Student Affairs recognizes its best and brightest

The Division of Student Affairs held its annual Outstanding Student Life Awards to honor students who have demonstrated the true spirit of FIU. The 2017-2018 academic school year was certainly not short of remarkable students from every college. The awards committee received an overwhelming response of nearly 200 nominations.

Student winners and finalists all contributed to the betterment of FIU and to local and global communities, either through extraordinary leadership on campus, exceptional scholarship in their field of study, selfless service or commitment to diversity.

“These students epitomize the goals of our program,” said Larry Lunsford, vice president for Student Affairs. “They have taken the knowledge and experience they have gained and shared it with others – both on and off campus, all the while, excelling in the classroom.”

The 2018 Outstanding Student Life Award recipients are:

OUTSTANDING SERVICE AWARD Recognizes students dedicated and committed to serving others.

Travis Dozier

Travis Dozier is a veteran who served three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is committed to connecting FIU veteran-students with campus resources to support their success. Dozier’s life mission is to revitalize black communities throughout the African diaspora. He strategized and coordinated the first Kwanzaa celebration to ever take place in Argentina. When the celebration was over, he and his team fed hungry families who inhabit the streets of Buenos Aires—all while working two-part time jobs and making the Dean’s List.

Jefferson Noel

Jefferson Noel served as senator and speaker pro tempore for the Student Government Association and was part of several other student organizations on campus. Noel created Barbershop Speaks, an organization which offers an innovative approach to community engagement. Its goal is to provide education through conversation in barbershops within marginalized communities. Topics discussed have included education, politics, civic engagement, women’s empowerment, financial literacy and the Haitian diaspora.


  • Alexa Borroto
  • Patricia Otero

ORGANIZATION: OUTSTANDING SERVICE Recognizes an organization’s dedication and commitment to serving others.

Since its inception in 2014, Upsilon Pi Epsilon has grown to nearly 500 members, making it the largest student organization focused on computing and information sciences at FIU. The honor society provides an array of on-campus initiatives including career planning and professional development opportunities, a peer-mentoring program to support students through their first and second year at FIU, access to new technologies and competitions to test innovations. Beyond FIU, this group sends 60 mentors to 15 local elementary schools on a weekly-basis to mentor children and teach them about technology and coding skills. The program has been so successful that its members were recently granted $10,000 from Google to support their efforts.


  • Alternative Breaks
  • FIU Roarthon

SHINING STAR AWARD Recognizes a student for creating a new campus tradition, innovative programming idea or demonstrating exceptional commitment to supporting a campus tradition and/or increasing the university’s prestige.

Thomas Guerra created a club that fosters a safe and non-judgmental environment where individuals seeking recovery can feel welcomed. He did extensive work to bring fully sanctioned Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for students to campus. Additionally, this past football season he hosted sober tailgates for students who chose not to drink alcohol while celebrating the FIU football team.

By creating Panthers 4 Recovery this year, Guerra has truly exemplified what it means to be a Panther community for all students.


Diana Galiano

ORGANIZATION: SHINING STAR AWARD Recognizes an organization for creating a new campus tradition, innovative programming idea or demonstrating exceptional commitment to supporting a campus tradition and/or increasing the university’s prestige.

FIU students, multiple university departments and the local businesses have benefited from innovative programming offered by the American Marketing Association. Out of more than 350 chapters in the United States, the group has consistently ranked in the top 10 and earned the title of No.1 collegiate chapter twice since it was formed at FIU in 2001. Its members provide full-service marketing strategies for start-ups, non-profits and businesses, including the FIU College of Business, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, the Zoological Wildlife Foundation and Miami Open MRI.



  • MedX

SPIRIT AWARD Honors a student that has demonstrated outstanding leadership in promoting campus spirit, pride and loyalty to FIU.

