April 9, 2020:
JEP’s Community Service Awards dinner had been scheduled for this evening. This annual event highlights the amazing work of our students, faculty and community partners in Los Angeles schools and organizations. While we are unable to gather to recognize their achievements in person, the JEP staff has organized a virtual celebration here on our website. Please read on to learn more about each award. Congratulations and thank you to each of our incredible award winners!
Congratulations to our 2020 Awardees:
Each year, JEP partners with more than 200 USC faculty who offer course credit to students who participate in JEP’s programs. JEP supports such faculty by assigning a Program Assistant that serves as a course liaison and a graduate Teaching Assistant that develops complementary curricula. The JEP Award for Community-Engaged Teaching and Research was established in 2019 to recognize USC faculty who go above and beyond in their partnerships with JEP and in their efforts to integrate community engagement into their teaching and/or research.
This year’s winner is Mercedes Fages Agudo, a senior lecturer in the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures. For 13 consecutive semesters, Mercedes has planned, implemented and supervised service-learning assignments for USC students enrolled in multiple sections of Spanish III and Spanish IV. The students participate in programs Mercedes established at two schools—an after-school Spanish Club for elementary school students attending the Los Feliz Charter School for the Arts, and dual-language students attending John Muir Elementary School, an International Spanish Academy School in Glendale. Mercedes’ work has served as a model for other faculty in Latin American and Iberian Cultures who have followed in her footsteps and incorporated community-based learning into their own courses. Congratulations, Mercedes!
The Dornsife Award for Exceptional Service is awarded annually to extraordinary volunteers that have contributed their time and expertise to further Dornsife Initiatives. This award was established in 2014 to recognize individuals who share their “time, talents and treasure” with JEP.
Past winners have contributed hundreds of hours to supporting the mission of JEP. Others have offered their expertise, for example, by contributing content or frameworks for JEP’s educational programs.
The 2020 recipient of the award is David Abelson. As a teacher for Los Angeles Unified School District at Weemes Elementary, David Abelson has a long history of supporting Dornsife’s programs like the Joint Educational Project and its mini-course teams, ReadersPLUS math and literacy tutors, and the Young Scientists Program (YSP) with its science teaching assistants, within his classroom. When he retired in 2017, he reached out to the Joint Educational Project to see how he could offer his time and expertise to better support the programs he hosted in his classroom.
YSP eagerly took him in as a prized volunteer and he has supported the program with hundreds of volunteer hours over the last three years. His dedication to the program has only made YSP better with his creativity in designing new curricula and his patience with material management.
The Extraordinary Community Service Award was established in 1981 by Grace Ford Salvatori to recognize one graduating senior or progressive Master degree student for his or her significant service to the communities surrounding both the UPC and HSC campuses.
Sabrina Barrow is this year’s winner. She’s receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and a Master’s Degree in Global Medicine. She chose these studies because she wants to be a healthcare professional to not only help patients return to their optimal health, but to also be in a position to advocate for policy change and be a role model for minority students also interested in a career in science or math. Sabrina has spent her USC career participating in philanthropic, non-profit programs, like JEP, and has been able to learn and serve the Los Angeles Community.
Named in honor of Richard “Dick” Cone, the Dick Cone Award for Graduate Engaged Scholarship is intended to honor and recognize the efforts of graduate students who bring advanced awareness and skills to address specific needs in the community.
Dick was the beloved director of the USC Joint Educational Project from 1980-2002 and a pioneer in the field of service-learning and community engagement. Driven by a deep commitment to social justice and education, Dick effectively pushed universities to reconsider the role they play in their communities and he was instrumental in bringing national recognition to USC’s K12 partnerships.
This year’s winner of the Dick Cone Award is Rita Barakat. She is a fourth year PhD student in the Neuroscience Graduate Program. She also wears many hats in JEP’s Young Scientists Program (YSP), including Program Assistant, Site Coordinator and Research Manager. In these various roles, she has had the opportunity to begin translating her disciplinary understanding of language and human cognition into work that has had a profoundly positive impact on her community.She is honored to have had the chance to work with all the undergraduate and graduate student staff, as well as the community volunteers, teachers, and most of all, the K-5 students that YSP serves. She has taught three generations of fourth grade students at 32nd Street USC Performing Arts Magnet School, trained undergraduate and graduate staff members on instructional practices, communication strategies and research methods, written over 12 grants and funding applications on behalf of YSP and other JEP STEM Programs (including the Medical STEM Program (MSP) and the Wonderkids Program), and played a role in a number of published lesson plans. She hopes to continue part of Dick Cone’s legacy in promoting educational access for all, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, identity or wealth.
