Outstanding students, faculty and alumni recognized at Division of Diversity and Inclusion’s Celebration of Excellence

The event included a special thank you to RIT President Bill Destler and Rebecca Johnson

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Tomicka Wagstaff, left, the Division of Diversity and Inclusion’s senior director for academic access and success, presents Beacon Awards to RIT students Maria Smith, Brendan John and Rashik Sikder.

The Rochester Institute of Technology community gathered to celebrate some of the university’s greatest proponents of diversity and inclusion at A Celebration of Excellence on May 3.

The Division of Diversity & Inclusion hosted the inaugural award ceremony and presented Beacon Awards to three students—Maria Smith, Rashik Sikder and Brendan John—as well as a two-time alumnus, Orlando Ortiz.

Smith, a third-year student majoring in biotechnology and molecular bioscience from the Commonwealth of Dominica, is an active participant in programs including The Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), McNair Scholars and Multicultural Center for Academic Success (MCAS) Scholars. Smith is one of the founders and the current president of Afroblaze, RIT’s African dance club, and recently received first place in her research category in microbiology at the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) conference.

Fifth-year civil engineering student Rashik Sikder of Bangladesh was recognized in part for his involvement and advocacy with the Muslim Student Association (MSA), where he served as president of the club. Sikder also participates in the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), CSTEP and has also mentored incoming HEOP students. Following graudation in May, Sikder will take a fulltime position with the New York State Department of Transportation.

John, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computational mathematics and a Master of Science in computer science, recently earned a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship that will provide him funding to pursue a doctoral degree in computer science at the University of Florida. Raised in Salamanca, N.Y., on an Indian reservation affiliated with the Seneca Nation of Indians, John served as an executive officer with both the American Indian Science Engineering Society (AISES), Native American Student Association (NASA) and has also done research as a McNair and LSAMP Scholar. He also served as the student web programmer with the Seneca Language Revitalization Program (SLRP).

Ortiz is the first alumnus to receive a Beacon Award from the Division of Diversity & Inclusion. Born in Cayey, Puerto Rico, he earned his bachelor’s in manufacturing engineering technology in 2004 and MBA in 2008, both from RIT. Since graduating, he has remained active in the RIT community, serving on RIT’s Alumni Association Board of Directors since 2013 and currently holding the position of Chair for the RIT for Life committee. He holds the positions of alumni relations officer and adviser for Latino America Unida, Lambda Alpha Upsilon Fraternity Inc. He has also served on RIT’s Strategic Planning Committee and been a Rochester Chapter Volunteer and Reunion Volunteer. Professionally, Ortiz is supervisor of component manufacturing at The Gleason Works.

The evening concluded with a special thank you to RIT President Bill Destler and his spouse, Rebecca Johnson, titled “To Sir/Madam, With Love.” The tribute featured poetry, musical performances and remarks by members of student groups including the Rochester City Scholars program, Men of Color, Honor and Ambition (MOCHA) and Women of Color, Honor and Ambition (WOCHA).

Destler and Johnson were presented with ceremonial blankets by members of the Native American Future Stewards Program as well as a tree in the Unity Quad on RIT’s campus named in their honor. RIT Interim Vice President and Associate Provost for Diversity & Inclusion Keith Jenkins said the tree will “remind us all to have that same courage as you to demonstrate respect for diversity and inclusion, an unwavering commitment to challenge the status quo and devotion to creating a place where all feel welcome, heard and valued.”

When addressing the crowd, Destler remarked, “I am proud of you. You bring to RIT more than you can possibly imagine. You add not just diversity, you add hope. You add strength and commitment. And for that I want to say thank you, because RIT is such a better place because of your presence here and your contributions.”