‘Beacons of Change’ at the U

The 2021 recipients of the University of Utah Beacons of Excellence Awards were honored at a virtual awards celebration on Thursday, Oct. 28, celebrating their unique contributions to positive change on campus.

The University of Utah’s Beacons of Excellence Awards was introduced in 2012 through a partnership between the Office of Undergraduate Education and the Division of Student Affairs. As part of the University’s campaign to transform the undergraduate experience, the goal of the award is to recognize and celebrate the outstanding people, programs or projects who have helped make the University a Beacon of Excellence through their commitment to providing an exceptional student education.

“This is really a chance for us to focus on and applaud those who work hard every day to make the university a better place to live and learn,” said Bryan Hubain, associate vice president of Student Development and Inclusion. “By recognizing change we want to see, we set a roadmap for our future progress and show our commitment to innovation and creating positive experiences for students.”

The 2021 theme “Beacons of Change" celebrated individuals and programs disrupting the status quo while creating positive change. Outstanding nominations were submitted from across campus, each worthy of the award. A selection committee of faculty, staff and administration led by Senior Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Thomas Chase Hagood and Vice President for Student Affairs Lori McDonald recommended six recipients in 2021 for service inspiring and advancing change by raising awareness around marginalized students, creating institutional change and/or advancing racial justice across campus.

Jennifer Follstad Shah isn’t afraid to change things up to achieve positive outcomes. When a student of hers was concerned that the assigned textbook wasn’t sensitive enough to the power dynamics of race, she rearranged her class schedule to discuss the issue in-depth and take input from alternative texts. It's just one example of how she continually empowers students and boldly leads out as a Beacon of Change.
 
Along with being a truly dynamic and groundbreaking leader, Meligha Garfield is an agent of transformational change. As the inaugural director of the U’s Black Cultural Center, he has been tireless in shaping our campus into a more welcoming place for everyone, especially students of color. His contribution cannot be measured, but it is significant and sustained. In short, Garfield embodies what it means to be a Beacon of Change.
 
Tramaine Jones is committed to providing all students access to high-quality education and drew on the incredibly strong relationships he’s built to design and launch the Student Advocate Program, which engages staff in important discussions about racial justice and antiracism so they can best support students of color. With his motivating words and inspiring actions, he’s showing the way as a Beacon of Change.
 
International Health Scholars, a student organization, is making an outsized impact on a truly worldwide scale. It’s a student-led organization that educates and empowers future global health professionals by teaching them the nuances of mission-type work: How to adapt to a community-centered model and how to work ethically in this field. These are just a few of the ways they’re shining brightly as Beacons of Change.
 
The Justice Lab in the S.J. Quinney College of Law is a new clinical course where law students solve real legal problems for organizational clients—and strive to change the legal system for good. In its inaugural year, students helped vulnerable groups, such as the homeless, gain greater access to government ID’s and drafted the first-ever comprehensive report on Utah’s eviction and housing laws. Just what you’d expect from a Beacon of Change.
 
If you’re looking for a committed group advancing lasting change, look no further than the Psychology Department Diversity Committee. It’s made up of students who feel passionately about creating equitable opportunities for marginalized groups and diversifying educational experiences in the psychology department. In ways big and small, they’re a standout Beacon of Change.