KINGSTON, R.I., May 3, 2018—Sixteen University of Rhode Island students were honored for their academic and community achievements at the University’s 21st annual Black Scholar Awards.
Established by Donald Cunnigen, URI professor of sociology and anthropology, the awards recognize African-American students for their outstanding achievements at URI and beyond.
The students received the awards April 24 during a ceremony on the Kingston campus that was coordinated by Christopher Hunter, associate professor of civil engineering.
Here’s a list of the recipients:
William Gould Award for All-Around Outstanding Achievement
Chelsea Opong-Wadeer, of Flanders, N.J., is the daughter of parents who moved to the United States from Ghana in the 1980s. Opong-Wadeer is majoring in journalism with minors in leadership studies and gender and women’s studies. A member of the Dean’s List since her freshman year, Opong-Wadeer is also in the URI Honors Program. She is a URI 101 mentor; a host for a multicultural program for accepted students; and a member of the Student Entertainment Committee. She’s been a reporter for the Good 5 Cent Cigar, her hometown paper and national websites. She interned at Channel 10 in Providence. After graduation, she hopes to get a job at MTV in New York as a production assistant or news writer.
Arthur L. Hardge Award for All-Around Outstanding Community Service
Africa Smith, of Providence, is majoring in political science and Africana studies with a
minor in law, politics and society. She is in the Honor’s and Talent Development programs. She’s been a resident advisor, a URI 101 mentor and a URI orientation leader. One major experience that she valued was her mayoral fellowship in Providence. She also received certification at URI in Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation.
Mario McClain, of Cranston, has been a leader and mentor at URI. He has worked as a residential assistant and an orientation leader for freshmen. He was a founding member and president of the Police Student Advisory Committee, where he worked to strengthen the relationship between students of color and the police. As a member of Brothers On A New Direction, or BOND, he mentored adolescent students of color from inner-city middle schools and high schools and volunteered in the community.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for Outstanding Leadership and Contribution to the University Community
Selena Evora, of Pawtucket, is double majoring in health studies and gender and women’s studies, and minoring in leadership studies. She is the first African-American president of the Phi Sigma Sigma Sorority at URI. As a part of the Cape Verdean Student Association, she was a community service chair. She was a student coordinator for the Peer’s Learning Educating and Supporting Everyone Program for the URI Women’s Center. She was a URI 101 mentor and resident adviser. She worked as a teaching assistant for the Rose Butler Browne Mentoring Course, and she is president of the Multicultural Unity and Student Involvement Council.
Shawn Antoine, of New York City, is a double major in political science and film studies. He’s been a scholar and an activist at URI, as well as a member of the football team. In 2016, he won the Africana Studies Innovation Award and was celebrated as one of the most promising young students in Africana Studies for his first film, The Movement: Black Lives Matter. He was a member of the Diversifying Individuals Via Education Conference team and the URI Student Senate and was vice president of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. In 2016, Antoine received the URI Diversity Award for Arts and Culture. In 2017, he received the Public Relations Excellence Award. His films were selected for seven film festivals with the Amazon Underground Film Festival.
Harvey Robert Turner Award for Outstanding Service to the University of Rhode Island Black Community
Tunde Akinkuowo, of Providence, is majoring in industrial and systems engineering. Beyond his classwork, he has taken time to give back to his community by mentoring high school and middle school students of color. He is a member of the National Society of Black Engineers, and he is chair for the Technical Outreach Community Help. He is also involved with the Diversifying Individuals Via Education Conference, a student-led multicultural conference. He has worked on URI’s IT Service Desk, and he interned with Pratt & Whitney, a top engineering company in the aerospace industry. He also conducted research in the microfluidics lab at URI and at North-West University in South Africa, where he worked on a solar car challenge project.
Jackie Robinson Scholar-Athlete Award
Mahlik Handley, of Wakefield, is a kinesiology major and a champion hammer thrower on the URI track team. He has earned numerous honors and awards at URI, including as an Outdoor A-10 Champion 2014-2016; a member of four A-10 championship teams and two New England championship teams; and a qualifier for the first round of the NCAAs in 2014. He is the 5th best hammer thrower in URI history. Beyond this, he has served as a student-athlete orientation captain and as a Rhody life skills team captain. This year, he was a team captain, providing leadership, sportsmanship and mentorship support. He completed his degree work in December and is now pursuing a master’s degree in the URI College of Education.
Sojourner Truth Award for Scholarly Persistence and Dedication
Jordan Powell, of Kingwood, Texas, is majoring in environmental science and
management, and he is a four-year starter on the URI baseball team. He has received many athletic accomplishments including New England Intercollegiate Baseball Association All New England First Team twice. He was a key contributor to the baseball team’s first-ever NCAA win in 2016, with a multiple hit game. Beyond that, Powell has been a participant in a science and engineering fellowship, and he has volunteered as a student-athlete mentor. He also volunteered for the Nature Conservancy.
