The 2015 Student Life Awards winners included three student organizations and 21 student winners.

The 2015 Outstanding Student Life Awards winners included three student organizations and 21 student winners.


The annual Outstanding Student Life Awards, held on Thursday, April 2, unapologetically recognized the exceptional efforts of three student organizations and 21 student leaders. These individuals have demonstrated unwavering commitment and dedication toward enhancing life on campus and making FIU a better place for the university community. Their selflessness serves as a source of pride and inspiration to others.

The awards provide a unique platform to acknowledge outstanding FIU student leaders who have excelled academically and in the areas of distinguished service, citizenship, innovation, leadership, diversity advancement and promotion of the Panther spirit.

Created and sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs, there’s no other award ceremony that honors students from every academic year and college.

Without further adieu, here are the 2015 Outstanding Student Life Award winners:

Outstanding Service Award

Public relations and sociology major Francesca Bacarossi, who has been a dependable and consistent leader in the Honors College, the Global Living Learning Community, Alternative Breaks, and in her coursework. On her first trip to Nicaragua, she not only raised funds but she led her team to exceed their goal by more than $2,000.

Outstanding Service Organization

Relay For Life, made up of a group of talented, dedicated, unselfish students who are highly focused and well directed have given an estimated 3,500 hours of service to the community.

Shining Star Award

Jeffrey Gutierrez is described as “a genuine and dedicated student who is a great representation of FIU.” Gutierrez has served as chapter president of Beta Theta Pi fraternity, been a Dance Marathon Morale Captain, and Peer Mentor for the First Year Experience Course, and the 2014 Executive Director for Panther Camp. He took a big part in facilitating the first ever Transfer Panther Camp session and the inaugural Spring Panther Camp session.

Shining Star Student Organization Award

HEARTbeats A Cappella is new group raising notoriety and prestige for FIU. Notably, they were requested by the French Consulate to sing both the French and U.S. National Anthems, when seven World War II U.S. Veterans were declared Knights in the National Order of the Legion of Honor. This group has also recently competed nationally, marking the first time FIU has ever been represented at the International Collegiate College A Cappella competition – the real-life “Pitch Perfect.”

Sprit Award

Kamila Manzueta is the student responsible for the new A Cappella group on campus, the HEARTbeats, which stands for Honors Education in the ARTS. She is also a member of Phi Alpha Delta, Gamma Epsilon Phi, Catholic Panthers, and earned special recognition by Honor’s College Dean Northup by receiving the Citizenship Award at the Honor’s College Convocation this past fall.

Spirit Award, Organization

LEAD Team works with students to provide meaningful reflection and feedback through the university’s top leadership development program for students, the Academy of Leaders. Each year, they provide nearly 100 first year experience class presentations, facilitate eight tracks of the Academy of Leaders program, and provide more than 25 presentations for student and community groups. This past year, they were invited to participate in Miami-Dade County’s annual leadership summit for high school students, which lead to many of the high school students expressing an interest in student life in college.

Diversity Award

Master of science in higher education administration student Sonia Khatkhate works with the Women’s Center and as a volunteer with the LGBTQA Initiatives Events and Programs committee on campus. She has created her own FIU Student Leadership Summit presentation called, “How Does SHE Do it? Empowering Women in Leadership” during which she discussed with participants the many and complex issues faced by women and female-identified leaders such as pay equity, leadership disparity, power, decision making and self-efficacy.

Larry Lunsford, vice president for Student Affairs, served as the master of ceremonies for the Outstanding Student Life Awards.

Larry Lunsford, vice president for Student Affairs, served as the master of ceremonies for the Outstanding Student Life Awards.


Freshman Leadership Award

Melissa Cancio wasted no time in becoming a part of the FIU family. She has participated in Panther Camp, the Academy of Leaders, and became a member of the Alpha Xi Delta PanHellenic chapter on campus.

The second freshman recipient Ruby Rivera is involved in SGA at BBC as an intern, Panther Power, and completed the Academy of Leaders.

Sophomore Leadership Award

Broadcast media major Amanda Guerra is a Dean’s Citizenship Award recipient from the Honors College, Peer Mentor, Panther Camp Facilitator and recruitment co-chair.

The second sophomore recipient is hospitality management major Patricia Etienne, who is involved in the new Fostering Panther Pride program. She has focused much of her elective coursework and involvement learning about and working toward change of policies and procedures for improving the foster care system in Florida. In January, she was invited to speak on a panel discussion in San Diego to train caseworkers about the signs they should look for when deciding if a child has been properly placed in a foster home.

Junior Leadership Award

Business administration major Allhan Mejia has been described as selfless and someone who saw the need to improve student life on campus. He is the Speaker of the Senate for SGA, president of DECA, a Peer Coach for Project Panther Life, and a Peer Mentor for the First Year Experience Course.

The second recipient is Jazmin Felix, double majoring in dietetics and nutrition and sociology anthropology, who has also taken an active role in her commitment to the Student Government Association at the Biscayne Bay Campus. As president, she has advocated on behalf of what she believes FIU students deserve. She has instilled a sense of pride in the teams that she leads and helps facilitate dialogue and collaboration between Student Government and departments across campus.

The third junior recipient is double majoring in environmental studies and international relations. Maria Pulido-Velosa has dedicated her time to be a co-site leader for an Alternative Breaks trip to the Dominican Republic with her Wine to Water group. She helped raise $11,000 for the trip to help with water conservation efforts in that country. She is also the Speaker Pro Tempore and Arts & Sciences senator for Student Government, International Students Club president, a Peer Mentor for the First Year Experience Course, Panther Life peer coach and the secretary for the Wine to Water club.

