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A Presidential Accolade

A Presidential AccoladeIn recognition of their commitment to leadership and service, 14 Tufts undergraduate, graduate and professional school students receive one of the university's highest honors for students.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [04.23.07] On Apr. 20, 14 Tufts students—seven undergraduates and seven students from the professional and graduate schools—received the Presidential Award for Citizenship and Public Service in recognition of their service and leadership at Tufts.

"The achievements of the award recipients reflect the rich diversity of active citizenship at Tufts," said President Lawrence S. Bacow. "One of my most enjoyable responsibilities each year is to read the many letters nominating students across the university for this award. It is a very encouraging and confirming experience to have this window into the range and depth of public service activities of Tufts students."

The Presidential Award for Citizenship and Public Service was established in 1999 by former Tufts President John DiBiaggio. This is the ninth year in which the award has been given out.

E-News spoke to the award recipients—undergraduates and graduate and professional school students—to learn a bit about their work and how it has added to their Tufts experience.


Sebastian Chaskel, Bogotá, Colombia
(A'07), International Relations and Anthropology

Chaskel has focused on working with immigrants in Somerville, Mass., co-developing the Community Language Bank, which offers affordable translation and interpretation services to local businesses or groups who cannot otherwise afford it. The organization, run through the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, trains Tufts students to provide these services.

The senior also worked with a small community of El Salvadoran immigrants, mostly from the Yucuaiqiun area, to highlight their culture. The project, which grew out of the "Urban Borderlands" anthropology class Chaskel took at Tufts, culminated in an exhibit at the Somerville Museum last spring—shown at Tufts in the Slater Concourse Gallery in March—on a traditional ceremony called "el baile de los negritos," which dates back to the 13 th century in El Salvador. The exhibit included photographs by Chaskel and masks and attire provided by the immigrants he studied.

"These experiences made my Tufts experience," Chaskel says. "I love the idea of social entrepreneurship—the idea that you can do well while doing good…and I'm hoping to do this in the future."

More info: Urban Borderlands, Community Language Bank, Latinos at Tufts

Maisie Ganz, Mill Valley , Calif.
(A'07), Environmental Studies and Child Development

Ganz, with the help of Tisch College, organized the Somerville Maple Syrup Project, a program to teach Somerville schoolchildren about the environment by studying the process of maple syrup production.

Each year, Tufts volunteers educate elementary school students about the history and technique of collecting maple syrup, including tree-tapping and boiling sap into syrup, as well as environmental lessons about weather patterns and seasonal cycles. The project culminates with a sap-boiling event, featuring outdoor activities and, of course, pancakes.

The program has forged stronger bonds between members of the Tufts and Somerville communities, says Ganz, and she hopes to see them continue to develop after she graduates. For now, her plan is to return to her native California to work on an organic farm for one season. After that, she hopes to find "the right land and community to someday begin my own work with farming and youth development."

Sarah Kohnstamm, Larchmont, N.Y.
(A'07), Child Development

Every April for the past three years, Kohnstamm has coordinated events for the Medford Family Network, a nonprofit that provides free family programming and services for families in Medford with children under seven. The events—including one this year which centered around the film "Emmanuel's Gift" and a diversity program for kindergarteners last year—have been hugely successful, attracting more than 100 families every year.

Since she stepped onto the Hill four years ago, Kohnstamm has immersed herself in the community both on and off campus. In addition to her role as a Tisch Scholar, Kohnstamm is co-director of Tufts Dance Collective, a volunteer at Brooks Elementary School in Medford, and a member of the Leonard Carmichael Society.

Kohnstamm, who plans to become an elementary school teacher after graduation, says the personal connections she has made at Tufts have been meaningful. "I've met the most inspirational, passionate and dedicated students, faculty, community members and children," she says. "They have helped me grow, develop leadership [skills] and expand my horizons."

More info: Medford Family Network

Angela C. Lee, Vancouver, Wash.
(A'07), Biology and Community Health

Lee has taken her interest in healthcare inequalities and applied it to both service and scholarship in Boston's Chinatown neighborhood. During the past two summers, Lee has worked alongside Tufts School of Medicine Associate Professor Douglas Brugge to research diagnosis efficacy for Asian-American children with asthma. Their work was published in a number of peer-reviewed journals, including The Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health. During her sophomore year, Lee designed and published a bilingual newsletter for Chinatown residents focused on issues of gentrification.

