Champions of Equal Opportunity Honored

October 29, 2010 — The University of Virginia's Office of Equal Opportunity Programs congratulated a varied group of employees on Friday with its annual Champion Awards.

The awards recognize the ongoing commitment and efforts of individuals and groups who promote and increase equity and access at U.Va.

The EOP Champion Awards, created last year,  is not a competition designed to select a limited number of recipients, EOP Director Darlene Scott-Scurry said.

The honorees range from Yoke San Reynolds, vice president and chief financial officer, to the Common Ground group at the University Library, to undergraduate Jason Shapiro, who helped establish Annual Disabilities Awareness Week.

Here is the complete list of the champions who have become leaders in contributing to the causes of social justice, equal rights and community building at U.Va.

• Common Ground Community of the University Library

Since fall 2008, the University Library's Common Ground Community has followed its mission "to embrace the human experience in all its uniqueness by fostering a library environment that delights in our differences and explores our similarities." The group, whose members are volunteers as opposed to being appointed, hosts or co-sponsors several multicultural events each year, such as celebrating Martin Luther King Day and the African-American Juneteenth holiday, as well as holding a Holocaust remembrance group discussion.

• Reginald G. Benbow Jr.
College of Arts & Sciences undergraduate student

Benbow founded "My Brother's Keeper," a program at Albemarle High School that mentors and helps black male students prepare for undergraduate studies. At the University, he is a vice chairman of the Minority Rights Coalition, which lobbies on behalf of racial, gender and sexuality justice. Last spring, he received a Harrison Undergraduate Research Award for his project on "California Fault Lines: Black Americans and Proposition 8." Benbow also re-established an inactive group for LGBT students of color, the Minority Squad. He is majoring in political and social thought and African-American studies, with a minor in Middle Eastern studies.

• Yared Getachew
Assistant dean for public service, School of Law

Getachew advances equality by mentoring and encouraging students to pursue careers that serve underprivileged people. Such careers include working for organizations that provide legal services to low-income communities or that represent people deprived of civil rights. He has advised students and graduates to look into jobs with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Legal Aid, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Washington Committee for Civil Rights. He helps students obtain positions abroad in non-governmental organizations and international tribunals that protect the human rights of persecuted people around the world, including women, impoverished and war-torn populations and religious and ethnic minorities.

• John-Lee Holmes
Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing lab manager, Center for Survey Research, Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service

Under Holmes' leadership in the Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing Lab, employees of any age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender or disability status are encouraged to contribute, grow and advance professionally in support of the center's organizational mission. In their nominating letter, his  co-workers wrote, "John-Lee encourages, by tone and example, each of us to authentically be who we are, to authentically respect who others are and to experience our collective differences as intrinsic to our collective humanity."

• Lori Kressin
Information technology specialist, Division of Information Technology and Communication

Kressin has been involved for many years in delivering assistive technology for students, staff and faculty. She has worked to raise the importance of integrating accessibility into website design and found funding for the text-conversion software for all web pages at U.Va. She was instrumental in improving the Kruzweil Educational System reading technology for the visually impaired. Kressin is also an active member of the Committee on Access for Persons with Disabilities.

• Yoke San Reynolds
Vice president and chief financial officer

Reynolds has led by example as a member of the Women's Leadership Council, a panelist for the Women in Leadership and Philanthropy conference and as president of the Piedmont Chinese Association. She has served as a mentor and contributor to various diversity initiatives, such as the East Coast Asian American Student Union Conference, the Asian American Leadership Retreat and the Asian American Women's Initiatives. She has also furthered the cause of equal opportunity through her tireless efforts in successful recruitment of senior administration from underrepresented groups.

• Julie Roa
Multicultural student services program coordinator, Office of the Dean of Students

As an AccessUVA coordinator and member of the Outreach Office, Roa has spent countless hours educating her colleagues and prospective students and families on financial aid opportunities offered at U.Va. She was the impetus behind the establishment of Hoos for Open Access and continues to advise the group. She effectively extended her reach as an advocate for Hispanic/Latino students and has trained Madison House volunteers to work with English as a Second Language students. Roa also facilitated the relationship between U.Va. and Colfuturo, a scholarship organization in Colombia. She has been active in ensuring that Latino alumni stay connected to U.Va. by serving as the vice chair of the Bolivar Network.

• Jason Shapiro
Undergraduate student, McIntire School of Commerce

Shapiro has championed disability and access awareness at the University for the past two years. For Disabilities Awareness Week, he organized a program of events promoting appreciation and respect for persons with disabilities. He is also committed to working with the access committee to continue to address issues of mobility and accessibility for all faculty, staff and students.

• Charles Tolbert
Former chairman, Committee on Access for Persons with Disabilities

For many years, Tolbert, an astronomy professor in the College, served as the chair of U.Va.'s Access Committee, which is charged with addressing the needs and concerns of persons with disabilities and ensuring the Grounds are accessible. Although the committee often had little in the way of funds for improvements or removal of obstacles, he made the most of limited financial resources. Still a member of the committee, his almost photographic memory of the physical Grounds of the University "makes him an invaluable member of the current access committee," his nomination said.

• Carolyn Vallas
Director, Center for Diversity in Engineering

Vallas has spearheaded several major activities to expand recruitment and retention of students from underrepresented populations in the fields known as "STEM" – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She won a five-year, $5 million grant in 2007 from the National Science Foundation's Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program. The initiative, termed VA-NC AMP, comprises eight state universities and historically black colleges and universities in both states and works to increase the quality and quantity of students completing STEM baccalaureate degree programs and pursuing graduate study. Vallas sponsored, in conjunction with the Thomas Nelson Community College, the First Annual Community College Day to increase the knowledge of the STEM offerings at U.Va. by interaction with current and prospective students. She also serves as adviser to the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, one of her nominators.

• Edward Warwick
Coordinator of LGBT Student Services, Office of the Dean of Students

Warwick has implemented new programs to raise awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, including the "Love is Love" T-shirt day and a program for students to share coming-out experiences. He organized an LGBT Ally Appreciation luncheon to recognize supportive straight peers, a "queer prom" for LGBT students to experience a school dance in a safe and welcoming environment and a "Lavender Graduation" event to honor graduating LGBT students. "Ed's dedication to his job is allowing our students to feel welcomed and accepted at the University and reminding faculty and staff how much times have changed," said his nominators.

The Equal Opportunity Programs office is a resource for addressing complaints related to discrimination, making disability accommodations and training in the legal aspects of faculty and senior administrator searches. The office also provides information and resources and houses the ombudsman. See the frequently asked questions for information.

— By Anne Bromley