2024 Student Leadership Awards: A Chance to Celebrate the Students and Staff Who Lead, Uplift, and Inspire Every Day

They give time, talents, and energy to improving the SMC community. Over fifty students were recognized for their contributions this year, and for the lasting impact they have made on those who call Saint Mary’s home.

by Office of Marketing & Communications Staff | June 6, 2024

As the Saint Mary’s community wrapped up the academic year in May, the Division of Student Life, along with Mission & Ministry, Admissions, and Student Success, set aside a special evening to recognize students, student organizations, and staff who have shown outstanding leadership, support, and dedication to the SMC community. These Gaels who have made a difference, individually and collectively, were honored at the Student Leadership Awards celebration on May 8, hosted in the Soda Center.

Along with awards that recognize top leaders, organizations, and programs, the awards highlight first-year and transfer students as “Rising Stars” and second-year students emerging as “Luminaries” in their leadership and support of the student community.

Student Leader of the Year Award | Kira Minaise ’24

Student Kira Minaise holding up a plaque for 2024 Student Leadership Awards
Student Leader of the Year: Kira Minaise ’24  / Photo by Francis Tatem

This award is given to junior or senior students who have demonstrated their outstanding leadership through mentorship, community service, and creating engagement opportunities on campus. Kira Minaise ’24, a Business Administration major with a concentration in Digital Media, was recognized for her contributions through her roles as co-chair of the Residence Hall Association, a resident advisor, and involvement in Gael Women in Business. Minaise, who is from Pleasanton, California, has supported and advocated for her residents, brought students together with a Gonzaga tailgate and Super Bowl watch party, and overall created a more vibrant, inclusive community on campus—even during the years of quarantine because of COVID-19. 

Brother Dominic Berardelli Lasallian Leadership Award | Rebecca Carranza ’26

Brother David Caretti, FSC, and Rebecca Carranza '26 holding up a plaque for 2024 Student Leadership Awards
“Rebecca knows how to build relationships and make all people feel welcomed,” said Brother David Caretti, FSC ’99, in presenting the Brother Dom Award to Rebecca Carranza ’26.  / Photo by Francis Tatem

A first-generation college student, Rebecca Carranza ’26 is committed to creating an inclusive community here on campus, exemplified by her Beyond Assimilation program for first-gen students and the Imposter Syndrome program for BIPOC students. In presenting the award to Carranza, Brother David Caretti, FSC ’99, said: “Rebecca knows how to build relationships and make all people feel welcomed; centering respect for all persons as she embarks on her educational journey.”

This award, named for the late Brother Dom, is given to a student who exemplifies one or more of the Lasallian Core Principles: Faith in the Presence of God, Concern for the Poor and Social Justice, Respect for All Persons, Inclusive Community, and Quality Education. This student also embraces the spirit of Brother Dom with a positive attitude, willingness to learn, involvement in the fabric of our community life, is a presence and a “face” of Saint Mary's, and is the epitome of hospitality. 

Read more about Carranza and her accomplishments in the profile “Making Family History: Rebecca Carranza ’26 Sees Humanity in the Work of the Law.”

Student Organization of the Year | DiverseAbilities

DiverseAbilities student leaders Sahiba Kuar Dogra ’24 and Molly Floberg ’26 hold up a plaque for 2024 Student Leadership Awards
Leading DiverseAbilities to its most active year yet: Sahiba Kuar Dogra ’24, left, and Molly Floberg ’26.  / Photo by Francis Tatem

The DiverseAbilities Club demonstrated outstanding leadership, community involvement, and commitment to recognizing and supporting students with disabilities. Their active and innovative events—such as Identity Poetry, Cards for a Cause, and Disability and Villainy in Film—have highlighted student experiences and challenged harmful and misinformed mindsets about people with disabilities. The award was accepted by the group’s presidents, Molly Floberg ’26 and Sahiba Kuar Dogra ’24, who led the group during their most active year to date.

Leading for Change | Cindy Rantisi ’24

Cindy Rantisi holds up a plaque for 2024 Student Leadership Awards
Leading for Change: Cindy Rantisi ’24 / Photo by Francis Tatem

Cindy Rantisi ʼ24 served as president of the Middle Eastern North African Club (MENA). She showed courageous leadership and organized events including  “SMC Bridge: Let’s Talk About Israel and Palestine,” an Intercultural Center Collective Hour, a vigil with the Mission & Ministry Center, and many more. Her leadership has made a significant, positive impact on campus by bridging gaps between groups and by speaking up in times of silence. 

