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20 Tufts Students Receive Presidential Award for Civic Life

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The awards recognize students for outstanding achievements in service, leadership, and civic engagement during their time at Tufts.

Ross Bendetson Presidential Award

On April 26th, Tisch College was pleased to join Tufts President Anthony Monaco in presenting the 2018 Presidential Awards for Civic Life. The morning reception was an inspiring celebration of 20 Tufts students, representing nearly every Tufts school, who distinguished themselves through extraordinary efforts as civically engaged leaders on campus, in local communities, or across the globe.

"The Presidential Awards for Civic Life are among the highest honors that Tufts conerms on students," said Tisch College Dean Alan Solomont during introductory remarks. "They reflect one of the university's most important missions: to educate a generation of young people to apply their knowledge and their passions to solving problems and to creating a brighter world."

Read about the 2018 Presidential Award recipients, and click on each link to watch his or her award presentation. You can also check out our Facebook album for photos of each winner and more pictures from the ceremony.

Undergraduate Students

Fatima Ajose, A18

Fatima was the 2017-2018 Africana Community Representative on the TCU Senate and a former Peer Leader at the Africana Center. She became an executive board member of the Emerging Black Leaders (EBL) student organization as a first-year, and she provides weekly tutoring and mentoring sessions on leadership, careers, and relationships to secondary school students in the Boston area through the EBL Sankofa Youth Project. She helped establish the Students Quest for Unity in the African Diaspora (SQUAD) Pre-Orientation program, she chairs the Africana Advisory Alliance, and she mobilized students to reestablish the Pan Afrikan Alliance (PAA) student organization. Watch Video

Saja Alani, A18

Saja is the Tufts Muslim Student Association President, serving as a leader for the Muslim community at Tufts. She is also an intern at the Cambridge Health Alliance, where she works to alleviate healthcare disparities by developing a Muslim health guide, grant-writing, and increasing health education, access, and literacy. She has also worked at the Boston Medical Center and Joslin Diabetes Center, where she worked to alleviate diabetes in Saudi Arabia. Her additional volunteer work includes packing containers for Syrian Refugees, distributing meals throughout Boston, working with residents in a women's transitional home in Roxbury, raising funds for orphans in Palestine, and tutoring 2nd-grade elementary school students weekly. Watch Video

Ross Bendetson, A18

Ross restructured the Tufts Financial Group into a standardized training program for first-years, an internship-preparation program for sophomores, and a personalized mentorship program for juniors and seniors. He established a club Diversity Initiative that created a more inclusive, on-campus finance community, all while chairing the Portfolio Committee, a 15 member student-group that oversaw investments of the $170K Alpha Fund. He is one of the inaugural Tisch College Dialogue Fellows, which has allowed him to lead roundtable discussions on polarizing societal issues relevant to the Tufts community including immigration, social and emotional learning, civil rights, and community health. Watch Video

Amanda Borquaye, A18

Amanda is a Tisch Scholar who devoted her work through the program to working with The Petey Greene Program, which supplements correctional education systems with individualized tutoring for incarcerated people. Over the past three years, she established the Tufts Petey Greene chapter and expanded it from four people to over 40. She regularly planned educational and training events on campus related to incarceration, and on a weekly basis drove herself and other Tufts volunteers to the Middlesex House of Correction to tutor incarcerated students. She was also involved in Tufts Debate Society and Protestant Student Association, and she interned for Setti Warren for Governor in 2017. Watch Video

Anna Del Castillo, A18

Anna is Vice President of Tufts Community Union Senate and served on the Senate since 2014. She is also a Career Center Fellow, hosting sessions for first-generation, low-income, and undocumented students to discuss career strategies.  In 2015, she was one of three delegates from Tufts University chosen to attend the Summer Humanities program at Oxford University, to discuss college access and equity for underrepresented students. As Lead Ambassador for the Andrew Goodman Foundation, she helped encourage student political and civic engagement on campus, registering students to vote and hosting community dialogues. She was also a Boston Interfaith Leadership Initiative Fellow and a Student Representative on Tufts Interfaith Student Council. Watch Video

Winnona DeSombre, A18

Winnona merged her passions for International Relations and Computer Science in numerous ways, including serving on the International Relations Student Advisory Board, serving as President of the Tufts Sino-US relations group for two years, and being President of Women in Computer Science (WiCS). Winnona transformed WiCS from a small club of five students to a vibrant organization with more than 60members that introduced weekly office hours, started affinity groups, and launched the Women in Tech Conference. As the Director of the Tufts Sino-US Relations group, she was very active in putting together the 2016 China-US Symposium. Watch Video

