Four Honored at CILSA’s Annual Awards Ceremony

The 4th Annual CILSA Awards ceremony on February 18, 2013, honored engaged members of Saint Mary's faculty, staff and student body as well as a community partner. This year's awards went to Gail Garrett of IT Services, Saroja Subrahmanyan of Graduate Business, Siamack Sioshansi of Urban Farmers, and SMC senior Kaitlyn Anderson.  

Below are the welcoming remarks by CILSA Director Marshall Welch and texts of the presentations to each of the four award winners.

Opening Remarks by Marshall Welch

CILSA 2013 award winners Saimack Sioshansi, Kaitlyn Anderson, Gail Garrett and Saroja Subrahmanyan.Welcome to CILSA’s 4th Annual Awards Event. I am Marshall Welch, the director of the Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action or CILSA. I’d like to welcome everyone—friends, family, students, faculty, community partners and our honored guests. I also want to acknowledge Provost Beth Dobkin and Richard Carp, vice provost for undergraduate academics, who join us for this celebration. Tonight we recognize and celebrate the outstanding work of a student, faculty member, staff member and community partner who are committed to social action. The work these individuals do is a critical component of the Lasallian tradition—especially in the context of concern for the poor, social justice and promoting quality education. These individuals go above and beyond what is expected of them. They are leaders and agents of change. They are an inspiration to all of us. It is often thankless work behind the scenes that they do, but tonight, we are here to thank them.

This year, the CILSA student leaders framed their work around the theme of “stepping stones.” They recognized that they have embarked on personal journeys…. academic….social….personal….spiritual journeys… and that in many ways CILSA and its programs serve as stepping stones on their journeys, providing a path to carefully tip-toe across. Webster’s dictionary defines stepping stone as: a stone on which to step (as in crossing a stream) and a means of progress or advancement.

This is a great theme and image, not only for the students, but for the instructors, community partners and staff members we celebrate and recognize tonight. The work of community engagement is much like stepping over and across the trickling streams, or sometimes even raging rivers, that separate the Saint Mary’s campus and the community at large. Our collective work, like crossing stepping stones, is (as Webster’s dictionary states) means of progress and advancement….for the community…students…faculty…and staff. We take a risk with each step. But we also grow, change, move forward, and sometimes we might even lose our balance and wobble a bit, but there is always a friend or colleague there to catch us. 

Many of you may know bits and pieces about CILSA, but you may not know the whole story about our work and mission. CILSA embodies the Lasallian Mission of Saint Mary’s College; in fact, the mission is embedded within our name—the Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action—putting the Lasallian mission into action. So I just want to take a few moments to give you a brief overview for those of you who might not know, and as a review for the rest of us, a reminder of why and how we do this work.

Through our curricular and co-curricular programs, staff, faculty, students and community partners work together to put the five Lasallian Principles into action.  We express concern for the poor and work toward social justice in and out of the classroom. We do this work in faith and in the presence of God. We strive to respect all persons, envisioning students and community partners as co-educators with faculty to serve the community. In this way, we promote an inclusive community through diversity not only of race, class and gender but of ideas, faith, and politics. And finally, we provide a quality education using best practices that integrate the head, heart and hands. The head represents the intellectual and academic mission of the college, using traditional means such as the great books and seminar coupled with innovative methods by expanding the classroom out into the community. So the head is the home of intellect and knowledge. It is WHAT we study and learn. But the heart is where wisdom (which is not the same thing as knowledge) is cultivated through critical reflection and compassion. The heart is where we ponder the question “so what?” Finally, the hands represent action whereby students, faculty, staff and community partners work together to apply knowledge, wisdom, compassion, critical reflection through action to explore the questions, “Now what and how?”

Christian Brother Louis DeThomasis is the chancellor of Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota. He says that the Lasallian vision for the third-millennium higher education should compel us to create an innovative infrastructure in which our faculty, research, and curricula empower us not only to teach the poor directly but also to help our students learn and possess the tools to change both the world and the systemic and structural forces that create the poor within that world. Concisely stated, the vision for Lasallian higher education at this beginning of the third millennium is to prepare its students to create and shape a new, just global society, not just to facilitate access for the poor and needy to education but to fix a world order that is broken.

