather see everyone succeed rather than them succeed and everyone else fail. I think that's an incredibly special quality that is not present in many schools in the US and it has certainly inspired me to do my part in making this school and its surrounding area more welcoming and engaging for the community... I have certainly had an incredible amount of positive influence from accomplished adults here at Tufts. The Tufts Community has certainly been my greatest inspiration over the past 6 years, professors and students, and my friends alike."
Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy
Aarti Singh, N23
"I have always been into civic engagement even before joining Tufts. My mom and dad work for community and society so I learnt this at a young age... my mom pushed me achieve my leadership skills and civic engagement through grassroot acquaintance. I have worked with Tribal women in India on social empowerment and also currently work with Seeding the Future Foundation Lab at the Food Nutrition Innovation Institute to work for African adolescent and pregnant mothers to address malnutrition and reduce maternal death through biofortification."
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences
Michael Rist, GBS23
"I have worked on taking over the GSBS Tufts Queer Biomedical Alliance by setting up safe space social events for queer students in 2021-2022 and putting on a school wide gender inclusion training with the Diversity and Inclusion office and the GSBS Deans office... I am proud that so many faculty and staff showed up to a gender inclusivity training. Especially, with what is happening in the USA now, it was great to see faculty and staff are looking to learn and become more inclusive of queer students. Even just putting on one small event can make a difference in making higher education a more inclusive environment for students."
Graduate School of Arts & Sciences
Johnny Shively, AG23
School Of Engineering - Graduate Program
Briana Lino, EG25
"When I first joined Tufts my department, Chemical and Biological Engineering, had many students that were actively involved in on-campus organizations. Dr. Jessica Stieglitz and Dr. Zijing Chen co-founded BEaChES and worked so hard to put on really amazing events to bring together the students in our building at a time of peak isolation... joining [Dr. Stieglitz's] lab and a department that was so involved with civic engagement was such a welcoming experience...Their commitment to civic life in a time of disconnect and COVID regulations was incredibly inspiring and made me immediately want to get involved as well."
School of Dental Medicine
Ashley Belita Makala, D23
"Take the time to intentionally develop your identity by investing in other interests you can continue once you're no longer a student. I want students to remember they had a whole life before starting their respective educational programs. You had activities and hobbies you enjoyed doing before becoming a full time student. In the midst of working hard and being focused on finishing your academic career, it's okay to share and apply that energy towards other passions. It's what helped me make it through the hard days of dental school."
Gabriel Perez, D23
School of Medicine
Katherine G. Stevenson, M23
"Practice listening. With the urgency that faces us with many of our society's woes it can feel impossible not to just jump into action. And action is important. At the same time, those of us who have the most capacity for action are often those already blessed with some increased level of power and privilege in our communities. The more we strengthen our own ability to listen, the more we are better able to uplift the ideas, concerns, and talents of those with less privilege; the more effective our actions ultimately becomes; the more we can be present for others when action isn't what's needed."
Ganeev Singh, M23
"The biggest lesson that I have learned from serving the community is the importance to continue providing community service, especially as I gain more expertise in the fields of medicine and business. I am grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had to lead and serve during my time at TUSM, some of which have been due to scholarship aid from community organizations like the MMS and Elks. Therefore, I believe that I have a duty to give back to the community that has given so much to me. In the future, I believe that I will be well-positioned use my leadership and advocacy skills in combination with my MBA to help reduce healthcare disparities caused by social determinants of health."
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
Alexandra Awad, V24
"Seeing individuals face barriers to veterinary care inspired me to become engaged. There are many barriers to accessing care, from language to transportation to finances. More often than not, these individuals are doing the best they can for themselves and their beloved animals. Although we usually cannot control these situations, I realized that veterinary professionals can learn and understand the individual's perspective and how it relates to patient care, especially regarding language and culture... Creating an elective course allowed students to receive an introduction to veterinary Spanish and begin the lifelong journey of language learning."