The award recognizes students who have shown an exemplary commitment to active citizenship and civic engagement while at Tufts Unviersity.

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On April 24, ten undergraduate and seven graduate students from across the university received the Presidential Award for Citizenship and Public Service at a stirring ceremony that showcased remarkable stories of civic engagement.

Undergraduate awardees from the School of Arts and Sciences were: Johanna Clair, Nicholas Cutsumpas, Jordan Dashow, Christina Goldbaum, Jiawen Hoe, Marquel Norton, Joseph Thibodeau, and Jessica Wilson, all seniors, along with junior Darien Headen.

School of Engineering undergraduate Bronson Wongkew, along with graduate students Jerlyn Sponseller, Roxanne Krystalli, Alison Brown, Elaine Ng, Jaskaren Randhawa, Leslie Slowikowski, and Tess Jasinski also received the award.

Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco hosted the ceremony and personally presented the award to each recipient. He remarked on the challenge of recognizing just a few students among the many active citizens whose commitment to community work has been an integral time of their time at the university.

“I was impressed with the quality of nominations we received from all schools,” said President Monaco. “Selecting the awardees from such a remarkable pool was extraordinarily difficult.”

He added: “The outstanding citizenship and public service of these students illustrates the broad spectrum of civic leadership that Tufts supports.  Our students make an impact on critical real world challenges on campus, in our host communities, and internationally.”

The 17 award recipients represent eight Tufts schools, and academic disciplines as varied as history, psychology, international relations, mechanical engineering, and dental medicine. Students were introduced by the faculty members or Tufts administrators who nominated them, and who briefly described each awardee’s accomplishments.

Transformative Experiences

For most students, the brief introductions only scratched the surface of what they have done while at Tufts. That’s the case with senior Jordan Dashow, a Tisch Scholar and President of Tufts Hillel, who was also involved with FOCUS (Freshman Orientation CommUnity Service), the Tufts Literacy Corps, Tufts Recycles, the Institute for Political Citizenship, and the Interfaith Social Action Group—which he cofounded.

“I have a lot of passions, and I like to feel like I’m spending my time meaningfully,” said Dashow. “I recognized I was only going to be at Tufts once, so I really wanted to take advantage of the biggest number of opportunities that I could.”

Dashow, an International Relations major, also made the most of his summers with internships at the Anti-Defamation League and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office, among others. He believes all these civic engagement experiences have had a transformative effect.

“I really think that my involvement with active citizenship at Tufts has really changed: a) how I view active citizenship, but b) how I view the world,” said Dashow, who added that he was honored to receive the award.

Fellow awardee Nick Cutsumpas, A14, echoed Dashow’s sentiment. “It’s great to be recognized for some of the stuff I’ve done over my four years here,” he said. “You do all these things around campus and over the summer, and you get so engrossed in what you’re doing, and you forget that other people are watching what you’re doing.”

Cutsumpas was also prolific when it came to civic engagement efforts and service activities. Through Tisch College’s Active Citizenship summer, the New York native interned at Boys & Girls Clubs in Brooklyn and the Bronx. On campus, he worked with Tufts Dining Services on the “Balance Your Life” nutrition initiative, tutored kids through the Leonard Carmichael Society, and served on the senior class council. As a residential advisor, he developed the provocatively acronymed Students Everywhere Xercise program. On the varsity baseball team he played (of course) the most demanding position on the field: catcher.

It was through athletics that he got involved with the Perseverance Foundation. This initiative was inspired by Adrian Misic, a young boy with a brain tumor who had been paired with the Tufts baseball team through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation and sadly passed away during Cutsumpas’ freshman year. Along with Misic’s mother, Cutsumpas and others helped develop programs to promote perseverance among those who might need it most.

“We do workshops for middle-school kids, teaching them how to persevere through different life adversity that they might face, specifically for underprivileged kids or at-risk youth,” said Cutsumpas. Through the Gordon Institute, he has been working to develop the Perseverance Foundation into a viable social enterprise. After graduation, he is joining IBM’s prestigious Blue Spark Leadership Development Program, working with the famed Jeopardy-winning computer system known as Watson to design nutrition and fitness interventions.

