From funding water wells in Ethiopia to working with children living in the Bolivian prison system to breaking down housing barriers for the local homeless population, Florida State University students have been hard at work serving others.
Provost Sally McRorie and Vice President for Student Affairs Mary Coburn recognized 13 of these humanitarian heroes for their tremendous commitment to service at a luncheon Wednesday, March 22, as part of the annual President’s Humanitarian of the Year program.
“You are perfect examples of the core values of this university — engagement, academic excellence and service to others,” McRorie said. “Thank you for being such a fine representation of what it means to be a Seminole.”
The President’s Undergraduate Humanitarian of the Year Award is a prestigious honor that recognizes students who exhibit tremendous commitment to service. Each school or college nominates one student for the award. Through the program, the nominees will receive $200 to be donated to the nonprofit of their choice.
“It’s exciting to see where the talent in this room will go from here,” Coburn said. “This isn’t just an award for drop-in services, this symbolizes students who have gone inches deep, feet deep, miles deep to really be committed to helping communities and providing their talents to areas of need.”
Of the students honored Wednesday, the one who best exemplifies commitment to service will be chosen to receive the President’s Undergraduate Humanitarian of the Year Award at FSU’s annual Leadership Awards Night on April 11. The winner will receive an additional $1,000 for his or her charity.
During the luncheon, students shared their experiences and reflections on service and their work to improve life for people in other parts of the world.
Jena Martino, the honoree from the College of Engineering, has worked on projects in Central America since joining Engineers Without Borders two years ago. She’s currently using her senior project to design a schoolhouse in Guatemala that will hopefully be built by next year.
“I’m really honored to be part of this organization,” Martino said. “It’s allowed me to take what I’m learning in the classroom out into the global community and use my engineering skills to help people.”
When College of Arts & Sciences honoree Joe Pelt was a freshman, he started the organization Well Ride, which has raised more than $10,000 to build a water well for people in Africa. Now, the junior biology major says the efforts have paid off with construction underway for a well that will serve 250 people in Ethiopia.
A catalyst for Pelt was learning that women and children often walk several miles to collect water and return it to their homes, a trek he attempted to replicate here in Tallahassee with a gas can and a walk to Lake Ella and back from his apartment.
“It was exhausting,” Pelt said. “Nobody should have to do this in order to survive.”
Pelt then spent some time in Ghana and walked with students there while they were collecting water, further increasing the drive for his water project.
His time in Ghana also led him to see other areas where the people there needed assistance, like education. So, Pelt helped form a program to make a high school education more affordable for residents of rural villages.
“Now, we have 13 people who are being supported to go to high school,” Pelt said. “They’ll graduate in a little under a year, and that’s so exciting to me.”
McRorie and Coburn both emphasized that the work the students have done will echo beyond their time on campus, making them ambassadors for the university and citizens who care about making their communities better.
“You saw a need, and you did something about it,” McRorie said. “You didn’t wait for somebody else to do it. You didn’t wait until you got older, until you got a job, you’re out in the world. You did it now. That’s very inspiring.”
The 2017 honorees are:
Katherine May, College of Applied Studies
May is a senior from Greenwood, Fla. Much of her service has focused on providing meals and services to Greenwood community members through Chipola Christian Ministries, an organization that tirelessly works to eliminate poverty, neglect, abuse and hunger.
Joe Pelt, College of Arts & Sciences
Pelt is a junior from Perry, Fla. He founded The Well Ride, an organization that raised funds to bring a water well to the Tigray Region of Ethiopia, and he helped form Akadi Educate, an organization that sponsors student education, through graduation, in the Volta Region of Ghana.
Ramon Aleman, College of Business
Aleman is a senior from Miami, Fla. In addition to his work through the Global Peace Exchange in Haiti and Cambodia, Aleman founded Unhoused Humanity, an organization that shares stories and identifies partners, raising money for families experiencing homelessness.
Catherine Christine Timm, College of Communication & Information
Timm is a senior from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Timm’s most meaningful service experience has been with Faithful Servant Missions, traveling to the community of Bajo Tejares, Costa Rica, and teaching children to speak English and adults how to write.
Emilie Easton, College of Criminology & Criminal Justice
Easton is a junior from Temperance, Mich. Through her Global Scholars experience teaching English in Bolivia, she learned about children and families in the prison system. Easton expanded her service to this population, helping socialize children and teaching life skills.
Brittany Sinitch, College of Education
Sinitch is a senior from Coral Springs, Fla. In addition to her service as president of the Council of Teachers of English, Sinitch has served with Dance Marathon for three years, working primarily with recruitment, uniting our campus community For The Kids.
Jena Martino, College of Engineering
Martino is a senior from Naples, Fla. Martino has been involved with Engineers Without Borders for three years, culminating in her current role as president. Through EWB, she has helped develop sustainable engineering solutions with communities in Panama and Guatemala.
Jocelyn Riedl, College of Fine Arts
Riedl is a senior from Lake Placid, N.Y. Riedl has bridged community needs, her passion for art and her experience as a Navy veteran through the Peace Papers project, where she helps military veterans pulp their uniforms, resulting in useful and meaningful paper projects.
Neil Sood, College of Human Sciences
Sood is a senior from Jacksonville, Fla. In addition to tutoring in math and science and mentoring pre-health students, he worked with Project Nepal as a part of the Global Peace Exchange, teaching English in a rural village in Nepal and contributing to sustainable community development.
Terry Beck, College of Motion Picture Arts
Beck is a junior from Navarre, Fla. After losing a friend to violence, Beck developed two documentaries, highlighting the grief process and working to end violence toward women. His own experience with arthritis motivates his service with children with auto-immune conditions.
Emma Harmon, College of Music
Harmon is a junior from Orlando, Fla. Her service includes working with elders as a community ambassador for Project LOVE and mentoring youth via Capital City Youth Services. She bridges her passions for music and education at Leon County Schools, focusing on low-SES children.
Steve Lizano, College of Nursing
Lizano is a senior from Pembroke Pines, Fla. As a nursing student, he has applied his classroom knowledge to community needs, working with a migrant community in Immokalee to identify healthcare needs, advocate for patients and provide healthcare screenings.
Saleshia Ellis, College of Social Sciences & Public Policy
Ellis is a sophomore from Fort Pierce, Fla. Motivated by her own experiences, she aims to empower low-income communities of color via youth mentoring at the Palmer Munroe Teen Center, free tax preparation with IMPACT America and research on #BlackGirlMagic.