Seventeen graduating students who excelled in service, scholarship and leadership have won this year’s University Student Awards and will be honored on Friday at a virtual awards ceremony, with family, mentors, and guests expected to log in from as far away as Lebanon and Azerbaijan.
They have pursued different paths in their time at AU – from advocating for refugees, to building vibrant communities through campus clubs, to researching the deepest-living nematode ever found, a creature dubbed the Devil Worm.
But all have impressed the community with their dedication, commitment, and impact.
Four students are honored each year for exceptional scholarship: two undergraduates and two graduate students. This year's awardees for the Scott A. Bass Outstanding Scholarship at the Undergraduate Level Award are Megan Nicole Hansen Guerin, CAS ’21, and Anthony LoPrete, CAS ’21. Erin Elizabeth Williams, SPA/MS ’21, and Esther Matthews, SPA/PhD ’21, will receive awards for Outstanding Scholarship at the Graduate Level.
Megan Nicole Hansen Guerin, CAS ’21, has already completed sizable scientific work on a very small creature: the “Devil Worm,” Halicephalobus mephisto, the deepest-living animal in the world. Her Biology honors thesis, "Functional Testing of a Stress Adaptation Biosignature Observed in the Devil Worm," looks at the unusually large number of heat-shock proteins encoded by this strange creature. She has already received grant funding for her work on genomics and molecular biology, and was lead author on a paper in the prestigious Journal of Molecular Evolution that became a runner-up for the publication’s prize for best paper of the year.
Megan Nicole Hansen Guerin (CAS '21)
Anthony LoPrete, CAS ’21, is a dual major in Physics and Computational Science whose research has crossed disciplines. His work has ranged from optical illusions to quantum physics to the study of retinal imaging, the optics of the eye, and color vision. Along with winning prestigious scholarships such as the Goldwater Scholarship, an NIH-funded Summer Research Fellowship, and a NASA DC Space Grant Summer Fellowship, he co-authored a paper for the Journal of the Optical Society of America, “Helix rotation: Luminance contrast controls the shift from two-dimensional to three-dimensional perception.” In addition, he has mentored middle school students in physics and math, and is a musical composer who expresses his creativity in many genres, including ambient, modern classical, and experimental electronic music.
Anthony LoPrete (CAS ’21)
Erin Elizabeth Williams, SPA/MS ’21, focuses her scholarship on child welfare, interpersonal violence, rural crime, and disparities faced by victims in rural communities. Graduating with a Master’s in Justice, Law and Criminology, she has already established a strong record of presentations and scholarly publications, including a co-authored article, “#MeToo for Whom? Sexual Assault Disclosures Before and After #MeToo,” in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Criminal Justice. At AU, she has not only published multiple articles in The Public Purpose, SPA’s graduate student journal, but served as its Managing Print Editor and Associate Print Editor. Her data analysis skills have supported the “Palmer Survey,” AU’s Biennial Survey of Sexual Violence, Dating Violence, and Bystander Intervention. She has also served on the research team for AU’s Shades of Justice Research Project, which examines the relationship between colorism and perceptions of justice-related issues.
Erin Elizabeth Williams (SPA/MS '21)
Esther Matthews, SPA/PhD ’21, has sought in her doctoral research to identify and investigate successful reentry solutions for returning citizens who have been incarcerated. Her work has already made a significant scholarly contribution to the field of Justice, Law and Criminology, and she also shared her findings with the general public through a recent Washington Post article on the ways that stigma holds back those who have served time in prison. She has co-authored two book chapters, published her research in the peer-reviewed Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, and has a number of other manuscripts under review. She’ll begin a tenure-track faculty position at Gonzaga University in Fall 2021.
Esther Matthews (SPA/PhD ’21)
Outstanding Service Awards
Each year, the award for Outstanding Service to the University Community goes to two students – undergraduate, graduate, or law - who have made a lasting impact on the AU community. This year’s honorees are Saliho Toure and Timothy Schmeling.
Saliho Toure (SIS ’21) fled Liberia’s civil war with his family as a baby and spent seven years in a refugee camp in Guinea, where his earliest memories included the devastating effects of war. Moving to the U.S. at eight and ultimately joining AU, he became a powerful voice for refugees, immigrants, and displaced people. He volunteered with organizations such as the International Rescue Committee and Americans for a Free Syria, where he was part of the Congressional Relations team, advocated with Congressional leaders for renewal of Syrian Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and wrote an editorial for USA Today. He also used his French skills to help Francophone refugees who couldn’t speak with resettlement services, tutored English, and served as a youth success coach. And all along, he was active in the campus community as an AUx peer facilitator and member of the Intercultural Greek Collective and Black Caucus Committee. As one faculty member said, “There is no better exemplar of what it means to serve and live one’s life as a changemaker.”