We are thankful for the opportunity to do this important work, to work side-by-side with committed students, faculty, staff and colleagues in the community. And that’s why we’re here tonight—to celebrate and give thanks for how this work feeds our soul and intellect. We also want to feed our stomachs and give thanks for the meal we are about to receive. I want to invite our friend and colleague, Brother Michael Murphy, to come up and offer a blessing for tonight’s meal.

CILSA Engaged Staff Award — Gail Garrett

Presented by Jennifer Pigza

My name is Jennifer Pigza and I am the associate director of CILSA. I am also the academic chair of the Master of Arts in Leadership for Social Justice program. So it is a privilege for me to introduce this year’s recipient, who not only is a staff member here at Saint Mary’s College but is also a graduate student in the program I direct.

The CILSA Engaged Saint Mary’s College Staff Award recognizes a staff member within the Saint Mary’s community who demonstrates sustained direct or indirect community service or social justice education on or off campus that is not associated with their role and responsibility to the college. This person also demonstrates the Lasallian principle of concern for the poor and social justice.

This year’s recipient of the SMC Engaged Staff Member Award goes to Gail Garrett from IT Services.

Gail works in the Administrative Information Services, which is part of the Instructional Technology office on campus. She has worked on campus for 29 years and during the evening shift. Gail earned her bachelor’s degree in Cross-Cultural Studies from Saint Mary’s College in 2002, attending classes during the day while working in the evening. She began work on a master’s degree in the Leadership Program with an emphasis on social justice this past summer.

This award recognizes a Saint Mary’s staff member who goes above and beyond their work here at the College to serve the community and promote social justice. And here are just some of the ways Gail does just that:

She participates in disaster assistance training with Red Cross.
She is on the advisory council for the Area Agency on Aging and president of its Nutrition Council.
She is community member of the Hazmat Commission, which controls and manages hazardous materials in the community.
She is a volunteer driver in Richmond for Rides for Seniors.
She is the volunteer leader of a senior citizens’ group called “Communication for Understanding,” which began as a course she taught at Contra Costa Community College. When the funding for that program was discontinued, she continued to volunteer as the group leader of participants ranging in age from 56 to 92 years of age.
She is very active in her church and regularly visits the sick and shut-ins.
She is a member of the board of Contra Costa Meals on Wheels representing the Senior Nutrition Council.
In 2010 Gail was recognized by Women in Philanthropy as one of 40 “Women of Influence” who are graduates of Saint Mary’s College.
Also, in May of 2010, she was recognized by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors during Senior Volunteer Month for her outstanding record and commitment to volunteerism.
Gail has informally mentored first-generation students here at the college, encouraging them on an ongoing basis to set high goals.
She attends international student dinners and congratulates students at the Black Student Graduation celebration each year.

AND….don’t forget she works the night shift full time here at Saint Mary’s College! Where and how does she find the time and energy to do it all?

Gail once said…“I am passionate and truly blessed to have the seniors in my life but being in the presence of students every day also inspires me. I look forward to talking to students on campus. They are wonderful young people and taking the time to talk to them enriches our lives and they have told me, enriches their lives as well.”

She goes on to say one of her favorite Bible verses is Psalm 71:18… “Now also when I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.”

When asked about this verse she said, “I know we can’t do everything or save everyone but we can make a difference in the lives of the young people in our family, our church and young people we encounter at schools and the community. If we can’t or won’t do that, then what are we here for?”

As the director of the Master’s Program in Leadership for Social Justice, I’ve had the pleasure to work directly with Gail. In that time, I’ve come to see and know that Gail’s passion for social justice is not just personal. She is translating that passion into academic study. She is a great role model for other students in her cohort…to her family…and to all of us here at Saint Mary’s College.

And finally, Chuck Barker, a colleague of hers in the master’s program says this of Gail and her life of service:

“ are SO DESERVING of this award! You are so humble about the beautiful gift that you bring and that you are, and about the lives you touch and make happier. You make this world undeniably better by your presence in it.”

CILSA Engaged Faculty Award — Saroja Subrahmanyan

Presented by Marshall Welch

Right now, as Saint Mary’s College implements the community engagement component of the new core curriculum, brave and dedicated faculty who have already been doing exciting and innovative work through engaged teaching and learning are providing stepping stones for their colleagues. We have a handful of instructors who have been doing this work. They are models and mentors to other faculty as they cross over into this new and challenging educational experience. I’m so pleased to present this year’s award to an outstanding faculty member who has dedicated her work to engaged teaching and learning.

