Students Earn Awards for Aiding Community and Advancing Social Justice

Photos Kelly Marsh

Fourteen students were honored for their service to the College and the community by the Office of Community-Engaged Learning (OCEL). OCEL’s annual awards ceremony was held May 3 at Vassar Barns. 

OCEL’s annual awards ceremony was held at Vassar Barn.

The students were recipients of the Frances Aaron Hess ’53 Award, the Wendy Rae Breslau Award, the Helen Miringoff Prize, and the newly established OCEL Social Justice Award. “We are here to celebrate the commitment of our students and our community partners who together provide transformative opportunities and experiences,” said OCEL Director Elizabeth Cannon. “These students exemplify tremendous leadership and a desire to create more equitable communities.”

Cannon said the OCEL Social Justice Award was established to highlight one of OCEL’s core values. “Our new award specifically recognizes our students’ commitment to one of our core missions,” she said.

The Frances Aaron Hess ’53 Award is made possible by a gift from an alum who was a tireless volunteer in her community. The award is to a student or students who have made significant contributions as volunteer/s in the community beyond Vassar’s gates. The award includes a financial contribution made by Vassar College to an organization of the recipient’s choosing, typically the organization where the student Volunteered. This year’s recipients are:

Karun Krishnamurthy ’24, Psychological Science Major

Krishnamurthy was nominated for his work with Vassar English Language Learners Outreach Program (VELLOP), Finish Strong, Crossroads Chess, Poughkeepsie Farm Project, and Hudson River Housing. Krishnamurthy’s sense of self comes from being part of something bigger, and he strives to be a present member of community wherever they go. He spent a large part of this last year working with Building Community, a project he started to bridge the gap between the Vassar campus and the City of Poughkeepsie.

Two people holding diploma/awards and smiling.
Frances Aaron Hess ’53 Award winners Karun Krishnamurthy ’24 (left)and Bekir Hodzic ’26.

Bekir Hodzic ’26, History and Political Science Double Major, Native American Studies Correlate

Hodzic was nominated for his support to his home community of the Bosniak diaspora working as an Alliance & Advocacy and Podcast Manager at Genocide Watch and supporting the Bosnian Genocide Remembrance Day. Growing up Bosniak American, Hodzic was instilled with a sensitivity toward genocidal violence and suffering. At Vassar, he is a member of Transitions, the Vassar Muslim Student Association, and Vassar Law Club.

The Wendy Rae Breslau Award provides an annual citation and prize to one or more Vassar students completing their sophomore year who, by their words and actions during the current year, have exhibited outstanding concern for the welfare and well-being of their peers and society in general. The award will take into account contributions made through both curricular and extracurricular activities or a combination of both. Recipients are:

Six people holding diploma/awards and smiling.
Wendy Rae Breslau Award winners (left to right: Tanseem Hussein ’26, Mingjia Ni ’26, Julia Weinberg ’26, Mirka Juarez ’26, Stuart Heintz '26, and Caitlin Gong ’26). Not pictured: Mariya Novosad ’26. This photo has been modified to include the correct award for Julia Weinberg.

Tasneem Hussein ’26, Neuroscience & Behavior and Political Science Double Major

As the Vice President of the Muslim Student Association, Hussein works closely with the office of Religious and Spiritual Life and Contemplative Practices (RSLCP). She is also an Arabic translator at the Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education, working with asylum seekers in the Hudson Valley.

Mingjia Ni ’26, Sociology Major, Asian American Studies Correlate

Ni was nominated for their work with FLI (formerly Transitions, Vassar’s program for first-generation and low-income students), the ALANA Center, and the Brain and Body Coalition, to name a few. They are also a Portrait magazine designer, UFLI Abroad Committee member, treasurer of UJIMA and Maroon Society, Chinese Drill instructor, African Violet, and Matriculate Advising Fellow.

Mirka D. Juárez ’26, International Studies Major

Juárez was nominated for her involvement in FLI (formerly Transitions), the Planning Committee for the Immigrant Youth Empowerment Conference, and work as a Peer Mentor for first-year college students at an organization called Students Rising Above, which focuses on providing support for first-generation low-income students. She is also part of the Latine Students’ Union.

