URI students, staff receive 2015 diversity awards for academic excellence, service, leadership

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KINGSTON, R.I. – April 24, 2015 – A museum director, student activists and a dean were among those honored this week by the University of Rhode Island for promoting multiculturalism and diversity on and off campus.

More than a dozen awards were handed out during the 17th annual Diversity Awards banquet on April 21 in Memorial Union on the Kingston campus. The event is co-sponsored by URI’s Multicultural Center.


Eric Jolly, president of the Science Museum of Minnesota and a former assistant dean at URI, received an award for Lifetime Achievement for his efforts to expand science education to diverse groups nationwide.


Other winners were:


The URI chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants


The group was honored for successfully competing against prominent business schools, such as Babson and Bentley; its creation of a pipeline from college to an internship to a career; and the support of the College of Business faculty. Born out of collaboration between a business student and the Multicultural Center, the chapter exceeded expectations of faculty and staff. In 2014, the Rhode Island state legislature recognized the group with a resolution.


Bing Chen


Chen, of Saunderstown, was recognized for her research on gender and sexual orientation and work on campus. She excelled as an undergraduate in clinical psychology at Henan University in China; as a master’s degree student in psychology with a 3.97 grade-point average at Indiana State University; and, now, as a doctoral student in health psychology at URI. As an undergraduate student, she counseled LGBTQ students in China. At URI’s Gender and Sexuality Center, she led programs involving substance abuse prevention, safe sex, HIV prevention and temporary housing for students in crisis. One of her favorite research topics has been prejudice against transgender persons in China. She’s also a member of the Chinese Young Volunteers Association.


Lori Ciccomascolo

Ciccomascolo, of Providence, was honored for her research on the economic, social and psychological impact of fitness and exercise on the body image and self-perception of girls; her advocacy for retention programs for first-generation college students; and her co-leadership of the Women’s Leadership Initiative. After earning a bachelor’s degree in communication and a master’s degree in exercise science from Southern Connecticut State University, she received her doctorate in education from Boston University. Joining URI as an assistant professor of kinesiology in 2002, she is now interim dean of the College of Human Sciences and Services and dean of the Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Continuing Education in Providence. Her research has ranged from the positive effects of regular exercise on girls to the influence of parents on the physical activity levels of deaf children. In 2013, the URI Association of Professional and Academic Women named her Woman of the Year. The award motivated her to collaborate with colleagues to start the first Women’s Leadership Initiative to support women at URI who are interested in preparing for administrative roles. As interim dean of the College of Human Sciences and Services, she screened the film, “Miss Representation,” which exposes how mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in leadership positions of power and influence. She also worked with the Multicultural Center to pilot a seminar course on strategies for retaining first-generation and other under-served students. As dean of the Providence campus, she has worked with the Office of Community, Equity and Diversity to coordinate the college’s first full-day diversity professional development workshop.

Carol Englander


Carol Englander was recognized for preparing under-represented elementary, middle and high school students to study science, technology, engineering and math in college. In 1994, she created the Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences program, also called SMILE. In the last 21 years, the program has helped students interested in science get ready for college. Having prepared nearly 2,500 students since 1994, the program has 430 students in 19 clubs across six school districts. Students in the program for at least four years have a 95 percent high school graduation rate. Currently, 80 alumni of the program attend URI, with 73 percent of them pursuing math and science majors.


Pamela Rohland

Rohland, of Richmond, was honored for creating an inclusive and supportive learning environment for students with disabilities. While she has been active with the URI President’s Commission on the Status of Women, the Title IX Task Force, the Equity Council and the Work-Life Balance Committee, she played a key role in establishing the President’s Commission on People with Disabilities, and is co-chair of the group. As director of disability services at URI, she helped obtain more than $1 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education to train faculty and staff to be disability resource mentors at URI and seven other Rhode Island colleges. She also collaborated with the Community College of Rhode Island, the URI School of Education and URI’s technology services on a Champlain Foundation grant that increased accessibility to computer labs for student use and teacher training. Rohland has worked with the communicative disorders department since 2006 to create the Communication Coaching Program, which helps students who are on the autism spectrum or have social anxiety. She has also been co-chair of the Student Affairs Diversity Committee and organizes disability presentations for URI’s Diversity Week.

Diane Kern


Kern, of Wakefield, was honored for her support of educational funding and testing from pre-kindergarten through college. A public school teacher, Kern taught at Rhode Island College before joining the URI School of Education. In 2013, she helped create the Honors Colloquium, and in 2014 she was elected co-chair of URI’s Equity Council. She is also a co-founder of the Academic Success Academy, an after-school program at South Kingstown High School that creates a safe space for URI students to work with diverse and under-served high school students and to raise student achievement. She works with the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies to coordinate the annual Gandhi essay contest. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English and secondary education and a master’s degree in reading education from URI, and a doctorate in education from URI and Rhode Island College.


Jasmine Mena

Mena, of Providence, was recognized for her research about the adaptation of people of diverse racial, gender and sexual identities to the experiences of privilege, marginalization and oppression and for her efforts to create a viable workplace for women of color and other diverse groups on campus. Originally an adjunct instructor and staff psychologist at the Counseling Center, she became a postdoctoral fellow in psychology in 2010, and an assistant professor in 2011, teaching graduate courses in multicultural psychology and mental health. Her study of home-based interventions by Latino parents in support of their children indicates that these practices often have a greater impact on academic achievement than school-based interventions by parents. Her investigation of responses by LGBTQ students reveals the devastating impacts that family rejection can have on student identity and wellbeing. Mena was co-founder of the URI Women of Color Network. For three years, she served as chair of the Psychology Task Force on Multiculturalism and Diversity. She is a member of the Academic Affairs Diversity Committee. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and Spanish from Rhode Island College and a master’s degree and doctorate in psychology from URI.


