Student award recipients announced

Each year, the School of Information Sciences recognizes a group of outstanding students for their achievement in academics as well as a number of attributes that contribute to professional success. For more information about each award, including past recipients, visit the Student Awards page. Congratulations to this year's honorees!

Award recipients iChristina Souvannala, Donlapun (Dorothy) Wongkartna, Toby George, Melissa Sharafinski, Kennedy Pasley, Sarah Riddle, Lixcy Vega, Rachel Nelson, Mary Schiavone, Marycruz Flores Reynoso, Sam Ehlinger, Christina Sweeney, Philo (Jiaqi) Wang, and Yuefan Zhou.
Christina Souvannala, Donlapun (Dorothy) Wongkartna, Toby George, Melissa Sharafinski, Kennedy Pasley, Sarah Riddle, Lixcy Vega, Rachel Nelson, Mary Schiavone, Marycruz Flores Reynoso, Sam Ehlinger, Christina Sweeney, Philo (Jiaqi) Wang, and Yuefan Zhou.

Bryce Allen Award for Reference Services

Presented to Christina Souvannala

Christina Souvannala is dedicated to providing quality service to all patrons, regardless of their age, the type of question, or the level of study. Her philosophy revolves around the importance of treating patrons kindly, making them feel welcome and valued in the library space, and providing thorough, thoughtful, and nonjudgmental service for all. She supports innovation in reference services to increase convenience and accessibility and is eager to explore alternative options.

Entrepreneurial Promise Award

Presented to Shriya Srikanth

Shriya Srikanth exemplifies the values and accomplishments associated with the Entrepreneurial Promise Award. As a BSIS student, she founded a startup, PrivyTrack, to protect privacy and data autonomy in women's health self-tracking. She raised support with the help of the iVenture Startup Accelerator in 2023, and in 2024, pitched her company through a small business incubator to raise further funding.

Anne M. Boyd Award/Beta Phi Mu

Presented to Christina Sweeney

Christina Sweeney is organized, punctual, and polite, and she loves librarianship. Since joining the Help Desk as a graduate assistant in fall 2022, Christina has become a clear leader among her peers. She is full of ideas and provides supportive feedback to her fellow students, helps them celebrate their strengths, and truly demonstrates that she cares deeply for others. Christina's academic work is consistently excellent, and she elevates class conversations with thoughtful contributions and questions designed to encourage discussion. She volunteers at The Urbana Free Library, serving as a Teen Open Lab volunteer and, as part of her practicum experience, working with the Adult and Teen Services desks. 

Edith Harris Camp Award

Presented to Jen Dentel

Jen Dentel embodies the spirit of this award through her work as an international student advisor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and as community outreach and strategic partnerships manager at the Gerber/Hart Library and Archives. Her creativity shines through in each class engagement, and she interacts generously and brilliantly with her colleagues, particularly around topics such as neutrality, accessibility, vocational awe, and what it means to create and support reparative archives. Her coursework includes the creation of many zines that support her learning journey and share the stories of the LIS community. She is a rare individual with a deep ethical commitment to serve as a passionate advocate for justice and equity.

Jane B. and Robert B. Downs Professional Promise Award

Presented to Marycruz Flores Reynoso

Marycruz Flores Reynoso worked as the graduate assistant for the Research on Diversity in Youth Literature (RDYL) journal, the only open-access journal focused on diversity in youth literature. She was the first person in this position and instrumental in creating a solid foundation for RDYL's operations. As a result, she significantly contributed to librarianship, youth literature, and publishing. Additionally, as a student, Marycruz always exceeded expectations on her assignments. Her work for both RDYL and as a student shows great professional promise.

Faculty Special Award of Merit

Presented to Rachel Nelson and Philo (Jiaqi) Wang

While working for the Help Desk, Rachel Nelson used her impressive organization and planning skills to assist with complicated scheduling tasks that allowed the full-time staff to focus on their ongoing work. As a student, she employed her love of anthropology by discovering a passion for museum and archives work. She learned about collection management and found a practicum at a museum, where she helped improve the accessibility of accession collections. 

