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Student Honored for Campus and Community Service

Seventeen Vassar students have received awards for their extraordinary contributions to life on campus and in the greater community.

(left to right) Elizabeth Robertson ’20, Jhujhar Sarna ’22 and Liz Rotolo ’20 were among those honored this spring for service to the campus and community.

The Wendy Rae Breslau Award is presented annually to one or more Vassar sophomores who exhibit outstanding concern for the well-being of their peers and society in general. This year’s recipients are: Duncan Webber ’22, Francisco Andrade ’22, Sophie Schoenbrun ’22, Jhujhar Sarna ’22, Calvin Lei ’22, and Gabrielle James ’22.

The Frances Aaron Hess ’53 Award recognizes students for their volunteer service in communities outside the campus. The award enables recipients to direct a charitable donation to an organization of their choosing. This year’s recipients are: Ariana Salguero ’20, Elizabeth Rotolo ’20, Sarah Rivers ’20, and Elias Contrubis ’20.

The Helen Miringoff Award recognizes students who have made significant contributions to a local agency or the community at large while participating in programs administered by the Office of Community-Engaged Learning (OCEL). This year’s recipients are: Adele Birkenes ’20, Bryan Fotino ’20, Elizabeth Robertson ’20, Sarah Santaguida ’20, Lucy Zhang ’20, Aidan Zola ’20, and Emma Ratzman ’21.

Wendy Rae Breslau Awards

Webber, an economics major from New York City, launched an effort to raise $50,000 to invest in companies involved in energy conservation and sustainability. A member of the Vassar Swimming and Diving Team, Duncan has done volunteer work as a swim coach and at a local hospital.

Breslau honorees: (Top, left to right): Gabrielle James ’22, Jhujhar Sarna ’22 and Sophie Schoenbrun ’22. (Bottom left to right: Francisco Andrade ’22, Duncan Webber ’22 and Calvin Lei ‘22

Andrade, a media studies and education major currently living in Poughkeepsie, has served as a volunteer at the Art Effect, helping young people create and develop media projects. A member of the Vassar Veterans Posse, he serves as treasurer of the Vassar Veterans’ Association and is Humor and Satire Editor/Writer for the Miscellany News.

Schoenbrun, a political science major from San Antonio, TX, served this year as Advocacy Chair of the Vassar chapter of Challah for Hunger. She and others in the group worked with Vassar students and administrators to address food insecurity issues on campus during breaks in the academic year.

Sarna, a political science major from New Delhi, India, is a leader of the Sikh Student Association. As a Pratt Fellow, he has worked with students and administrators to promote harmony on the campus. Outside Vassar, Sarna volunteered with the nonprofit group Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson on a voter registration project in Poughkeepsie.

Lei, a double major in anthropology and cognitive science, from Suzhou, China, has served as an intern for the office of International Services, organizing programs such as the Tiny Desk Concert and Kaleidoscope. As a vocalist for the jazz band InConclusion, Lei has performed off-campus for residents of the Poughkeepsie Senior Home and other off-campus venues.

James, an anthropology major from Farmington, NM, is President of Vassar’s Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance and an active member of Vassar’s Transitions and Questbridge Scholars programs. She will serve next academic year as Vassar Student Association Chair of Equity and Inclusion.

Frances Aaron Hess ’53 Awards

Salguero, and anthropology and Latin American and Latina/o studies from Chicago, works with immigrant students in Poughkeepsie Middle School as a volunteer with the English Language Learners program. On behalf of the Hess Awards, she will direct her donation to Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, a nonprofit agency in Poughkeepsie that works with immigrant families.

Rotolo, a media studies major from Lebanon Township, NJ, assembled a group of volunteers, called “Save Our Seniors,” to deliver groceries and prescription drugs to older residents in her hometown and nine nearby communities. Rotolo and a high school friend founded the organization after both returned to their homes for distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She will direct her donation to the Hunterdon County (NJ) Meals on Wheels program.

Sarah Rivers ’20, Elias Contrubis ’20, Elizabeth Rotolo ’20

Rivers, a drama major from Canton, NY, has volunteered for the Poughkeepsie Youth Theater since her first year at Vassar. She began her work as a facilitator and served as an assistant director this past year. She will direct her donation to that organization.

Contrubis, a computer science major from New York City, has served as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, serving on the executive board of the Vassar College chapter. His donation will be made to the organization. 

Helen Miringoff Awards

Birkenes, a geography major from Silver Spring, MD, received the award for her work with Hudson River Housing, Inc., a Poughkeepsie-based agency that builds and maintains affordable housing. As the agency’s Community Wealth Building Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Intern, she managed field data collection for HRH's annual Middle Main business inventory and helped coordinate HRH's small business support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, as part of her Community Geographer position at Vassar, Adele co-created an interactive online COVID-19 community resource map for residents of Dutchess County that displays up-to-date information about coronavirus testing sites, health facilities, food pantries, meal programs, restaurants, grocery stores, free wifi locations, and other resources.

Miringoff Award winners (top, left to right): Sarah Santaguida ’20, Elizabeth Robertson ’20, Emma Ratzman ‘21; (bottom, left to right): Adele Birkenes ‘20, Bryan Fotino ’20, Lucy Zhang ’20, Aidan Zola ’20.

Fotino, a political science major from Waldwick, NJ, was cited for his work with Hudson Valley Homeschoolers, composed of parents who homeschool their children. Fotino taught a class that simulated the work of the U.S. Senate. He also worked in the Constituent Service departments of U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, member of the House Intelligence Committee, and New York City Council Member Ben Kallos.

Robertson, a neuroscience major from Lynchburg, VA, has volunteered for Lucky Orphan Horse Rescue, a nonprofit group based in a community near Poughkeepsie. The organization rescues unwanted horses and facilitates visits to the farm to promote compassionate treatment of animals. Robertson assisted Lucky Orphans with trainings given to the Medical Reserve Corps of Dutchess County and the Dutchess County Animal Response Team. 

Santaguida, an economics major from Moraga, CA, was a volunteer for several local grassroots organizations. At Vassar, she was a student fellow and member of the Noyes House Team, an actor and director of Shakespeare Troupe and a member of the Economics Majors Committee.

Zhang, a neuroscience major from Sunnyvale, CA, volunteered for Exodus Transitional Community, a local organization that facilitates prison inmates’ transition from incarceration to life in the community. She will continue this work following graduation and plans to go to medical school.

Zola, a French and science, technology, and society double major from Washington, NJ, volunteered with Hudson River Healthcare’s Poughkeepsie Mothers Project. Under the supervision of Hudson Valley Healthcare, she became a trained birth doula, attending several births. She also wrote grants for the organization and conducted research on the social determinants of health in the local community.

Ratzman, a history major from Indianapolis, was a member of the Nicole Addimando Community Defense Committee, supporting the imprisoned domestic abuse survivor. She also worked as an intern for U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in Newburgh NY and Washington, DC. Her duties included conducting research for the LGBTQ Essential Data Act and the Natural Cosmetics Act.