MLK 2024 celebration notes great work

 Luis Paredes, Raquel Ramos, Jani Benoit, Jessie Knowlton
Luis Paredes, associate vice president for institutional equity and belonging, left, with STEM leadership team awardees Raquel Ramos, dean of the Marshall Center for Intercultural Learning, and professors Jani Benoit and Jessie Knowlton at the MLK celebration (Photos by Keith Nordstrom)

Student, STEM leadership team, staff honored

Each year, nominations are sought for the Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award. Traditionally, awards are given to a student and to a faculty or staff member who exemplify King’s values through their actions and leadership. This year, the work on campus was so great that the recognition was broadened to include a student, a STEM leadership group and a team of workers.

The award winners were announced at the 2024 MLK Legacy Celebration held on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024 in Weber Theatre. They are: Jada Prinopoulos-Taylor ’24; the six members of the Wheaton Inclusive STEM Excellence Leadership team; and 36 members of the Building Services team.

“The expansion of the award this year is a positive development because it recognizes a larger number of recipients. It also highlights the importance of teamwork and collaboration, which are essential for success,” said Luis Paredes, associate vice president for institutional equity and belonging. “By acknowledging the collective efforts of groups, the award emphasizes the value of diverse contributions and the potential of working together toward common goals.”

President Whelan
President Michaele Whelan speaks at the celebration.

A selection committee composed of the members of the President’s Council and Diversity, Equity and Access Leadership (DEAL) chose winners based on nominations from the Wheaton community.

Awardee Prinopoulos-Taylor co-founded and is vice president of the Mentoring Underserved Students for Excellence in STEM (MUSES) program at Wheaton, a student-to-student mentoring initiative designed to help mentees navigate the college experience.

The nomination for Prinopoulos-Taylor called attention to the senior’s efforts to foster an inclusive campus and noted that, “Remarkably, Jada has made a notable difference on campus while maintaining exceptional grades, working full time, and preparing for medical school. Throughout her four years at Wheaton, Jada has served as a leader of our community.”

The winning STEM leadership team includes: professors Jani Benoit, John Collins, Rachelle DeCoste, Jessie Knowlton and Juvenal Lopez, and Raquel Ramos, dean of the Marshall Center for Intercultural Learning.

“This team of committed faculty and staff has worked over the past six years to engage the STEM academic departments to move toward making STEM areas more inclusive and accessible. They have challenged and supported colleagues through these efforts, encouraging faculty to reflect on their various aspects of their work and then take action,” the nomination stated.

Building Services staff membersThe Building Services staff members who received the Legacy Award are: Ana Oliveira, Antelmo Dos Santos, Brenda Bissonnette-Cwiek, Christine Lincks, Dianne Santos, Dolores Albernaz, Fernando Gomes, Filomena Neves, Helia Feliciano, Hon Yu Chan, Janet McDermott, Janet Sebetes, Luisa Madeira, Margarida Clementino, Maria Camara, Maria Carvalho, Maria Fonseca, Maria Nunes, Maria Reis, Maria Vasconcelos, Maryellen Barrett, Mathew Parker, Nicholas Santos, Omar Amado, Peter Mahoney, Peter Sena, Ronald Dalton, Ryan Barre, Sami Milloshi, Sungsook Charpentier, Susan Chicoine, Zelia Sousa, William Scott, Luis Amado, Maria Correia and Tracy Garafano.

The nomination for the team pointed to the words of King’s wife, Coretta Scott King: “The greatest birthday gift my husband could receive is if people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds celebrated the holiday by performing individual acts of kindness through service to others.”

“Our Building Services team does this daily, especially the housekeeping staff, who often work behind the scenes and truly embody this sentiment in their day-to-day actions with staff, faculty and the deep connections they forge with our students,” the nomination noted. “In their role, they offer our students so much more than clean and comfortable housing. They bring warmth, kindness and a sense of family to our students. … They, indeed, exemplify the heart and soul of Wheaton College.”

At the event, William Dickerson II, co-executive director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, a statewide faith-based community organizing nonprofit, delivered the keynote address “Say Yes to Liberation.” Dickerson has been a community organizer for more than 11 years and has expertise in racial equity and leadership development.

William Dickerson II
William Dickerson II, co-executive director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, delivered the keynote address “Say Yes to Liberation.”

Wheaton students also were invited to submit creative work that reflects King’s principles of equity, justice and peace, drawing inspiration from his philosophy or creating something in response to current events related to social justice.

All submissions were displayed in a Student Creativity Showcase. The entries were reviewed by a panel of students, faculty and staff members on the DEAL Education and Programming Committee, the Director of the Center for Social Justice and Community Impact and the dean of the Marshall Center, and prizes were presented during the program.

First place went to Elias Stevens ’25; second to Jacob Packard ’27; and third to Harrison Rios ’24. All work was judged based on originality, creativity, relevance and clarity.

Elias Stevens ’25; Jacob Packard ’27; and Harrison Rios ’24
Creative Showcase winners Elias Stevens ’25, Jacob Packard ’27 and Harrison Rios ’24