Benjamin Kesslen, A18

Benjamin is the Editor-in-Chief of the Tufts Observer, and he has written and edited complex pieces on controversial issues on campus, sparking dialogue across the Tufts community. He interned at WGBH News and worked as a runner for NBC News’s “Today Show” during the Democratic National Convention. He was awarded a summer research grant through the Tufts Summer Scholar Fund under the Kokulis Endowment for students with excellent academic achievement, which he used to conduct extensive archival research throughout the Northeast on 19th Century Jewish agricultural colonies in preparation for his Senior Honors Thesis. Watch Video

Anne Roome, A18

Anne has been extensively involved in the Tisch College JumboVote initiative. She helped organize Civics Fest, an event that registered over 400 students to vote through. She has been steadfast in her resolve to set up a strong infrastructure to encourage future Jumbos to vote, and worked with JumboVote to execute a volunteer recruiting plan for the fall semester of 2018. She is the Chapter Executive Director for Generation Citizen at Tufts, extending her passion for civic engagement outside of the Tufts community. She also interned at Generation Citizen and was a Tisch Summer Fellow at Young Invincibles. Watch Video

Ryan Stocking, E18

Ryan led the reinstatement of the Engineering Student Council (ESC), a student-led organization that serves as an umbrella for many SOE student groups. The ESC was reinstated in the fall of 2016 and has since helped to cultivate a robust community. Ryan has also worked with key faculty and staff in AS&E to improve various aspects of the undergraduate experience, such as advising, tutoring, and monetary support for SOE student groups through the Tufts Community Union. He has served as the President, Co-Treasurer and Project Manager of Tufts Robotics Club, and President of the Tufts chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Watch Video

Lucy Zwigard, A18

Lucy is the founder and former head coordinator of Tufts Food Rescue Collaborative, a student organization that donates extra food from dining halls to Food for Free's prepared-meals food rescue program. She began the program as the coordinator of Tufts Eco-Reps, and built relationships with Tufts Dining, the Environmental Science Department, and Food for Free to set up a team of volunteers to package meals from Tufts leftovers. Last year, she did a case-study presentation about the Food Rescue project at the "Student Sustainability Leaders Symposium" at UMASS Amherst. Watch Video

Graduate and Professional Students

Pulkit Aggrwal, F18

Pulkit is a second-year Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy candidate concentrating in International Security Studies, Humanitarian Studies and International Organizations. He has volunteered as a teacher with Make a Difference, where he worked in a shelter for underprivileged children. In September 2016, he was one of two students elected to the Fletcher School’s Committee on Diversity and Inclusiveness. Pulkit’s excellent work as a D&I representative also led him to be nominated for the University’s Bridging Differences task force. He is an elected member of the Fletcher Student Council, where he serves as one of three second-year representatives. He is the Managing Director for Digital and External Affairs for the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, the Marketing and Communications Co-Chair of the Class of 2018 Gift Committee, and a Co-President of the Science Diplomacy Club. Watch Video

Tania Alarcón, G18

Tania is a founding member and president of the student chapter of the American Statistical Association at Tufts (ASAT). She has been instrumental in helping graduate students become mentors to undergraduate students, instructors in data analysis workshops, and consultants on research projects. She has worked with the Community Health Department, Cummings Veterinary School, and Friedman School, as well as taught or assisted many classes at Tufts. In addition, when a Tufts Institute of Innovation (TII)-funded interdisciplinary research grant was implemented in three countries, Tania was the team leader for the India team. She supervised a team of five undergraduate and graduate students conducting research on time-series analyses of clinical cholera cases in Vellore, India. Watch Video

Anika Farina, V18

Anika is one of two veterinary students who founded “Cummings Thrive,” a club designed allow veterinary students to develop the social, academic, and leadership skills that they need to thrive in the veterinary curriculum, especially as first-years. She hosted workshops on topics like Emotional Intelligence and Advocacy in Leadership with the goal of teaching students to become leaders in the Cummings community and their future communities as veterinarians. Anika is also Junior Delegate of the Student American Veterinary Medical Association at Cummings. As a first-year, she was one of two Cummings students selected to attend the Veterinary Leadership Experience, a weeklong introduction for veterinary students to developing leadership skills. Watch Video

