International Studies & Programs


2024 Inspiration Awards

Recognizing Faculty and Students’ Achievements

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Published: Tuesday, 14 May 2024 Author: Edwin Serrano

Every year, GenCen presents a set of Inspiration Awards to recognize members of the MSU community. Awardees embody the values of feminist leadership by serving their communities while pursuing gender equity and social justice. All bring a unique and impactful passion to their work. This year, the Center for Gender in Global Context (GenCen) and Women*s Student Services presented four awards at GenCen’s annual reception on April 5, 2024.



Culture of Empowerment Award


Individuals nominated for the Culture of Empowerment award demonstrate a dedication to the advancement and empowerment of women in communities locally and globally through mentoring, programs, and other leadership opportunities. This year, the award was given to Dr. Tama Hamilton-Wray and Dr. Sitara Thobani for their work with the Sister Circle Mentoring Program.


Dr. Helen Veit, a member of GenCen’s advisory board, presented the award. She shared, “When Dean and Professor Glenn Chambers nominated this year’s winners, he highlighted their creation of the Sister Circle Mentoring program, a groundbreaking effort that provides support to address the particular challenges that young women of color face at predominantly white universities.” The awardees are dedicated to establishing a culture of empowerment, especially for women of color at MSU, in everything they do. Dr. Veit added, “The GenCen Advisory committee could not agree more, and we are honored to have the opportunity to honor [Drs. Hamilton-Wray and Thobani] with this award.”


Read more about Dr. Hamilton-Wray and Dr. Sitari.



Community Engagement Award


The Community Engagement award is presented to individuals who demonstrate a commitment to advancing equity in communities or organizations through service, volunteer work, mentoring, and leadership. This year, the award went to Dr. Leonora Souza Paula.


Dr. Paula is a co-leader at the Kilomba Collective of Black Brazilian Women in the US and a founding co-director of the Sister Circle Mentoring Program. Dr. Laurie Medina, who nominated Dr. Paula for the award, writes, “Leonora is an accomplished scholar of literary and cultural studies, who has published widely on the cultural production of Black Brazilian writers, artists, and activists as means to critique class, race, and gender inequities, imagine more than just and equitable futures, and recuperate Black historical memory. As a result, she has played key leadership roles in advocacy and mobilization to achieve justice for the communities to which she belongs across local, national, and even international scales.”


Read more about Dr. Paula.



Professional Achievement Award


The Professional Achievement award recognizes individuals who demonstrate a unique drive and passion in their career and positively influence the culture of MSU. This year, the award went to Dr. Jonathan Choti, an Assistant Professor of African Languages and Cultures.


Dr. Choti has been a mainstay of global cultural engagement, advocacy, education, and research in the MSU community for over a decade. He has rightly received numerous awards recognizing his interdisciplinary scholarship in African languages and linguistics, as well as numerous teaching awards for his transformative pedagogy and the global exposure he has brought to the MSU student community. Service and DEI work too often go unrecognized yet are fundamental to fostering a supportive and just community. Dr. Choti has launched multiple DEI initiatives, dedicated countless hours of service to staff and new faculty development, and championed racial justice and inclusion within the MSU community.


Read more about Dr. Jonathan Choti.



Student Leader Awards


Together with Women*s Student Services, GenCen presents the Student Leader Inspiration Awards to students who demonstrate a commitment to advancing equity and improving the lives of women and others impacted by gender-based oppression through community engagement, research, scholarship, leadership development, and student activism. This year, MSU students Nupur Huria and Maren Nicolaysen received this award.


Nupur Huria graduated in spring 2024 with dual majors in human biology and psychology. She is a passionate advocate for sexual health equity. As the lead advocate for Mission Menstruation X MSU, she drove the implementation of free menstrual product dispensers across campus. Her commitment to gender-based health equity extends beyond campus borders, spearheading multiple student-led initiatives. Taryn Gal, Huria’s nominator, writes, “Nupur demonstrates an exceptional commitment to advancing equity and improving the lives of those impacted by gender-based oppression. Not only does she identify challenges, but actively seeks solutions, demonstrating a proactive and innovative mindset.”


Maren Nicolaysen graduated in spring 2024 with majors in international relations and economics. As part of the MSU Women*s Council, HEAL, and the MSU CORES & COPS Coalition, she works with feminist and advocacy organizations in Wyoming, Michigan, and Washington DC to build communities committed to educating, advocating for, and supporting all women* and marginalized genders. Maren works to help her peers build leadership skills to advance their empowerment and to ensure that everyone can advocate for themselves as well as others. Dr. Genyne Royal, who nominated Nicolaysen, writes, “Maren has been tremendous in her ability to challenge university leadership on the behalf of the students she represents. All the while, she has done so with a beautiful spirit and a dedication to her academics that many students struggle to maintain.”



Congratulations to the six inspiring individuals who were honored at this year’s reception!