20th Annual Student Leadership Award Recipients

The 20th Annual Student Leadership Awards recipients have been announced.

The Outstanding Recognized Student Organization Award is presented to an RSO that is an active member of the Minnesota State University, Mankato community and represents the core values of integrity, diversity, access, responsibility, and excellence.

This year’s Outstanding Recognized Student Organization is IEEE: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

IEEE has created a culture of innovation, learning, and professional growth. One nominator wrote: “I have had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the remarkable contributions and exceptional dedication to the academic and professional growth of its members.”

This year IEEE displayed an unwavering commitment to fostering a supportive and enriching environment through initiatives ranging from weekly tutoring sessions to dynamic networking events.

The weekly tutoring sessions offer academic support, of course, but also foster mentorship, comradery, and a learning atmosphere that empowers students to excel.

As for networking, IEEE has played a pivotal role in bridging the gap between academia and industry by hosting the IEEE Career Fair and IEEE speaker presentations from companies like Kato Engineering, Easy Automation, and from experts in specialized fields. IEEE also sent 10 students to the IEEE Rising Stars Conference in Las Vegas.

The Outstanding Recognized Student Organization Advisor Award is given to an advisor of an RSO who has gone above and beyond in working with members of their organization.

This year’s Outstanding Recognized Student Organization Advisor is Kari Sween – RSO Advisor for American Sign Language Club

Kari Sween is a friend to everyone she meets. Her nominator wrote: “Restarting the ASL Club has its challenges. But, Kari has been our rock through all of it. She has provided solid advice and the resources we need to have a foundation and the ground beneath our feet. At our meetings, Kari is a joy to have. Our members love her there and seem to be absorbed in everything she says. I have learned so much from Kari, and I hope I never stop learning.”

While teaching, Kari regularly updates members on ASL happenings and recruits new members. She is available to the officers for phone calls, meetings, and anything they need. She provides resources and a safe space to work through problems.

The RSO Program of the Year is presented to an RSO for a well-attended event that provides a welcoming environment and a learning opportunity to campus.

The RSO Program of the Year for 2024 is Ethiopian Night: Wedding Theme, hosted by the Ethiopian & Eritrean Student Association

The Ethiopian Night theme was “Ethiopian Wedding” and provided guests a vibrant and culturally rich experience that left an impression on all attendees. In addition to current students, the 200+ attendees included Maverick alumni, students from neighboring colleges, and the Mankato community.

One of the remarkable aspects of the night was the ability to create a welcoming environment where individuals from all backgrounds could come together to celebrate and appreciate Ethiopian and Eritrean culture. Guests were immediately greeted with the warm hospitality that Ethiopians are known for, traditional music and dance, and delicious Ethiopian cuisine.

Student actors performed the Shimgilina(shim-gee-lina), a typical Ethiopian wedding ceremony, and a presenter spoke about the country’s major religious practices, instruments, dances, and cuisine. They also performed the Buna, the traditional coffee ceremony as well as eskista – shoulder dances. The dances took the audience on a visual experience through the 6 reginal zones of the country.

Concluding the entertainment, a traditional meal consisting of injera, stews, and vegetables was shared. And of course, no wedding is complete without a wedding cake cutting presentation.

The Recognized Student Organization Exemplary Service Award is presented to an RSO that is involved in community service within the greater Mankato community.

This year’s RSO of Exemplary Service is Circle K International

Circle K is an RSO focused on the three tenets of: service to the community, leadership development, and fellowship. It is the college level of Kiwanis International. The club started out this year with 10 members and through excellent recruitment it has more than doubled to 24 members! They meet weekly throughout the school year.

Circle K members have completed more than 1,000 hours of service since April 2023. A couple notable projects include:

· Blessing Bags for Connections Shelter – Each bag contains handwarmers, lip balm, Kleenex, toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, and a personal note. This year the club delivered over 100 bags.

· Adopt a Highway – in both the fall and the spring, 20 individual volunteers walked their assigned stretch to clean up trash and debris to prevent it from invading the natural habitat of animals and plants.

The saying in Circle K is “Come for the service, stay for the people.” Through increased membership, the club has maintained its commitment to fellowship and ensuring members know one another. Officers have created member appreciation bags to honor their dedication and commitment to service. So today, we thank you Circle K, for your dedication to service.

The Outstanding Campus Volunteer award is presented to a student who is involved in community service at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

The Outstanding Campus Volunteer Award recipient is Anna Symens
Anna Symens is a third-year student majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders while obtaining a certificate in American Sign Language.
She serves as president of the ASL club, is a lead dance instructor for the Swing Dance Club, and a current member of Circle K.

With 80 documented hours of service in 2023, this is only a portion of the time Anna commits to civic responsibility as it doesn’t include the late-night club & board meetings, the planning and organizing efforts, or the number of informational emails she sends every week.

