Past Recipients of the Graduate Student Contribution to Community Life Award

2021 Graduate Contribution to Community Life Award Recipients 

Shekinah A. Fashaw-Walters

Shekinah Fashaw-Walters is from Delray Beach, FL and will be receiving a PhD from the Department of Health Services Policy and Practice. During her time at Brown she engaged as a servant leader and especially worked to support diversity and inclusion efforts at both the departmental, school of public health, and university level. Shekinah has served in various leadership capacities including as the president of the Samuel M. Nabrit Black Graduate Student Association, the Chair of Student Life for the Graduate Student Council,  a Co-Coordinator for the 2019 Graduate Students of Color Orientation, and a student planner for the Womxn in STEM Symposium. In addition, she has served as a trusted student voice on her department's admissions committee, school DIAP committee, and the Graduate School's Diversity Advisory Board. Shekinah considers herself a life-long learner and has enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the Research Matters talks, BEST program, and Sheridan Center Teach Consultant program. After graduation, she will be joining the faculty at the University of Minnesota as a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the division of Health Policy and Management. There, Shekinah will continue her research on health equity, aging, and racism while supporting and mentoring students from historically underrepresented backgrounds. 


Bardiya Akhbari

Born and raised in Tehran, Iran, Bardiya will receive his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering in May 2021, where he will deliver the 2021 Commencement Ceremony Doctoral Address. Bardiya joined Prof. Trey Crisco's laboratory at Brown University in September 2016 and started his research at the intersection of orthopedics, biomechanics, and medical imaging to design systems that can translate to clinical settings to reduce pain and improve wellness.
During his time at Brown, Bardiya was involved in several roles across the university. From 2019 to 2020, Bardiya was a graduate board member of the International Students' Advisory Board, meeting the administration regularly to discuss the problems that international students face. During Bardiya’s tenure, the Board found the biggest challenge facing international students is the lack of on-campus housing for international graduate students. The Board also advocated for enhancing tax advising and filing support services, subsidizing SEVIS/SEVP and OPT application costs for international students, as well as establishing emergency funding for leaves, meal support, and other basic needs. Bardiya was also the co-founder and president of the Iranian Graduate Students Association (IGSA) for four years and the president of the Iranian Students Association (both graduate and undergraduate chapters) for two years. During his tenure, Bardiya and his team arranged more than ten community events and supported current and prospective Iranian students in various capacities (such as waiving admission fees for Iranian-born students in 2017 and extending the graduate school’s application deadlines in 2019). Bardiya was also the representative of the Center for Biomedical Engineering at the Graduate Student Council (GSC) for two years and the faculty meeting observer for the BioMedical Engineering and Biotechnology (BMEB) graduate advisory board. As a representative for GSC, Bardiya was communicating the university-wide news and resources to the department and students, and as the faculty observer for BMEB, he was reporting the decisions made by faculty during the meetings to the department to improve the center’s transparency. Bardiya plans to continue in the field of biomechanics research, and he is seeking out a postdoctoral appointment.

Christopher J. Lee

Christopher J. Lee grew up in Irvine, California and will be receiving a PhD in English in May 2021. Chris has served as Graduate Coordinator (2019-2020) for the Brown Center for Students of Color and as a member of the Bias Review Team (2019-2020). They were selected as a Graduate Community Fellow (2019-2020) for a new area of focus, “Gender Queeries,” an initiative to make institutions more equitable for trans, queer, and gender non-conforming graduate students. Their research on trans/queer politics has been featured in a wide range of academic and non-academic publications, including TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, Women & Performance, The New Inquiry, The Baffler, and Art Papers. Chris has sought out opportunities to mentor students and student groups, especially trans and queer students of color. They have served as editorial advisor (2015-206) to Brown’s student-run feminist publication, bluestockings magazine, and as a primary instructor for a directed independent study on "Critical Trans Studies." At Brown, Chris has collaborated with undergraduate and graduate students to organize panels, film screenings, and workshops that spotlight trans liberation, including “Captive Genders” (2016) with filmmaker and community historian Tourmaline, and “Free Cece!” (2018) with activist and prison abolitionist CeCe McDonald. Beyond Brown, Chris has worked with AS220 to co-found and lead Queer Arts Festival (2015-2019), an annual event series that highlighted queer artists and activists in Providence. Chris also co-curated the Publicly Complex poetry series (2018-2020), and currently serves as Board Treasurer (2020-present) for the Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), an organization that supports Southeast Asian young people, queer and trans people of color, and communities impacted by state violence. After graduation, Chris will return to Brown as a Dean's Faculty Fellow. They plan to spend their summer growing vegetables and herbs at Tooth and Nail Farm, a BIPOC support collective. Their goal is to center trans/queer liberation in all aspects of their work— professional, academic, and otherwise.

