Students honored at 2016 Student Life Awards


The 2016 winners of the Outstanding Student Life Awards are pictured with Larry Lunsford (right), vice president for Student Affairs.

On Thursday, April 7, the Outstanding Student Life Awards honored 21 students and four student organizations who have demonstrated the true spirit of FIU. More than 50 finalists competed for 15 awards, varying from service and spirit to leadership and diversity.

“Each and every student has contributed to the betterment of FIU and to the local and global communities with their continued work,” said Larry Lunsford, vice president for Student Affairs, who also served as master of ceremonies for the event. “Whether through extraordinary leadership on campus, exceptional scholarship in their field of study, by demonstrating a sense of caring for others through service, these students epitomize the theme of our program. I believe they are truly FIU’s best and brightest.”

The student finalists and award recipients comprise only a fraction of the more than 200 nominations for the awards. Created and sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs, there’s no other award ceremony that honors students from every academic year and college.

Here are the 2016 Outstanding Student Life Award winners:

Outstanding Service Award

Carina Alvarez is the kind of student who not only gives her time but also carries the spirit of service in her everyday life. She is a regular volunteer at Baptist Hospital and Nickluas Children Hospital. She also volunteered more than 100 hours this academic year and secured donations in the form of medical supplies worth over $600 to use during her service trip.

Outstanding Service Organization

Visiting over 2,500 students in 14 South Florida schools through the FIU Engineers on Wheels community outreach program, RISE (Research, Internships, and Scholarships in Engineering) demonstrates a desire to give back to its community without expecting anything in return. In a thank you letter to the organization, a high school student wrote, “The projects your organization shared taught me things I never learned about before and motivated me to pursue engineering in college.”

The Shining Star Award

Environmental engineering student Andrew Speroterra is a U.S. Coast Guard veteran who saw the need for a strong environmental student consciousness. He helped create and revitalize the campus chapter of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, the lead professional organization for environmental engineers – which was a vital factor in the re-accreditation process for the B.S. in environmental engineering in Fall 2014.

He was also the first elected president and organized the campus LakeWatch program with University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences – a sampling program intended to contribute to baseline water quality data for bodies of water around the state. Andrew also helped revitalize the long-inactive student chapter of the Water Environment Federation and has rigorously sought out guest visitors for internship and job opportunities for those in the Environmental Engineering program.

Shining Star Organization Award

The MMC Student Programming Council took their speaker series to new heights this year, mixing entertainment and education to supplement what students learn in the classroom. The student leaders also collaborated with academic departments, including Astronomy and Physics for their event with Gary Grice from the Wu-Tang Clan – a topic that highlighted the importance of getting more students of color into STEM majors; and the Cuban Research Institute and the office of International Students and Scholar Services for the Selenis Leyva talk on immigration, being a first-generation American and LGBT issues facing today’s society.

Spirit Award


Andrew Smith (center), recipient of the Spirit Award, pictured with Cheryl Nowell (left) assistant vice president for Student Affairs, and Larry Lunsford (right) vice president for Student Affairs.

Andrew Smith is

credited for encouraging involvement on campus through student organizations, leadership development, and building relationships centered around common interests in our diverse student body. Andrew may be best known for his chess skills in the Graham Center.

Spirit Award, Organization

The student leaders of Panther Camp help other students to mold their own experience at FIU, instilling pride for their institution and its traditions. In true Panther Spirit, this group raised over $9,000 to make sure new incoming Panthers, who may otherwise not have the means, are able to attend an unforgettable introduction to the Panther family, with potatoes, s’mores and bonfires included.

Diversity Award

International relations major TruLe’sia Newberry has created opportunities for many students at FIU to be heard. In addition to serving as president for a number of student organizations at FIU throughout her tenure, she may be best known for organizing a support video for students at University of Missouri during its race-based campus protests. To date, the FIU solidarity video has been viewed over 42,000 times.

Diversity Award, Organization

The Most Valuable Panthers student club was developed by the Panther LIFE: Learning Is For Everyone program. Panther LIFE students have intellectual disabilities and part of their curriculum includes socialization into the FIU community. The president of Panther LIFE has implemented a new executive board policy that requires all leadership positions to be held by both a Panther LIFE student and a general population student at FIU. This action has helped increase awareness of the abilities of students enrolled in the Panther LIFE program.