Philo (Jiaqi) Wang is a creative and passionate student. She has embraced the wide spectrum of iSchool scholarly excellence, from storytelling, librarianship, and game studies to data sciences. Her research projects include developing educational games and multiagent games to improve information literacy and understand group information behavior. An addition to her scholarship, Philo engaged in activities in community libraries and museums to promote playful information services. She positively influenced her iSchool peers, collaborating on projects with other students, and she offered a perspective and openness to see the potential for information to enrich diverse populations.

Herbert Goldhor Award for Public Librarianship

Presented to Sam Ehlinger and Melissa Sharafinski

Sam Ehlinger brings a passion for meaningful and innovative service and a spirit of inquiry to her pursuit of public librarianship. She is interested in challenging traditional service with innovative approaches. In both her classes and her apprenticeship at the Urbana Free Library, she developed relevant and responsive programs, services, and collections. She has ideas about personalizing the public library experience so that patrons can better understand how the library is relevant to them. Sam is eager to reach out and connect with community members and to help them see the library as a community center.

Melissa Sharafinski is caring and compassionate with an eye for detail and a passion for helping others. As a graduate assistant at the Help Desk, she was always ready to help with technology issues. She encouraged her peers to contact the Help Desk for assistance, and her clear and concise responses conveyed warmth and put others at ease. Melissa actively strives to connect with iSchool alumni, not just so she can learn about job opportunities, but also with the intention of building a network that she can call upon to answer questions, generate creative solutions, and solve problems. She is eager to begin her new position as a collections manager at the Aurora Public Library. The diversity of Aurora, Illinois, was attracted Melissa, who is eager to employ her Spanish skills to serve patrons and ensure that the library's collections meet their needs.

Peggy Harris Award

Presented to Kennedy Pasley

Kennedy Pasley has been an integral part of the Help Desk team since joining in fall 2022. She served as the Help Desk's social coordinator, engaging the team in activities such as ice skating, attending Illinois football games, and enjoying an escape room. Kennedy also encouraged engagement with the Help Desk through her work as the social media chair. She created funny, positive posts that encouraged her peers across degree programs and modalities to connect with the Help Desk. She has been active in the Progressive Librarians Guild and the ALA student chapter. Kennedy loves to explore new technologies and consider how they can be used to improve library services. She also is committed to accessibility for people with disabilities. She ensures that her own work is accessible, raises questions about accessibility in class, and shares practical strategies with her classmates.

Health Sciences Information Management Award

Presented to Laurel Darling

Laurel Darling constantly shows initiative, curiosity, dedication, and excellence in her work. She is highly committed to building a career as a medical librarian. She served as a graduate assistant at Grainger Engineering Library Information Center and also maintained services and outreach for the Carle Institute College of Medicine. Laurel taught an Introduction to PubMed and an Introduction to Systematic Reviews and Other Types of Reviews as part of the Savvy Research workshop series. Her Introduction to PubMed class was transformed into a module for courses to embed into the Canvas learning management system. It also was recognized as a model for the creation of future Savvy Researcher-affiliated Canvas pages. Laurel was asked to lead the design of a Canvas module on Systematic Reviews and Evidence-Based Synthesis. She gathered stakeholder input and developed a pilot module. She is a most promising early career librarian and a rising star in medical librarianship. 

Kathryn Luther and William T Henderson Award

Presented to Mary Schiavone

During her time at the iSchool, Mary Schiavone demonstrated the ethos of serving of others in numerous ways. An excellent student, Mary completed assignments that were exemplary in both their content and professional appearance, and she graciously allowed an instructor to use her teaching demonstration from an instruction course as an example for other students. As an office support specialist for Student Affairs, she planned orientations, student success workshops, and social events that welcomed students into the iSchool and created a supportive learning community. Her welcoming approach extended to her practicum with the University Library, where she understood the role of libraries in creating community fostering inclusivity. Her energy and warmth are infectious, and she will continue to make a positive impact on students. 