Alex Fine, SK19

Alex Fine is in his fourth year in the Tufts Sackler Genetics JAX-Track program, where he is building tools that computationally integrate multi-omic datasets in order to build more predictive models of biology. He was a recipient of the Sackler Student Enrichment Fund from Tufts University in the fall of 2016, and the Lalor Foundation Merit Award and the Larry Ewing Memorial Trainee Travel Fund from the Society for the Study of Reproduction in 2017. Alex has served as a mentor and journal club facilitator for the JAX Summer Student Program, which invites students in high school and college to JAX for a summer to provide them with experience on an independent research project. Since high school, he has volunteered for weeklong summer sessions at Camp Sunshine, for children with life threatening illnesses. He also started a student-mentoring program for the JAX track that provided incoming students with a senior student mentor. Alex also served as a Ph.D. student representative on JAX’s Training Committee, which oversees the pre- and postdoc programs, providing balanced and thoughtful suggestions. In the 2016-2017 year, he was one of the two student facilitators for the Genetics Journal Club course, during which time he helped to restructure the course to include more student participation. Starting in the summer of 2017, he served as a student representative for the Genetics Curriculum Committee at Sackler. Watch Video

Robert Geary, D18

Robert is an active leader within his dental class. For the past seven years, he has worked to develop an oral health program at the St. Rock Clinic in Haiti, focusing on creating a plan for improved, sustainable oral health promotion and dental disease prevention. He has volunteered at the dental clinical in Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ safety net program in Downtown Boston since December 2014, providing quality dental care to homeless youth who do not have access to these services. At Tufts, he works as an assistant in the Global Service Learning program and has been a 2019 Dental Class Liaison for the past 3 years. He was also a Tisch Faculty Fellows student panelist, addressing ways students are engaged with the community on the Health Sciences campuses. Watch Video

Meghan Lehnerd, N18

Megan has exemplified community leadership and civic engagement throughout her Friedman School career. She is a founding member of a Friedman School task force charged with designing the School's first standing committee on social justice, inclusion and diversity. She is a participant in the Graduate Institute for Teaching (GIFT) and as part this experience co-taught a course on food justice. She has also served on the Friedman Justice League, and co-organized a conference on Division of Sustainable Food Systems, Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior. Watch Video

Siobhan Mcree, SK18

Siobhan has been a tireless advocate for women and STEM, and more broadly for the graduate student community. She served as a student representative for her home Genetics program on the Graduate Student Council and in 2014 she co-founded the Tufts Mentoring Circles, a student group dedicated to organizing small-group mentoring and bringing students together within Tufts, as well as connecting them with outside professionals. In addition, Siobhan co-founded Tufts Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (GWiSE) and helped conceptualize and launch a regional GWiSE group for New England that includes Harvard, MIT, and BU. Siobhan is also involved with the local Massachusetts chapter of the Association for Women in Science (MASS AWIS). Watch Video

Nathan Potter, M18

Nathan is the founder of the Phoenix Project, which recruits volunteers from the Tufts University Medical School to put on workshops in prison for incarcerated people. Nathan has grown this program from a handful of participants to a robust program that has engaged around 50 students over the past several years. In addition to working at the South Bay House of Corrections, his project also works with Span, Inc., a non-profit that supports the re-entry population. In addition, Nathan has served as President of the Pediatrics Interest Group and as a curriculum representative for the Primary Care Apprentice course. He is accomplished in research, with much of his research focusing on underserved populations and public health issues related to addiction medicine. Watch Video

Makoto Sakamoto, V19

Makoto was one of two students selected to attend the Veterinary Leadership Experience conference, and upon returning to Cummings he co-founded Cummings Thrive with to extend the positive leadership experience to the larger community of students, faculty and staff. Makoto and Anika competed successfully to be sponsored on the Tufts crowdfunding site and exceeded their funding goal to support Cummings Thrive. Makoto is also a Veterinary Education Review Committee Representative and has served as President of the Wildlife, Aquatic, Zoo, Exotic (WAZE) student club at Cumming School. Watch Video

Claire Wilson, F18

Claire has worked as a humanitarian practitioner on missions in Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan. Before coming to Fletcher, she worked in the Zaatari Camp of over 80,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, and served as the co-chair of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees Basic Needs and Livelihoods sector. She has been the driving force in the conception and implementation of Tufts Fares Center’s Tripoli Project, which examines the impact of the conflict in Syria on Tripoli. Claire has also incorporated her passion for gender, sexual and racial equality and justice into her work in the humanitarian sector. In Lebanon, she worked with Mercy Corps to lead a gender assessment of a three-year, $10 million youth program to help build gender equitable programming for youth. At the local level, she is Co-Chair of two student groups: Pride at Fletcher (LGBTQIA) and the Humanitarian Action Society. Watch Video