Saliho Toure (SIS ’21)
Timothy Schmeling (WCL ’21) has made an impact on law students that will long outlast his tenure as president of the Student Bar Association. Working entirely by Zoom, he has built coalitions and leveraged SBA resources to provide scholarships for students to study for the Bar exam, sponsor WiFi study hotpots, and find emergency grants. He has pushed both student government and the administration to confront challenging issues in productive, thoughtful ways that brought results. His relentless focus on reaching all members of the class, and on making smart and careful use of the resources at SBA’s disposal, has impressed faculty, staff and peers alike. He also pursued his professional interest in making change by working as a law fellow at the Human Rights Campaign, interning at the House of Representatives, helping to coordinate World Bank conferences on poverty, and studying international law in Europe as part of WCL Abroad. As one member of the law school community put it, “Tim is headed for greatness, and we have been so fortunate that he invested his time, energy, and caring in the WCL student experience this year.”
Timothy Schmeling (WCL ’21)
Student Achievement Awards
Ten of AU’s most active, engaged and high-achieving students are being honored for their impact on the community with named Student Achievement Awards.
Lori Younissess, SIS ’21, receives the Bruce Hughes Award for the depth of her leadership in a wide range of service to the university community. Coming to AU from Lebanon with an Emerging Global Leaders scholarship, she gained a reputation for empowering others. She has worked as Teaching Assistant in 10 classes across three different schools, served as a University College peer leader, tutored Arabic, served as a Career Center peer mentor, and mentored incoming international students and global nomads as an AU Diplomat. At other times, she could be found playing violin in the AU Symphony Orchestra and serving as coxswain on the AU Club Crew Team. A talented academic, she focused on sharing research with the community and helping others to share their own research as managing editor for AU’s undergraduate research journal Clocks and Clouds and by organizing research conferences, including during the pandemic. As one faculty member said, “She is an exemplary figure on campus.”
Lori Younissess (SIS ’21)
Zumrud Hajiyeva, KSB ‘21, wins the Carlton Savage Award for her contributions to increasing intercultural understanding at AU. The international student from Azerbaijan has dedicated herself to raising cultural awareness, building community, and helping international students get to know AU and DC. Hundreds of new and current students have benefitted from programs where she played a key role, from Cherry Blossom Picnic to International Game Night to Embassy Row Trick or Treat. She also shared her experiences with incoming students as an Orientation Leader and AU Diplomat. Undeterred by the pandemic and logging in from Azerbaijan, she continued to serve the international community with outreach to incoming students across many time zones.
Zumrud Hajiyeva (KSB ‘21)
Jacob Robbins, SPA/CAS ’21, earns the Catheryn Seckler-Hudson Award, given to a senior who exemplifies character and achievement while making significant contributions to Student Government. As a student senator, he became known for his dedication to supporting student engagement, commitment to supporting peers in their roles, and advocacy work to address student needs. As Financial Coordinator of the Kennedy Political Union, he also focused on educating his peers and forming strategic partnerships. Beyond his official roles, he is known for reaching out to his peers in countless ways. As one of his professors noted, “Jacob demonstrates a keen sense of duty to his fellow community members, and AU students, not just in formal settings but in everyday actions.”
Jacob Robbins (SPA/CAS ’21)
Hannah Gumpert, KSB ’21, lands the Charles Glover Award for her citizenship and business leadership in service to the AU community. While a student, she has served as Senior Project Manager of MEANS Database, a nationwide online food matching platform for vendors with excess food and food pantries that was started by a now-graduated AU student and is largely student-run. She has displayed both her citizenship and business acumen by helping to facilitate the movement of over 2,000 pounds of food donations per week, leading the Native Response initiative throughout the pandemic, and directing the Donor Engagement Program. Meanwhile, she built up AU’s Private Equity/Venture Capital Club and was a discussion leader and team organizer at the Venture Capital Investment competition. Gumpert has been operating at full professional capacity to help others, and has been doing it while a full-time student and active member of the campus community.
