Celebrating the Class of 2021

Congratulations to all graduating seniors, especially our nine student award winners!
by Kate Porter, Assistant Director of Communications and Public Engagement
April 30, 2021

The second class to graduate during the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown University's class of 2021 faced – and overcame – a unique set of challenges on their path to graduation. Commencement 2021, held April 30 to May 2, is being celebrated with a combination of virtual and in-person ceremonies to honor their hard work and success.

Although the Swearer Center was unable to hold an in-person graduation ceremony for the many students who have participated in our programs over the last four years, our staff and community members celebrate this class for their resiliency, generosity, hard work, and contributions of time, creativity, and energy.

To demonstrate our gratitude and recognize our award winners, we created this short video. We hope you enjoy!



Swearer Center Student Awards

In 2021, nine Swearer Center students have been honored for their outstanding contributions to the Center’s mission to build on community strengths and address community challenges through collective action: 

  • Abelardo Hernández Community Engagement Award: Naotaro (Nari) Kato '21 and Sarah Koppelman '21

  • Engaged Scholarship Undergraduate Award: Emily Ma '21 and Sumera Subzwari '21

  • Engaged Scholarship Graduate Award:  Jocelyn Bell and Scarlett Bergam

  • Student Leadership Award: Morgan Brinker '21, Jenny Lee '21, and Idalmis Lopez '21


The Community Engagement Award

Naotaro (Nari) Kato '21 developed his teaching skills as a Guiliano Fellow, where he attended the Habla Teacher Institute in Mexico to learn creative and dynamic ways of literacy pedagogy, then shared his teaching through English for Action (EFA) and the Providence Public Library (PPL). Nari worked with Abelardo Hernández to connect learners to community agencies and services in the Olneyville neighborhood. Nari's nominators wrote: 

"We can say without hesitation that Nari is among the most effective partners we’ve ever worked with. His devotion to education and equity bodes well for the new generation of community leaders. Nari builds systems by establishing a classroom space that is reciprocal: he learns as much from his learners as they do from him. Nari’s impact on the immigrant communities in Rhode Island is real and lasting. As a teacher and coordinator in RIFLI’s partnerships with the Cranston and Cumberland school systems, Nari has helped hundreds of parents improve their English skills. The benefits to individuals, families, and communities are immeasurable."

Sarah Koppelman '21 has worked as a Community Corps member and as a Site Leader for the Brown Elementary Afterschool Mentoring program (BEAM) throughout her four years. Sarah's nominators wrote:  

"Sarah is incredibly conscious of her place and role at Brown, and has actively made sure to center the community's needs in her work. She will leave a lasting impact on the D’Abate community, and I'm sure the work will also have a profound impact on her and her future. Aside from relationships with adult mentors in the community, Sarah has been able to watch the growth of the elementary school students she first worked with as a first-year; she has witnessed them becoming sassy, mature fifth-graders.

"Sarah will be the perfect recipient of the Community Engagement Award in its inaugural year as the Abelardo Hernández Award. Abelardo, or as Sarah and others used to call him, 'Mr. Abe,' had a strong friendship and mentoring relationship with Sarah. I think that Mr. Abe will smile widely from heaven, where we believe he is, as he sees Sarah receive this award."


The Engaged Scholarship Undergraduate Award

Emily Ma '21 founded Brown Fair Food Campaign (BFFC), an organization that increases awareness about farmworker’s rights; conducted study abroad work in South Africa with the Eden Team, a group that ministers to low-income families in under-resourced neighborhoods; worked with Voice for Prisoners in Hong Kong; and in PHP1820, she co-lead a project team that interviewed moms involved in child protection and/or criminal justice systems to identify their needs and difficulties when it comes to achieving reunification. Emily's nominators wrote: 

"There is no better candidate than Emily; she engages with such a diverse spectrum of communities and variety of tools that she has as a scholar, researcher, a mentor, and also a friend. Emily embodies collaborative, community-based research, and is keen on guiding others to gain the richest experience possible. I have watched her grow and inspire others (including me) with her fresh insights and critical problem-solving instincts and talents. She knows that the key to engaged scholarship and learning is participatory epistemology – that the most critical knowledge to the success and efficacy of any and all of the students' projects is deep engagement with peers and teachers, i.e. directly-impacted individuals and other experts from outside the academy."

