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Celebrating Campus-Community CollaborationVassar Thanks Community Partners for Hosting Student Volunteers

Seven Vassar students were honored for their service to the community over the past year. Winners of the Wendy Rae Breslau and Frances Aaron Hess ’53 awards were announced at a recent gathering of students, faculty, administrators and representatives of more than a dozen not-for-profit agencies and the community groups.

President Bradley with award winners (left to right) Cody Harmon, Kaiqing Su, Carlos Espina, Elle Xiao, Alyssa Vilela, Devon Wilson. (Not pictured: Breslau winner Mari Robles.)

Recipients of the Breslau awards were Carlos Espina ’21, Mari Robles ’21, Ella Xiao ’21 and Kaiqing Su ’21. Recipients of the Hess awards were Cody Harmon ’19, Alyssa Vilela ’19 and Devon Wilson ’19. 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 wellbeing of their fellow human beings and society in general.

The Frances Aaron Hess ’53 award recognizes students for their outstanding volunteer service in communities beyond Vassar's gates. The award includes the ability to direct a charitable donation to an organization of the recipient’s choosing.

Lisa Kaul, Director of the Office of Community Engaged Learning, addresses the crowd.

The event, held April 23 in the Villard Room, was co-sponsored by the Vassar Student Association (VSA), the Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development, the Engaged Pluralism Initiative and the Office of Community-Engaged Learning. Lisa Kaul, director of the Office of Community-Engaged Learning, told the more than 150 in attendance that 370 students, mentored by 110 faculty members, had been active in community projects during the school year, and an additional 100 students were engaged in community service during the summer. Kaul thanked members of those community organizations for “providing our students with a second home.”

Theodore “Tree” Arrington, executive director of REAL Skills Network of Poughkeepsie, praises Vassar students for their service to the community.

Kaul added, “Our community partners welcome our students, who come from across the country and the globe, into their offices and meetings. They allow our students to be more than tourists or passes-by in the community where they live during their college careers. They show pathways through which students can take ownership, connect and belong to the place where they live. They provide our students with a template for an engaged life.”

VSA President Tamar Ballard thanks the more than 370 students for their service.

VSA President Tamar Ballard said she too appreciated the community service the students provide every year. “You all are doing such incredible and meaningful things, and hopefully this celebration has been and continues to be a piece of gratitude for everything you do,” Ballard said. “Because doing the work of community engagement and community building isn’t always easy.”

Vassar College President Elizabeth Bradley thanked the students, faculty and community partners I attendance for collaborating to make the community a better place. “To the students who are here, thank-you for the work that you have done in the community is the last academic year, Bradley said. “There were many, many hours that Vassar students contributed to the communityas volunteers, as students in Community Engaged Learning Classes, as work-study students. The community is better for those efforts. 

“And for the community partnersthe agencies, offices, and individuals that opened up their offices and spent time with our studentsteaching, mentoring, and offering friendship—thank you. You are part of the Vassar experience, the experience beyond our campus and on behalf of the students and faculty. Thank you. I have talked to many alumnae/i who have told me that some experience that they encountered off campus was the key for them in deciding their direction. Your efforts and time spent make a big difference to the students.” 

About the Award Recipients

The Wendy Rae Breslau Award:

Carlos Espina ’21 is a Latin American Studies and Political Science major from College Station, TX. He is a tutor and mentor with the Vassar English Language Learning Program (VELLOP) and has volunteered for other local community organizations. In Texas, he is president of a not-for-profit organization called Football for the Future, which provides free soccer camps for low-income children.

Mari Robles ’21, of Wilmington, MA, is president of the Latinx Student Union and a member of the Committee on Equity and Inclusion and Board of Residential Affairs. In her hometown, she works with a local veterans’ group to distribute food, clothing and other items to elderly and homeless veterans.  

Ella Xaio ’21, of Seattle, WA, is studying Education and Sociology. She is a Student Fellow in Strong House, a volunteer for the Vassar Urban Education Initiative and vice president of the Multiracial Biracial Students Alliance.

Kaiqing Su ’21 is a Political Science major from Guangzhou, China. She is a member of the Vassar Haiti Project, the Office of International Services, and the Forum of Political Thought. Her off-campus activities included a semester with Exodus Transitional Community, a local organization that helps formerly incarcerated people re-enter society.

The Frances Aaron Hess ’53 Award

Cody D. Harmon ’19, an Educational Studies major from Rayne, Louisiana, matriculated at Vassar through the Posse Veterans Scholarship Initiative. He is involved in the Urban Education Initiative and the Hudson Valley Veterans Alliance. He won the ALANA Oyama Emerging Leader Award in 2016 and a Breslau Award in 2017.

Alyssa Vilela ’19, a Science, Technology and Society major from Bethel, NY, serves as a residential counselor at Hudson River Housing’s Riverhaven Youth Shelter in Poughkeepsie.

Devon Wilson ’19, a Physics major from Nortonville, KS, is president of the Vassar chapter of Habitat for Humanity, secretary of the Class of 2019 and president of the Archery Club. Following graduation in May, he will be biking across the United States to raise money for agencies that provide affordable housing.