Nineteen students are being honored with American University’s highest awards for service, leadership, and scholarship. The University Student Achievement Awards include cash awards along with the recognition of how profoundly these students have impressed the community with their hard work, dedication, and lasting impact.
Here are the 2022 graduates who will be feted on Friday at a virtual Awards Program and during the commencement ceremonies this weekend for their schools and college, where they will also be seated on stage.
Four students are honored each year for exceptional scholarship: two undergraduates and two graduate students. This year's awardees for the Scott A. Bass Outstanding Scholarship at the Undergraduate Level Award are Mohammad Al-Mailam, SIS/BA ’22, and Shalini Ramachandra, CAS/BS ’22. Tomiko Ball, SOE/EdD ’22, and Laura Rice, CAS/PhD ’21, will receive awards for Outstanding Scholarship at the Graduate Level.
Mohammad Al-Mailam, SIS/BA ’22, is graduating with honors in International Studies and a minor in French. For his honors thesis on the history and politics of nationality, statelessness, and labor migration in the Gulf region, he conducted extensive archival research in Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Kingdom. This work will inform his upcoming presentation at the Middle Eastern Studies Association conference. He is also working with Professor Diane Singerman to publish original research on local governance and housing politics in the Middle East. Mohammad will soon begin a fellowship with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and has been admitted to a graduate program at Harvard University.
Mohammad Al-Mailam (SIS/BA ’22)
Shalini Ramachandra, CAS/BS ‘22, is a dedicated scholar who will graduate with degrees in both Mathematical Statistics and Public Health. She has already co-authored peer-reviewed publications and presented at conferences while taking on leadership roles within the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Summer Program in Research and Learning. She has also made important contributions to AU professor Kathleen Holton’s Nutritional Neuroscience Lab, while also interning at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Her next step: doctoral studies in biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania.
Shalini Ramachandra (CAS/BS ‘22)
Tomiko Ball, SOE/EdD ’22, established a strong record of scholarship, mentorship, and community impact while pursuing her Doctor of Education degree. A leader within AU's first online EdD cohort, she engaged with faculty research, served as a teaching assistant, and supported colleagues through the dissertation process. An active public scholar, she often explores the intersection of antiracist policy, research, and practice in her publications and presentations. Through her work at AU and in DC Public Schools, she has demonstrated a commitment to improving student achievement, enhancing instructional quality, and advancing racial equity.
Tomiko Ball (SOE/EdD ’22)
Laura Rice, CAS/PhD ’21, graduated in December with a PhD in Behavior, Cognition and Neuroscience. Her dissertation represents a major contribution to our understanding of the role of the cerebellum in autism specifically and cognition more generally. Her impressive publication record includes co-authored articles in multiple peer-reviewed journals, including Neuroscience and Nature Neuroscience. She is also the first author on a book chapter and has presented at multiple conferences. She currently serves as a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University.
Laura Rice (CAS/PhD ’21)
Outstanding Service to the Community
Each year, the award for Outstanding Service to the University Community goes to two students — graduate or undergraduate — who have made a lasting impact on the AU community.
Emma Walker, BA/CAS ’22, is an environmental leader who not only recognizes that excess consumption and waste contributes to ecological damage and climate change —she has pioneered ways of changing that on AU’s campus. As a first-year student, she helped divert over one ton of discarded items from being landfilled and used those items to raise funds to help teach students on campus about the zero-waste lifestyle. She then used her skills in teamwork and collaboration to launch Wonk Trade, AU’s first on-campus trading post and clothing swap, located at Mary Graydon Center, where students bring old clothes they’re not wearing it and trade them for items from other students. It has been so successful that she has been asked to teach students at other area universities how to start their own versions of Wonk Trade. She has also worked to train the next generation of AU student leaders to continue the projects after she graduates. As recommenders note, her work has had a “massive impact” on campus sustainability.
Emma Walker (BA/CAS ’22)
Abdullah Alshaibani, MS/Kogod ’22, arrived at AU as an undergraduate transfer student and immediately set out to help others. When he founded the Saudi Student Association, the initial intent was simply to create a welcoming space for Saudi students and share his culture with others. Under his leadership, it evolved into a way to bring together students from around the world for sharing and service, with 29 activities drawing 2400 community participants. The group’s pandemic response included delivering goodie bags filled with Saudi treats to all students in Emergency Housing. He also spearheaded the creation of a student guide in Arabic specifically for new arrivals from Arabic-speaking countries, along with taking leadership roles in numerous intercultural activities to bridge cultures and help international students feel at home. As a recommender put it, he is “a catalyst for all others who want to promote intercultural understanding and peace.”
Abdullah Alshaibani (MS/Kogod ’22)
Student Achievement Awards
Twelve of AU’s most active, engaged, and high-achieving undergraduate are being honored for their impact on the community with Student Achievement Awards.
