Congratulations to the 2020 University Student Award Winners!
This year, the 2020 President’s Award, the highest honor bestowed upon an AU undergraduate, was presented to Cheldina Jean, an environmental science major who is graduating on Saturday. Jean’s academic achievement, leadership, and passion for service are what led President Sylvia Burwell to choose the Haitian-born Miami resident for this ultimate distinction.
At the graduate level, the highest honor was conferred upon Linda Amarante (PhD in Behavior, Cognition, and Neuroscience ’20), who received one of two highly competitive Outstanding Scholarship at the Graduate Level Awards.
CAS undergraduate students Rachel Bernardo (BS public health ’20) and Zhiqi Lu (BS applied mathematics and computer science) won both of the highly competitive annual Scott A. Bass Outstanding Scholarship at the Undergraduate Level Awards.
Tehillah Grace Chitam (BA anthropology ’20) received the Charles W. Van Way Award for building community at AU.
Arianna Lopez (BS chemistry ’20) received the Fletcher Scholar Award for integrity and selflessness in citizenship.
Guadalupe Mabry (BA public health ’20) received the Harold Johnson Award for promoting understanding and acceptance of cultural and racial diversity.
Madison Mauro (BS economics and BA International studies ’20) received the Kinsman-Hurst Award for her scholastic record and service on the AU Student Conduct Council.
Thank you, award winners, for everything you have contributed to the College of Arts and Sciences and the entire American University community!
The President's Award is the highest award for undergraduate students. It is presented to a graduating student whose accomplishment reflect the highest ideals of American University, including exceptional academic achievement, integrity, selflessness, leadership, and service to the Washington, DC community.
Hometown: Miami, Florida
Major/College: Environmental Science, College of Arts & Sciences
Since reading the word “toxicologist” in middle school, Cheldina Jean knew she wanted to be an environmental researcher. Something would pique her interest, or she would see a problem that needed solving, so she would research the issue, then act.
During her time at American University, Jean built herself a unique curriculum, with a focus on environmental toxicology, and is graduating this weekend with a GPA of 3.7, says Associate Professor of Chemistry Matthew Hartings, who was one of many faculty members who recommended her for the award. “Cheldina has displayed an acute awareness of environmental issues and has succeeded in fighting for environmental justice and protection,” he says. “She has also been incredibly successful in the research laboratory through both a National Science Foundation-funded REU program and here at American University.”
Jean has received fellowships or scholarships from NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Western Union Global Scholars Program, the United Negro College Fund STEM Scholarship, and the Stewart and Morris K. Udall Foundation.
Jean has used her scientific interests to support the needs of underserved communities, says Hartings. In high school, she worked with a Haitian non-profit that converted human waste into safe compost. She further developed her work to place composting toilets around Miami Beach to both help the environment and raise awareness of environmental issues. Her leadership on these issues has led to recognition from a number of prestigious organizations including a Udall Scholarship that included a five-day workshop in Arizona, where Jean learned from some of the most innovative leaders in environmental research and policy.
“Cheldina is a scholar, a thinker, a planner, and a wonderful human being,” says Hartings, who adds that Jean has a bright future ahead of her. “She will be attending Yale University to earn her PhD in Environmental and Chemical Engineering. She represents the best of American University.”
Outstanding Scholarship at the Graduate Level Award 2020
This highly competitive award goes to two graduating students in a master's, MFA, JD, LLM, SJD, or PhD program. It recognizes sustained excellent academic record and exceptional academic success as exemplified by extraordinary publications, research, creative work, merit awards, or competitive selection for presentations at regional and national academic societies and conferences.
Hometown: Cheshire, Connecticut
Program/College: PhD in Behavior, Cognition, and Neuroscience (BCaN), College of Arts & Sciences
Linda Amarante has distinguished herself throughout her participation in the Behavior, Cognition, and Neuroscience (BCaN) PhD Program at American University and has already begun to make an impact on her field. She received a prestigious graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF), and her research proposal for that award ultimately led to her dissertation investigating the role of the medial and orbital frontal cortex on value-based decision making.
A highly productive scholar, Linda has been an author on seven manuscripts in peer-reviewed publications such as the Journal of Neuroscience, including three articles for which she was the first author. She has also presented at a wide range of international research conferences and has been active in leading discussions and sharing her work at events hosted by AU’s Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. A key member of the team running the Twitter OpenBehavior Project, Linda has promoted open source tools for behavioral neuroscience by showcasing them on Twitter.
Even as a busy doctoral student and researcher, Linda has dedicated herself to service both on campus and beyond. Within the AU community, she has been appointed to search committees and supported interview days for the doctoral program. Linda has also made exceptional contributions in Washington, DC through mentoring underserved children and teens through the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy—even receiving the Everyday Hero Award for her work in 2017.
