Celebrating the Recipients of This Year's Excellence Awards

Written by Chris Pasion, graduate assistant to The Graduate School.

The HSGSA, a group of about 15 people posing for a photo, which won the GSA of the Year Award

The Health Sciences GSA, which won the GSA of the Year award

This semester's unprecendented changes as a result of COVID-19 have unfortunately necessitated the cancellation of a few special campus events, one of which being the Graduate Student Government's annual Spring Ball. Each year, the graduate student community comes together at the ball to dance, eat, and celebrate their achievements from the year. The Spring Ball is also where the Graduate Student Excellence Awards are given out to their recipients. 

"The Graduate Student Excellence Awards celebrate the work and achievements of the most outstanding of our colleagues," says the GSG's vice president, Mohan Pillai. "We recognize the exceptional work that some of these Bearcats have put in, as they get ready to move on to what's next for them. In doing so, we are also mindful that cooperation leads to success, and thus celebrate our own community."

This year saw applications increase four-fold, which is a testament to the great work being done by students. Mohan says, "The committee, of course, had a difficult time deciding between the nominees; all the applicants were exceptional in their own way. Several meetings, many hours and a few pizzas later, the committee agreed upon the winners."

Here are a few words from some of the winners:

Shaonta' Allen posing for a photo

Shaonta' Allen, sociology PhD candidate

Graduate Student Award for Exemplary Initiative

"My goal is to cultivate an equitable campus community- one we all would want to work in. I've pursued this goal over the years by serving in a variety of leadership roles across campus. In these roles, I have worked alongside others to ensure that the campus community, and graduate students in particular, have the resources that they need to be successful. 

 I prioritize serving in various leadership roles because when I was an early graduate student, older students, both in and outside of my department, assisted and mentored me through their service in graduate student organizations. I think it's important to continue the trend of paving the way for future students' so they can advance smoothly through their programs with the support of organizations like these. UC embodies a spirit of innovation that inspires each of us to be the best that we can be. I've benefited from this spirit but also felt it important to play an active role in contributing to this culture and standard of excellence.   

It is always rewarding to be recognized publicly for "invisible labor." Research shows that woman of color are often over-burdened with service work like this, so as a Black woman I am grateful to be recognized with this award because it validates this labor as being important for the ultimate success of our university."

Jelena Vicic posing for a photo

Jelena Vicic, political science PhD candidate

Graduate Student Award for Exemplary Service

Why is service important? Sometimes questions that seem very simple are the most difficult ones to answer. Service to the University is important to me for several reasons. On a personal level, I believe that to have a holistic educational experience, one needs to be completely immersed in the academic endeavor - both in terms of research and in terms of service and community life. The importance of research speaks for itself and is there to benefit greater society and advance the discipline, but service is important because it advances and benefits the community as a whole. I believe that important learning occurs on both levels - research and service. The two levels also intertwine and reinforce each other. Secondly, I believe in service because of what it can accomplish, and because of the positive impact it can have on the life of a community. The ripple effects are too many for me to be able to briefly consider. Through my own service, I worked towards building a community for graduate students, and aspired to be a thoughtful advocate, build networks across the University, and improve the overall experience of students on UC campus. In all this, I was lucky to be specifically at the University of Cincinnati (and not somewhere else). This is true not only because of the support I received from my colleagues and team members, but also because the people who are the lifeblood of our institution welcome, support, and celebrate student involvement and excellence.

Sahar posing for a photo

Sahar Heydari-Fard, philosophy PhD student

Graduate Student Award for Exemplary Scholarship

My research focuses on analyzing our moral obligations toward, and relationships with, social movements, as well as the causal role those movements, play in creating social change. Despite past scholars’ acknowledgment of and respect for successful social movements like the Civil Rights and Women’s Suffrage movements, there is surprisingly little philosophical analysis of how such social movements do or do not effect change, and how individuals should relate to such movements. My main contribution to this literature is to further the philosophical and normative conversations about social movements.

Erica DePasquale

Erica Depasquale, bioinformatics PhD candidate

Graduate Student Award for Exemplary Schoalrship

From a computational perspective, the primary goal of this research is to advance the field of single-cell bioinformatics by developing three new applications to address three of the most pressing challenges in single-cell RNA-sequencing: 1) identification and removal of doublets, 2) matching and comparison of cell populations, and 3) identification of known and novel mixed-lineage and transitional cell states. The secondary goal of my dissertation is to eliminate barriers to our understanding of normal hematopoiesis and enable discovery of novel regulators of malignant hematopoiesis in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). With this in mind, the overall aim of my dissertation research is to discover novel cell populations in AML datasets to uncover the cellular origins of their cancers. Winning this award was really meaningful for me because writing and defending my dissertation during this pandemic has been challenging. Knowing that my peers believe in me and my research is the additional motivation that I need to push through these challenging times and finish on a high note.

Clair Kronk posing for a photo

Clair Cronk, biomedical informatics PhD student

Graduate Student Award for GSA of the Year (Clair is president of the Health Sciences GSA)

"Where to begin with this one! I suppose, as we all get older and more experienced, it is easier and easier to become jaded—it is easier to say “it is how it is” and just hope that certain things won’t affect you, your friends, your family, and your loved ones. I’ve oftentimes found myself feeling that way. As a member of the transgender community, I’ve seen my siblings trampled on and abused and no one else would stand up for us. So when international students or sexual assault victims or those in other colleges were being mistreated, I had to become involved. I couldn’t just sit there and watch. It is important to be engaged because that is the only way these things change. It’s the only way things get better. People have to stand up not just for themselves, but for others, especially those whose voices have been silenced. And hopefully, that engagement can inspire those in power to help fix issues—we’ve seen this just this year in making sure graduate students have humane payment and health insurance coverage. People who are engaged can help engender change just by speaking up and empowering others to speak."

Audrey Hemmer posing for a photo

Audrey Hemmer, MS in nutrition 

Gradute Student Award for Exemplary Service

"Service offers numerous benefits everyone involved. Regardless of your skill set and interests, there is a way to give back. Service allows us to form relationships with people we may not otherwise meet, engage with a larger community, learn outside of the traditional classroom and view the world through a new lens. It is also an opportunity to serve others, and there is always room in this world for more compassion!"

Scott Gibbons posing for a photo

-Scott Gibbonscurriculum studies & teacher education PhD candidate

Graduate Student Award for Exemplary Scholarship

"I won the award for Exemplary Scholarship. I am excited to receive this award because it is so nice to be recognized for my hard work and countless hours committed to research, teaching, and mentoring. Currently, I am a doctoral candidate in curriculum studies and teacher education. I have taught educational methods courses at UC and am currently teaching educational technology courses. For the past two years I have served as a student teacher supervisor and have mentored other student teachers during their practicum experience. My research includes teacher development, educational technology, and learner engagement strategies. Before coming to UC, I taught high school English for 11 years. I truly believe being a teacher educator is my calling in life because I love what I am doing now, and I love being able to apply my research to my role as a teacher educator. In a field where our successes are typically only realized through the success of our students, it is great to know that others see value in what I have done while at UC."

Nava Rijal posing for a photo

Nava P. Rijal, biomedical sciences PhD candidate

 Gradute Student Award for Exemplary Scholarship

"I want to thank GSG for recognizing me for this award. This recognition provides validation to my hard work and determination. Being selected among other talented graduate students provides a sense of responsibility and encouragement to do better."

To learn more about each of the Graduate Student Excellence Awards, visit the Excellence Awards webpage.