URI students, professors, staff members receive 2014 diversity awards for academic excellence, service, leadership

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KINGSTON, R.I. – April 17, 2014 – Students, professors and staff members at the University of Rhode Island were honored this week for their work to strengthen multiculturalism and diversity on and off campus.


The awards were presented at the 16th annual Diversity Awards banquet April 15 in the Memorial Union. The keynote speaker was Brandon Melton, a consultant for IRI Consultants and former senior vice president for human resources at Lifespan. He received the Diversity Award for Lifetime Achievement.


Winners of the 2014 Diversity Awards at URI: Front row, left to right: Student National Pharmaceutical Association URI chapter (represented by Yixin Chen), Thupten Tendhar, Maureen Sourivong, Shenty Hernandez, Raquel Mendez, Jose Perales, Earl Smith III, Vanessa Wynder Quainoo, and Thomas Morin.

Back row, left to right: Asian Students Association (represented by Tiffany Chheuy, Joeng Mien Hah, Andy Chen, and Sakoun Phammavongsa), Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education (represented by Jennie Flannery, Kay Johnson, Susan Trostle Brand, Marguerite Bumpus, and Steven Butler), Brandon Melton, Delores Walters, and Melvin Wade.




Here’s a list of the recipients shown above:
Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society, Iota Sigma Chapter was honored for exposing future teachers to diversity, inclusion and nonviolence. The group renovated the teachers’ lounge at Bridgham Elementary School in Providence. With the collaboration of Highlander Charter School, also in Providence, members organized bake sales at Wal-Mart and Stop & Shop to buy peace-themed literacy books for schools. They also launched the popular “Pay It Forward” essay contest focusing on friendship themes for students in grades 1 through 4. Members visited Lima, Peru last summer to promote learning in poor areas and donated books to schools in Costa Rica and Beijing. Members also hosted bullying prevention and transgender workshops at URI Diversity Week; coordinated activities with URI Operation Jumpstart; and provided volunteer support at the URI Special Olympics. The faculty advisor is Susan Trostle Brand, a professor in the School of Education, part of the College of Human Science and Services.

Student National Pharmaceutical Association, URI Chapter, was honored for recruiting diverse students in the College of Pharmacy. Founded in 1972 by African-American students at Florida A & M University, the national group of diverse pharmacy students seeks to improve health care for people who are poor. Established in 2011, the URI chapter has participated in the Power to End Stroke blood pressure clinics with Walgreens; Operation Immunization and Remember the Ribbon HIV and AIDS Awareness Workshops with AIDS Care Ocean State; and the Diabetes and Chronic Kidney Disease Initiatives for immigrants at Dorcas Place. Also, the group helped enroll patients in Current Care, the new statewide information system, and held health awareness and anti-smoking workshops on campus.


The Asian Student Association was honored for reviving cultural and political programs on campus. The group promotes awareness about issues involving people of Asian descent at the University. The group worked with the URI Student Organization Leadership Consultants and increased performances of Laotian, Chinese, Korean, Cambodian and Filipino ethnic-dance styles. The association also held campus events, including potluck dinners with different ethnic foods.

Shenty G. Hernandez, of Providence, was honored for academic excellence and multicultural organizational skills. A senior majoring in accounting with a 3.4 grade point average, Hernandez is the student staff coordinator for URI’s Multicultural Center. A successful internship last summer has led to a job as a tax assistant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the four largest American accounting firms. She was a peer mentor for first-year students in the College of Human Science and Services and a retreat leader for her Catholic Church Youth Ministry.

Raquel Mendez, of Providence, was honored for academic excellence and multicultural leadership on campus. A sophomore majoring in political science and economics with a 3.7 grade point average, Mendez is one of five members of the executive committee of the URI Multicultural Unity and Student Involvement Council, which was elected by representatives of multicultural student organizations and is expected to become the first properly recognized and funded multicultural student council in URI’s history. Mendez was elected to Student Senate as a freshman representative.

Jose Perales, of Providence, was honored for his entrepreneurial skills. He is a sophomore majoring in accounting. His leadership led to the founding of the URI chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants and to his election as president of the Boston Metropolitan Chapter. As president, Perales helped organize a team of students that won the student case competition at the 29th annual Minority Business Conference in October. This summer, he will spend his second summer at PricewaterhouseCoopers as an internal services intern.

Ruth Saah, of Pawtucket, was honored for creating multicultural awareness through dance. After fleeing Liberia during civil war, Saah and her family lived in a refugee camp in Ghana before coming to the United States. Now a senior, she is president of Alima International Dance Company. The group incorporates ballet, hiphop, Middle Eastern and reggae dance into a traditional African dance format. Saah helped her dance group raise money for Destiny Africa Children’s Choir of Uganda, Crossroads Rhode Island and the Sickle Cell Awareness Association of Rhode Island.