When asked about the individuals who have contributed to her success, Linda said, “I would not be where I am today without the support and guidance from my advisor, Dr. Mark Laubach.” She also highlighted the top-notch neuroscience faculty at AU and many others working behind the scenes—including custodial staff, the CAS administrative team, and the shuttle bus drivers who helped her to get to and from campus each day.
Scott A. Bass Outstanding Scholarship at the Undergraduate Level Award 2020
This highly competitive award recognizes graduating undergraduate students who have sustained a record of academic excellence and exceptional academic success as exemplified by extraordinary publications, research, creative work, merit awards, or competitive selection for presentations at regional and national academic societies and conferences.
Hometown: Bristol, Rhode Island
Major/College: Public Health, College of Arts & Sciences
Rachel Bernardo, a graduating senior in the BS in Public Health Program, has excelled academically and maximized her time at American University since arriving on campus as a transfer student. She has cultivated impressive research, internship, and study abroad experiences throughout her undergraduate career.
Rachel found a home at AU’s Zebrafish, Ecotoxicology, Neuropharmacology, and Vision (ZENV) Lab, where she developed strong laboratory skills and conducted an independent research project on endocrine disrupting compounds. She also had the opportunity to intern in positions connected to public health and the practice of medicine locally, nationally, and internationally. During a semester abroad in Nairobi, Kenya, Rachel worked with a pediatric HIV clinic to investigate the main reasons behind a lack of adherence to antiretroviral medications.
She has volunteered extensively in the local community and published an article in the Undergraduate Journal of Service Learning & Community-Based Research focused on her experiences with DC Reads. On campus, Rachel has advanced the mission of AU’s chapter of United Against Inequities in Disease as its president and supported her fellow students while working as a tutor and teaching assistant.
Rachel expressed her gratitude for the faculty and administration at AU and said, “Notably, I am thankful to Dr. Connaughton, my research mentor, for supporting me throughout my research project. I am also thankful for all the professors in the Department of Health Studies and Department of Biology for their unwavering support and inspiration.”
Hometown: Wuxi, China
Major/College: Applied Mathematics and Computer Science, College of Arts & Sciences
Zhiqi Lu has pursued a double major in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science and is a member of the Upsilon Pi Epsilon Honor Society. He has demonstrated continuing success in research and programming on campus and beyond.
Zhiqi conducted an ambitious independent research project entitled “The Application Research of Quantum-behaved Particle Swarm Optimization in Multi-targets Tracking.” Other goals that he accomplished while at American University include producing a login system for the Quantitative Academic Support Lab and creating an internship website for the Computer Science Department.
Zhiqi’s work supported the development of a web app for the U.S. Department of Energy and he also made substantial contributions to the AU Thin Sat Project. Zhiqi has also served as a tutor and teaching assistant to help his fellow students.
Upon learning that he would receive this award, Zhiqi described it as “the best gift for my graduation” and a motivator to keep improving himself in the future. He shared his appreciation for faculty, family members, and friends who encouraged him along the way, especially Professors Kristof Aldenderfer, Mark Nelson and Michael Robinson.
Charles W. Van Way Award
A student who has contributed the most to building community at the University.
Tehillah Grace Chitam
Hometown: South Portland, Maine
Major: Anthropology, College of Arts and Sciences
Grace is “the ripple effect” in action. Not only does she build community through her activities on campus, but she nurtures leadership ability in others, so that they, too, become part of building a stronger, more welcoming community.
As a CAS Peer Advisor, Grace built spaces for the larger CAS student community to come together and find fellowship and connect. She has also been the “go-student” to help prospective Anthropology students find their footing, and is known for being open, honest, and able to empower students with a sense of confidence in their choices.
She was on the ground floor of the AUX experience as a Peer Facilitator since the beginning of the program, working with faculty members to facilitate discussions with first-year students on tough topics and continuing to support students even after their time in her class has ended.
In her work with Orientation – first as Orientation Leader and then as Orientation Chair of Programming -- Grace helped welcome new students to campus and worked with AU staff to design and implement programming for transfer and first-year students to the community.
She has been active with AU’s chapter of the national coed service fraternity Alphi Phi Omega, and every month, she volunteers at DC organizations working in education and food insecurity.
Her “love and genuine care for others” shines through in her work, and has helped those around her to build lasting relationship and find a sense of community on campus and beyond.
Fletcher Scholar Award
A senior who best exemplifies integrity and selflessness in citizenship on and off campus, together with academic achievement.