For 2 years, she has served as the Minnesota-Dakota District Northstar Lieutenant Governer for Circle K. In this role, she communicates with the officers of all Circle K clubs in Minnesota helping them maintain and grow. She also serves on the International Membership Development and Education Committee, which creates and updates resources for club members, officers, and district board members worldwide.

With Circle K on campus, Anna has created blessing bags, May Day bags for the Harry Meyering Center, dog toys and blankets for area humane societies, constructed cards for various holidays, and helped with Kiwanis Holiday Lights.

Community Engagement Scholarship recipients are selected by a committee composed of members from both the campus and Greater Mankato community.

Out of a pool of 36 applicants, two students were selected to receive the community engagement scholarships.

Davy Family Service scholarship recipient is Ummy Kashfia Ahammed.

Kashfia strives to leave a lasting and meaningful impact on the community she calls home by actively participating in various initiatives, collaborating with organizations, and contributing to the well-being of both the environment and the community.

In addition to her own volunteering with Echo Food Shelf and Adopt-a-Highway. She has been involved in many other projects through the International Student Association and her sorority Alpha Sigma Alpha.

For example, with the International Student Association (ISA), Kashfiya established and executed campaigns to raise awareness about eco-friendly practices and promote sustainable habits and conscious living on campus.

Within Alpha Sigma Alpha, Kashfia led a fundraising campaign to craft and sell eco-friendly candles and car diffusers with the funds going to “B The Light,” an organization that supports cancer survivors.

Murray Scholarship recipient is Lucy Klatt.
Lucy has served as President of STORM a club at Bethany Lutheran College that strives to serve the Greater Mankato area and beyond. Under Lucy’s leadership, a partnership has formed with Feeding our Communities Partners with student volunteering their time and fundraising funds for them. Lucy views her role as President as not only developing service opportunities for others, but also to inspire others to serve with a servant’s heart. Lucy is pursuing a graduate degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders with the goal of becoming a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist.  

The Unsung Hero Award is given to a student who consistently works hard behind the scenes and rarely receives the recognition deserved.

The Unsung Hero is Victor Nguyen. 
Victor has proven to be a hidden gem! His consistent dedication and selfless work ethic for the betterment of his fellow students is admirable. He is not one to seek the limelight but is always willing to take on a task. 

Victor has been a member of the Student Government for the past three years. He has been a consistent and productive member. His care and concern for his fellow students, and the pride he shows for Minnesota State is evident in the work that he does. 

Originally elected as Vice Chair, Victor has served as Chair of the Student Allocations Committee after a resignation during winter break. He led his team through 5 weeks of budget presentations, a day-long deliberation process, and finally making a presentation to Student Government. Victor’s leadership skills have flourished. 

The nominator wrote, “Because Victor is not flashy, more of an introvert, if there ever was an “unsung hero”, I would wholeheartedly say it was Victor Nguyen!” 

The Outstanding Collegian Award is given to a student who is a student leader and who represents the core values of Minnesota State University, Mankato–integrity, diversity, access, responsibility, excellence in their organization, and works toward the benefit of others. 

The first recipient is Emily Dittrich.
A few things that describe Emily: sophomore, management major, non-traditional student, Student Government Senator, and member of the Honors Program. Emily exhibits integrity and responsibility as a leader in class discussions, often helping direct conversations beyond a surface level so we can dig into the more complicated issues. She values transparent dialogue and is driven by a service mentality. She is a strong advocate for social justice, with a specific focus on accessibility. For one of her Senator projects, Emily worked on a campus wide survey titled Diverse Perspectives on Disability: Exploring Cultural Perceptions, Stigmas, and Barriers Affecting College Students with Disabilities

Emily is committed to excellence and has ambitious goals for her future. She plans to eventually work as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State. For this she needs to meet a base level of proficiency in Korean, her language of choice. Unfortunately, MSU does not offer Korean coursework.  Her nominator finished this story best by saying, “Not to be deterred, Emily worked with campus offices to arrange to take Korean at the University of Minnesota through a consortium agreement.  This is who Emily is. She sets her mind to something and acts. Yet, this is done with humility and a lack of self-importance.”  

The other Outstanding Collegian is Masaki Hara.
“Plainly and simply, Masaki Hara epitomizes the University’s core values,” according to the nominator.  

Integrity and respect are evident every day as he treats others with courtesy and kindness. He has been consistently recognized as a trusted university employee and volunteer.  

In his volunteer and paid positions on campus, he contributes to and exemplifies diversity in what we do. His duties include orienting new international students, translating program flyers into Japanese, and creating promotional materials for MSU’s intensive English language program. 

