High school and college students honored at Penn State Berks MLK Jr. banquet

Penn State Berks MLK Jr Honorees.

Pictured are Berks MLK Jr Award Recipients (left to right) Hunter Beane, Juan Miguel Hingada, and Conor Birmingham. 

Credit: Penn State

WYOMISSING, Pa. — Penn State Berks honored two high school students, three college students, and a faculty and staff member during this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. awards banquet on Jan. 21. Awards were presented to those who have demonstrated the characteristics for which King was known: leadership, community involvement, and commitment to social justice. 

For the second consecutive year, local high, middle, and elementary school students were eligible to receive awards at the banquet. This year, Muhlenberg High School senior Sidney Walker and Owen J. Roberts High School junior Sam DeFusco were selected.

Sidney Walker, 18, is an active participant in Muhlenberg High School’s IMPACT Program, a national incentive program that rewards students for their academic achievements and positive behavior. He is also active in community service and gives orientations to incoming freshmen–all while excelling in academics and athletics. In fact, he was named second team all-county at both wide receiver and outside linebacker and awarded the Burt Moore Scholarship at Muhlenberg’s football banquet in December.

Sidney Walker

Sidney Walker was one of two high school students to receive an award at this years Martin Luther King Jr. banquet held at Penn State Berks.

Credit: Photo Courtesy of Reading Eagle/ Natalie Kolb

Meanwhile, Sam DeFusco has started and maintained several initiatives which serve the LGBTQA+ community, both inside and outside the walls of the Owen J. Roberts High School. He is an officer in the school’s Gay Straight Alliance. He also co-founded the school’s chapter of Amnesty International with a friend, as well as The Carolyn Foundation, which supports the American Cancer Society. DeFusco is also an excellent student, ranking in the top third of his class while taking honors and advanced placement courses. In addition to these achievements, he is also an intern with The Pottstown Mercury newspaper.

Sam DeFusco, right, getting his photo taken at the MKL Jr. banquet.

Sam DeFusco, right, was one of two high school students to receive an award at this years Martin Luther King Jr. banquet held at Penn State Berks. 

Credit: Penn State

Three Penn State Berks students were also honored with awards: juniors Juan Miguel Hingada and Hunter Beane, and sophomore Conor Birmingham.

Juan Miguel Hingada is a junior accounting major from Reading. He is a Penn State Schreyer Scholar who served as a First-Year Seminar teaching assistant and a mentor to honors composition students. In addition, he is an orientation leader and a Lion Ambassador on campus. As a high school student, he and his brother started a social entrepreneurship project with a “sell one, give one” model. They produced T-shirts and for every shirt they sold, they donated one to charity. In 2016, they donated 100 shirts to an orphanage in their native Philippines.

Hunter Beane, a junior studying early childhood and elementary education from Reading, is known for his willingness to take on any opportunity to serve the community. He has volunteered at 16th and Haak’s Family Health and Wellness Nights through the college’s education degree program and the Special Olympics through the Rehabilitation and Human Services Club. In addition, he coaches elementary school girls’ basketball at Conrad Weiser. He also serves as president of the college’s chapter of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and has increased community engagement among its members. 

Conor Birmingham, a sophomore journalism and public relations major from Birdsboro, has been an active member of the American Legion Post 626 for more than a decade. He has assisted with the annual Memorial Day parade, retired old American flags, and provided food and drink to veterans in retirement homes and supplies to homeless and disadvantaged veterans. Birmingham is the current president of the college’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter and a tutor for the Writing Center.

Berks students were asked to nominate a faculty and staff member for an award. Sadan Kulturel-Konak, professor of management information systems; director of the Flemming Creativity, Entrepreneurship, and Economic Development (CEED) Center; and coordinator of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ENTI) minor; will receive the faculty award while Aubrey Edwards, academic adviser, will receive the staff award.

Sadan Kulturel-Konak is concerned with the lack of female and minority representation within STEM fields and is a staunch advocate for social justice. She has been recognized for her work with Reading School District students enrolled in the Penn State Education Partnership Program (PEPP) and is committed to providing PEPP students with quality STEM-related programs and motivational experiences that will benefit them beyond their academic careers. Through her work with the entrepreneurship minor, she has offered workshops for PEPP students since 2010.

Aubrey Edwards is a co-adviser to Berks Benefiting THON, the student organization that raises money for THON, the largest student-run philanthropic event in the world which raises funds for childhood cancer. She is also co-chair for the Berks Commission for Women and a member of the Diversity Committee. In addition, she travels as an adviser with students participating in the college’s Alternative Spring Break program, which takes students to an area hit by natural or man-made disaster where they volunteer their efforts for a week.

This Penn State Berks Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Banquet was sponsored by the Penn State Berks Diversity Committee and supported by the Berks Campus Arts and Cultural Fund and the Student Activity Fee. For additional information, contact Sharon Pitterson-Ogaldez, coordinator of diversity and international programs, at 610-396-6080 or via email at [email protected].