Denishea Ortiz and Thomas Faga to receive 2024 Alfred Davis Awards

Their work on campus and in the community cited

Denishea Ortiz and Thomas Faga, recipients of the 2024 Alfred Davis Awards.

An executive director who leads a marketing team that supports RIT Housing RIT Dining and a Marine Corps veteran who is receiving his mechanical engineering technology degree next month have been chosen to receive prestigious public service awards from Rochester Institute of Technology.

Denishea Ortiz, executive director for marketing and communications for RIT’s Finance and Administration division, has been named the 2024 recipient of RIT’s Four Presidents Distinguished Public Service Award.

Thomas Faga, a mechanical engineering technology student and president of the RIT Veterans Club, was named this year’s recipient of the Bruce R. James ’64 Distinguished Service Award for his service at RIT and in the community.

They will be recognized at a ceremony at 4 p.m. April 11 in RIT’s University Gallery, followed by a reception at 5 p.m. The ceremony is free and open to all.

“I am in total shock,” Ortiz said of her receiving the award. “I’m super humbled and grateful that my nominators thought of me being deserving for this prestigious award. I just do what I do because it’s in my heart to do so.”

A native of Cincinnati, Ortiz was the first in her family to attend college and the first in her family to move away from home.

“There’s a lot of struggle being the first in my family to do a lot of things, and seeing my cousins in a different situation than I’m in,” she said. “My mother helped allow me to follow my dreams. Sometimes people need a helping hand from others. I want to be that light for others.”

Ortiz graduated from RIT in 2004 with a degree in international business from Saunders College of Business, and began working at RIT in 2014 as director of strategic marketing and retail product management.

At RIT, Ortiz now assists the Finance and Administration division with marketing support. Her duties include overseeing branding standards, drafting communications and creating marketing materials, analyzing web, social media, and point-of-sale statistics, and mentoring employees.

She has been involved in area organizations for decades, wanting to make a positive difference in the community. She has been an advocate for women, mentoring first-year interns, teaching financial literacy, hosting branding workshops, and participating in women panels on various topics.

Ortiz volunteers her time with several organizations including the Commission on Racial and Structural Equity, Causewave Community Partners, and the Rochester Area Community Foundation, where she is marketing chair and serves on the board.

She also serves as the RIT chapter adviser and board of trustee member to Sigma Lambda Upsilon/Señoritas Latinas Unidas Sorority. She founded the Rochester chapter when she was a student.

Ortiz works as a fitness instructor at the YMCA and has raised $20,000 since 2016 for the annual Stroll for Strong Kids in memory of her son, Gian. Ortiz and her husband, Orlando, have also donated more than 1,500 books, many by authors of color, to the Golisano Children’s Hospital and area elementary schools to promote diversity in literacy.

In addition, they find a school and age-appropriate grade that Gian may have attended and buy books and school supplies for students in three or four classes, with the help of Rochester Education Foundation. This year, students in Rochester’s School #9 are the benefactors, and Gian’s older brother, Esaias, 10, recently read a book to a class there.

The Davis Award comes with $2,500 which will be donated to charities of the recipient’s choice. Ortiz said it will be shared this year between Causewave Community Partners, the IBERO-American Action League, the Urban League of Rochester, and the Rochester Area Community Foundation.

Simeon Banister, president and CEO of the Rochester Area Community Foundation, said he feels “exceptionally fortunate to work with someone who brings such a wealth of professional expertise to their volunteer work, and Denishea is truly one of those rare gems.”

Faga, a native of Painted Post, N.Y., served in the Marine Corps from 2002 to 2015. He enrolled at RIT in 2021 and will graduate next month with a degree in mechanical engineering technology.

He served as president of the RIT Veterans Club, which was formed in 2011, and works in RIT’s Office of Veteran Student Success.

“I certainly don’t want to be the one highlighted, but hopefully this award can help bring opportunities to highlight some of the student veterans on campus and the issues and challenges veterans face,” he said.

While at RIT, Faga said he strived to get more recognition for student veterans on campus and have them become more included on campus. He would like to see student veterans be recognized as a Representative Student Organization, or to simply enable them to have priority registration for classes, which is useful because many of them have families and often young children to supervise or arrange for daycare.

One of the highlights of the Veterans Club was the holiday Toys for Tots drive. “We needed a box truck this year to gather all the toys,” he said. The club, along with local ROTC cadets, also volunteered to participate in Wreaths Across America, putting donated wreaths on service members’ graves in Webster Union Cemetery in December.

Veterans Club members and ROTC cadets, about 40 people in all, also helped clean the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on South Avenue. “It was a great feeling to bring that many people with us,” he said.

Along with his award comes $1,000 to designate to charities of his choice. The money will be split between the Sunny Mike Foundation, which helps local veterans, and the local Marine Corps Coordinating Council of Rochester, which manages the annual Toys for Tots drive, offers scholarships to U.S. Marine Corps and Naval reservists, and more.

“It has been great being able to connect with other veterans on campus and try to advocate for each other and help other service members come together,” he said. “I appreciate the opportunity to put student veterans in the limelight.”

After graduation, Faga, his wife, Tracie, and their sons, Dominic, 9, and Luca, 4, plan to move to North Carolina, where he was stationed for 10 years.

About the awards:

The Four Presidents Distinguished Public Service Award Fund was created by Alfred L. Davis on the occasion of the 65th year of his association with RIT, to commemorate the dedication of the four RIT presidents - Mark Ellingson, Paul Miller, M. Richard Rose, and Albert Simone - with whom he worked, in their service to the Rochester community. The award also recognizes a current member of the faculty or staff who, through his/her public service, mirrors the lives of the four presidents, who have been not only outstanding professionals but also caring members of the community.

The Bruce R. James ’64 Distinguished Public Service Award commemorates the public service of Bruce James, chairman emeritus of the RIT Board of Trustees recognizes an RIT student for exemplary public service in the community with hopes other students will engage in public service.

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