Student success, scholarship and social justice celebrated at Social Sciences Division annual awards ceremony

June 01, 2016

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Katie Sweeney is the 2016 winner of the Gabriel Zimmerman Memorial Scholarship. View more photos from the event here »

Undergraduate research, scholarship, and a commitment to social justice were celebrated on May 26 at the Division of Social Sciences annual student awards ceremony. Award recipients, their families and faculty mentors, as well as friends, alumni and members from the division’s board of councilors, gathered at the Porter Hitchcock Lounge to reflect on their academic and personal accomplishments gained at UC Santa Cruz. Dean of Social Sciences Sheldon Kamieniecki served as the master of ceremonies.

“Throughout the luncheon we heard stories of students who have overcome great obstacles and engaged in amazing research and volunteer activities.  The students were quick to thank the faculty and graduate student mentors who made their UCSC experience so wonderful and fulfilling,” Kamieniecki said.

In their words

Learn more about our student awards recipients - in their own words!

Alec Apodaca
Ean Brown
Beverly Iniguez Conrique
Adriana Murguia Gonzalez
Raymond LeBeau
Mireya Mateo
Katie Sweeney

Honored at the event were the 10 undergraduates from the division who received a Dean’s Award for an outstanding undergraduate research project - three who also received a Chancellor’s Award. Also recognized were this year’s recipients of the Gabriel Zimmerman Memorial Scholarship, Keeley Coastal Scholarship, Walsh Scholarship, Weiss Family Scholarship, and the Milam McGinty Kaun Award for Excellence in Teaching. View the full list of student awards recipients »

Honoring Gabriel Zimmerman’s legacy

The event also offered a special commemoration  to alumnus Gabriel Zimmerman (Stevenson, ‘02, sociology) who five years ago was shot and killed while working as community outreach director for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). Thanks to the support of the UCSC community, a scholarship was set up in his honor to support students committed to social justice and public service. 

To help remember Zimmerman’s legacy, was his cousin Ian Zimmerman who presented the award to the newest recipient, Katie Sweeney (Cowell, ’16, community studies).

At age 11, Sweeney lost her mother to cancer. Two years ago she received a $10,000 grant from the Livestrong Foundation to start a campus chapter of Camp Kesem, a summer program that supports children coping with a parent with cancer. She has since raised $180,000 to expand the camp. In addition, as a student, Sweeney volunteered at Barrios Unidos and was a resident advisor at Cowell College.

She also trained as a lead investigator at the Santa Cruz Public Defender’s Office to examine domestic violence, battery, petty theft, and alcohol cases, and is considering law school and the Peace Corps after graduation.

“I believe Katie Sweeney exemplifies the values and commitment to public service exemplified in the all-too-brief life and work of Gabriel Zimmerman,” faculty advisor Mary Beth Pudup wrote in her nomination letter.

“Katie stands for justice and social change,” said Andrea Steiner, a lecturer in Community Studies.

Also in attendance were previous awards recipients Yethzéll Díaz (’12, Latin American and Latino studies and sociology) and Abuoali “Arash” Mohajerinejad (Oakes, ’14, sociology) who offered a few words about how Zimmerman’s legacy lives on.

Mohajerinejad, who was born in Iran, drew parallels between the atrocities he witnessed in his native country and the shooting spree in Tucson that left Giffords critically wounded and 6 dead, including Zimmerman.

“No matter where you are there is always violence,” he said.

“I feel I have a duty to fight against the violence we are facing here and Gabriel is the light,” said Mohajerinejad.

But there are people trying to make the world a better place and Zimmerman was one of them, said Mohajerinejad who has dedicated his life to advocating for peace and justice. Six months ago he even travelled to Tucson to pay his respects to Zimmerman.

Díaz, who now works for Digital Nest, the Watsonville non-profit founded by alumnus Jacob Martinez (Oakes '04, ecology and evolutionary biology) to bridge the digital divide, reflected how she was deeply honored to be the inaugural recipient.

A job in public service means being a public servant, engaging day in and day out with lived experiences. It is a process that we celebrate today, she added.

“It was a moving presentation and a fitting tribute to a slug who dedicated his life to public service,” said Kamieniecki.

Student support

Included in the steadfast efforts to ensure student success are the graduate teaching assistants who mentor undergraduates in their seminars. The Milam McGinty Kaun Awards for Excellence in Teaching recognizes this important contribution.

Professor Emeritus David E. Kaun whoearlier this year renewed commitment to the Gabriel Zimmerman Memorial Scholarship Fund, also spoke about his efforts to establish he Milam McGinty Kaun Awards for Excellence in Teaching. He also presented the award to this year’s recipients, Claudia Lopez in sociology and Jae Hoon Choi in economics.

“It is rewarding to recognize our students and provide scholarships to enable them to continue their studies and growth,” said  Kamieniecki. But, we all know that none of this would be possible without the tireless work of our faculty and staff.”