Profound Impact

Award recipient Alison Brown, a Food Policy and Applied Nutrition PhD student at the Friedman School, has also been working to improve people’s health. In particular, as a 2013-2014 Albert Schweitzer fellow, she has focused on low-income women of color through a nutrition intervention called Keeping it ‘Real’: Better Food for Better Health.

“It focused on eating more whole foods and cutting back on processed foods,” said Brown about the initiative, a partnership with Healthworks Community Fitness. The program included health literacy efforts along with interactive nutrition and cooking workshops that included the women’s children.

The intervention was specifically designed to battle health issues that disproportionately affect communities of color, and that have personally affected Brown’s life. “I’ve lost several loved ones to nutrition-related diseases like stroke and heart disease, and that has motivated me,” said Brown. “People in my family didn’t have my educational opportunities, and I want to use my research to share what I’ve learned and advance that knowledge.”

Brown, who has also been working as a Community and Civic Engagement Coordinator at the NAACP, said she was honored to receive the Presidential Award for her efforts so far but that her work is far from over.

“Awards are great, and it feels good to be acknowledged, but with the awareness that there’s still a lot to be done. I’m excited about the work I’ll continue to do in the community here in Boston and continuing my work in the areas of ethnic health disparities.”

Fellow awardee Roxanne Krystalli, a graduating student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, has been helping women in a wholly different way. Through her work in the fields of conflict resolution and gender analysis, she has reached women as diverse as Arab parliamentarians, displaced ex-combatants, and Mayan mothers, in places as far apart as Darfur and Guatemala. Her work has led to important proposals, and she has advised the United Nations on gender and armed conflict.

Krystalli was also involved in the creation and leadership of the Gender Initiative at Fletcher. “The study of how men, women, boys, and girls experience violence and inequality differently is crucial for designing effective programs, policy, and advocacy movements,” said Krystalli. “The Gender Initiative has therefore sought to create opportunities for members of this community to build gender analysis skills both academically and professionally.” The initiative’s work has increased Fletcher’s gender-related curricular and co-curricular offerings.

For Krystalli, the Presidential Award is a humbling honor that she shares with all the individuals who are crucial to her work.

“It is from local activists, from victims and survivors of conflict, as well as ex-combatants, that I have learned the most about the lasting effects of violence and the complexity and slowness of recovery,” she said. “It is their civic engagement work—the ways in which they mobilize, share their narratives, and advocate—that is worthy of recognition.”

Exemplary Students

Tisch College Dean Alan D. Solomont offered concluding remarks at the award ceremony. “I want to offer my sincerest congratulations to all of you, and to thank you for all you’ve done for Tufts and for our communities,” he said.

Solomont particularly congratulated the students who became active citizens through Tisch College. The group of awardees included three Tisch Scholars, five Active Citizenship Summer Fellows, and a former participant in Tisch College’s Summer Institute of Civic Studies.

“I urge those of you who are leaving Tufts to stay engaged with the University as alumni, as examples for current and future students, and as members of this great community that takes such pride in each of you today,” he added.

Check out our Facebook album for more photos of the event.

See the full list of Presidential Award recipients, by school and class, below, and watch a video of each student receiving the award.

Undergraduate Students

Arts and Sciences
Johanna Clair, Psychology, 2014
Nicholas Cutsumpas, Psychology, 2014
Jordan Dashow, International Relations, 2014
Christina Goldbaum, Political Science, 2014
Darien Headen, International Relations, 2015
Jiawen Hoe, History and International Relations, 2014
Marquel Norton, Child Development, 2014
Joseph Thibodeau, International Relations and American Studies, 2014
Jessica Wilson, International Relations and Arabic, 2014

School of Engineering
Bronson “Quinn” Wongkew, Mechanical Engineering, 2014

Graduate Students

Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
Jerlyn Sponseller, 2015

Fletcher School
Roxanne Krystalli, 2014

Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy
Alison Brown, 2016

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Elaine Ng, UEP, 2014

School of Dental Medicine
Jaskaren Randhawa, 2014
Leslie Slowikowski, 2014

School of Medicine
Tess Jasinski, 2014*

*Did not attend ceremony