Amy Chin

Amy grew up in Queens, New York. As a first-generation low-income undergraduate student, she attended the School of Industrial Labor Relations at Cornell University to learn how to build worker power, particularly with immigrant women of color. She brought these political investments and lessons to Brown through her consciousness-raising efforts in programming, teaching and mentorship. At the Sarah Doyle Center for Women and Gender (SDC), Amy served as a graduate coordinator where she created programming around pedagogy, community-based research, and women of color feminisms. She is grateful to the SDC for its enduring commitment to provide the gentle space for all folks to figure out what feminism means to them on their own terms. Through the SDC, she began co-coordinating Brown Asian Sisters Empowered (BASE), an Asian/American feminist student group at Brown. From her BASE students, she has learned what it means to try together—whether that meant figuring out what we cared about in community, supporting one another as we muddled our way through and/or being there for each other during the highs and lows of our attempts. For Amy, BASE’s emergency gathering zoom meeting after Georgia remains a testament to the potential Asian/Americans have to care for one another here at Brown. Her work and time in graduate school has been deeply shaped and sustained by the wonderful students and staff who are trying to build a more livable world. This summer she will receive a PhD in sociology. After Brown, she will start a position as a tenure track Assistant Professor at Vassar in the American Studies and Asian Studies programs.

2020 Graduate Student Contribution to Community Life Award Recipients

Ramisa Fariha, Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering

Born and raised in Narayanganj, Bangladesh, Ramisa is the first Ivy League student from her hometown. She was the first single female to leave her hometown to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from Penn State, where she was the first international student to receive ‘Freshman of the Year’ award. Ramisa joined Brown University in Fall 2018, working on a research collaboration with Dr. Jonghwan Lee and her research inspiration, Dr. Jeff Morgan, pursuing her master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering. During her time at Brown, Ramisa has served in the International Student Advisory Board, and was featured in the prestigious NAFSA Magazine when Brown was awarded the Senator Paul Simon Award for Comprehensive Internationalization. During her time at Brown, Ramisa was selected as the Graduate Community Fellow for International Students (2018-2019, 2019-2020), and she organized various events, including the ‘Graduate Student Self-Care Series’ with Global Brown Center for International Students (GBC). Ramisa also served as one of the three Graduate Assistants for International Graduate Orientation, and as a Peer Mentor and Tour Guide for Graduate Student Orientation. She also served as the first Graduate Coordinator for GBC, and together with Community Fellow Shuai Xie, executed several community building initiatives, specifically for International Graduate Students. Not only for the international student community, Ramisa has served in various career panels and search committees for different campus centers, and organizations. She was an active part of the Biomedical Engineering DIAP Committee, and also led several Diversity and Inclusion initiatives as an active member of the Brown Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology (BMEB) Graduate Advisory Board. She has also been featured in various science blogs due to her activism as a womxn of color in STEM. Ramisa is currently planning to transition to the industry, looking for research positions. Her goal is to become an independent research scientist, specializing on female reproductive diseases such as Ovarian Cancer, while continuing to inspire more international students and womxn of color in STEM to pursue their dreams. 

John Santiago, Ph D. Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology and Biochemistry

John Santiago grew up in Watertown, New York and will be graduating with a PhD in Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology and Biochemistry (MCBGP). He is a father of three and the first in his family to attain a college degree. When he started his graduate work, with guidance from the MCBGP he became involved with the Brown Initiative to Maximize Student Development (IMSD) program and joined Brown’s Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) chapter. This involvement brought him to a few national conferences where he became aware of the impact he could have on those from similar backgrounds. He began taking opportunities to provide mentoring through activities such as participating in the MCB graduate student peer mentoring program, assisting with IMSD modules as a senior scholar, and working with the Summer Research - Early Identification Program (SR-EIP) for three summers. Additionally, he founded the Brown University junior researchers program (BjRP) to provide relatable role models in science for elementary school kids. The program worked with after school programs at local public schools to provide weekly science lessons for the past five years. The activities were completely organized and funded by graduate student volunteers across several graduate programs speaking to the compassion of our graduate school community. He credits the support and guidance of his mentor David Rand, the MCBGP and the IMSD program for his success in these efforts. After graduations, he will continue these efforts locally from his post-doc position in Jennifer Sander’s lab here at Brown. His goal is to pursue a career in academia with his own research lab while continuing his efforts to empower upcoming generations of scientists