The CILSA Engaged Teaching Award recognizes instructors dedicated to promoting social justice. This award is presented to any adjunct instructor, lecturer or tenure-track faculty member who demonstrates:

               Continued commitment to engaged teaching and learning

               Campus leadership/citizenship

               Integrating engaged pedagogy with research/scholarship

               Nurturing community and campus partnerships

               Personal and professional transformation

               An impact on students’ academic and personal lives

               Mentoring and serving as a role model to colleagues

This year, we present this award to Dr. Saroja Subrahmanyan from the Department of Marketing in the School of Economics and Business Administration.

The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient and holy Hindu text. Its title translates as the “Song of the Lord.” The Gita, as it is often called, is all about selfless service. When asked to summarize it, Gandhi used the phrase “Nishkama Karma” to encapsulate the Gita's message, which translates as “selfless action,” or action free of any selfish motives. The Gita states, “Knowledge, the object of knowledge and the knower are the three factors which motivate action; the senses, the work and the doer comprise the threefold basis of action. Action should culminate in wisdom. In the beginning, humankind and the obligation of selfless service were created together. Through selfless service, you will always be fruitful and find the fulfillment of your desires: this is the promise of the Creator…” These words and precepts nicely capture the work of Saroja.

She was a member of the CILSA Faculty Development Cohort, which is a yearlong commitment to professional development on how to effectively use engaged teaching and learning methods. For the last three years, she has incorporated community-based research—or CBR—into her marketing research course for the MBA program. Now, CBR is not research “on” or “about” the community… instead, CBR is when faculty and students conduct research “with” and “for” community partners that meet a critical need or goal of the agency while providing authentic learning opportunities for students. The whole idea is to use research to help promote social change. Some of the partners for her class include Catholic Charities of East Bay, Lions Center for the Blind, Provident Credit Union, Tutor Doctor of San Francisco, the Mission and Ministry Center of SMC, and the Holy Innocents Children Hospital in Uganda. She is in the process of writing case studies based on her international engaged pedagogy courses, which demonstrates that she is now integrating her teaching and scholarship. It is also worthy to note this is a graduate-level course. We tend to focus on only the undergraduate experience at Saint Mary’s, but here we have an example of the Lasallian mission coupled with the head, heart and hands at the graduate level.

A colleague of hers writes, “Participation in the CILSA faculty cohort has definitely helped her consider engaged pedagogy as a critical component of some of her classes. This has made her classes more rigorous, challenging, and relevant. It has enabled her to teach how marketing principles can be applied in nontraditional businesses.”

Her colleague goes on to say, “Students have appreciated the CBR projects. Course evaluations have repeatedly mentioned the applicability of what they learn on a real-life project and that they can immediately apply what they learn at work.”

One student writes: “One particular theory we covered in class inspired a big aha moment for me, which helped me gain a much deeper understanding of human motivation from both a marketing and personal perspective.”

Her promotion and tenure mentor, Catherine Banbury, commented during a departmental meeting that Saroja serves as a role model for new faculty in how to demonstrate commitment to the aims and ideals of the College. Saroja has been a mentor and role model to her colleagues, offering and sharing her teaching methods, syllabi and advice on where and how to publish.

Saroja has also been a committed member of the Social Justice Coordinating Committee, where she helped craft a position paper on investment practices of the College that was submitted to the president. She has served on the Jan Term committee and the Professional Academic Honor Council. She has been actively involved with the Saint Mary’s College Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism by providing presentations on Hinduism. She has also been a prayer leader at the Mass of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of each academic year for the last three years. For all of us at Saint Mary’s College, Saroja’s teaching is a form of prayer…a prayer of selfless service that culminates in action and knowledge. Congratulations.

CILSA Engaged Community Partner Award — Siamack Sioshansi

Presented by Beth Hampson

My name is Beth Hampson. In my role as a CILSA staff member I have the great honor of collaborating with our compassionate and committed community partners. Community partners play an important educational role in the mission of CILSA and the Lasallian experience at Saint Mary’s College. We carefully and intentionally use the term “partners” rather than the term “placement.” The community is not a laboratory in which students and faculty study or conduct research “on” the people they serve, as if they were subjects to be experimented on. Instead, the community is an extension of the classroom, and community partners are co-educators. Our community partners are important stepping stones that allow faculty and students a way of crossing over the artificial boundaries that separate the College from the community. Their work and collaboration provide a pathway that allows members of the SMC community into meaningful experiences.