Hometown: Palisades Park, New Jersey
Major: Chemistry, College of Arts & Sciences
Arianna Lopez is a champion – in the research lab, on the sports field, in her volunteer service, and in the deep impression she makes on others.
As a Division I student-athlete on the cross country and track team, she committed 20 or more hours a week to training and competing. There would seem to be little time left in the day for more, but somehow, for Arianna, that was just the start.
When she wasn't in the field, she was often in the research lab, working in partnership with Chemistry professor Monika Konaklieva. Arianna’s research has developed over the years, with much of her efforts focusing on developing compounds that may help in combatting various diseases, including Alzheimer's. Her research has been supported by different grants, including the NASA-affiliated DC Space Grant consortium and the Mathias Summer Fellowship. Her commitment to her research shows her passion for academic pursuits and for helping people in need, a theme of Arianna's life across the board.
And there’s more. Throughout her years as a student-athlete, Arianna spent time weekly facilitating health education programs to youth in the DC area through The Grassroot Project.
This year, she expanded her education efforts by serving as a peer facilitator for the AU Eagles Leadership Academy: Emerging Eagles program. She mentors younger student-athletes while helping teach them important leadership characteristics. Arianna also spent time every week volunteering at a local hospice center, often taking the time to simply sit and converse with patients who may not have anyone else to be with them.
In 2019, Arianna was profiled in American Magazine for her extraordinary combination of sports, scholarship and service. As a recommender puts it: “There is no better way to define Arianna than as a selfless citizen.”
Harold Johnson Award
A student who has contributed most to promoting understanding and acceptance of cultural and racial diversity within the University community.
Hometown: Guadalupe, Arizona
Major/College: Public Health, College of Arts & Sciences
Guadalupe was always interested in medicine, but she also wants to use her knowledge to help her community. That’s what attracted her to the field of public health, and it has also been the focus of her intense involvement in student life at AU.
Guadalupe Mabry connects issues of health and equity every day – whether she’s leading in-depth conversations on race, privilege and culture, planning an Alternative Break around identity and health, or analyzing calcium signaling for a study on the formation of kidney stones.
For two years, Guadalupe has been involved at AU’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), serving as a dialogue facilitator, creating an inclusive peer-to-peer sex education program and researching the impact of internalized oppression on health. She also co-created an interactive workshop session, “Love in Color: QTOPC (Queer and Trans People of Color) Storytelling” presented at AU and at the 2020 Creating Change Conference – the largest LGBTQ conference in the country, where it earned rave reviews from participants. As CDI’s Health Equity intern this past semester, she has focused on creating culturally competent peer-to-peer sexual education content for students of color and LGBTQ students.
Guadalupe has also served as a Resident Assistant; was an International Correspondent for the Institute for Study Abroad, bringing her LGBTQ+ perspective to her studies in Manipal, India; and has been active in numerous organizations, including the Black Student Union, WVAU student radio, and President of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
As one staff member who worked with her said, “We are so lucky to have had Guadalupe on our campus!”
A senior who has made significant contributions to the University while maintaining a high scholastic record and serving in Student Government or the Student Conduct system.
Hometown: Lebanon, Maine
Major/Schools: Economics, College of Arts & Sciences and International Studies, School of International Service
Madison’s record of service to the AU community has been described as “amazing” – and she’s managed it while also making an “extremely impressive” mark as a scholar.
At AUSG, she worked to increase funding for initiatives addressing women’s issues. She served 18 months on the AU Conduct Council, served on the AU Student Wellness Council, and also served the community through teaching and tutoring -- as a Program Leader for a Complex Problems seminar; as an ASAC tutor in economics, World Politics, and calculus; and as a tutor to student athletes.
As Vice President of Delta Phi Epsilon Pi Professional Foreign Service Sorority, she was responsible for drafting and implementing its new constitution and by-laws and helping the organization shift to gender-neutral terms.
Meanwhile, she’s been on the SIS Dean’s List throughout her AU career. She has been an active scholarly writer for AU undergrad policy journals, including the World Mind (where she served as managing editor and has 10 publications on various topics) and Clocks and Clouds (where she co-authored an article with SIS professor Akhbar Ahmed).
Her awards include the Outstanding Achievement in Foreign Language Study and Practice in 2020 and the Global Inequality and Development Thematic Award in SIS in 2019.
As the child of a deaf adult, Madison’s first language was sign language, and so when she studied abroad in Jordan, she focused both on Arabic and Arabic sign language. Madison has also interned at USAID, worked as program coordinator for Global Deaf Muslim, and interned for the Tax Foundation and US House of Representatives.
All while being a student who, in the words of a faculty member, “makes the AU community a more welcoming place for all students.”