UNI hosts virtual Student Leadership Awards


The COVID-19 pandemic has proven the need for able, confident and effective leadership. It was fitting, therefore, that the leadership of UNI students was recognized, albeit virtually, at the Student Leadership Awards at 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 14 via Facebook. 

“At this time of uncertainty and social distancing, it’s more important than ever that we stay connected,” UNI President Mark Nook said at the virtual ceremony. “We need your leadership now more than ever.”

The Student Leadership Awards are typically held in the Maucker Union Ballroom. Due to restrictions on large gatherings, however, this year’s event was a compilation of videos in which UNI administrators announced the winners of various awards recognizing the work of outstanding students, staff and student organizations. The event was posted on the UNI Facebook page and YouTube channel, as well as live-tweeted on the UNI Twitter account.

“I want to say how sad I am that you are going to witness this in a virtual way, and I certainly hope lots and lots of people tune in, because we are trying to bring people back together as much as we can for these important moments of celebrating your work,” said Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Jim Wohlpart.

Students, staff and student organizations were nominated for Student Leadership Awards by their peers throughout January and February. Several presenters on Tuesday mentioned the large volume of submissions, indicating the high level of student leadership and involvement on campus. 

“There are so many people across this campus who do remarkable work that make us who we are,” Wohlpart said. “The selection of the award winners was a challenging one because of that remarkable work that goes on on this campus.”

The evening began with NISG President Jacob Levang, who awarded the NISG Above and Beyond Awards for UNI staff members. Connie Hansen was awarded the Student Success Award for her work with the Panther Pantry, NISG and Student Life. Dr. Elizabeth Zwanziger received the Student Learning Award for her passionate professorship.

Following Levang, Dean of Students Allyson Rafanello announced the recipient of the 2020 Dr. Sue Follon Scholarship for Women in Leadership: political science major Ayah al-Durazi.

“The selection committee was blown away by the maturity and professionalism demonstrated by Ayah as she describes her hopes and dreams for our campus,” Rafanello said. 

Director of Student Life and Event Services Mike Bobeldyk presented the Student Organization Awards. This group of awards included several new awards for 2020, such as Outstanding President, awarded to Muhammad Butt of Helping Hands International, Outstanding Officer, awarded to Dylan Parker, Vice President of Communication for Sigma Phi Epsilon and the Diversity and Inclusion Award, awarded to Black Student Union for their “crucial conversations and thought-provoking programming.” Another new award for 2020 was the Mental Health Ally Award, presented to Sarah Rasing for her dedication to “creating a community of mental health advocacy and awareness” on campus.

Women in Business was the evening’s biggest winner, receiving awards in three categories, including Student Organization of the Year. The group’s advisor, Katie Hillyer, was also named the Student Organization Advisor of the Year, and their Young Women in Leadership Conference was chosen as one of two Student Organization Programs of Distinction. 

“While this organization was founded with the purpose of empowering women, Women in Business goes above and beyond through their intentional programming, collaborative partnerships and inclusive practices,” Bobeldyk said. 

The ceremony concluded with the presentation of the evening’s highest honors, awarded through the Office of the Dean of Students. 

First, Rafanello returned to present the Servant Leader Awards, recognizing students who work for the common good while putting the needs of others first. Recipients were Hannah Luce, Hugh Zehr, Elle Bodeing, Allison Eagan, Marlon Jackson, Chad Schafer and Montesha Carter. She also awarded the Outstanding Student Leader Awards, for students who have demonstrated dedication and leadership through their involvement in one or more campus activities, to Jacob Levang, Jameka Mosely, Nicole Goodman, Adalberto Castrejon, Megan Lenstra and Sarah Ritondale.

Finally, Vice President of Student Affairs Paula Knudson presented the Lux Service Award, the most prestigious award given to graduating senior students who consistently go above and beyond, leaving a lasting legacy upon graduation. 

Senior computer science major Farhan Bin Amjad received the award for his work on diversity and inclusion through Student Admission Ambassadors (SAA), NISG and International Student Promoters. 

“His leadership […] opened the door for other international students to run for and hold student office,” Knudson said.

The other Lux Service Award recipient was senior psychology major Mahlia Brown, chosen for her advocacy for minority students as an RA, NISG cabinet member and co-founder of Racial and Ethnic Coalition (REC). Brown’s work has “amplified the voices of those that have felt silenced,”  and she hopes to leave a legacy of love that is “passionate, persistent [and] active in its ferocity,” according to Knudson. 

Wohlpart concluded the evening by thanking all nominators and judges and congratulating the nominees and winners.

“Leaders, for me, are about helping other people achieve their potential, and sometimes it’s a potential that other people don’t necessarily know that they have,” he said. “What you all have done for us as student leaders on this campus is made us a better place to live, to work, to learn. You all are the glue that really holds us together as a community, and that’s part of the reason we miss you so desperately right now.”

For the full list of award nominees and winners, visit www.uni.edu/sla.