Hannah Gumpert (KSB ’21)
Clifford Young, SIS ’21, receives the Charles Van Way Award for his significant contributions to enriching student life and building community. As one professor phrased it, “Clifford had a hand in planning or implementing a huge percentage of events occurring on campus over the last four years.” As President of the Caribbean Circle, he oversaw the planning and implementation of numerous events, including the Roots and Rhythms Carnival Pageant and the Diasporic Dialogue Series. He was active with the Black Graduation Student Planning Committee, Kennedy Political Union, and Undergraduate Club Council, where he served as Chair. At the same time, he managed multiple internships, including with a U.S. Senator, a U.S. Representative, and federal agencies, while also juggling student positions at campus offices. In all of his activities, he has continuously shown his dedication to creating a community that is diverse, welcoming and inclusive.
Clifford Young (SIS ’21)
Sultana Qureshi, CAS ’21, has earned the Evelyn Swarthout-Hayes Award for contributing to the community through the arts while demonstrating an impressive record of academic achievement. As a performer, their ability to embody a character made a deep impact on audiences who saw their work with performance groups such as AU Players and AU Rude Mechanicals. In addition to roles in The Boy Detective Fails, Shared Space, The Crucible, Blood Wedding, Company, and Hamlet, they are known as an advocate for the disenfranchised and a supportive, inspirational Teaching Assistant, dedicated to creating safe and respectful spaces and educating the whole person. They have also been active in outreach to potential students, sharing their experience at AU. As a performer, an educator, and a role model, Qureshi has made a lot of fans.
Sultana Qureshi (CAS ’21)
Hannah Brown, CAS/SPA ’21, has been awarded the Fletcher Scholar Award for her powerful combination of academic strength and citizenship on and off campus. A double major in Statistics and Political Science, she works to apply her data science skills to pressing community issues. Off campus, as co-founder of Antiracist HOCO in Howard County, Maryland, she has engaged with families and the Howard County Public School System on antiracist education initiatives, using data to inform solutions. On campus, she has served as an AU Honors mentor, a Complex Problems Program Leader, and Chief Advocate of Academic Affairs with the student-run Center for Advocacy and Student Equity. She also worked to foster strong community ties as Delta Gamma Director of Lectureship. Professors and peers alike describe her as deeply dedicated to seeking knowledge and helping others, and describe her with a recurring word: “exceptional.”
Hannah Brown (CAS/SPA ’21)
Joshua Dantzler, SPA ’21, is the recipient of this year’s Harold Johnson Award, which honors a student who has stood out on campus for their work in promoting cultural and racial diversity and understanding. His leadership roles have ranged from Summer Transition Enrichment Program (STEP) Assistant to Alternative Break leader to Communications and Outreach Program Assistant in the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) — always infusing the activities he leads with an inspirational focus on both awareness and action. Selected as a Resident Assistant for AU’s first year of Black Affinity Housing, a new housing option postponed by the pandemic, he continued to create outreach opportunities even when the community couldn’t gather in person. As one staff member put it, “He is a student whose desire to speak about social issues and injustices is only outweighed by his proactiveness to do something about them through action.”
Joshua Dantzler (SPA ’21)
Inuri Abeysekara, SIS ’21, earns the Kinsman-Hurst Award, which recognizes service in Student Government or the Student Conduct system. As both a Student Senator and member of Delta Gamma sorority, she has worked to improve understanding between Student Government and Fraternity and Sorority Life while working on risk prevention for Greek life, with projects that included National Hazing Prevention Week. She has also sat on numerous sanctions and appeal cases before the Conduct Board. She has been described as a role model and an inspiration for her peers who consistently goes above and beyond in helping others.
Inuri Abeysekara (SIS ’21)
Ellie Kight, CAS ’19, receives the Stafford Cassell Award, which goes to a graduating student who “best exemplifies the traits of [legendary AU coach] Stafford Cassell - total, selfless dedication to the University, profound energy, reliability, intellectual curiosity, friendliness, and helpfulness.” Kight is the embodiment of a true student-athlete. A stellar student on the pre-med track, she has worked as a lab assistant testing antibiotic resistant bacteria while also spending 25 hours a week in the water as captain of the Swim and Dive team, serving as a member of the AU Athletic Anti-Racism Coalition, and mentoring her fellow student-athletes. As one community member put it, “She is both a wonderful ambassador for AU and the ultimate team player.”
Ellie Kight (CAS ’19)
Dayana Sarova, SIS ‘20, is the 2021 President’s Award winner — the highest distinction for an AU undergraduate and one she earned through her esteemed academic career and her wish to help others as others had helped her. She graduated this past August after an impressive career at AU and is the first international student to win the President's Award. Read all about Dayana Sarova in this profile, "2021 President's Award Winner Lauded for Teamwork and Leadership."
Dayana Sarova (SIS ‘20)