Maureen Sourivong, of Providence, was honored for her multicultural leadership. A sophomore majoring in pharmacy, she is president of the URI Asian Students Association. She is credited with rebuilding the group’s executive committee, improving membership of the group and developing the Big-Little mentoring academic program. She led a fundraising campaign that donated $1000 to UNICEF to help victims of typhoon Haiya, which struck the Phillippines in 2013.

Thomas D. Morin, a professor of Spanish, was honored for his support of Latino arts, culture and politics in Rhode Island and beyond. Morin has hosted conferences and brought in major lecturers and artists at URI, including Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes, Dominican president and novelist Juan Bosch, Cuban-American artist Ofill Echevarria and Afro-Puerto Rican choreographer and dancer Lydia Perez. In 1980, he worked with students to found the Latin American Student Organization. He also organized the first URI Mexico Study Abroad Program, in conjunction with the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, where he previously taught.

Vanessa Wynder Quainoo, a professor, was honored for contributing to the study of the history and cultures of people of African descent. As director of the URI Africana Studies Program, Quainoo, and her husband, Joseph Quainoo, have worked with the University of Cape Coast, the University of Ghana and URI to establish the URI in Ghana Study Abroad Program. Since 2008, nearly 50 students have earned academic credit while studying the African diaspora. Her visit to the Elmina Dungeon in Ghana is commemorated in her poem, Cry, Elmina. Also, she has helped organize Black History Month on campus by hosting lectures featuring civil rights attorney Marlen Bodden, law professor Charles Ogletree of Harvard University and CEO Earl Graves, Jr. of Black Enterprise Magazine, among others.

Earl N. Smith III, an assistant dean, was honored for his contributions to equity and justice at URI. As a student activist years ago, he rallied support for the Black Student Leadership Group and helped spark construction of the Multicultural Center, the elevation of the Africana Studies major, the growth of the Talent Development and Multicultural Center staffs, the appointment of a chief diversity officer and the creation of the Leo DiMaio Scholarship Fund. As an adjunct faculty member in Africana Studies, he has shaped the Cape Verdean Summer Study Abroad Program. He has served on the Academic Affairs Diversity Committee and on the Academic Advising Steering Committee. He is also a member of the Black Scholars Awards Committee and an advisor to the Onyx Senior Honor Society. He has served as assistant director of the Multicultural Center and as an academic advisor for the Talent Development Program.

Thupten Tendar was honored for his leadership in nonviolence. Born to Tibetan parents, he joined a monastery in India at age 12, where he remained for 18 years and received the classification of Geshe (equivalent to a doctorate) in Buddhist philosophy. As coordinator of the International Nonviolence Summer Institute for the URI Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies, he has helped train up to 50 national and international guests in the philosophy and strategies of Kingian nonviolence. Since 2011, he has taught a course in Tibetan Buddhism in the URI Honors Program. He wrote a book of poetry, Peace: Rhythm of My Heart, inspired by his meeting with the Dalai Lama. His reflections on peace, compassion and wisdom have been shared at many universities, including the University of Texas in Austin, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, and the University of Missouri at Columbia.

Delores M. Walters, a nursing instructor, was honored for her diversity research and contributions to equity and justice. As co-editor of Gendered Resistance: Women, Slavery, and the Legacy of Margaret Garner, she sparked a national discussion on the escaped slave who killed her daughter rather than see her returned to slavery. As associate director of the Southern Rhode Island Area Health Education Center, she manages the grant that launched the Pathways to Nursing Program. The program matches diverse undergraduates in nursing with professional nurse-mentors and places students in internships in poor communities through Clinica Esperanza and Rhode Island Free Clinic in Providence.


The awards are sponsored by the Multicultural Center; Office of Community, Equity and Diversity; and the Office of Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity and Diversity. The event is co-sponsored by MetLife Auto and Home.

Photo above: Naomi Thompson, associate vice president of Community, Equity and Diversity and chief diversity officer at the University of Rhode Island, and Melvin Wade, director of URI’s Multicultural Center.

Winners of the 2014 Diversity Awards at URI: Front row, left to right: Student National Pharmaceutical Association URI chapter (represented by Yixin Chen), Thupten Tendhar, Maureen Sourivong, Shenty Hernandez, Raquel Mendez, Jose Perales, Earl Smith III, Vanessa Wynder Quainoo, and Thomas Morin.

Back row, left to right: Asian Students Association (represented by Tiffany Chheuy, Joeng Mien Hah, Andy Chen, and Sakoun Phammavongsa), Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education (represented by Jennie Flannery, Kay Johnson, Susan Trostle Brand, Marguerite Bumpus, and Steven Butler), Brandon Melton, Delores Walters, and Melvin Wade.

Photos by Michael Salerno Photography