Benjamin Wilks, Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering


Ben Wilks grew up in Chicago, Illinois and will be receiving a PhD in Biomedical Engineering in May 2020. During their time at Brown, both as an undergraduate and graduate student, building community has been a central component of their experience. These sometimes disparate communities of scientist and LGBTQ+ mentors, mentees, colleagues, and lifelong friends have been critical to Ben’s personal and professional development and are by far the most valuable reward of a Brown University degree. To bridge these communities, Ben co-founded a chapter of Out in STEM (oSTEM) with fellow graduate student Patrick Freeman ’20 MSc that had three main goals: 1) to build a network of LGBTQ+ scientists that spanned the breadth of positions and titles at Brown University including undergrads, graduate students, postdocs, staff, faculty, deans, and anyone else in search of community 2) to increase visible representation and support of LGBTQ+ folks at Brown by identifying affirming mentors, bringing in role models, and developing visibility campaigns and 3) to advocate for increased institutional support to address systematic issues within departments and the University that impact all minoritzed identities by facilitating community conversations and directly addressing departments, chairs, and administrators with tangible ideas and action items.

In collaboration with oSTEM leadership and a wide array of fantastic University sponsors, Ben proposed, secured funding, and administered numerous initiatives such as a yearly “You Are Welcome Here” campaign that has been distributed to thousands of Brown University community members, departmental collaborations to bring openly LGBTQ+ speakers to speak about their work, identity, and the intersection of the two, professional development events to discuss navigating the workplace as an LGBTQ+ individual, and the development of a new speaker series called the DiversiTeas. While building the DiversiTeas series, Ben applied for and was awarded funding through the Graduate Community Fellows Program and invited GSOCnSTEM and SACNAS to co-facilitate the series with oSTEM. At the same time, Ben advocated for increased student support within his own program leading to the development of a Center for Biomedical Engineering DIAP committee in which he co-wrote the first draft of the DIAP document.
After graduation, Ben will be taking some time to rest, reconnect with family and friends, and work as a Visiting Scholar at Brown while applying for funding to start a biotech venture.



Felicia Bevel is from Rochester, NY and will be receiving a PhD from the Department of American Studies. During her time at Brown she has been a mentor and community leader, particularly for students of color. From advising underrepresented undergraduate students in the Leadership Alliance on the research and writing process to mentoring new graduate students as part of the Graduate Students of Color Peer Mentoring Program, her mentorship has taken a variety of forms. She has been deeply invested in diversity and inclusion efforts at the both the departmental and university level, serving as a graduate student representative on her department's DIAP committee and advocating for the inclusion of university-wide structural changes in the DIAP as a member of the Concerned Graduate Students of Color. Her work with the DIAP process continues through her current membership on the Graduate School's Diversity Advisory Board. And in her current role as President of the Samuel M. Nabrit Black Graduate Student Association, she and her fellow executive board members work closely with centers like the LGBTQ Center and the Brown Center for Students of Color to provide a robust and diverse set of programming for graduate students of color. Part of her investment in community building has been to continue programming that has been helpful in the past, so she was delighted to co-organize the Second Annual Graduate Students of Color Writing Retreat as a Community Fellow this year as well. While at Brown, she has also been a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellow and an Interdisciplinary Opportunity Fellow at the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice. After graduation, she will be joining the University of North Florida as Assistant Professor of History, where she hopes to continue mentoring and leading initiatives in support of students from historically underrepresented groups.