Program of the Year | “Let’s Talk About Israel and Palestine”

This year, the award goes to three clubs—Bridge USA, MENA, and the Muslim Student Association—for their work in organizing “Let’s Talk About Israel and Palestine” in October 2023.  The goal of the event, in the words of the organizers, was “to provide a space for students to have a dialogue about the Israel-Palestine conflict.” In one of their instagram posts after the event, the organizers said, “Not only was it an impactful and diverse conversation but it had a grand audience bigger than we've ever seen in our chapter!”

Spirit of Saint Mary’s | Karla Henriquez

Karla Henriquez holds up a plaque for 2024 Student Leadership Awards
Working with students and their families in both English and Spanish, Karla Henriquez has helped them navigate financial aid—and brought compassion, expertise, and genuine care to her work. / Photo by Francis Tatem

Karla Henriquez, Associate Director of Financial Aid, earned this award, which recognizes members of SMC’s faculty and staff for their contributions to the SMC community. Henriquez goes above and beyond to help students understand and acquire financial aid, and to guide and assist them with the Federal Work Study program. Speaking both Spanish and English, she has helped countless students and their families navigate funding. As a resident director, Henriquez also brings a personal touch in her support for the on-campus community by hosting pupusa nights for her residents. In presenting the award, Housing Operations Manager Carolina Celis ’22, MA ’23 lauded Henriquez for her compassion, expertise, and genuine care—which have created a home away from home for students, ensuring that every student feels loved and supported.

Two photos: on top, student Emily Hancock holds plaque for 2024 Student Leadership Awards; Bottom, Izzy Ruiz in SMC Museum of Art
Unsung heroes get their moment: Emily Hancock ’24, above, and Izzy Ruiz ’24. / Photo by Francis Tatem

Unsung Hero Award | Emily Hancock ’24 and Izzy Ruiz ’24

This award spotlights student employees who work hard behind the scenes, exceeding expectations to support students, coworkers, and supervisors. 

Emily Hancock ’24 is the co-chair of the Residence Hall Association, helping to lead a team of students to make the residence halls feel like home. Through her supportive presence, encouragement, and creative programming, Hancock has fostered a tight-knit community for students living in the Residence Halls.

Izzy Ruiz ’24 has earned a reputation as the heart of the Admissions team; as an Admissions Ambassador Coordinator, Ruiz leads campus tours, works with prospective students, and plays a central role during Admission events. She’s a mentor to her peers and someone they can turn to during times of stress, as well as a steadying force for her coworkers and supervisors. 


Rising Stars and Luminaries

As part of the evening, several departments that are part of the Division of Student Life highlighted the contributions of their student staff. These departments include Student Disability Services, the Center for Women and Gender Equity, Campus Recreation, Club Sports, and Community Life & Dean of Students. The students organize social events, design inclusive programming, and work behind the scenes to support students, faculty, and staff. 

Three students from Club Sports hold certificates they were awarded at 2024 Student Leadership Awards
Celebrating their contributions to Club Sports: From left, they’re Jose Miranda ’25, Melody Villar ’24, and Dominic Russo ’24. / Photo by Francis Tatem

Along with recognizing top student leaders, the awards program shines a spotlight on first-year students, new transfer students, and second-year students who are helping nurture a sense of community throughout the Saint Mary’s student body. Watch for more from these Gaels in the years to come.


Rising Star Award

This award is given to first-year and transfer students who have shown exceptional leadership and involvement during their first year at Saint Mary’s. 

  • Brooklyn Morales
  • Gabby Vine
  • Drew Paxman
  • Gaby Canedo
  • Samara Williams
  • Kiana Paredes
  • Jared Thomas
  • Madeline Hertle 
  • Johnathan Parent
Luminary Award

This award recognizes second-year students who have demonstrated leadership, involvement, and have been positive influences on their classmates and peers. 

  • Sarah Alhejazen
  • Riana Aquino
  • Aniyah Ashford
  • Christina Bragg
  • Rebecca Carranza
  • Grace Dowling
  • Colton Farrell
  • Molly Floberg
  • Victor Flores
  • Lea Glafkidees
  • Carolyn Huckel
  • Lillian La Salle
  • Oliver McLaughlin
  • Regina Molitoris
  • Alejandra Perez
  • Tim Phelps
  • John Rathbun
  • Haley Riedel
  • Amir Singh
  • Harsh Singh
  • Sonja Smeritschnig
  • Emily Rose-Taya
  • Kieran Tingin
  • Brandon Valerio
  • Zane Waterman
  • Paige Watson
Students at the Celebration Dinner
Celebrating student leaders in the Soda Center / Photo by Francis Tatem