Information Systems/Technologies Award

Presented to Donlapun (Dorothy) Wongkarnta

Donlapun (Dorothy) Wongkarnta was instrumental in research that is vital to an information and data curation problem: how to correct character errors that arise in the optical character recognition (OCR) process. Dorothy took the lead on building and optimizing a post-correction model and conducted a careful analysis of errors present in the model's outputs. To complete this work, she had to learn machine-learning techniques in Python, natural-language processing concepts, and how to implement solutions on the HAL computer cluster. Dorothy presented her work several times and engaged her audience in this research. Her impressive progress on this project will be foundational to upcoming publications. 

Frances B. Jenkins Award

Presented to Jess Rogovin

Jess Rogovin came to the iSchool with a diverse set of interests, not only in art history and public policy in infrastructure but also in neuroscience and math. In a data science topics course, they built a vivid visualization of one author's research impact and, for the final project, analyzed COVID-19 misinformation research. During an independent study, they contributed to a professor's literature review on empirical retraction. They also served as a graduate assistant for Illinois Experts, the university's research information management system. Jess possesses a rare set of skills: acumen with both programming and technical tools, excellent writing skills, the ability to dive deep into diverse areas of research, and depth in data visualization and analysis.

iSchool Alumni Association Student Award

Presented to Trinity LaPier 

Trinity LaPier "caught the spirit" of librarianship as a college senior. She was having second thoughts about a teaching career and arranged an internship in her college library to see if librarianship might be a better fit. Trinity moved to an Air Force base in South Korea partway through her iSchool degree and successfully adapted to the challenges of navigating a new culture, attending classes with a 14-hour time difference and pursuing professional experiences that she could complete virtually. Her practicum required significant independent work due to the time difference. She recently co-presented at a conference with her practicum supervisor, who noted that she wrote the proposal, created most of the slide deck, and led the presentation. A McNair scholar, Trinity has paid it forward by working with her alma mater's McNair Scholars program to help other first-generation students achieve their goal of attending graduate school. 

Alice Lohrer Award for Literature and Library Services for Youth

Presented to Cassidy Russell and Julia Burns Petrella

Cassidy Russell possesses intellectual curiosity and a desire to understand the history of children's literature and youth services. Her infectious excitement about her learning and how it shapes and reshapes her thinking make her a delightful student and colleague.

Julia Petrella possesses an impressive depth of knowledge in youth services and school librarianship, outstanding research and teaching skills, and professional experiences in these areas. Her dissertation, Educating Pre-Service School Librarians about Race, Racism, and Whiteness, provides valuable insights into critical race issues in school librarianship programs. She has made invaluable contributions to the iSchool as a research, teaching, and graduate assistant, supporting students in the area of youth services and significantly enriching the learning environment.

Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award

Presented to Eugene Gurevich and Toby George

Eugene Gurevich took IS 419 Entrepreneurial IT Design in fall 2023. He was an outstanding student, intellectually curious, and a joy to teach. He actively engaged with the readings and discussed them in class, linking them to his studies and work experiences. His work throughout the semester embraced both careful analysis and creative design and involved rapid prototyping and multiple iterations of his final project. Through his hard work, Eugene exemplifies the hope for all iSchool students: an ability to look at real-world problems from multiple perspectives, to investigate the nature of interlinked issues, and to work effectively in multidisciplinary teams to creatively design solutions that can help make the world a better place.

Toby George chose the BSIS major because he saw the degree as a more rigorous path toward law school. His social justice focus has revolved around the effect of colonialism on South Asian immigrants in the United States. During his independent study, he combined a literary history of the subjugation of peoples of the Indian subcontinent with the computational methods of cliodynamics. The following semester, he expanded this work by critiquing the legal frameworks that lead to inequitable options for South Asian immigrants. He has been involved in several other internships and projects related to immigration resources, advocacy for better laws in state government, art therapy, and legal issues regarding reproductive healthcare law in Illinois and bordering states.

Hazel C. Rediger Award

Presented to Sarah Riddle

Sarah Riddle is an exemplary writer and creative thinker. When enrolled in History of Children's Literature, she demonstrated creative analysis and strong communication skills that contributed to collective learning. She produced high-quality research and writing for a collaborative online exhibit of miniature books, and her presentation on adaptations of The Wizard of Earthea was the best researched of the semester. Sarah also served as a teaching assistant for the required course IS 505. Through her job at Arlington Public Library, she has designed programs and community outreach, including those for young patrons. She is passionate about defending young people's access to materials and hopes to contribute to making libraries a freer place for youth.

