Five Pritzker Students Win University-Wide Student Leader Awards

Congratulations to Chris Mattson, MS4, Sean Gaffney, MS4, Elizabeth Donnelly, MS4, Shirlene Obuobi, MS3, and Zaina Zayyad, MSTP, who were all honored with University of Chicago Student Leader Awards this spring!

These annual awards are given out by the Center for Leadership and Involvement, recognizing students across schools and divisions for their contributions to campus life and the surrounding community. Out of the 10 total awards given for accomplishments in areas like campus life and leadership or volunteer service, medical students are eligible for six; other Pritzker students who have won these awards include Aamir Hussain, MS3, Alan Hutchison, MSTP, Phillip Hsu, MSTP, Victoria Wang, MS3, and Kunmi Sobowale, MD’15.

Chris won the Campus Life and Leadership Award, given to 6-8 students who have demonstrated leadership and subsequently improved the quality of life on campus by creating a positive campus environment, enhancing the quality of student life, and working to maintain continuity of leadership. In his four years at Pritzker, Chris has served as an Orientation Co-Chair, a Revisit Weekend 2016 Committee Member, a volunteer for the Introduction to the Clinical Biennium, and a Pritzker Chief. Chris is not only willing but excited to mentor students in lower classes, and he derives satisfaction from helping others acclimate to challenging situations. He has the ability to seamlessly navigate between the formal, didactic, structured aspects of leadership, and the social or wellness-based aspects of leadership—like his co-development of what may have been Pritzker’s first-ever dress code policy: Hawaiian Shirt Fridays. We are glad the campus is recognizing his skills with this award.

Sean is a recipient of this year’s Humanitarian Award, presented to students who have lived a life of honesty, integrity, and responsibility, with a demonstrated commitment to the welfare of the greater community. When he decided to enter a post-baccalaureate premedical program in 2011, he found that a career in medicine would merge his interests both in education and in advocacy and compassion for those underserved by the healthcare industry. What makes Sean exceptional in this pursuit is that humanitarianism, to him, is not optional. It is not something he practices on weekends for a few hours or during a volunteer shift with his classmates. It is woven into his motivations for being a doctor; his interactions with community members; his lifestyle. As such, he has received the Co-Medical Student Volunteer of the Year award from CommunityHealth Clinic (CHC), the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award, the Pritzker Advocacy and Equity Award, and now this. He fully embodies humanitarianism and lives every day intentionally working to elevate those around him.

Elizabeth won a President's Volunteer Service Award, which recognizes two students who have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to voluntary service in the greater community during the past academic year. Elizabeth came to Pritzker with an already robust background in service: from 2011-2013, while working as a consultant for a medical record consultancy, Elizabeth was a clinical volunteer at CommunityHealth Clinic in Chicago, Illinois’ largest free clinic serving uninsured patients. Her experiences at CHC, triaging patients, taking vital signs, recording patient histories, and assisting with administrative work, influenced her to pursue medicine as a career path. Since matriculating here, Elizabeth has continued to volunteer at CHC, eventually sharing the Co-Medical Student Volunteer of the Year Award with Sean. In addition, she has volunteered with Reach Out and Read (ROR), and was part of a group of students who helped establish our local ROR chapter.

Shirlene won one of this year’s RISE Up Award, for students who demonstrated the principles of RISE: Reflect, Intervene, Speak, and Engage. Following national news reporting on police brutality incidents in 2014 and 2015, Shirlene opened up her personal apartment for “Real Talks”. Open to her entire class, these monthly Real Talks were, formal, albeit extracurricular, ways for classmates to gather in a safe space and engage in open conversation about issues of race and identity. Shirlene instituted ground rules about interruption, taking turns, and approved topics, and she declined help from administrators or deans so it could truly be a comfortable space for students to open up without feeling like it would impact their educational experience. Her work in this realm shows her deep and sustained commitment to increasing diversity on campus and committing to the sometimes challenging work of inclusive discourse.

Zaina is this year’s recipient of the Jane Morton and Henry C. Murphy Award, which recognizes three non-graduating students who “have made exceptional and unique contributions to the University community.” As Past Chair of the Dean’s Council, Zaina was responsible for feeling the pulse of student life here at Pritzker. In late 2015, multiple news stories had been building about police violence towards unarmed citizens, including people in our own city like Laquan McDonald. Zaina deliberately and thoughtfully led discussions at Dean’s Council about these topics, and had informal conversations with many of her classmates about next steps. In late November 2015, she wrote an email to our Dean for Medical Education with her ideas and the results of her information-gathering efforts. She reported that an official effort and response from our administration would be the best start in this effort, and she gave us a few starting points that she felt our students would appreciate. In addition, she itemized a list of topics that her classmates felt should be addressed. The information from this email ultimately inspired the Pritzker administration to work with Zaina and her Dean’s Council classmates to launch the Identity and Inclusion (I2I) Initiative. Zaina faced a challenging situation head-on, brought it to light in a thoughtful and considerate way, and worked with both students and administrators to create assessments and programming that would help us engage in continued, meaningful discussions about identity and inclusion.

Congratulations to Chris, Sean, Elizabeth, Shirlene, and Zaina, who are very deserving of their recognition as Student Leaders at the University of Chicago!