Sumera Subzwari '21 is a 2019 iProv Fellow who worked with Women's Refugee Care Foundation, a nonprofit supporting, empowering, and advocating for African refugee families during resettlement and promoting gender equality in Providence. Initially an iProv Fellow and later a volunteer, Sumera distributed personal protective equipment, and learned from and educated community health workers and residents in low-income communities about pediatric asthma. Sumera also worked on disability and mental illness/trauma advocacy at Brown as a Peer Mental Health Advocate with Project LETS and as a leader of Disability Justice at Brown (DJAB). Her nominators wrote: 

"All of the things Sumera does directly impact the communities in Providence that are facing the biggest health disparities and are clear indicators of how she combines her academic and community-based knowledge to make the most impact. This eliminates hierarchies between the university and community-based partners."


The Engaged Scholarship Graduate Award

Jocelyn Bell wrote her master's work, "Until We Weep: Rhode Island Protestant Christian Churches and Moving Beyond a Diversity Paradigm to Feeling Equality," to explore the racial diversity in predominantly white churches in Providence. ​Jocelyn's nominators wrote: 

"Jocelyn keenly and unaffectedly centers engagement with members of her research, teaching, and broader communities in her work. By theorizing with the participants of these focus groups, it became clear that the process of working through grief, anger, and sadness in interracial discussions on racial injustice is essential. In addition, this approach brings in white allies but prioritizes the needs of black and other POC community members over the comfort of the white majority congregants."

Scarlett Bergam founded the group Saving Mothers, which is a grassroots, culturally-driven global women's health NGO; has worked as an undergraduate and graduate research assistant for an international, interdisciplinary HIV research team connecting universities throughout South Africa and the US; and has worked as an emergency department Triage Volunteer, donning PPE in order to help COVID-19 patients. Scarlett's nominators wrote: 

"As a TA, Scarlett has shown up as a mentor, advisor, friend, and leader to a large group of students. Even though many of these students have yet to set foot on Brown's campus, she has helped to make this course a way to build community amongst the new graduate students. She has been a fabulous TA under difficult circumstances, improving the experience for the entire class. At both the Rhode Island Free clinic scheduling COVID tests (and now vaccinations), as well as at Miriam Hospital helping triage in the waiting room, Scarlett has witnessed first-hand how the pandemic has inevitably affected the most vulnerable Rhode Islanders. From learning basic Spanish to more effectively communicate with her patients, to sacrificing personal time to commit to putting herself on the front lines, Scarlett has shown total dedication to community engagement during this tumultuous time."


The Student Leadership Award 

Morgan Brinker '21 has been a Bonner Community Fellow throughout her four years at Brown as well as a site leader, working with Brown Elementary Afterschool Mentoring program (BEAM). She has also worked as a summer student staff member at the Swearer Center, creating activities for incoming students, especially U-FLi students of color. Morgan's nominators wrote: 

"Morgan leads by example and is a role model to other Bonner [Fellows] who bear witness to her dedication, continued compassion, and constant consideration of ways to improve BEAM and support the students they serve. Leadership looks many different ways and Morgan's style of leadership is unique. At the forefront of Morgan's leadership is making sure that people feel heard and seen. Whether it's asking for feedback or asking people how they are doing, she prioritizes people. Morgan makes personal connections with staff, students, community members, and is admired by so many people in her community."

Jenny Lee '21 has been involved with the Swearer Center in various roles as a Peer Mentor, Bonner Community Fellow, Site Leader, and Royce Fellow. Jenny's nominators wrote:

"Jenny is optimistic in her social justice endeavors and works to be inclusive at all levels, challenging everyone she encounters with her radical inclusivity. She looks out for the 'little person' and makes sure that everyone’s voice is heard and included, mediating discussions with a non-judgmental or stressful tone. Jenny helped create the Swearer Buddies program to help students connect through a computer screen at a time when students experienced unparalleled emotions of isolation and fear. Her passion for helping others – whether it is her learners through PAL or a fellow student confused on which Swearer program to pursue – is genuine. I cannot think of a better candidate for the Student Leadership Award than Jenny Lee."

Idalmis Lopez '21 is a Bonner Community Fellow and site leader with Partnership for Adult Learning (PAL), a Swearer Center student group committed to the inclusion and empowerment of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs). Idalmis' nominators wrote: 

"Idalmis used to spend nights and evenings at the Swearer Center to study, convene participants of PAL, and engage with staff members. She enjoys networking and making connections with people. Idalmis is often the first to speak up on behalf of her peers. To do this she must have a sense of what her peers are experiencing. Her commitments to Community Corps have been extremely helpful."


Note: quotes from nominators have been combined and condensed for space and readability. Thank you to all who took the time to nominate students – we received many excellent recommendations for many wonderful and deserving student leaders!

To see more of the virtual Commencement events and celebrations on social media, follow the hashtags #Brown2021, #BrownU, and #SwearerCommunity. Visit the Swearer Center’s Instagram page to hear from our award winners during the Swearer Center’s Awards Week (take a look at our stories highlight after the week concludes). Congratulations graduates!