Masaki worked for two years as a University Animal Care Techician where he prepared and checked safety equipment in science classrooms across campus. This very “back room” job made sure that all involved were able to operate safely and with necessary support. 

Masaki is dedicated to keeping our aquatic environments healthy in the face of climate change and increasing urbanization and industrialization. He is creating solutions by combining the natural and geospatial sciences. He has volunteered his time and expertise in the field with high school students. And, Masaki is an outstanding scholar, having presented his research at 8 professional conferences. 

To close, his nominator wrote, “…using informal language, Masaki rocks! Given his actions at MSU, as well as beyond the campus, while earning bachelor’s and now master’s at MSU, I believe him to be most deserving of recognition as an Outstanding Collegian, he demonstrates the university core values in everything he does.” 

The Commitment to Cultural Responsiveness Award honors those who encourage a culture of understanding, belonging, and civility at Minnesota State Mankato. 

The Commitment to Cultural Responsiveness recipient is Amal Sharafkhodjaeva 
Amal is extremely active on campus, and the organizations Amal serves are focused on promoting a culture of understanding, belonging and civility at Minnesota State Mankato.   

Amal is active with MSSA, The Reporter, Maverick Global Ambassadors, MavPASS leaders, and participates in a research team exploring intercultural competency among students.    

Amal’s most notable commitment to cultural responsiveness, however, is her development of “Cultured” a 3-part workshop series this spring designed to promote Equity 2030 goals by helping students grow as culturally competent leaders. Partnering with the Maverick Diversity Institute and the Maverick Involvement Team, the series includes 3 sessions. The first session was designed to help students develop a sense of curiosity and empathy. The second focused on communication and conflict resolution. And the third workshop was all about stereotypes and intercultural communication. Students learn to actively engage, respect and collaborate with different cultures to become better leaders. 

The Maverick Spirit Award is awarded to a student who is willing to step-up and who takes risks for the betterment of the Minnesota State University, Mankato community. 

The Maverick Spirit Award recipient is Brandon Jackson.
Brandon is a senior Marketing student who will graduate this spring with certificates in both Integrated Business Experience and Business Analytics. Brandon saw a need on campus and started an RSO called “Hustle” – a faith-based group focused on inclusion.  

When looking for an RSO advisor, he was met with concerns about how sometimes churches restrict who can join. His reply is that is exactly the point of Hustle: all would be welcome. And true to his word, that is what the nominator has observed.  

Hustle is a diverse group that discusses how to treat others with respect, how to limit social media, addiction, and other important topics. Many times, non-Christian students join the discussions and events. The nominator was impressed at how welcome they had been made to feel. In some ways, this group is more about belonging and supporting one another. The nominator has never felt more comfortable in a faith-based organization and is thankful that it is more than “yet another faith-based group”. The members are committed to academic success and developing interpersonal relationships across campus.  

Brandon is a go-getter in every sense of the word.  Everything he does is high quality and high impact. The club is run with the precision of a well-established and well-run company. Even though he is graduating, there is a group of capable officers and members to carry forward the mission of inclusion and support. Brandon’s vision will be carried on thanks to his leadership.  

The Rising Star Award is presented to a student who is new to Minnesota State University, Mankato (either a new entering or first year transfer student) who shows active involvement in an organized campus activity.

The Rising Star is Anika Rossow Strasser.
Anika is a first-year student who has designed her own major. She is studying therapeutic recreation, applied health, English, and fine art with minors in aging studies and human-animal studies. She plans to pursue a career supporting the wellbeing of older adults through therapeutic recreation and life enrichment activities. In a short time, Anika embraced learning in and outside the classroom while getting involved in the campus and the greater Mankato community. 

Within her first semester Anika submitted written work and poetry to River Whale Review – an online literary journal published by the MNSU Creative Writing Program. She had 2 poems published in the Fall 2023 Issue. Anika has also been an active member of Mavs in Action, helping organize the Socktober Drive during the fall semester and other service activities throughout the year. In Fall 2023, she exhibited original artwork at the Carnegie Art Center Annual Member Show. She is also an active volunteer at Mankato Lodge Senior Living and Blue Earth Nicollet County Humane Society. Anika has taken the initiative to create her own path already and has more plans on the horizon. She plans to get involved in research on campus, and to host a community art show to encourage others to express themselves.  

She is an outstanding example of how a student with varied interests can shape their own path during their undergrad experience moving them toward their personal and professional goals. 

The Big Ideas. Real-World Thinking. Award is presented to an undergraduate student in their senior year, a graduate student, or an experienced staff member who actively celebrates the mission of Minnesota State University, Mankato to promote learning through effective undergraduate and graduate teaching, scholarship, and research to the state, region, and global community. 