James Karnib completed extensive volunteer work for three FIU departments including the Learning Center, the Office of Study Abroad and StartUp FIU. He served as both active member and team leader in creating wide-spread awareness to students about these campus resources. Karnib also conducted extensive assessments to better understand how FIU students use these campus departments and provided each department with support for high-quality campus events, social media engagement and marketing materials. (Karnib was at a conference with the American Marketing Association; his parents accepted the award on his behalf.) 

ORGANIZATION: SPIRIT AWARD Honors an organization that has demonstrated outstanding leadership in promoting campus spirit, pride and loyalty to FIU.

The 2017 Peer Advisors shared their passion for school spirit with nearly 13,000 incoming students and their loved ones over 25 orientation sessions. Peer advisors quite literally, collectively learned everything there is to know about FIU so that they could pass that information onto incoming students at Modesto Maidique Campus, Biscayne Bay Campus and I-75 Campus. They shared their Panther pride beyond FIU at the annual Southern Regional Orientation Workshop held at Georgia Southern University and took home the coveted Large Delegation Spirit Award.


DIVERSITY AWARD Recognizes a student who embodies the Division of Student Affairs’ ongoing commitment to advocate for the importance of valuing and appreciating difference, similarities and uniqueness within the community.

Stevenson Chery

As a student in the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, Stevenson Chery demonstrated consistent appreciation and celebration of diversity, access and equity issues. He held executive board positions in the Student National Medical Association, the Non-Profit Global Health Interest Group and the Gold Humanism Honor Society. Chery co-founded a non-profit organization called KORE Haiti Inc., which addresses health disparities by providing access to health care to underserved communities in Haiti.


  • Kaila Jospitre
  • Dorysped Mancebo

ORGANIZATION: DIVERSITY AWARD Recognizes an organization that embodies the Division of Student Affairs’ ongoing commitment to advocate for the importance of valuing and appreciating difference, similarities and uniqueness within the community.

LGBTQA Student Ambassadors focus on education, awareness and advocacy of social justice. They organized the first year memorial and candlelight vigil for PULSE, served local elderly LGBT community members, presented a workshop on “Transgender Mental Health and Awareness” at the National Creating Change conference in D.C., and hosted numerous workshops for FIU students, ranging in topics such as varying genders, sexual orientation awareness, and issues related to the intersections of race, sexuality, spirituality and gender.



  • School Psychology Student Association

FRESHMAN OUTSTANDING LEADER AWARD Recognizes freshmen who exhibited exemplary qualities of leadership and teamwork and earned a distinguished record of campus involvement.

Heidi Valdes got involved at FIU from the start of her freshmen year. She attended Panther Camp last summer, completed the Academy of Leaders certificate program and joined Alternative Breaks. She raised more than $4,000 with her team and spent spring break in New York teaching at-risk middle school children important topics such as financial literacy, career planning and entrepreneurship. Valdes was selected as a 2018 Peer Advisor and will be spending her summer and fall semester welcoming thousands of students to FIU.

SOPHOMORE OUTSTANDING LEADER AWARD Recognizes sophomores who exhibited exemplary qualities of leadership and teamwork and earned a distinguished record of campus involvement.

As a Panther Camp facilitator, Cameron Moody led a small group of students at each of the four summer camp sessions to connect with each other and learn more about FIU. The business major presented an educational workshop at each Panther Camp session, served as the director of sponsorship for Panther Camp and maintained an exceptional GPA.

Johanna Ramb joined the 2017 Peer Advisor team while also serving as a Courtyard Marriott guest experience specialist and as a brand ambassador for Pepsi. Her above-and-beyond attitude is best exemplified by a call she made to her advisor at 8 p.m. because she was trying to help an incoming student choose classes and set some career goals.


  • Noemie Beaubrun
  • Alexander Hanks

JUNIOR OUTSTANDING LEADERSHIP AWARD  Recognizes juniors who exhibited exemplary qualities of leadership and teamwork and earned a distinguished record of campus involvement.