Alyssa Hillary

Hillary, of Sharon, Mass., is an advocate for neurodiversity at URI. As a member of the neurodiversity movement, she seeks fairness and access for people diagnosed with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia and other neurological conditions. Through her leadership of the Student Neurodiversity Committee, her participation in Autism Campus Inclusion Leadership Training and the Autism Women’s Network, her membership in the Society of Women Engineers and her social media campaigning, Hillary has advocated for viewing autism and other brain differences as part of natural diversity in the “wiring” of the brain, rather than an assortment of pathological disorders. As a freshman at URI in 2011, her involvement with the Chinese Language Flagship Partner Program allowed her to travel to Washington, D. C. to hear First Lady Michelle Obama speak about college study abroad programs as a way to learn about other cultures. In 2013, she studied for a year at Tianjin Normal University in China. She is a graduate assistant in URI’s department of math, with research interests in disability studies, nanotechnology, and higher math.


Gianelle Alba


Alba, of Providence, was honored for her activism promoting a positive learning environment for women and people of color. A senior majoring in sociology, Africana studies and gender and women’s studies, Alba has been a student staff assistant and peer mentor for URI’s Talent Development program since 2012. A member of Powerful Independent Notoriously Knowledgeable Women, also known as P.I.N.K. Women, she has also volunteered with the Rhode Island Children’s Crusade; the URI Peer Educators on issues involving sexual assault and violence; the Undergraduate Student Advisory Council; the Cape Verdean Students Association; Diversifying, Recruiting, Inspiring, Volunteering and Educating Students; and Students for the Advancement of Gender Equality. She is a violence prevention and advocacy services specialist at the Women’s Center. A member of the student committee that recently invited Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale to campus, Alba was selected as a recipient of a URI Black Scholar Award in 2015.


Rochelle Jimenez


Jimenez, of Providence, was recognized for encouraging diversity, especially among Latinos studying business. A senior majoring in accounting and Italian, she was nominated to the College of Business student advisory council. She was the founding president of the URI chapter of the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting and recording secretary of Women in Business. Selected to be a campus ambassador by the accounting firm Ernst and Young, she has encouraged attendance at the firm’s Leadership and Diversity Leadership Conferences; helped promote internships for up to 20 URI students; and completed two summer internships of her own. She spent a semester abroad in Italy.

Janelle Amoako


Amoako, of Cranston, was honored for promoting a multicultural voice among nursing students. She’s a senior majoring in nursing. As treasurer of the URI chapter of the Student Nurses Association, she worked with the Rhode Island Blood Center and Be the Match program to host and promote diversity for the first blood and bone marrow drive at the College of Nursing. Her experience with the Hausman Fellowship for Minority Nursing Students has given her a global perspective on her profession, introducing her to people throughout the world and motivating her to start a student nurse organization at URI for her honors project. A member of Student Alliance for the Welfare of Africa and a founding member of the Diversity Ambassadors, she has volunteered in the Dominican Republic, and at Clinica Esperanza, a free clinic in Providence, and Gentiva Hospice Services in Warwick.


The URi-STANDers


The URi-STANDers was honored for changing the perception of relationship violence by teaching students to become active, effective and informed respondents when witnessing sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, date rape and other practices that objectify women. Along with the national “It’s On Us” initiative, the group, completing its first year, created a video featuring student-athletes taking a stand. More than 1,000 people, including the majority of student-athletes on campus, have signed the pledge. After learning about their work, Jill Redmond, associate commissioner of the Atlantic-10 Conference, contacted Keith Labelle, of Dartmouth, Mass., founder of URi-STANDers, to arrange pledge presentations and signings at the conference’s indoor track and field championships and basketball championships. The group is doing pledge presentations at fraternities and sororities, ROTC and other organizations through workshops, trainings, classes and cultural events.

Kelsey Lever


Lever, of Barrington, was recognized for creating safe and nurturing spaces for URI students. A senior majoring in sociology and gender and women’s studies, Lever is president of We’re Offering Women Wisdom, or WOWW, and founding president of the URi-STANDers. As president of WOWW, she has recruited diverse undergraduate students, acted in the annual performance of the Vagina Monologues and helped coordinate events at the Women’s Center and for the Division of Community Equity & Diversity. As president of URi-STANDers, she recruited and selected applicants, worked as a teaching assistant, conducted a pledge signing for the URI ROTC at the Newport Navy base, and co-sponsored the Silent Witness March.


Vonyee Moore

Moore was recognized for her dancing and support of programs that showcase different cultures. She is president of the Alima International Dance Association, which encourages cultural diversity through dance and poetry. In its tenth year, Alima donates money it raises to organizations, such as the Sickle Cell Awareness Association of Rhode Island and Destiny Africa/Kampala House, a choir and orphanage in Uganda. As vice president of the Student Alliance for the Welfare of Africa, she questions the negative stereotypes of Africa through educational events, including the popular “Hair Show.” As a peer educator, she talked to people about sex and gender and gave a voice to those traumatized by sexual, verbal and physical violence. As a student mentor for URI’s First Star Academy, she helped 18 high school students in foster care with their reading, math and critical thinking skills.


Besides the Multicultural Center, other sponsors of the diversity awards were the Office of Community, Equity and Diversity; the URI Office of Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity and Diversity; and the Graduate School.


Pictured above: Winners of the 2015 diversity awards at URI.


Photos by Michael Salerno Photography