Tonight, I’m pleased to recognize an outstanding community partner. This award is presented to a staff member at any level of a community agency, on behalf of that organization. This individual must do the following:

Demonstrate a commitment to student learning while meeting the mission of his or her organization.

Educate and mentor colleagues to promote and foster partnerships with SMC.

Engage in sustained partnerships with SMC.

And demonstrate an ability to articulate and model personal passion and dedication to social action through word and deed.

It is with great pleasure that I present the fourth Annual CILSA Community Partner Award to Siamack Sioshansi of the Urban Farmers.

We are so proud to recognize the work of our friend, colleague, and co-educator Siamack Sioshansi. He came to this country from Iran soon after the revolution and is the founding director of Urban Farmers. The organization’s mission is to deliver solutions that address the needs of the people and the planet we inhabit by harvesting backyard fruit for the needy (and along the way do a few other related things like plant and maintain fruit trees) and focus on hunger relief by providing fresh, local, healthy food for all.

This year alone, the Fruit Gleaning Program has brought together countless SMC and community volunteers to harvest over 50,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables for donation to the Contra Costa County Food Bank, Monument Crisis Center, and Loaves and Fishes, and has even provided produce that was no longer suitable for human consumption to the Lindsay Wildlife Museum for use with its animals in rehabilitation. Nothing is wasted.

Siamack and his organization have worked with Saint Mary’s College through Saturday Service projects and various courses. He has a long and ongoing partnership with Professor Patricia Longo and Professor Kristen Sbrogna, who teach social justice and service-learning courses on important food and hunger issues. He worked directly with a student conducting a year-long independent study on food politics. That student also provided research to help the infrastructure of Urban Farmers. Siamack provides students an interdisciplinary lens from which to view food and hunger, looking at the cultural, political, social, economic and environmental perspectives of what and how we eat. He has been known to obtain the reading list from instructors so he can make reference to and incorporate reading assignments from courses into his own presentations and activities with Saint Mary’s students.

One student who worked closely with Siamack writes, “On one of our drives to the Monument Crisis Center after a harvest, I can distinctly remember him explaining the enormous potential for the fruit gleaning program as he pointed out fruit tree after fruit tree on one side of the road. In that moment, I was awed by his vision. Within the short span of our drive we had literally passed thousands of pounds of food. He said, ‘Imagine how many people we could feed with all of that fruit!’ ” 

Working directly with Siamack over the years, I can personally say his enthusiasm, devotion to urban farming, and the desire to create greater food security for those in the local community is abundantly apparent. Plus, he’s incredibly joyful, willing to recite classical Persian poetry and able to make stellar videos. He is a change-maker….and educator….and inspiring example of what is possible.

I should add that Siamack has clearly earned the respect of Saint Mary’s College because he has been asked to serve on a community partner advisory committee that will help the College implement the new community engagement component of the undergraduate core curriculum.

Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a Persian writer who relocated to the United States from Iran. She noted that horticulturalists have acknowledged that gardens originated in Persia. She goes on to say that if you give a Persian a choice between walking in a spectacular garden and the tour of a museum, the majority—if not all—choose the garden. The love of nature is reflected in Persian art, poetry and even daily conversation. This captures the essence of Siamack. He has not only made the garden a temple for sustenance, he has made it a classroom…and a way of cultivating social justice.

CILSA Engaged Student Award — Kaitlyn Anderson

Presented by Ryan Lamberton

My name is Ryan Lamberton and I oversee the Bonner Leader Program in CILSA. The Bonner Leader Program is a leadership development program that combines engaged social action, community formation, leadership development and spiritual growth for a group of students who commit to 300 hours of community service within an academic year. Bonner Leaders work with community partner organizations and serve as campus-based social action leaders. I am so blessed to work with these amazing students.

I also oversee the MICAH Project, which gets its name from Micah 6:8, in which the Prophet Micah writes: “And what does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” The Micah project is designed to allow current Saint Mary’s undergraduate students the opportunity to experience faith, service and community in the example of Saint John Baptist de La Salle. The Micah Project is an eight-week immersion living/learning program that advances each student’s professional development, leadership development, and growing awareness of important social issues to become agents for positive social change. CILSA staff members meet with the students twice a week for reflection discussions during a communal dinner. I’m very pleased that this year’s recipient of the CILSA student leadership award participated in the MICAH project this past summer. Clearly, this and other leadership experiences for our students serve as a stepping stone to their careers and continued commitment to social justice AFTER they graduate.