Freshman Leadership Awards

In addition to becoming involved with Panther Camp, Yordany Lopez has jumped into the college experience full force by becoming part of the Homecoming Council and an active member of his fraternity

Sophomore Leadership Award

Luc Pierre-Louis visited the Student Government Association Office before classes had even started to find out how best to help the campus community. Since then, he has served as the Arts and Sciences Senator for SGA at the Biscayne Bay Campus, is a member of the Wine to Water Club, the United Way Campaign, the SGA Finance Committee, the It’s On Us Sexual Assault Awareness Campaign and is Chair of the FIU Student Advocacy Committee.

Krista Schmidt is involved in Roar-thon, Alternative Breaks, Delta Phi Epsilon, Student Government, Phi Alpha Delta, holding leadership positions in many of these organizations. Krista is credited with inspiring other students to be their best, be proud Panthers and to aspire for greatness in the future.

Junior Leadership Award

Tia Clay recently earned one of two spots to represent the Conference USA at the NCAA Leadership Forum. Noted as a leader among students, she was very involved in a review and feedback process for legislation developed by the NCAA that impacts student-athlete welfare. Tia took it upon herself to meet with the compliance department to better understand the legislation and shared what she had learned with the Student Athlete Leadership Council executive board so that they could make an informed decision on how they would vote.

Under Elizabeth Vasquez’s guidance, the Student Programming Council has gone from hosting their events only within the GC Pit to organizing events throughout different locations on campus in order to reach different student demographics.

Planning to pursue a career in law, Rashaad Perry-Patterson is described as someone who hits the ground running in all of his endeavors. Inspired by national issues of social justice, Rashaad encouraged students to get involved with the Black Professionals Summit at BBC and initiated the Black Student Union’s newest and overwhelmingly successful program, Blacklimated.

Senior Leadership Award

Business Management major Michael Aquino is a well-known leader at the Biscayne Bay Campus through his various involvements. A participant in the Academy of Leaders, his leadership roles include Orientation Leader, Panther Power Vice President, Student Programming Council Culture and Fine Arts Director, Student Organization Council President and Vice President, Admissions Tour Guide, Alternative Breaks participant and Campus Life Student Assistant.

Double majoring in Sociology and Anthropology, Jazmin Felix has demonstrated commitment to leadership and service for four years, serving in organizations and programs such as Academy of Leaders, Women of Color Mentoring Program, and MLK Day of Service. Jazmin also served the Student Government Association as Speaker of the Senate and former President of SGA at BBC. She has also served as an Alternative Breaks site leader for three years, helping homeless and poverty stricken communities in New York and promoting education with children in Nicaragua.

As an FIU Student Alumni Association Ambassador, president of Alpha Kappa Psi Professional Business Fraternity and the FIU Chapter of FBLA-PBL, senior marketing major Kevin Carballe continues his legacy at FIU. He was instrumental in creating the first ever First Generation Scholarship that was funded by Alpha Kappa Psi, which raised more than $11,250. Beyond FIU, Kevin has also served as the state president of Future Business Leaders of America- Phi Beta Lambda, the oldest and largest business student organization in the nation.

English and Marketing double major Alexandria Pipitone serves the campus community as a note taker for her peers with disabilities and as a peer mentor for freshman students. She served as Vice President of Alpha Omicron Pi, Secretary of Order of Omega Greek Honor Society, the Lead Office Assistant for the Children’s Creative Learning Center and most recently, secured a very competitive position with Pearson Higher Education as a Campus Ambassador for FIU.

Graduate Student Leadership Award

Joseph Ottolenghi established and led the FIU Medical Students for Choice chapter, researched the impact of intimate partner violence on post-partum contraceptive use, hosted and spoke for Family Day at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, and was the featured speaker for Planned Parenthood of Florida’s 24th annual “Tradition of Choice” Luncheon. His dedication to championing women’s reproductive rights has deeply impacted the FIU community, increased awareness and encouraged advocacy for reproductive rights. Joseph has also served as the Vice President of the Medical Student Council at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.