This year, Lee organized efforts for "Better, Faster, Stronger Athletes," a Tisch College program that sends varsity athletes at Tufts into local schools to teach students about teamwork and goal-setting through sports.

Volunteer work, Lee says, has made her a well-rounded active citizen. "My Tufts experience would be incomplete without the initiatives I have taken outside the classroom," she says. Next stop for Lee after graduation is India, where she will work with special-needs children. She plans to eventually join the Peace Corps.

More info: Past profile of Angela Lee

Kayt Norris, Quincy, Ill.
(A'07), Political Science

True to her major, Norris has been involved in politics both on and off campus while at Tufts. Sheserved as president of the Tufts Democrats, vice president of the College Democrats of Massachusetts and as a trustee representative on the TCU Senate. Recently, Kayt worked with Mass. State Rep. Carl Sciortino (A'00), who represents parts of Medford and Somerville, to facilitate opportunities for Tufts undergraduates to conduct research for lawmakers at the Massachusetts State House.

Norris has also applied her political savvy to helping community youth. In 2004, through her work as a Tisch Scholar, Norris helped to start the Boston Urban Debate League, which allows high school students in urban areas to engage in competitive policy debate at the local and national levels. Boston's league currently includes six high schools in Boston and Somerville. Norris coaches the team at the Josiah Quincy Upper School in Boston's Chinatown neighborhood.

Looking back, Norris says she values the role these experiences played in enhancing her Tufts education. "I feel I have grown not only as a student or an intellectual but as a person, a community member, and a citizen," she says. "Tufts has taught me not to plan my life around the job I want, but rather around the person I want to be and the life I want to lead."

More info: Boston Debate, past profile of Kayt Norris

Mitchell A. Robinson, Atlanta, Ga.
(A'07), Political Science

A political jack-of-all-trades during his time at Tufts, Robinson has been active in many aspects of campus, state and national government. He has volunteered with the Community Action Agency of Somerville, the Boston Student Advisory Committee, and Boston Public Schools, as well as with many on-campus groups. After serving as a Tufts Community Union senator for the class of 2007, Robinson was elected student body president at the start of his senior year. During his tenure, Robinson has overseen the renovation of Hotung Café, the creation of the "Jumbo's Trunk" student suggestion box and the improvement of residential options for Tufts undergrads.

What is the secret to Robinson's success? "I [have] just tried to listen and learn," he says. "With every experience there is a large amount of learning that must take place." Robinson's next learning experience will start shortly after Commencement when he begins a job with the Select Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence in the U.S. House of Representatives.

More info: Tufts Community Union Senate

Sonja Good Stefani, Plainfield, Vt.
(A'07), Child Development and Peace & Justice Studies

A study abroad experience in Ghana during the fall of 2005 forever transformed Stefani's Tufts experience. Shediscovered the Ghanaian town of Yonso, where a local student organization—the Yonso Students Union—had its sights set on creating a library. But they needed help.

To aid their efforts, Stefani co-founded the Yonso Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes community development and education in the town. While the original idea was simply to be a source of funding for the existing organization in Ghana, the group—led by Stefani and her co-founder, Nick Caccavo, a 2006 graduate of the University of Vermont—has organized a series of unique and interesting projects to help the Yonso Students Union. Among their initiatives: a book drive to populate the shelves of the town's library, constructing housing for teachers and providing scholarship funds to enable students to complete their education, as well as general fundraising activities.

"Founding the Yonso Project was the best thing that I did at Tufts," says Stefani, who looks forward to beginning a career in international nonprofit work. After graduation, Stefani and four American members of the Yonso Project team will spend two months on the ground in Ghana, exploring possibilities for microfinance and ecotourism in Yonso.

More info: Yonso Project

Graduate and Professional School Students

Margaret Beneke, Princeton, Ill.
Master of Arts in Teaching, 2007
Graduate School Arts and Sciences, Department of Education

Through her Tisch Civic Engagement Fund project, " Bridging Connections: Democratic Principles in Community Arts Practice," Beneke has been able to explore her passion for arts education. The program provides community arts classes to public school students aged seven to nine at the Evelyn G. Pitcher Curriculum Resource Laboratory in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development.

Beneke views children as capable citizens, a perspective she intends to carry into her career as a kindergarten teacher. "This program encouraged me to…extend children's learning experiences by empowering them to make an impact on their own local environment," says Beneke, who attended Eliot-Pearson herself as a toddler.

According to her, arts can still be worked into grade school education, despite cuts in funding. The goal should be to "engage children in a critical, meaningful process versus simply producing products."