This award goes to an outstanding CILSA student leader. This award is presented to any junior or senior with a GPA of 3.0 or above who demonstrates:

Consistent years of service and work in social justice before & during college.

Leadership roles and skills in CILSA.

Participation in curricular and/or co-curricular activities related to service and social justice.

Campus leadership and citizenship.

And personal transformation.           

I’m pleased to present this award to Kaitlyn Anderson.

Kaitlyn is a senior from Roseville, California, in the Central Valley majoring in the Liberal and Civic Studies Program with the goal of becoming a teacher. The faculty member who nominated her says Kaitlyn represents the ideals and mission of CILSA, working with her head, heart and hands to change the world.

Kaitlyn’s leadership has been demonstrated in two innovative and unique ways. One way has already been mentioned….she was one of four students in last summer’s MICAH project, where she worked with St. Anthony’s Foundation in the Tenderloin. Kaitlyn engages all with her entire mind, body and spirit. From Moraga to West Oakland to San Francisco to Haiti with a Jan term class…Kaitlyn has made a positive impact on the lives of many.

In her blog during the MICAH project, Kaitlyn wrote:

“Besides serving, one of the most important reasons that each of the four Micah fellows came to West Oakland this summer was to grow in our faith, love, service and community. Each day, we work hard to provide the basic needs for thousands of people in the Bay Area that need it the most—we are attempting to provide justice for the many who have been treated unfairly, we are literally feeding and providing sustenance to the hungry, ensuring a strong childhood through education and a strong family structure, and caring for the whole person—whether it is providing food, shelter, advice, a listening ear, or simply dignity and respect. While we are all doing it in different ways, we are surely working towards our goal of constantly bettering the outlook of the world and improving our relationship with God.”

The second way Kaitlyn has emerged as a student leader has been through her role as an Engaged Learning Facilitator, or affectionately known as an ELF. An ELF plays a critical role in the community engagement courses at SMC. As an ELF, Kaitlyn serves as a liaison between faculty members teaching service-learning courses and the community partner. The ELF is an extra pair of hands, ears and eyes for the instructor as well as the community partner. An ELF also serves as an advocate for the students in the course. In this role she has worked with Oakland Elizabeth House, Cambridge Elementary School, St. Anthony’s Foundation, Today’s Youth Matters, and St. Martin de Porres School.

A faculty member notes, “She does all of this with a simple grace, patience, and deep humility. She is such a mentor to other students because she truly listens…and learns…from others. She authentically engages in everything she does and learns from each experience…whether it is pausing to reflect on nature in the Legacy Garden on campus…or doing service for others…or leading the fight for social justice…all are threaded through every fiber of her being.”

A member of the CILSA family says this of Kaitlyn: “She is a true leader. She listens deeply and shares her own story and the stories of others in a way that’s transformative. Other students look to her compassionate example and respect her genuine desire to promote justice."

The instructor who nominated her closes by saying this: “Kaitlyn is going to change the world….it is that simple and that profound. And I will forever be grateful that she was my student. I was fortunate enough to share a brief part of her path. I always learn from students, but from Kaitlyn I learned so much…about patience, love, commitment, peace, and joy. She is a hero to me!”

Kaitlyn has bravely stepped across those stepping stones that have been placed in front of her as opportunities…you are a SHE-ROE to all of us in CILSA.

Closing Exercise Led by Samantha Coon

I’m Samantha Coon and I’m the manager of the Jumpstart Program here at CILSA. Jumpstart is an early childhood education program that pairs college students with preschool children from under-resourced backgrounds in classroom for building literacy and fostering social and emotional readiness. Jumpstart corps members work between 10 and 15 hours per week for the entire school year. Typically, two-thirds of those hours are invested in direct service in Oakland preschool classrooms. An important part of Jumpstart and all the CILSA programs is the practice of critical reflection. This is a chance to make meaning of the work we do. Reflection can come in many forms. Tonight, we would like to end our celebration with a reflection “take-away.” On your table you’ll see a smooth stone and a mug with a few pens. In keeping with our theme of stepping stones, we invite you to write down one or two words….or make a drawing of some kind that captures the spirit or message evening for you. We then invite you to take the stone with you and place them somewhere where you will see them as a reminder of the spirit we celebrated here tonight.