Julia Weinberg ’26, English and Film Double Major

Weinberg was nominated for her work in coordinating educational events and community discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and her role as a mentor for local elementary schoolers through the Vassar English Language Learners Outreach Program (VELLOP). She also serves as lead copy editor of The Miscellany News, Treasurer of Vassar College Television, and is a student fellow in Lathrop House.

Mariya Novosad ’26, Psychological Science Major, Prison Studies Correlate

Novosad was nominated for her work with Citizen Action of New York, Exodus Transitional Community, and the Dutchess County Public Defender’s Office. She is passionate about reimagining how we define and pursue public safety and community care. At Vassar, she works for House Team, the OCEL, serves as a VassarVotes Dorm Voting Advisor, and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine  the Women’s Squash team, and Measure4Measure, as well as FLI.

Stuart Heintz ’26, Biology and Education Double Major

Heintz was co-nominated with Caitlin Gong for their work helping to improve diversity and inclusion within the Ultimate Frisbee team and volunteering with the Saturday Morning Lights Poughkeepsie school program. They love the combination of humanities and stem and examining our education system within science. Heintz is an avid hiker, President of the Vassar Outing Club, and Outreach Coordinator for Ultimate Frisbee. They are also the Treasurer of the Food Community and a CEL Programming Assistant within the OCEL.

Caitlin Gong ’26, Computer Science Major

Gong was co-nominated for work helping to improve diversity and inclusion within the Ultimate Frisbee team and volunteering with the Saturday Morning Lights Poughkeepsie school program. She finds joy and inspiration within the lively, creative communities in Vassar and Poughkeepsie.

The Helen Miringoff Prize is awarded at Commencement to a student whose community-engaged learning project or community involvement has made a substantial contribution to an agency or to the community. During her 30 years in the Field Work Office (now called Office of Community-Engaged Learning) at Vassar, Helen Miringoff served as a vital link between the College and community and instilled in generations of Vassar students her fervent belief in action informed by knowledge, commitment, and passion. Recipients are:

Three people holding diploma/awards and smiling.
Helen Miringoff Award winners (left to right): Lauren Johns ’24, Arlene Chen ’24, and Calder Beasley ’26.

Arlene Chen ’24, History Major, Correlate in Migration & Displacement

Chen was nominated by the Mid-Hudson Antislavery History Project for her work as a Research and Communications Intern. On campus, she is involved with Portrait, Vassar’s Asian/Asian American students’ magazine, as the Publicity Manager.

Calder Beasley ’26, Science, Technology & Society and Math Major

Beasley was nominated by the American Lung Association for his work facilitating asthma management programs for kids at Morse and Warring Elementary Schools. He is passionate about the intersection of health and education, especially the spread of health information and care in schools. Beasley is a Student Fellow in Noyes House, a VassarVotes Dorm Voting Advisor, and the Treasurer of the Vassar Healthcare Industry Club.

Lauren Johns ’24, Neuroscience & Behavior

Johns was nominated for their work as a Community Fellowin building capacity to support victims of violence. On campus, Johns is the co-president of the Women’s and Gender Expansive Athletes (WGA) working group and Vassar’s Eye-2-Eye chapter. After graduation, Johns plans to complete post-baccalaureate courses at the University of Pennsylvania and then complete a master of science in the global health at the University of Notre Dame.

The OCEL Social Justice Award honors students of the Vassar community who have demonstrated compassion, courage, and leadership in their commitment to social justice and social change. The award recognizes students whose activism and advocacy uplifts those most impacted by injustices and strives to create a more inclusive and equitable community. Recipients are:

Two people holding diploma/awards and smiling.
OCEL Social Justice Award winners Elena Henderson-Downey ’24 (left) and Jay Chung ’25.

Jay Chung ’25, Biochemistry Major

Chung was nominated for his commitment to empowering others and fostering positive change. He has worked alongside the Dutchess County Department of Health on accessible healthcare education in their Health Literacy program for youth, local schools, and community centers by facilitating interactive workshops and activities. Chung is also involved with Vassar EMS, Exploring Science at Vassar College, and CEL with the Trevor Zoo.

Elena Henderson-Downey ’24, Political Science Major, Education Correlate

Henderson-Downey was nominated for her commitment to supporting Black and brown youth through projects with Celebrating the African Spirit, Krieger Elementary School, and Finish Strong.

OCEL Director Elizabeth Cannon presided at the annual awards event.
May 22, 2024