Sarah Brown grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and spent most of her young adult life in New York where she majored in English at Brooklyn College and then received a Master’s degree from the CUNY Graduate Center. At Brown, she served on the Graduate Student Council Executive Board and as a departmental representative and participated in committee work such as the Rapid Planning Working Group and the Graduate Parents Working Group.  Sarah worked on DIAP planning with the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion (now the OIED) as part of her training in the BEST program and served with Andrea Wright as a Graduate Community Fellow in the area of family friendly programming in 2017-2018. Their work included community building events and petitioning the university to provide more substantial support for student parents, including an improved child care subsidy structure and more affordable health care options for minor dependents. They continued this work as Graduate Parent Coordinators at the Sarah Doyle Center for Women and Gender where, among other things, they sponsored lunch talks, threw an UnValentine’s Day Party and, opened a children’s library: Stories for Free Children at Sarah Doyle. Over the past year Sarah also worked as Graduate Fellow at CareerLAB, where she helped grads build their CVs and plan their careers and organized the annual career conference GradCON, along with Michiel van Veldhuizen and Bev Ehrich. She is receiving a PhD in American Studies for her work on late twentieth-century American literature and the history of emotions. Sarah will begin her position as the Program Manager at The Women’s Center at Northwestern University this July.

Athira Sanal attended Madras Christian College in Chennai, India where she received her Bachelor's degree in physics before coming to the United States to complete her Master's degree at Brown University. During her two years at the university she has been active and involved in a number of different programs aiming to improve diversity, inclusion, and student morale. Athira worked as a Graduate Associate for the Presidential Scholars Program where her role was to be a tutor and a mentor. In PhOrg, an organization aimed at fostering community in the Physics Department, she serves as one of the three chairs and as head of the PhOrg DIAC subcommittee. In this role, Athira co-created a peer mentorship program where international students are paired with domestic students to help improve community relationships as well as facilitate new friendships. She also worked on the Social Events Planning Committee where she helped host a large variety of student events and other fun activities, including the annual Physics Department Spring Picnic. She assisted in the organizing and hosting of the Big Bang Science Fair at WaterFire where she engaged with the public, offering cool physics demonstrations and math puzzles. Last, but not least, she is a member of the Physics Department DIAP committee. Following her graduation, Athira will be going to Dartmouth College to pursue a PhD with her goal being to do research and work in cosmology. Her hope is to continue improving diversity and inclusion efforts wherever she goes and to encourage more young women to pursue a career in STEM.

Andrea Wright is from Monroe City, Missouri and will be receiving a Ph.D. in Anthropology. During her tenure at Brown, she has dedicated her time to building community, advising and mentoring, and creating sustainable programming to improve the lives of her fellow students. As a Graduate Community Fellow at the Graduate School and Grad-Parent Coordinator at the Sarah Doyle Center for Women and Gender, Andrea collaborated with Sarah Brown to build a cohesive and supportive community of graduate students who are parents. They organized the first graduate school orientation program for grad parents and as part of the Grad-Parent Working Group, they advocated for and achieved modifications to ensure that the childcare subsidy and dependent health insurance fees better serve grad parents. At the Women’s Center, Andrea and Sarah established a social justice-oriented children’s library called Stories for Free Children, organized a community panel on gender and childhood that was centered on the voices of local experts, and hosted lunch talks on topics ranging from managing conflict in personal relationships to postpartum depression and anxiety. As an Academic Administration Proctor in the Provost’s Office, Andrea played a role in helping the university reach its goal of a gender inclusive restroom in every campus building by surveying buildings, carrying out benchmarking research, and collaborating across university constituencies. Andrea has taken advantage of opportunities to mentor and advise undergraduate students, particularly those from first-generation and low-income backgrounds. She served as an academic advisor to incoming first year students and, as a first generation college student, she participated in a mentorship program that paired first-gen and low-income graduate students with undergraduate mentees. Andrea sought every opportunity to develop her ability to provide student support while creating a more diverse and inclusive educational experience. For instance, she completed the Team Enhanced Advising and Mentoring Program, a 40-hour conflict mediation course, a Storytelling for Change workshop, a Kingian Nonviolence training, and is a member of the Bias Review Team at Brown. Andrea is also intent on helping students connect what they are learning in the classroom to the world around them. She has served as a Graduate Assistant with the Royce Fellowship Program at the Swearer Center for Engaged Scholarship over the past year. In this role she assists the Faculty Director, Kevin Escudero, with programming initiatives, advising responsibilities, and community- building activities. After graduation, Andrea is pursuing a career in Student Affairs.