More info: Tisch Civic Engagement Fund

Nicole Guanzon, Meadville, Pa.
Master of Arts, 2007
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning

Guanzon's path to Tufts was bookended by two significant natural disasters: the devastating 2004 South Asia tsunami and then the destruction that Hurricane Katrina unleashed upon the U.S. Gulf Coast in August 2005. By the time classes started in fall 2005, Guanzon says, "I decided to focus my graduate career on understanding the development of recovery programs."

To that end, Guanzon got involved with the International Economic Development Council and Conservation International, which enabled her to participate in a wide range of relief efforts for both disasters. In January 2006, she also organized a group of UEP students to join with Tufts Volunteer Vacations to assist with the clean-up efforts in Mississippi. Guanzon came away from that experience feeling good about the effort.

"It showed that it doesn't have to take years and millions of dollars to make a difference," she said.

More info: Coverage of Tufts volunteers in Mississippi

Itamara Lochard, Miami, Fla.
Ph.D. candidate
The Fletcher School

Contributing editor to The Journal for Public and International Affairs;founder of the Promoting Tolerance Initiative and Fletcher Doctoral Conference;certified mediator

For complete coverage of Lochard's work, please click here.

Jared P. Milrad, Sarasota, Fla.
Master of Science in Animals and Public Policy, 2007
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

A dedication to public service has shaped Milrad's time at Tufts, exemplified by his founding of Community for Animals and People in Society (CAPS)—a student organization that provides education on humane animal treatment to underserved communities. "I thought this program could fill a gap in our education system," he explains. This March, the group completed a trial program for children aged eight to ten at the Yawkey Boys & Girls Club in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood.

Milrad has also been politically active, leading a voter registration drive at the Cummings School before the 2006 election and working extensively with the Massachusetts Democratic Party. He also organized a campus lecture on the genocide in the Sudan and how it affects animals.

For Milrad, there is a substantial overlap between education and public service. "Education is transformative, a catalyst for change," he says.

More info: Small Daily Differences

Rebecca Seguin, Dudley, Mass.
Ph.D. candidate, 2007
Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy

Seguin organizes the national Strong Women program through the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at the Friedman School. The program, which focuses on strength training for older women and was pioneered by the work of Associate Professor Miriam Nelson, has grown significantly in recent years, currently operating in 35 states and Canada. Seguin has logged many hours on the phone and online, both communicating with local organizers and working with federal agencies such as the USDA to plan and run national training sessions.

As she pursues a doctorate in food policy and applied nutrition, her experience with Strong Women will be useful: Seguin's dissertation examines the effectiveness of such community-based health programs.

More info: Strong Women program

Lloyd Williams, Nappanee, Ind.
M.D./Ph.D. candidate, 2008
School of Medicine/Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences

In the summer of 2001, Williams worked at Macha Mission Hospital in an impoverished region of Zambia. He saw firsthand how many patients who came to the hospital could not be given proper medical care—particularly Mercy, a nine-year-old burn victim who was in his charge.

"The two and a half months of treating her injuries and seeing the courage with which she faced each dressing change [without anesthesia] made a lasting impact on my life," Williams recalls. This experience prompted him to found HelpMercy International, which provides the hospital with equipment and medication, particularly for AIDS and burn care.

Upon returning to Boston from Zambia, Williams—an NCAA cyclist as an undergraduate at the University of Arizona—embarked on a bike ride to New York City to raise money for Mercy's reconstructive surgery. It is a ride he has completed two more times, in addition to other fundraising that has secured more than $150,000 for the hospital in Macha. Among the equipment purchased by HelpMercy is an ultrasound machine and a cataract microscope.

Upon completing his residency in ophthalmology, Williams plans on returning to Zambia to help people suffering from cataracts, in addition to creating a nationwide system—beginning with Tufts—that helps medical students make a lasting commitment to international healthcare.

More info: Help Mercy

Tomas Ballesteros
School of Dental Medicine, Class of 2007

Activities include community work with the Student Hispanic Dental Association and involvement in a program called "Promoting Dentistry as a Career for Minorities," which provides mentors to youth in Boston public schools.

Ballasteros could not be reached for comment.

More info: Student Hispanic Dental Association

Profiles written by Will Ehrenfeld, Class of 2010

Chaskel and Robinson profile photos by Alonso Nichols for Tufts University Photo. Norris photo by Sarah Arkin (A'06) for Tufts University Photo. All other photos courtesy of the students.

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