Taisuke Fox, SIS ’22, receives the Bruce Hughes Award, which goes to a student who has performed outstanding service to the university community and demonstrated unusual depth and maturity in leadership abilities. He has been deeply involved in student life, from being a Resident Assistant (RA) to being recognized nationally on the Model UN circuit, making a powerful impression on those around him as a leader who continuously uplifts others. His achievements include leading the 400-plus member AU International Relations Society and revitalizing the “Ask a Diplomat” series. His work with the Model UN Team, on practices, workshops, and one-on-one coaching sessions, has helped to make it the top-ranked team in the nation. But perhaps more important has been his focus on supporting others and helping everyone to be heard and excel. Nominators describe him as “a bright light” and, as one said, “I know I speak for many others at AU when I say that Tai’s leadership brought students closer together.”
Taisuke Fox (SIS ’22)
Andrew Gamble, SPA ’22, earns the Catheryn Seckler-Hudson Award, given to a senior who exemplifies character and achievement while making significant contributions to Student Government. As Class Senator, he became known for his commitment to fostering a positive working environment. He helped create the Accessibility and Accountability Commissions to improve lines of communication between Student Government branches and advance accountability processes. He also focused on building a lasting positive impact on the student body by introducing over twenty pieces of legislation, including the Divestment from Fossil Fuels and the UPS Shipping Voucher Program. When faced with the unique challenges of the pandemic, he returned home to Wheeling, West Virginia and worked at his local health department, helping manage mobile vaccination clinics and signing people up to receive vaccines. He has been praised for his positive attitude, spirit of service, and passion for learning.
Andrew Gamble (SPA ’22)
Sledja Ishmakej, KSB ‘22, wins the Carlton Savage Award for her contributions to increasing intercultural understanding at AU. The international student from Albania has dedicated herself to building community for international students at AU. Many new and current students have benefitted from programs where she played a key role. She mentored incoming and international students as they transitioned to a new country and school as an Emerging Leader Scholar and founded the online platform Community Hub to build community for international students. She also co-founded and led AU’s Albanian Student Association, with the goal of spreading awareness of culture and contemporary issues about Albania. As one recommender puts it, “Sledja is truly remarkable and an emerging international force for change who has only begun to touch the world.”
Sledja Ishmakej (KSB ‘22)
Kellymarie Fisher, KSB ’22, lands the Charles Glover Award for her citizenship and business leadership in service to the AU community. While a student, she has served as Program Coordinator and Social Media Chair in the Kogod Ambassadors Program. She selected and trained 30 student ambassadors to hold Zoom chats with prospective students during the pandemic. Meanwhile, she connected around 300 women with opportunities to develop their business skills as President of Undergraduate Women in Business and served as a head Teaching Assistant for an introductory business course. Fisher also volunteered with local organizations within the DC area, such as SOUL and the Red Cross, while still giving her time to fundraise for autism awareness back in her New York hometown. She also made an impact abroad in the Dominican Republic by helping to build schools.
Kellymarie Fisher (KSB ’22)
Nia J. Mays, CAS ’22, has been awarded the Charles Van Way Award for their significant contributions to enriching student life and building community. While pursuing a double major in theater and business administration, they have made on impact on campus in many different arenas, from theatrical productions to campus leadership to the co-founding of BlackList AU, a dedicated portal to support and share the work of aspiring Black creative artists. At the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), they facilitated dialogues, developed and delivered education content, and became noted for effective communication in challenging circumstances. In their work as director and dramaturg for theatrical production, they coached and mentored student actors while also facilitating discussions about gender, race, individualism and collectivism, and other topics to help actors in their roles. Nominators were struck by Nia’s “immense level of care and compassion” and their “care, kindness, and a commitment to service that is so inspiring to watch.”
Nia Mays (CAS ’22)
Kiran Waqar, CAS ’22, will be the first recipient of AU’s first new award in 35 years: the Gail Short Hanson Award for Advocacy. It recognizes a student for principled and informed leadership in advancing a cause, policy, or program that benefits the campus community or a community beyond the campus.
Waqar, a Sociology major, has made a powerful impression for her ethos of service and commitment to working for justice and awareness. On campus, she brought groups together for dialogues on Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and antiracism, led Alternative Breaks to South Africa, and helped build the presence of Students for Justice in Palestine at AU. During the pandemic, she guided the Muslim Student Association in ways that allowed students to connect with each other and peers at other universities. Off-campus, she has worked to address reproductive justice and gendered violence in Muslim communities through work nationally and in her hometown. In the future, one recommender predicted, “Our society will benefit from the scholarship she goes on to produce, and the work that she does in our communities. Of that, I am certain.”