Amanda Howard is from Palo Alto, California and will be receiving a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics. Throughout her time at Brown, Amanda has created a number of new initiatives that are innovative for how they develop community among graduate students and welcome future students to STEM careers. She has taken the lead in several efforts to help make Applied Math a more diverse field which include organizing and co-founding the Applied Mathematics Graduate/Undergraduate Mentorship Program, founding the student chapter of the Association of Women in Mathematics (AWM) which won the national AWM Student Chapter Award for Scientific Excellence under her leadership last year and organizing the Women Educators in STEM Discussion Group for the 2017-2018 academic year. Amanda has demonstrated a deep commitment to engagement, inclusion, and enhancing Brown’s teaching and learning communities through her work as a Head Teaching Consultant at the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning where she has served as a mentor and co-coordinator for the 40+ graduate members of the Sheridan graduate teaching consultant community, offering guidance on consulting and workshop mentorship for larger programs such as New TA Orientation. She also received the Simon Ostrach Fellowship (May 2018) for distinguished academic record. After graduation, Amanda will continue her work as a postdoc at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory starting in July 2018.


Rafael D. González Cruz is from Aguada, Puerto Rico and will be receiving his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering. Outside of the classroom, Rafael’s innate sense of duty and responsibility has brought him into a variety of leadership positions. These include serving as the President of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) from 2015-2017, student representative of the Initiative to Maximize Student Development Internal Advisory Board  from 2016-2018, student mentor for the Post Baccalaureate PREP Program from 2016-2017 and co-founder of the Puerto Rican Student Association in the fall of 2017. While dealing with his family’s suffering in rural Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, he took it upon himself to be an advocate for institutional redress and interpersonal support on campus and advocated to bring students from University of Puerto Rico to complete their studies at Brown. After graduation, Rafael hopes to become a tenure-track professor in Biomedical Engineering, Biomedical Sciences or Biotechnology and pursue original research. He is also committed to continue to mentor minority students pursuing careers in STEM, particularly helping students from Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries to gain exposure to STEM research and academic/professional development opportunities.

Eboni Chambers is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and will be receiving a Ph.D. in Pathobiology, and a Masters of Public Affairs through the Open Graduate Education Program. During her tenure at Brown she has been a mentor and role model for students of color and other historically underrepresented groups particularly in the STEM fields. Her involvement includes being a mentor for the Leadership Alliance Summer Research Early Identification Program, the Leadership Alliance Mellon Initiative, the African American, Latino, Asian, and Native American (ALANA) Mentoring Program and the Postbaccalaureate Research Experience Program (PREP). She was also the 2015 Graduate Advisor for the Leadership Alliance (LA) and provided novel collaborations and mentorship for students interested in the biomedical sciences. Eboni has advocated and aimed to provide community for students on color on campus, particularly in her current role as the President of the Samuel M. Nabrit Black Graduate Student Association. Moreover, Eboni’s advocacy as part of the executive board of the Graduate Student Council has directly contributed to permanent improvements in graduate student lives. She contributed to advocacy efforts that supported sixth year funding and the establishment of the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan (DIAP). Currently, in her role as the Treasurer of the Graduate Student Council, she has advocated for and successfully increased support of graduate student conference travel, advocated for improvements to the graduate grievance processes, additional graduate exclusive spaces on campus, graduate housing, and improved parental relief policies. After graduation, Eboni hopes to use science in a meaningful way and translate scientific advances into global policy initiatives for the betterment of society.

2017 Graduate Student Contribution to Community Life Award Recipients: 
(from left to right) Shayan Lame, Majida Kargo, and Joel Simundich

Majida Kargbo [bio in process]

Shayan Lame [bio in process]

Joel Simundich [bio in process]

2016 Graduate Student Contribution to Community Life Award Recipients: 
(From Left to Right) Sara Matthiesen, Brandy Monk-Payton, Acey Sieffert,
and Matthew Lyddon. Not pictured: Martez Files

Martez 'Tez' Files, MAT [bio in process]

Sara Matthiesen, PhD [bio in process]

Brandy Monk-Payton, PhD [bio in process]

Matthew J. Lyddon, PhD, and Anne-Caroline "Acey" Sieffert, PhD - TEAM AWARD [bios in process]