Service Awards Honor University Community Members at Valediction

Class awards, secret society awards and the Algernon Sydney Sullivan awards went to several members of the University community Friday during Valedictory Exercises. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Effective organizations require “engaged citizens to provide structural continuity,” said Bryanna F. Miller, a student member of the award committee that on Friday presented this year’s Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards at the University of Virginia’s Valedictory Exercises.

“The vital work that sustains this university then requires an Alysa M. Triplett, who works tirelessly to help the organization become stronger and stronger,” Miller said in announcing the award to a large audience at John Paul Jones Arena.

Triplett, a commerce graduate, is one of three recipients of this year’s Sullivan Awards. She is known for her team-building and mentoring skills in the Office of African American Affairs Peer Advisor Program. The students Triplett has advised describe her as “genuine, welcoming, encouraging and someone who makes them feel at home at the University,” Miller said.

“Through her courage as an ally and advocate, she has given voice to black students in the LGBTQ community who have struggled with their sexuality,” Miller said. “She also has been an advocate for inclusiveness in the Commerce School … choosing to serve the University community and help others from behind the scenes.”

The Algernon Sydney Foundation, named for a New York lawyer, businessman and philanthropist, has presented annual awards since 1890 to graduating students, faculty, alumni and community members of 70 universities and colleges in the southern U.S. who have demonstrated notable character, integrity and service.

Jackson J.L. Nell, a government and history graduate, and chair of the University’s Resident Staff program, also received a Sullivan Award. He is, Miller said, “deeply respected by his peers and the professional staff in Housing and Residence Life for the thoughtfulness and care with which he approaches every decision and task.”

She described Nell as “compassionate, gentle and warm … a patient listener and a person committed to being present and in the moment with others.” He also is “willing to challenge others, to confront issues with care and concern, all to push those around him to do better – for residents, for peers, and for the University community.”

The Sullivan committee also awarded a Sullivan Community Award, which went to Caroline “Carrie” Rudder, a staff member at the University Career Center for nearly two decades.

“Every interaction with Carrie is characterized by heart, humility, and unselfish service, Miller said, noting that “in every meeting, program, counseling appointment and committee,” Rudder’s “number one priority is the student experience.”

Described by colleagues as “the heart of the Career Center,” Rudder is known for being especially committed to students who are struggling to find a path to a satisfying career. She was integral to the launch of her center’s Exploring Community, dedicated to this purpose.

Two University secret societies, the Seven Society and the Society of Purple Shadows, also presented annual awards.

The Seven Society’s Louis A. Onesty Memorial Scholar-Athlete Award went to swimmer Leah G. Smith, a media studies graduate and member of the UVA women’s swimming and diving team. She received the award for outstanding commitment to her team, academics and the University community. Smith is a two-time All-ACC Academic honoree who has earned 12 All-ACC swimming accolades, an 11-time All-American, 10-time ACC champion, and winner of four national championships.

She also distinguished herself for the United States in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro by winning a bronze medal in the 400-meter freestyle, and a gold in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay. Smith also is a three-time World Champion and four-time World Champion medalist.

She is noted for her academic achievements as well, and for “guiding light” leadership skills and humility. Her coach, Augie Busch, has described her as “someone who is not only committed to maximizing her own potential as an athlete, but is someone who has a genuine desire to see her teammates succeed as well … Her unprecedented achievements and legacy are forever ingrained in our program and University.”

The Seven Society also presented its James Earle Sargeant Award, which is given each year to a student organization that makes major contributions to the University community. The year’s award went to the UVA Chapter of the Student National Medical Association. The organization’s mission, nationally and at UVA, is to support and address the needs of underrepresented minority medical students and communities and to increase the number of clinically excellent, socially conscious and culturally competent physicians.

D. Naveed Tavakol, trustee of the Class of 2017, presented the Seven Society awards. He noted that the UVA chapter of the Student National Medical Association is a “remarkably vibrant and active presence within the School of Medicine” and through community outreach, academic programming and mentoring relationships, the organization works to create a cultural shift in the medical profession and medical school and health system and create more opportunities for underrepresented minorities.

“The Seven Society thanks SNMA for its excellent work and encourages its members in their fight for this admirable vision,” Tavakol said as he presented the award to chapter president and representative, graduating medical student Tamara Saint-Surin.

The Society of the Purple Shadows awarded its Gordon F. Rainey Jr. Award for Vigilance to the Student Experience to nursing professor and School of Nursing Dean Dorothy “Dorrie” K. Fontaine. Known for her commitment to personal compassion in healthcare, Fontaine has led the growth of UVA’s nursing school since beginning her tenure as dean in 2008.

C. Thomas Faulders III, president and CEO of the UVA Alumni Association, presented the award, noting that Fontaine is highly praised by faculty members, administrators, students and the community.

“While your professionalism is certainly deserving of the highest praise,” Faulders said to Fontaine, “perhaps what is even more laudable is the unprecedented passion and appreciation you demonstrate not only to the academic facet of this institution, but also to the individual students who comprise it.”

The Class of 2017, represented by trustee Ngan K. Pham, a commerce graduate, presented its annual community service and cultural fluency awards, and a special “Diamond Award.”

Commerce graduate Shreyas R. Hariharan, an international student from India, received the Class Award for Community Service. He founded a non-profit organization called Unsung People, which seeks to share stories of kindness, collected from interactive events, to bolster positive engagement throughout Grounds. His organization also has expanded to four other campuses in India and the U.S.

Hariharan also co-founded and served as president of a Community Honor Fund, which helped individuals achieve financial stability through low interest microloans and free financial coaching.

“Shreyas has been a constant source of inspiration exemplifying the idea that kindness and compassion, regardless of the size, can bring a larger collective change among those in our community,” Pham said.

The Cultural Fluency Award – which recognizes a graduating student who demonstrates understanding and appreciation for cultural and intellectual diversity – went to Yolande B. Pokam Tchuisseu, a cognitive science graduate and four-year member of the International Residence College. There, she served as a peer mentor and advisor to international first-year and transfer students. She also was a member of the Volunteers with International Students, Staff and Scholars, leading group conversations to build a more unified international community for students at the University.

Pokam Tchuisseu also worked to provide medicine to underserved countries as president of the Student Telemedicine Organization. And she has worked for increased acceptance and feasibility of self-screening for cervical cancer in Nicaragua. This summer she will work as a graduate assistant on health issues in Uganda.

Pham congratulated Pokam Tchuisseu for service that “uplifted our community members from other cultures,” helping them “succeed and thrive.”

The Class of 2017 presented its Diamond Award to first-generation college student Mario J. Sukkar, a computer science graduate and member of the service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega. The award recognizes Sukkar, the son of Egyptian immigrants, as the embodiment of resilience, optimism and generosity of spirit.

“He married his passions in computer science with service by developing software that reduces food waste and sourcing it to those experiencing food scarcity,” Pham said. “Through his genuine appreciation of others and dedication to service, he is helping feed hundreds of people around Charlottesville.”

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