Sabrina Gato was involved in Panther Camp as a facilitator and director of sponsorship, completed the Academy of Leaders, served as the sponsorship chair for the FIU Homecoming Council, assisted her local community and participated in Alternative Breaks. She is currently the vice president for service and reporting for an international honors organization called, Beta Alpha Psi. Gato also interned at Caserta & Spiriti Law Firm and Forums Corporate Event Planning where she was responsible for analyzing data reports and preparing budgets of more than $1 million for corporate events.

Alyssa Pepio held many leadership roles both on and off campus including serving as an LGBTQA ambassador, vice president for the Student Alliance Fighting Exploitation, City Year Team Leader and as a board member of both the Southern Poverty Law Center at FIU and the GLSEN chapter in Orlando. She transformed her class project in Professor Skelaney’s Sex Trafficking course into a fully functioning 501c3 non-profit organization and pitched her idea to FIU’s Social Innovation Challenge, winning $500 and a chance to compete as a top three finalist for $7,000 to further develop her organization.

Her organization, the HEART Initiative, provides training and resources to educators and health care workers on the identification and support of human trafficking survivors.


  • Danny De Leon
  • Alexandra Gutierrez
  • Claudia Ortuzar


Recognizes seniors who exhibited exemplary qualities of leadership and teamwork and earned a distinguished record of campus involvement.

Anthony Bolcato served FIU in a variety of leadership roles through the years. He facilitated the transition of new students to FIU as a peer advisor and later as a Panther Camp facilitator. Bolcato was a RA, an executive board member in his fraternity, a peer mentor for the First Year Experience Class and the marketing chair for FIU’s Relay for Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. After graduation, he plans to pursue a career in higher education administration.

Alberto Garcia has an impressive campus involvement resume that includes president of the Golden Key Honor Society; vice president of programming for ODK National Leadership Honor Society; president of the Honors College Pre-Law Association; and president of the Honors College HEARTS Writing club, just to name a few. He is often found offering additional time and service to administrative departments on campus including the Honors College and the Center for Leadership and Service.

As a physical therapy student, Farah Guzman serves as the founding president of FIU’s first pre-physical therapy club. She received a grant to start the Sarcopenia Awareness and Prevention Project as well as multiple merit-based scholarships and awards, including the highest forms of recognition for a transfer student. Guzman also served as a research assistant at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, examining the impact a wearable exoskeleton has in aiding people with spinal cord injuries. She plans to pursue a doctorate after graduation and has already been accepted to multiple physical therapy graduate programs ranked in the top ten in the nation.

Meredith Marseille served for two years as a peer mentor for the First Year Experience and as the finance chair and now president of the Public Relations Student Society of America. She is well-known for her leadership in the Student Government Association, having served as the finance chair and later the comptroller, overseeing a $20 million budget. Marseille is currently BBC vice president for the Student Government Association. Among her many accomplishments is the development of a reflexology path at BBC, which will be the longest of its kind on the U.S. east coast when it’s completed. This resource will positively impact the wellbeing and learning environment of FIU students long after she graduates.


  • Mitchell Carbajal
  • Vernise Estorcien
  • Charisse Mellison
  • Tidjan Simpson


Recognizes graduate students who exhibited exemplary qualities of leadership and teamwork and earned a distinguished record of campus involvement.

Richard Moreno has co-chaired the World AIDS Day Events Committee; participated in a Practice Interview Exchange with graduate students from FIU, NOVA Southeastern University and FAU; served on the Student Conduct Hearing Committee; and implemented the LGBTQA Ambassadors program. A well-known champion for LGBTQA rights, gender equality and raising awareness about sexual assault, he has quickly proven himself as a leader.

Jamesia Terry is a leader who has empowered and inspired other student leaders, her peers and thousands of incoming students through her involvement in the orientation process. Along with her transformative work to infuse conversations of social justice and race equity into the fabric of FIU, she’s made a lasting impact on the university that will stand long after she graduates. Beyond her leadership and involvement at FIU, this Higher Education Administration graduate student has presented at local, regional and national conferences.