Powell experienced a period of adversity when he was hospitalized with a blood infection that became a three-week battle for survival. Even though he was in the hospital, he stayed on top of his work. He never gave in or asked for a medical leave of absence. He took exams and completed papers and earned a spot on the Dean’s List that semester. He went on to compete in the upcoming baseball season.
Shemaiah Thompson, of Cranston, is a kinesiology major who has been on the Dean’s List since her freshman year. She was a member of the URI ALIMA dance organization, Seeds of Success, and the Sankofa Campus Ministry. For the past three years, she’s been on the leadership staff of Sankofa, serving as secretary and treasurer. She also has research experience as part of longitudinal study of communication, nutrition and exercise, while testing physical functioning, measuring body composition, administering physical activity questionnaires and dealing with data reduction and entry.
Thompson faced challenges her freshman year when her father was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. She traveled home often to help her family and contemplated taking time away from college, but she said the Talent Development community and Sankofa encouraged her to push through.
Noreen Coachman Award for Older Student
Tracie Montgomery, of Providence, is a double major in psychology and Africana studies. She has served the community at multiple levels; worked closely with black faculty and staff and the local African American community; served on the student government board; and traveled to Cabo Verde, where she researched her family’s African genealogy. She will travel again to Cabo Verde to help establish a partnership between Cabo Verde universities and organizations, and URI. She became a member of the Alpha Sigma Lambda Honor Society in May 2017.
Saint Clair Drake Award for Outstanding Scholarly Research
Yulyana Torres, of Providence, is double majoring
in communications and gender and women’s studies. Her work was acknowledged recently in a scholarly book review essay, “The Dark Past of Rhode Island in New Light.” Torres has undertaken an initiative to bring diversity to the Rhode Island Statehouse. Having interned there and observed the lack of art that reflects the full diversity of the state’s history, Torres has lobbied state officials to purchase a portrait of Rhode Island’s first black regiment, a corps of black soldiers that served with valor during the American Revolution.
Saint Elmo Brady for Outstanding Achievement in Science
ThankGod Ugochukw, of Norwood, Mass., is a biomedical engineering major. He’s been involved in the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minorities Participation Program, and that has afforded him various opportunities, including conducting research in the biomeasurement and biomedical instrumentation design labs. He interned with 21st Century Fox, where he helped the engineering team repair damaged technology and worked on interactive programs. He’s been an integral part of the National Society of Black Engineers, serving as president this year.
David Edmonds Award
Sierra Jade Clayton, of Providence, is a writing and rhetoric major. She is an
effective communicator who has demonstrated the ability to establish and maintain sensitive and equitable interpersonal relations, evidenced by her varied experiences working with culturally diverse groups. She is a member of the Rhode Island Chapter of the Lead Program and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women and New Urban Arts, and she is a volunteer for the Diversifying Individuals Via Education Conference. At New Urban Arts, she worked in the development of poetry, fashion, sketching, screen-printing and photography. She also has served as a senior consultant at the Writing and Rhetoric Lab at URI.
Estes Benson Awards
Carine M. Saint Felix, a native of Leogane, Haiti who lives in Woonsocket, is a nursing major. She decided to become a nurse after losing her younger brother, who died suddenly after complaining of cold-like symptoms and was unable to get adequate health care in Haiti. Among her honors and involvement include the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing; American Psychiatric Nurses Association; American Nurses Association; and Mentor/Educator-Women’s Refugee Center of Rhode Island. After completing her degree, she plans to pursue her master of science degree in nursing.
Pa Sosseh, a native of Gambia who lives in Pawtucket, came to the United States in 2010 and not long after that, enrolled at the Community College of Rhode Island. Seeking a way to pay tuition, Sosseh joined the Rhode Island National Guard. After completing his basic combat training, Sosseh transferred to URI, where he’s made the Dean’s List every semester. He initially majored in biochemistry, but after a research project through a science and engineering fellowship, he found his passion for molecular biology. He changed his major to medical laboratory science, with the goal of becoming a doctor.
Donald Cunnigen Award
Danielle Perry, of Hazlet, N.J., is a third-year Ph.D. student in the biological and environmental sciences program. Her work focuses on the environmental stressors impacting coastal ecosystems. In addition to her research interests in marine conservation, Perry interns at the Save the Bay Center in Westerly. She mentors undergraduates through the RI-EPSCoR Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program and as a teaching assistant in the College of the Environmental and Life Sciences. She strives to expose young people of color to opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math careers.