About 100 University of Michigan students, faculty and staff celebrated the fifth annual Michigan Difference Student Leadership Awards Thursday night at the Michigan Union’s Rogel Ballroom.
Hosted by the University’s division of Student Life, the event recognized individual students as well as student organizations that have made a positive difference on campus and in surrounding communities. Nominees were selected from a pool of online applications submitted both by prospective nominees and recommendations from students.
Steve Bodei, assistant director of student development and experiential learning, said earlier iterations of the awards ceremony have been more academically-oriented, which attendees found discouraging.
“Originally, the award ceremony was drier, academic … it was during (the) day and no one really came,” Bodei said. “We really tried to spice it up and put a lot of life into it.”
He said the event committee within Student Life remodeled the event to recognize students across campus and disciplines they believe are doing remarkable work.
Awards in multiple categories were given out this year, including Cross Cultural Programming, Excellence in Philanthropy and Outstanding Market Material. Though many individuals and groups won multiple awards, Men’s and Women’s Club Ultimate Frisbee raked in the most with three: Female Athlete of the Year, Male Athlete of the Year and Club Sport of the Year.
LSA senior Braden Engstrom, presenter for the Club Sports Award, said the event was a great opportunity for club teams to celebrate their progress over the semester.
“It’s really great that we get to showcase club sports with the rest of the Michigan community,” he said.
Some candidates were anonymously submitted and surprised by their invitations to attend. Dental senior Hunter Beaubien said she attended alone because she did not know who nominated her.
Other organizations and individuals were more heavily represented at the event. Sophomore of the Year Award recipient Darian Razdar and Fraternity or Sorority of the Year Award recipient Lambda Theta Alpha were greeted by noticeably huge applause as they went up on stage, showcasing crowd support.
The last award given out was the World Leaders Awar, to Rama Mwenesi, a graduate student in the College of Engineering and School of Public Health. Mwenesi co-founded Kiamani MVMT, a social enterprise that aims to empower Kenyan women and children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. He also won the Graduate Student of the Year Award for his work as a Health Care Management Engineering Consultant in the hospital. For Mwenesi, this year marked his third World Leaders Award.
“To do it once, you’re really humbled. To do it twice, you’re inspired to really believe in yourself and your team and those around you and the idea to actually affect and impact change,” Mwenesi said. “But to win it a third time is … there’s just no words for it.”
Mwenesi said he hoped students will learn from his example and employ sincerity, commitment and passion to affect change.
E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, said Mwenesi’s enthusiasm was exactly the kind she was eager to see.
“It’s just really affirming others acknowledging the work (the students) are doing,” Harper said. “To me, it’s one of the reasons why the University is really such a special place. And the contributions that students make here, they take it and go out and change the world. I really like that.”
Business senior Jennifer Liu said she appreciated how the ceremony gave recognition to small and quiet groups that contribute greatly to society.
“Group are represented from North Campus, South Campus, Central Campus, and it’s really bringing the entire community together to celebrate student accomplishments,” she said.