Penn State Berks awards students, faculty and staff during MLK Jr. banquet

Penn State Berks hosted its annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Banquet on Tuesday, Jan. 17, in the Perkins Student Center Multipurpose Room. This year’s theme was “Together, We Can Be the Dream.”

The event began with the singing of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” followed by a student address by Kenisha Brown, a sophomore communication arts and sciences major, who was nominated by her peers to deliver a talk on unity. E. Michele Ramsey, associate professor of communication arts and sciences, and of women’s, gender and sexuality studies, delivered a speech on King’s impact on the world.

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After the dinner, awards were presented to one faculty and staff member, three Berks students, and two high school students. The awards were based on nominations from the college community and local high schools.

Nicole Tavarez, an admissions counselor, received the staff award for her commitment to furthering diversity, equity and inclusion on campus and in the Berks County area. Tavarez provides Spanish services to Berks students and families, serves on the planning board of the BeWise conference, and prior to coming to Berks, managed the Migrant Education Program of Berks County.

Ramsey received the faculty award for her mentorship of underserved and marginalized communities. She is the founder of Farmers Paying It Forward, which provides laptops to students who cannot afford one on their own, and Planned Pints, a group focused on raising money and support for the organization’s youth LGBTQ group in Reading. Ramsey has volunteered with Berks Women in Crisis, the Reading chapter of the American Association of University Women, Berks County League of Women Voters, and Berks Junior League.

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Berks juniors Aidee Santos Acosta, Giovanna DeLima, and Vidda Jimenez all received the student award.

Acosta is a biology major originally from the Dominican Republic who has lived in Reading for the last seven years. She serves as the vice president of Latinos United for Change (LUC), a peer mentor for the Aspiring Scholars Program, and a Campus Life Assistant.

This semester, she began an internship as a patient screener at Reading Hospital. She is known for advocacy for first-generation college students and her commitment to serving others. In the coming months, she will engage in service internationally through Alternative Spring Break at Penn State Berks and through the Perreault Fellows Program through Penn State Global.

DeLima is a print and digital journalism major from Washington, New Jersey. She serves as a Lion Ambassador, the Berks Benefitting THON special events coordinator, and a student leader for Caring Conversations — a student organization that promotes the importance of mental health. Most recently, DeLima was the featured speaker at the American Cancer Society’s “The Future of Cancer Care Forum: Advancing Cancer Research, Innovation, and Health Equity.”

Jimenez is an information technology major originally from New York who now resides in Allentown. She serves as president of the Latinos United for Change, an intercultural peer mentor for international students, and a member of the Berks Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Committee. Additionally, she has participated in Reading’s city-wide clean-up and Halloween on Penn events to connect with the local community. Jimenez is known for her advocacy for social justice and desire to give Berks students a voice.

Finally, the winners of the high school awards were announced: Leila Peralta, Wilson High School; and Bennily Suero, Reading High School.

Ebonie Cunningham Stringer, assistant professor of criminal justice, gave the concluding speech on the idea that “We Too are Dreamers,” encouraging listeners to imagine the just world we all must work to create as we move into the future. This was followed by a dance performance by the African Student Organization.

This event was sponsored by the Penn State Berks Diversity Committee and supported by the Student Initiated Fee. For additional information, contact Alexa Hodge, coordinator of student support services, at aeh221@psu.edu, or Lisa Mikula, financial officer, at lmm462@psu.edu.

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