Joseph Rediger Librarian as Humanist Award

Presented to Lixcy Vega

Lixcy Vega has the determination to improve the mental health literacy and wellbeing of Hispanic and Latino youths. This population is most vulnerable to mental health conditions due to the lack of access to health care service, stigmatization, and low public awareness of mental health. She has volunteered as a tutor and lecturer in camps and schools to advocate for STEM education for Hispanic and Latino youths. During her graduate study, she was an active participant in Hispanic/Latino student groups and led a study to design a Minecraft Game that improves mental health literacy for diverse youths. This award is an invaluable recognition for her, not only for what she has been doing as an advocate of humanists, but also as encouragement to continue her efforts in this important endeavor. 

Selma K. Richardson Award in Children's Literature

Presented to Becky Sorice 

Becky Sorice attended the iSchool while also working in the children's department of a public library, where she is responsible for reader's advisory and programming. A highly engaged student, she approached class discussions and assignments with enthusiasm, curiosity, and an obvious passion for public and youth librarianship. Her work in class and in her library was patron-centered, creative, and fun, while also highly educational. For example, she used a course assignment to design a program based on the children's book series Who Would Win, which pits animals against each other in mock battles based on characteristics like size, environmental adaptations, and natural defenses. Finally, Becky loves to laugh, which brought a lightheartedness and keen eye for humor to every class session.

Social Justice Award

Presented to Easton Brundage

Easton Brundage's commitment to social justice was apparent in all aspects of his work. In addition to selecting social justice topics for course assignments, he consistently advocated for library workers to attend to the needs of neurodiverse users. He raised issues as varied as serving first-generation students, disability and accessibility considerations, and services for LGBTQIA patrons. Easton was a role model for other students to keep values of equity and inclusion at the forefront of our work as librarians. He developed and taught the workshop Study Skills for Neurodiverse Students at the University Library; he created an accompanying zine with the same name and has a forthcoming chapter in the book Autistic Academic Librarians. It will be exciting to see what he does in his career, both in his own work and in leading others. 

Yingbo Zhou Memorial Fund Award

Presented to Yuefan Zhou 

Yuefan Zhou is an excellent student who completed her master's program with high quality. Her favorite class, Data Visualization, has inspired her career pathway to continue in this direction. She loves reading, writing, and dancing, which keeps her happy and motivated. She worked with Professor Jessie Chin and Research Affiliate Lian Ruan on an IMLS grant project, Libraries as Partners for Emergency Preparedness and Response in Times of Crisis. To her, the project was a powerful reminder of how librarians' efforts can help others, especially by strengthening their community.

Louise C. Meckstroth Award

Presented to Hannah Fiedler

Hannah Fiedler exemplifies the qualities and characteristics of an amazing school librarian. Her thoughtful questions, willingness to reflect and adjust, and collaborative spirit impressed librarians during her field placements. These qualities allowed her to hone her skills in curating resources and creating lessons that focused on student needs, while meeting learning goals and state standards for quality instruction. Hannah's respectful and kind nature helped to center the school library as a safe place and create a positive learning environment. She immerses herself in a school's culture and continually seeks to improve her practice. Her abilities will only improve as she creates her place in her future school library.

Berner-Nash Award

Presented to Courtney Richardson

In Courtney Richardson's creative and provocative dissertation, "Art as Information: Re-reading Quicksand," she "re-presents and re-imagines" Nella Larsen's fictional and autobiographical treatise as a living artwork in order to "examine and uplift cultural knowledges that are historically silenced, untold, or told too simply" Through counterstorytelling, Courtney invites inquiry and knowledge production on Black womanhood in intimate and shared spaces, while offering new interpretations and insights through the creation of artworks in various formats. Richardson explains that her "positioning of art as information as a subfield of information sciences originates" from Tonyia Tidline's dissertation, Making Sense of Art as Information, which also won the Berner-Nash award twenty years ago. 

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