  • Sahar Ajabshir
  • Abla Hariri
  • Kristen Robillard

UNDERGRADUATE SCHOLAR AWARD Recognizes an undergraduate student who has demonstrated outstanding leadership through academic achievement and/or academic research.

Mariluz Soula received scholarships at the university, state and national levels and has made the Dean’s List every semester while a student at FIU. She also held research fellowships through Rockefeller University in New York, NIH, NYU, MIT, and serves as a researcher at FIU on several molecular biology projects supported by NIH grants. Soula has also presented at several national and international conferences and has been published as first-author in the Journal of Endocrine Society. Her research has shown great promise for therapeutic treatment of fibrotic diseases in animal models, and her research has established the model running the same tests in human-specific models such as compound signaling on HER2-driven breast cancer and liver or kidney fibrosis.


  • Brian Perez
  • Paloma Tuttle-Vasseur

GRADUATE SCHOLAR AWARD Recognizes a graduate student who has demonstrated outstanding leadership through academic achievement and/or academic research.

Haixiang Yu is a change-maker with a breakthrough discovery in biochemical research that has yielded a U.S. patent, been featured in the Miami Herald and published in scientific journals such as Nucleic Acids Research, Applied Materials and Interface and Analytical Chemistry. Yu found a rapid, specific and ultra-sensitive fluorescent detection of small molecules such as biomarkers, toxins and controlled substances with excellent accuracy. This has resulted in a user-friendly field-test kit that costs less than $1 per kit. This discovery will revolutionize the ability to quickly detect even the smallest amount of cocaine and has the potential to save lives as the number of cocaine-induced seizures and overdoses has increased since 2014 and 2015 to the highest rates in the United States since 2007. Yu has achieved this all while maintaining an exceptional GPA, mentoring undergraduate students, training fellow graduate students and demonstrating a collaborative leadership style.


  • Pranjal Nautiyal
  • Jessica Saunders

KAPLAN PRIZE Awarded to students that plan to pursue graduate studies in their chosen field.

Sabrina Gato has a perfect 4.0 GPA in her accounting degree program and has completed numerous leadership positions on campus as well as prestigious internships off campus. The Kaplan scholarship will support her goals to earn a Master of Accounting degree and become a CPA.

Claudia Ortuzar is an active member of the FIU community, leading the way in community service, social justice and human rights issues. She currently serves as the co-director of Alternative Breaks, and as the treasurer of the Student Alliance Fighting Exploitation. This past February she oversaw the training of a group of volunteers who helped collect more than 12,000 pounds of leftover food after the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival and donated the food to local homeless shelters. Her goal is to pursue a career in the dental field as a prosthodontist.


PRESIDENTIAL AWARD Recognizes one Worlds Ahead student who has significantly impacted the FIU community.

Sahar Ajabshir earned her bachelor’s in cell and molecular biology from Azad University of Mashhad in Iran, her master’s in dietetics and nutrition from FIU and continued her dietetics and nutrition studies at FIU where she is nearly finished with her Ph.D.

Her research focuses on the ways that diabetes must be diagnosed and treated within different communities based on their ethnic heritage and cultural practices. Notably, her work has clearly met a need in this research community as her publications have already been cited more than 60 times.

In addition to her exceptional contributions to research in dietetics and nutrition, Ajabshir has served in Student Government Association as the vice-chair of the Graduate and Professional Student Committee. In this role, Ajabshir has been directly involved in allocating funds to more than 1,000 of her peers so that they can travel to national and international conferences to present their research on behalf of FIU. This committee also funded the first group of medical students from FIU, and the first group from the U.S., to go on a medical mission trip to Cuba in 2016.

In her time at FIU, Ajabshir also oversaw the training of the teaching assistants in the dietetics and nutrition department, impacting more 800 students in six years. Her work beyond FIU is equally impressive, as she is actively engaged with the following national organizations: the American Society for Nutrition, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Association of Graduate Students of Dietetics and Nutrition, and the American Diabetes Association.

Congratulations to the 2018 Outstanding Student Life Award recipients and finalists!