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Good Works: Part Two

Good Works: Part TwoThirteen undergraduate, graduate and professional school students are honored for their commitment to service and active citizenship.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.07.09] On Apr. 23, 13 Tufts students-six undergraduates and eight students from professional and graduate schools-received the Presidential Award for Citizenship and Public Service in recognition of their service and leadership at Tufts.

"This year's winners exemplify the many ways in which our students make a difference beyond the university--literally around the world," says Tufts President Lawrence S. Bacow. "Their generosity of spirit and commitment to others are models for all of us."

The Presidential Award for Citizenship and Public Service, established in 1999 by former Tufts President John Dibiaggio, is one of the university's highest student honors.

E-News talked to the award recipients to learn more about their work, the correlation between their academic and civic lives, and what active citizenship means to them. Last week, we featured the undergraduate award recipients. This week, learn about the professional and graduate student winners.

Ashley Colpaart, Austin, Texas
Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Class of 2010

colpaart_01"I try to help people realize that community concerns are never out of their control, and that we do have the power to change through policy, advocacy and active living," explains Colpaart, a Friedman School student with a passion for community dietetics and nutrition policy.

Colpaart learned the meaning of civic engagement from her grandmother's and mother's work with community centers and nonprofits, and she has kept the legacy alive. Colpaart is a policy chair and steering committee member with the Hunger and Environment Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group of the American Dietetic Association, and is communications chair of the Tufts chapter of Slow Foods USA, a grassroots movement around healthy eating, community and the environment. In addition, Colpaart maintains a blog, "Epicurean Ideal and U.S. Food Policy."

"The Tufts community, especially at the Friedman School, has been wide open to creative thinking and involvement in the community," says Colpaart, noting that the award makes her "want to strive to be better."

Vaani Garg, Orange, Conn.
School of Medicine, Class of 2009vanni

"It's very humbling to think that you're being recognized for doing something that you do of your own volition and your own passion," says Garg. "It's a huge honor."

Garg has used medicine to connect on-campus, local and international communities. Garg has served as co-chair of the South Asian Medical-Dental Association, participated in the President's Marathon Challenge and co-founded the Multicultural Performing Arts group at the School of Medicine. Meanwhile, in the local community, she volunteered with the Sharewood Project, a student-run clinic offering free medical services, and the health groups Sahara Aalhad and Saheli HIV/AIDS Karyakarta Sangh, through which she advocated for women and children living with HIV/AIDS in addition to providing diagnoses and treatment. Finally, Garg explored her interests on a global level through trips to Nicaragua and India where she completed a year-long fellowship through the Service Corps of the American India Foundation to address public health needs in the area.

The experience, she says, influenced her choice to pursue clinical work and a global health track as she begins residency, choices she hopes "will keep [her] connected to active citizenship."

Deborah Linder, Fitchburg, Mass.
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Class of 2009linder_

"What drew me in to [veterinary medicine] was the bond people have with animals; it's so incredible and so special," says Linder. "I love the fact that every day I don't really feel like I'm working so much as just getting to experience people's relationships with their pets and helping to make that bond stronger."

Linder, who has been class president since her first year, is a steering committee member with Paws for People, which organizes visits between people with disabilities and pets. After witnessing the therapeutic benefits of this program, Linder organized a demonstration on alternatives to animal use in education and has explored incorporating pets into weight loss and obesity prevention efforts for humans. She is also a student liaison for Nestle Purina PetCare and ran the Boston Marathon in 2007 as part of the President's Marathon Challenge.

According to Linder, active citizenship is "always putting the best face forward that you can, and always being open and encouraging relationships between all different types of people."

Bindu Panikkar, India
Doctorate, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Class of 2009
Graduate School of Engineering

"I'm humbled by this experience," says Panikkar, who has studied occupational health risks among immigrants and is receiving her PhD in environmental health.

Upon receiving her graduate degree in engineering from Tufts in 2002 and authoring a thesis entitled "Assessing & Controlling Occupational Health Risks Among Immigrants in Somerville," Panikkar has committed herself to the study of this topic, working closely with community groups such as the Haitian Coalition and Community Action Agency of Somerville and collaborating with Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering David Gute in his NIH-funded study of related issues.

In addition to her focus on minority rights in occupations such as cleaning and factory work, Panikkar is a student representative to the steering committee of the Tufts Community Research Center, which brings together faculty and students from across the university for research done in collaboration with community partners. She also works at the TCRC as a graduate assistant.

"Having studied immigrants' lives, I know what racism or a lack of status can do to you," explains Panikkar. "I think the most important thing is to be more involved in these kinds of issues."

Christina Sass, Atlanta, Ga.
International NGO Management, Humanitarian Studies, and Human Security
The Fletcher School, Class of 2009sass

"Fletcher is so attractive to me because it puts such a huge emphasis on investing in this community by reaching out to students and the population," says Christina Sass.

In both the Fletcher community and with youth communities around the world, Sass has shown a passion for start-up programming. At Fletcher, she served as coordinator for Fletcher Follies, the Fletcher Faculty Waits on You Dinner, and Fletcher Cultural Nights. She also organized the Fletcher Bone Marrow Drive, volunteered with Fletcher student activities, including the Human Rights Club and a microfinance conference, and mentors New Initiative for Middle East Peace students.

Sass is also a strong youth advocate, with experience at Tomorrow's Youth Organization and teaching English to children in both the Palestinian Territories and at the Utahloy International School in China, where she also developed curriculum and helped fundraise. In addition, Sass is a volunteer at Roots and Shoots and Sports4Kids.

"We're coming to a youth bulge in the population in so many conflict areas," explains Sass, who is also founder of the Fletcher Youth Initiative, "This age demographic has a huge part to play in reconstruction and peace."

Dmytro Say, Mykolayiv, Ukraine
Master of Arts, Child Development, Class of 2009
Graduate School of Arts and Sciencesdmytro

Ukraine Fulbright Scholar Dmytro Say defines active citizenship as "the ability of every one of us to do something better for others, to take care of others."

Say has helped better the lives of others through extensive work with children with special needs. His experience includes fundraising for a Child's Right to Thrive, an advocacy group for children without parental care, as well as organizing an international conference titled, "Meeting the Needs of Orphans and Vulnerable Children," to draw attention to marginalized kids. He also participated in the design and implementation of summer programs bringing high school and college students from the U.S. and Eastern Europe together for service work through the International Outreach NGO.

Say would like to change attitudes at home in Ukraine through civic engagement programs and principles he's learned from the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Here, it's a completely different attitude toward individuals or children with special needs," he says. "I think the concept of active citizenship is a very good approach. Before coming here I never thought of this component of education."

Elizabeth Shenk, Westerville, Ohio
School of Dental Medicine, Class of 2009

Dental student Elizabeth Shenk's commitment to civic engagement began over 15 years ago, through volunteer work with Operation Smile, a charity treating dental deformities. Since then, she launched a chapter at her undergraduate university and continued her global work as a full-time International Medical Missions Coordinator and then through Tufts-sponsored dental mission trips to Mexico and Nicaragua.

"I know in organizing mission trips, Tufts couldn't have been more supportive," says Shenk. "We have amazing faculty members that go above and beyond the call of duty."

Although the mission trips have occasionally presented unique challenges - including one memorable spotting of a scorpion on a nearby table - Shenk says her experiences have helped her grow "as a person and as a dentist." As for receiving the Presidential Award, she says she is humbled by the recognition.

"I'm very grateful, I feel honored," says Shenk. "I know there are a lot of people at Tufts who do a lot of amazing things."

Story by Molly Frizzell (A'09)

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