High school, college students honored at MLK banquet

2020 MLK Jr. award winners
Credit: Photo Courtesy of Katie Quinn

WYOMISSING, Pa. — Penn State Berks honored one high school student, three college students, and a faculty and staff member during this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. awards banquet on Jan. 20. 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 third consecutive year, local high, middle, and elementary school students were eligible to receive awards at the banquet. This year, Exeter High School junior Karleigh Patton was selected. Patton is a dedicated and high achieving student. She is the fundraising chair for Exeter's Mini-THON organization, an ambassador for Pennsylvania’s Free Enterprise Week, and a Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership alumna. She has accrued more than 160 community service hours since starting high school. Currently she is collaborating with counselors at Exeter Junior High and Middle Schools to initiate a “Girls on the Run” program and a “Girl Talk” chapter at Exeter School District.

Three Penn State Berks students were also honored with awards: seniors Steven Filby, Serena Schade and James Watts.

Steven Filby, a senior kinesiology major from Boyertown, is president of the Student Government Association. He serves as the student representative on focus committee for the expansion and renovation of the college’s Beaver Community Center. In the community, Filby serves as the chairman of the Board of Auditors for Earl Township and volunteer general manager of the Historical Society of Earl Township. Previously, he served as a volunteer firefighter for the Earl Township Fire Company.

Serena Schade, a senior science major from Reading, is president of the Punjabi Culture Club and the Berks Pre-Health Club, a club for students interested in careers in health care. She is also community service chair of the Chinese Culture Club and an intercultural mentor. Schade has organized a “Turban Day” event on campus for the last two years and the “Strong Mind” campaign in collaboration with several clubs on campus. In the community, she volunteers at Blue Mountain Gurudwara (Sikh Temple).

James Watts, a senior electro-mechanical Engineering technology major from Pittsburgh, serves as a mentor to middle school students through the college’s FiERCE program, encouraging them to pursue careers in engineering. He has served as a peer mentor for the Aspiring Scholars Program and provided support to the college’s ESL program. Watts is also a member of Latinos United for Change student organization and is active in the club’s community activities

For the first time in the college’s history, the Diversity Champion Award was presented. This year’s recipient was R. Keith Hillkirk, chancellor of Penn State Berks. Hillkirk is a strong advocate for diversity at Penn State Berks. During his tenure, Penn State Berks has seen yearly increases in the number of students from underrepresented minority groups, as well as the number of international students.

Students were asked to nominate a faculty and staff member for an award. Donna Chambers, assistant teaching professor of Spanish professor and coordinator of Center for Academic Community Engagement (CACE), received the faculty award while Alexa Hodge, coordinator of student support services and the Aspiring Scholars Program, received the staff award.

Chambers is committed to promoting social justice on campus and in the community. This is obvious through her work with the college’s Center for Academic and Community Engagement. She not only teaches Spanish, but also coordinates events for Spanish speakers on campus, such as “Carlas con Chocolates” (chats with chocolates) and various diversity mixers. She coordinated the “Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges” program, a multicultural event that united Reading High School, Penn State Berks and several community organizations working for social justice.

Alexa Hodge encourages students in the Aspiring Scholars Program to seek out leadership opportunities on and off campus. As part of the program she takes multicultural students to the Student Leadership Development Institute in Harrisburg each fall and encourages them to apply for scholarships associated with the conference. She also encourages them to volunteer in the community. Last summer, she took the Aspiring Scholars students to Cornwall Terrace Elementary School where they painted the blacktop for the gym teacher and helped teachers prepare for their classes.

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].