Senior Leadership Award

Health service administration major Amanda McDole is described as being a catalyst for other students to grow on their leadership journey. She has had an impact on the Alternative Breaks program, re-establishing an alumni board, advising an AB Express trip to allow more student to experience AB, and creating infrastructure for lasting evolution of the program. She’s also been developing elements for the online Academy of Leaders program to allow students additional access to develop their leadership skills. In addition, Amanda is president of the Health Executive Student Organization, chairperson for FIU Wishmaker’s on campus, and a member of Alpha Omicron Pi and the LEAD Team.

Christopher Morisset is double majoring in hospitality and tourism management and biology. Christopher has been very active within student government and has helped make SGA-BBC and Campus Life more visible for students. He also serves as vice president of DECA, president of the Badminton club, and is past vice president and comptroller of Student Government.

As a senior art major Franchesca Anchelia’s work with the Student Organizations Council has greatly impacted the level of student involvement at BBC. Franchesca is always willing to share her ideas for the success and betterment of a team. While working for the International Student and Scholar Services, she’s also been a photographer for The Beacon. She held leadership roles in her Greek organization, Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, a site leader for Alternative Breaks, and vice president of the Student Organization Council. Additionally, she is a member of Tau Sigma, and was inducted to Omicron Delta Kappa leadership honor society.

Mary Corbin is a communication and political science major and she has had her share of leadership and volunteer roles on campus. One of her most meaningful involvements was with the Student Government Association, where she served as Chief of Staff and worked closely with university officials for campus-wide initiatives. It can be mentioned such as Cram Jam, Rally in Tally / FIU Day, and the first-ever University City Festival. Aside from her work in Student Government, she has also been the Programs Vice President for Alpha Xi Delta, a Dance Marathon Morale Captain, and Public Relations Coordinator for the Miss FIU Pageant.

Graduate Student Leadership Award

Medical student Anna Kuan-Celarier has organized lectures, programs, and workshops, and even created a program series on ethics and obstetrics. As the Logistics & Finance Director for the second annual Mammography Art Initiative, she worked with students, faculty, physicians, philanthropists, and members of the art community to raise awareness about the need for greater breast health education and services in Miami. She has also served on the executive boards of several groups, including the Obstetrics and Gynecology Interest Group, the Panther Learning Community, and the Non-Profit Global Health Interest Group.

Saman Sargolzaei is a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering and has continued to show his love for learning and helping others. Recently, at one of the Dean’s Town Hall meetings, after a student complained about their lack of knowledge in statistics, he offered to tutor her and others for free. The reason for this was because he has amassed a broad knowledge of Statistics working in CATE – the Center for Advanced Technology and Education. Saman is a member of the Graduate Student Advisory Board, a member of the Technology Fee Advisory Council, and a Graduate Senator for Student Government. Additionally vice-chair of the Graduate and Professional Student Committee, vice-chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Graduate Student Association. He serves on the academic misconduct committee and was also the president of the Iranian Student Association.

Scholar Award

Electrical engineering major Karina Quintana earned a spot on the Dean’s List every fall and spring semester. She was selected among 20 students in the nation to receive a travel grant sponsored by National Science Foundation and recently submitted two technical papers for publication in the 2015 IEEE International Symposium on Antennas and Propagation. In October 2014, she was sponsored by NASA Marshall Space Flight Center to attend the 2014 Great Minds in STEM Conference.

An electrical engineering doctoral student, Tarek Youssef teaches the high-level undergraduate Power Electronics course full time. He has nine conference papers and two journal articles published. Tarek has served twice as judge for the IEEE Future City competition in which the Miami Herald cited him as having a positive impact on the community.

Kaplan Prize

An anthropology major and an Honors College student, Rebecca Garcia volunteers as a note-taker for students with disabilities in any class where there is a need. She assists with FIU activities such as the Career Fair and takes time to help struggling peers improve their writing skills by assisting with paper editing. She plans on applying to Ph.D. programs in the field of Biblical Archaeology.

The second recipient is Danielle Robinson, a Political Science major. She became the ultimate game changer in the mock trial program. According to her nominator, she broke the monotonous status-quo of the organization by collaborating with the Law School’s Trial Advocacy Program Directors, as a member of the Trial Advocacy team. This action led the team to win twice at Nationals.

Presidential Award

Adnan Samma, senior economics and international relations major, took home the Presidential Award, for his academic and charitable accomplishments around the globe and in Miami.

Adnan Samma, senior economics and international relations major, took home the Presidential Award, for his academic and charitable accomplishments around the globe and in Miami. Adnan Samma is truly a Worlds Ahead student who is all about positive change through leadership. Born in India and raised in the East African nations of Burundi and Rwanda, his

Adnan Samma is truly a Worlds Ahead student who is all about positive change through leadership. Born in India and raised in the East African nations of Burundi and Rwanda, his family evaded the horrific Rwandan genocide. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he experienced multiple ethnicities and nationalities amongst poverty and war. He has volunteered with many organizations, including Alternate Energy Solutions and Operation Smile. Speaking seven languages, Adnan is a delegate with Model United Nations, served as President of the International Student Association, an International Student Ambassador. He serves as a leader of the Muslim Student Association, where he promoted inter-faith dialogue and a genuine commitment to bringing students of all faiths, denominations, ethnicities and backgrounds together. He interns at International Rescue Committee Miami where he works with Syrian and Congolese refugees. He also served as an executive intern for Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez and worked with a team that designed a water conversation plan for the Stephen P. Clark Government Center.


by Jamie Giller