Kiran Waqar (CAS ’22)
Samantha Chai, SIS ’22, is the recipient of this year’s Harold Johnson Award, which honors a student who has stood out on campus for work in promoting cultural and racial diversity and understanding. In her leadership of the Southeast Asia Student Network, which she helped to re-establish, she worked to create a space for community building and was instrumental in deconstructing stereotypes of a monolithic “Asian” or “Asian American” experience. The International Studies major from San Diego, California has also been active as Intergroup Dialogue Facilitator at the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), the Women’s Initiative, the Community-Based Research Scholars program, and as a volunteer in the DC community. As one recommender put it, Samantha “embodies the qualities and ideals that we seek to foster in all members of our community.”
Samantha Chai (SIS ’22)
Anna Evans, CAS ’22, has earned the Evelyn Swarthout-Hayes Award for contributing to the community through the arts while demonstrating impressive academic achievement. A Music and Piano Performance major from Florida, she plays piano and trumpet, was active in university ensembles, and won recognition as a musician, while also using the arts to bring people together. She has been known as the consummate volunteer and behind-the-scenes helper, whether at Preview Day, in her leadership role in the service-based music fraternity Mu Beta Psi, in fundraising for DC non-profit arts centers, and in organizing open mic nights for peers at AU. She also coached and mentored young musicians in the AU neighborhood by assisting in band rehearsals and performance preparation at Janney Elementary School. As one recommender observed, “I see her helpful presence everywhere.”
Anna Evans (CAS ’22)
Sofia Casamassa, SOC ’22, has been awarded the Fletcher Scholar Award for her combination of leadership, citizenship, and scholarship. Focusing on issues such as food insecurity and access to educational opportunities for immigrants, she found multiple ways to address her concerns in scholarship, action, and writing. Work that bridged scholarship and citizenship included developing a seminar series at the Sine Institute and publishing work on economic inequity in Mexico and Peru. As a writer, she published extensively in the Eagle and Her Campus, and also wrote for Forbes magazine about her experiences navigating the US education system as a Mexican-American woman. In the words of one faculty member, “Sofia is a superstar.”
Sofia Casamassa (SOC ’22)
Jaqueline Martinez, CAS ’22, earns the Kinsman-Hurst Award, which recognizes service in Student Government or the Student Conduct system. She was nominated and selected as Conduct Council Member, where she served with faculty on hearing panels and reviewed cases for violations under Student Conduct Code. She engaged with issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in her role as Peer Health Educator, where she crafted curriculum and lead monthly workshops on topics such as alcohol and drugs, mental and sexual health, bystander intervention training, and interpersonal violence. From tabling to confidential referrals to scheduling one-on-one consultations, she helped students navigate AU more effectively. As one community member put it, “her ability to advocate for herself and those facing similar obstacles is truly exceptional.”
Jaqueline Martinez (CAS ’22)
This year’s Stafford H. Cassell Award is being awarded to two outstanding students, Ames Jewart and Luke Bennett, who exemplify the award’s namesake in very different arenas of university life. It is awarded for exemplifying “total, selfless dedication to the University, profound energy, reliability, intellectual curiosity, friendliness, and helpfulness.”
Ames Jewart, CAS ’22, is an exceptional scholar who shone in her commitment to the AU community, from organizing programs to speaking at public events to helping with the transition to virtual programming. Active as an Orientation Leader and AU Ambassador, she has been the consummate volunteer, role model, and peer leader, and always demonstrating “the right balance of being friendly and welcoming while also being a strong leader,” as her nominator put it. Recommenders praised the Austin, Texas native for her positive and enthusiastic energy and the positive impact she had on those around her, from engaging supportively with peers in the classroom to welcoming incoming students to assisting university offices.
Ames Jewart (CAS ’22)
Luke Bennett, SOC ’22, was praised by nominators as the embodiment of a true student-athlete. Coming to AU from Atlanta, Georgia, he has maintained a stellar academic record while fostering leadership and nurturing school spirit in those around him. He served as a volunteer for the Athletics Department, where he revamped and expanded the Blue Crew student support of team sports and helped increase attendance at sporting events. He has been a leader on the varsity swim team and was selected to the Patriot League’s academic honor roll. He has been a leader and an inspiration in the classroom, in the water, and in the time dedicated to building community.
Luke Bennett (SOC ’22)
Benjamin Holtzman, SIS ’22, is the 2022 President’s Award winner – the highest distinction for an AU undergraduate. An International Studies and Economics major, he is an accomplished student scholar who is passionate about finding solutions for peace in the Middle East, and has juggled his academic interests with an impressive level fo student involvement. Read all about Benjamin Holtzman in the profile, “Finding a Calling: President’s Award Winner Seeks Peace.”
Benjamin Holtzman (SIS ’22)