As a Ph.D. candidate and graduate assistant in the College of Engineering and Computing, Reza Sheykhi inspires innovation. He assisted with Startup Weekend Miami, mentoring roughly 150 entrepreneurs at FIU. He has participated in the Social Innovation Team and Graduate Student Advisory Board, where he organized Graduate Student Appreciation Week events for the past two years. Beyond FIU, Reza has also volunteered as the ASCE Construction Institute Chair at the American Society of Civil Engineers in Miami-Dade.

Scholar Award

Electrical engineering major Karina Quintana has a near perfect GPA.  She has earned a spot on the Dean’s List every semester at FIU, and is an FIU Presidential Scholar.  As a research assistant in the FIU Electromagnetics Lab, and the lead researcher on a project titled “Ultra-broadband Highly-Efficient Wireless Powering of Zero-Power Implantable and Wearable Wireless Sensors,” Karina has represented FIU at many national conferences, and serves as a scholar and ambassador for the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering.

Ross Boucek is an author of 15 scientific publications plus another 2 in review. He has presented at over 25 local, regional, and national conferences; manages a popular science blog; co-authored a chapter on the Ecology of the Everglades; and is a guest editor of a special issue of a prestigious international journal, Ecosphere. Ross has secured over $50,000 in grants and fellowships, and is currently co-Principal investigator for three grant-funded research projects at FIU totaling nearly $1 Million. Somehow Ross still makes time to mentor undergraduate and high school students, and has served in leadership roles for the National Science Foundation Long Term Ecological Research Network and Graduate Education Committee, the National American Fisheries Society, and the Florida American Fisheries Society, which was recognized as the best student chapter in the nation under his guidance.

Kaplan Prize

Student Life Awards-Vanessa

Vanessa Berrios (second from right), recipient of the Kaplan Prize, poses with friends and family at the 2016 Student Life Awards.

Sophomore biological studies major Vanessa Berrios is often juggling multiple campus involvements, her work-study position and coursework. All the while, she has maintained a high GPA.  Some of her involvements include volunteering with Special Olympics Miami and interning with the Student Government Association. Vanessa is a graduate of the Academy of Leaders program, and a current Golden Dazzler. Once she completes her bachelor’s degree, she plans to attend medical school.

Selected as an undergraduate research assistant in the Program for Attention, Learning, and Memory, Stephanie Morris has positively impacted the lives of children and families struggling with ADHD. The position required her to interact with children and families with a wide range of behavioral difficulties, highlighting her desire to assist others in need. She has become a “go-to” person due to her tenacity, strong work ethic, and willingness to seek out tasks that go above and beyond her responsibilities. She aspires to obtain a doctoral degree in clinical science, improve diagnostic procedures for ADHD and develop treatment plans to increase performance of children with ADHD within clinical and academic settings.

Presidential Award

Described as a leader, mentor, teacher, and a cutting edge researcher and scholar in material science and engineering, Vishal Musaramthota is changing the world. At FIU, Vishal has served in various leadership capacities in student organizations, including The Materials Advantage – FIU, a student organization that serves to evoke interest in material science for students in the College of Engineering and Computing. The organization has been awarded as Chapter of Excellence for 6 consecutive years among all schools in the U.S.

Vishal has also served the local community, working with public schools over the past five years. He showcases FIU laboratories to students from K-12 during FIU’s Engineering Gala and is committed to aiding younger generations of scientists and engineers.

Vishal has also served as a coordinator with NGO Child Rights and You, an agent of change that works to ensure the fundamental rights of underprivileged children in India are protected and honored.

As part of the Applied Research Center, Vishal has focused on conducting composite bonding studies for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Joint Advanced Materials and Structures Center of Excellence. Vishal’s doctoral research work is of significant importance to the FAA as it employs composites to reduce the weight of aircrafts.

Vishal has also demonstrated a unique ability to apply his skill sets to a variety of scientific disciplines. For example, he has supported a number of other research efforts including projects in the biomedical, Nano medicine and ground water remediation fields, all while conducting his own doctoral research.

Vishal has presented his research in 25 national and international conferences, and published 16 articles in various journals and conferences, including Scientific Reports, considered one of the top journals in the scientific community.