The first recipient is Kendall Solomon.
Kendall is an Honors Program member and senior biotechnology major. Kendall has paired “bold aspirations with practical applications” and she lives the university mission, specifically connected to research and global citizenship. In Fall 2022, she studied abroad – choosing a program with an intentional focus on experiential learning designed to explore critical global issues. She participated in the Zanzibar Coastal Ecology and Natural Resource Management program in Tanzania where her experience included multiple research projects, homestays and Swahili language instruction.  

For Kendall’s independent research project, she chose an analysis of the physical domestic water quality in a small community. She needed to develop a research proposal, secure access to equipment and facilities, and conduct the study within a 28-day period. This would be difficult to accomplish on one’s home campus, much less while studying in an unfamiliar country. In addition to collecting physical samples from area wells, she conducted qualitative interviews with members of the community (using a translator) to determine their perceptions regarding factors that impact water quality. In addition to the scope of this project, her nominator was impressed with Kendall’s ability to carefully consider the ethical implications linked to her study. Her nominator wrote: “I have never had a student take on such an ambitious independent research project, much less one completed while studying abroad.”  

The second recipient is Xavier Thomas.
Xavier’s commitment to making a difference is evident in everything he does. He is genuinely invested in the outcome; he asks good questions, and he gives well-reasoned responses. Xavier is a creative thinker and has an entrepreneurial spirit. 

This year Xavier has served as the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion coordinator for Student Government providing space for him to demonstrate his ability to advocate for others, even those from different backgrounds than his own.  

Xavier is a dedicated leader in Black Intelligent Gentlemen, an RSO on campus that seeks “to improve the long-term trajectories of Black men in the college system.” Under Xavier’s leadership as president, BIG has re-established itself after the pandemic-slump felt by so many RSOs.  

Recognized as a finalist in the 2023 Big Ideas Challenge, Xavier’s newest endeavor, Miracle Arts, seeks to “empower local artists through lessons, connections and support to achieve their true passions.” If you haven’t yet, check it out on Instagram at miracle.arts! The nominator pointed out the Women’s History month campaign recognizing exceptionally talented women artists. And just last week, Miracle Arts hosted the very first event: Celebrating the Written art featuring 2 writers – both students on campus – talking about their work, their writing process and more. The goal of the event was to highlight the various career paths a writer may take.     

Xavier is full of big ideas and not afraid to propose unique and bold solutions to problems he encounters. As his nominator wrote, “he is the real deal.”

The Scott Hagebak Centennial Student Union Hall of Fame Award is presented to a student or staff member who actively celebrates the mission and vision of the Centennial Student Union by helping create a vibrant community and gathering place. 

This year’s recipient of the Scott Hagebak Centennial Student Union Hall of Fame Award is Nomin Senadheera.
Nomin is a senior, Business Management major who exemplifies the very essence of the Centennial Student Union’s mission to invite, involve, and inspire…so let’s break it down.  

Nomin started his journey with the CSU operations team as a Building Assistant and over time ascended to the role of Building Manager. Although much of this work is done behind-the-scenes, his actions and attitude create a welcoming environment for all who use the CSU. His unwavering attention to detail and dedication to the ops team have made him a role model for his peers.  

Nomin is quick to greet everyone he runs into, and he genuinely wants to make a positive impact on campus. As Vice President of Student Ambassadors, he is engaged in recruiting and training new student ambassadors and giving tours to prospective students. He takes great pride in creating inviting spaces. 

Nomin is involved on campus. In addition to the CSU Ops Team & Student Ambassadors, he is a Student Patrol Officer for University Security, an international peer-mentor, Vice President of MavLankans, Business Manager for Student Events Team, Diversity and Inclusion Cochair for Sigma Chi Fraternity, Health Pro member, and Honors student, just to name a few. Nomin is an ideal example of a dedicated student leader who has made a significant impact on our campus community and the CSU. Nomin’s ability to lead a team reflects the kind of impactful leadership that has a lasting influence on campus life and those around him. 

As a facilitator for MavLankans, Nomin plays a crucial role in organizing events and fostering a sense of community among Sri Lankan students. This commitment to fostering cultural connections aligns with the university’s mission to extend the impact of education beyond borders.  

Seeing Nomin’s involvement has inspired others to get involved.  
Throughout all Nomin’s roles and responsibilities, on and off campus, he has remained a dedicated and exemplary team member in his first job on campus with CSU Operations.  I believe being a part of the CSU team helped inspire Nomin to be so active on campus, and he pays it forward. In the CSU we talk about being the “House of Serendipity” and Nomin’s work in the CSU allows for the serendipitous discoveries to take place for other students, just as they took place for him along his journey.  Thank you, Nomin, for continuing the legacy of Scott Hagebak. Congratulations on receiving this award. 

Congratulations to all recipients and nominees!

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