The Barbara Seaver Gardner Award was established in 2008 by then Vice President of Civic and Community Relations, Samuel Mark, who wanted to honor JEP’s founder and first director, Barbara Seaver Gardner, who retired in 1990. Barbara was a visionary. At a time when there was great animosity between the university and its surrounding neighbors, Barbara recognized the power of people coming together to work toward a common goal — in this case, the need to build a strong, vibrant community — bringing together Town and Gown. Her idea was that most people can come together around what’s good for children. Barbara had a few friends who were principals of local elementary schools and others who were USC faculty members, so she thought why not place university students in the schools as mentors, teaching assistants etc. where they can assist in providing children with a quality education, while learning about the community they would call home for the next four years.
This award recognizes one graduating senior, who through successful participation in JEP (over several semesters) has demonstrated steadfast commitment to community service, with an emphasis on the community surrounding the University Park Campus.
The winner of this year’s Barbara Seaver Gardner Award is Haylie Wong.
The Desiree Benson Award is a very special award that was graciously established by our USC Financial Aid Department in the year 2000, to honor the life of a dedicated and inspired work-study student, Desiree Benson– a member of the USC ReadersPlus program who passed away unexpectedly in the middle of her senior year. The Desiree Benson Work-Study Grant was created that spring to pay tribute to the contributions to our community and dedication to service demonstrated by this promising young woman, and to recognize students similar to her — work-study students committed to making a difference and eager to use their skills and talents to inspire others.
This year’s Desiree Benson Award Recipient is Jose Gonzalez. Jose is a junior majoring in Sociology, double-minoring in Education and Society and Spanish. Jose, like Desiree, is a product of our nearby community of Inglewood. Like Desiree, he has also served as a USC Reader, this spring being his fifth semester as a reading and math tutor to children at John Mack Elementary School. Because of his dedication to the school and to the students he serves, and his leadership amongst fellow-tutors, Jose will be taking over the role of Program Site Coordinator at the school in fall 2020.
Diana is a first-generation low-income student from South Los Angeles. Currently a sophomore majoring in Political Science, she aspires to become a college counselor to help and guide students.
At a young age, Diana came to understand the importance of giving back to her community and has done this in many different ways over the years such as by volunteering in charitable races, food drives, non-profits, conferences, hospitals, fundraisers and at schools. Throughout her college career, Diana has served in the following ways: at Trinity Street Elementary School, providing support for elementary school children in math, science and English; at the Orthopedic Institute for Children, giving out coloring books to children and reading to them; at Kid City Hope Place, helping with college-bound students and serving as a mentor; at John Adams Middle School, developing curriculum for 6th – 8th graders; and with Splash of SC, restructuring social media channels and helping with recruitment.
Diana states that volunteering is a meaningful occupation, one that she was not intending to do for a short while but for life. She plans to work towards affecting change in access to quality education for Latinx communities.
Arielle is a junior majoring in Non-Governmental Organizations and Social Change with a minor in Marketing. It was as a high school student that Arielle grew a desire to do ‘something good in the world.’ She found many of her volunteer experiences transformative, such as volunteering at a Therapeutic Riding Program where she assisted in teaching horseback riding lessons to special needs children and as a student leader managing volunteers while helping care for horses.
An NGO major and a transfer student, Arielle became involved with JEP during her first semester at USC, volunteering as a mini-course instructor teaching in a 4th grade classroom, sparking a passion for education and teaching. Last year she joined her sorority, Alpha Chi Omega, and has become involved with the Domestic Violence nonprofit, the Good Shepherd Shelter, helping to raise money for survivors and their children. In continuing to make service an integral part of her college career, this year Arielle was hired as a Program Assistant with the Joint Educational Project, which has allowed her to explore a community service organization “behind the scenes,” and allowing her to apply skills to prepare her for a job in the nonprofit sector.
Michael is a sophomore from Chula Vista, California majoring in Philosophy, Politics, & Law with a minor in Forensics & Criminality. Engaging with the local community is what has helped him smoothly transition to life at USC.
As an active member of the Trojan Knights, he has participated in annual pumpkin carvings not only as a fun physical activity, but also a beneficial service to families of special needs children who may not have the means to afford a caretaker outside of the family. In the fall of 2018, he participated in two JEP assignments — one as a mini course team member, and another as a teaching assistant. In both roles he was able to help teach and tutor in a variety of topics including Greek mythology, science, math and history, while also attending to the general needs of a classroom. As a current Program Assistant for the Joint Educational Project, he has devoted time in supervising and guiding other student participants with training sessions, discussions and feedback on reflections.
Michael believes that “The Trojan Family is not limited to just students and alumni, but extends to anyone with which the university meaningfully connects.”