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29 Who Shine 2015 Award Winners: State Universities

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Brandon J. Ackley, Millis
Bridgewater State University

Brandon's interest in sustainability has led to deep engagement in research to benefit the environment. This chemistry major has conducted research on improving biodiesel synthesis and spent a summer at the Warner-Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry in Wilmington studying ways to embed photovoltaic cells in concrete. Brandon has been accepted into the chemistry Ph.D. program at the University of Vermont and will return to Massachusetts after completion of his degree, hoping to secure a faculty position at one of the Commonwealth's public universities.

Faculty/Staff Mentor: Brandon chose to recognize Edward J. Brush, Ph.D., Professor, Chemical Sciences. “Dr. Brush has a talent for getting people interested in research, as well as for caring about the success of his students. Dr. Brush helped me get access to all of my extracurricular research activities, and I would not have been as successful as I was without his guidance and support.”

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Alexandra Valdez, Mattapan
Fitchburg State University

A first-generation college student born in the Dominican Republic, Alexandra is passionate about increasing opportunities for higher education. Her experience working as the Latino liaison for Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley inspired her to revive the FSU Political Science Club and open dialogue with city officials to empower students to be more civically engaged in their host community. She will spend the summer in the nation’s capital as an intern at the Washington Center, and return to the City of Boston as a Latino liaison in the fall.

Faculty/Staff Mentor: Alexandra chose to recognize Joshua Spero, Associate Professor, Economics, History and Political Science. “Professor Spero has been a mentor throughout my time at Fitchburg State, teaching me the importance of persistence. He inspires students to push themselves to the fullest and to believe that everything is possible. I thank him every day for everything he has taught me in the classroom and beyond.”

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Stephanie Billingsley, Medway
Framingham State University

At Framingham State, Stephanie is known for academic excellence (4.0 GPA), kindness (organizing fellow students to support a local needy family at Christmas) and community commitment (fundraising with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, beach clean-ups with the New England Aquarium.) A highly sought-after peer writing tutor, Stephanie plans to pursue a doctorate in Environmental or Conservation Psychology.

Faculty/Staff Mentor: Stephanie chose to recognize Devin Burns, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Psychology and Philosophy. “Working with Dr. Burns as a teaching assistant in his Research Methods class has fostered my love of psychological research, as well as teaching. Not only has working with Dr. Burns as his teaching assistant helped shape my goals for the future, but as my advisor he has been a great resource for me to ensure that I am academically prepared for graduate school.”

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Sakinah A. Bramble-Hakim, Mattapan
Massachusetts College of Art and Design

Sakinah is described by nominators as "a bridge-builder" who "works tirelessly to connect citizens from across the Commonwealth to inspire greater racial and generational understanding." She is the lead student organizer of MassArt's Race on Campus project, a video testimonial project which archives experiences of racial "micro-aggressions." Through this project and her work as a member of the Civic Engagement committee, she has organized cross-racial and cross-generation discussions on the topic of race. She plans a career combining her passion for art and commitment to social justice.

Faculty/Staff Mentor: Sakinah chose to recognize Beth Balliro, Assistant Professor, Art Education. “I immediately felt respect for Beth upon our first meeting! Beth is master balancer as a mom, wife, educator and student. My favorite part of learning from and working with Beth is that she is a leader by example. Her energies are lively, focused and positive for each task and interaction.”

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Mikaelle Olivier, Gardner
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

Mikaelle works with the MCLA STEM Academy and is the founder and coordinator of STEM-in-Action, an after-school program for middle school students in North Adams. Her work in STEM education earned her the 2014 Steve Green Community Engagement Scholar Award, and helped shape her decision to switch from a planned career in pharmaceuticals to a career as a science teacher. She said, “When it came down to what I wanted to do, it was important for me to give back because I had received so much from other people.” When she graduates, Mikaelle looks forward to working with high school students through Teach for America.

Faculty/Staff Mentor: Mikaelle chose to recognize Christopher Himes, Biology and Education Professor and STEM Program Manager. “Through the years that I've known him, Dr. Himes has helped me navigate through many difficult decisions and has come to my aid whenever I needed resources, some words of advice, or someone to bounce ideas off of. I chose to recognize him today because his love and enthusiasm for teaching and Biology inspired me to pursue a career in secondary education. Dr. Himes provided me with countless opportunities to practice my teaching skills and develop a style that I'm excited to apply in my own classroom.”

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Emily Behen, Danvers
Massachusetts Maritime Academy

Emily has shown deep dedication to her local community by leading Mass Maritime's year-long commitment to help the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) meet the needs of Cape Cod families during the holiday season. Coordinating a team of 40 volunteers, Emily executed a major fundraising drive to provide warm winter clothing, holiday gifts, household linens, groceries and gas cards to DCF families. This cadet also completed internships at Hewlett-Packard, Proctor and Gamble and the Honolulu Department of Emergency management, and hopes for a career in nonprofit disaster relief or a related field.

Faculty/Staff Mentor: Emily chose to recognize Doug P. Page, Assistant Director, Commandant of Cadets' Office. “His dedication to charities that support women, children, animals and veterans resonated with me. It's been a pleasure working with him on DCF Christmas; he has been the most influential mentor I have had. He reminds me of the potential that my generation has to make positive change in the world."

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Heidi Shannon, Beverly
Salem State University

Heidi is heavily involved in the greater Lynn community as a middle school tutor and volunteer ESL teacher for adults. She has used her skills as a communications major to lead public relations for YouthBuild North Shore, and even traveled to Haiti as a communications specialist at the Cité Soleil medical clinic. She is the first student to ever intern with all three Time magazine publications (Time, Fortune and Money). After graduation she hopes to secure a PR position in magazine publishing or the nonprofit sector.

Faculty/Staff Mentor: Heidi chose to recognize Robert Brown, Professor, Communications. “Dr. Robert Brown is a warm and enthusiastic professor, but more than that he genuinely cares about what his students have done and what our futures are going to look like beyond graduation.”

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Sarah Varghese, Westford
Westfield State University

Sarah graduates from Westfield with a distinguished track record of campus and community engagement. She has worked daily in a variety of student affairs and residence halls roles, while also working on local blood and food drives and at a Westfield homeless shelter. She plans to attend graduate school to earn her master's degree in Special Education, with the goal of becoming a Massachusetts teacher.

Faculty/Staff Mentor: Sarah chose to recognize Kim Morgan, Assistant to the Vice President, Student Affairs and the Student Ambassador Coordinator. “Kim is the one person who has helped me become who I am today. She believed in me even when I did not believe in myself. She is the reason I began to see myself as a leader, role model, and mentor.”

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Mario L. de Jesus, Lawrence
Worcester State University

As a Health Education major, Mario is motivated by the need to "set an example for those students who will be in my position in the future, so that they may continue to contribute to Worcester State, and so that Worcester State continues to excel as an institution." He is a Presidential Student Ambassador, a volunteer at local soup kitchens and conducts health education seminars at Centro las Americas in Worcester, where he recently completed an internship. He will attend UMass Amherst's graduate program in Public Health in the fall.

Faculty/Staff Mentor: Mario chose to recognize Nicole A. Boudreau, PSA Coordinator, President's Office. “Nicole is a wonderful coordinator and mentor. She is always available, easy to communicate with, and sets a good example. These are some of the reasons that she has been so helpful during my time at Worcester State and with the completion of my applications to graduate school.”