Fairfield University honors several of its own for their commitment to the legacy and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Fairfield University's 2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. Vision Award winners: (L-R), Jasmine Fernandez '12, Debnam Chappell, Ph.D., and Melissa Quan. Fairfield University awarded the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Vision Award to three inspiring individuals whose work exemplifies the legacy of the civil rights leader. This year's recipients were Debnam Chappell, Ph.D., the recently retired dean of exploratory academic advising at Fairfield and a tireless member of the University's Dr. King Celebration Committee; Melissa Quan, associate director of the Center for Faith and Public Life, who is at the heart of the University's service learning initiative; and Jasmine Fernandez '12, a College of Arts and Sciences student passionate about social justice causes, both locally and globally. They were honored on January 26 at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Vision Awards Dinner, part of a series of events that aimed to inspire people with the words, writings, and actions of Dr. King.

A resident of Norwalk, Conn., Dr. Chappell, who until December was an assistant professor of English, is a widely respected administrator who has been a steady presence in the lives of students. In her varied capacities at Fairfield over the years, she has been an advocate for students and an ardent supporter of educational access and success, working to ensure students' personal growth, helping them define their academic and co-curricular interests, and fostering strong academic performance. She has sought to carry on Dr. King's legacy at Fairfield - not only through her service to the celebration committee (on which she's served 15 years) but also through her other work on campus. While dean of freshman, she created the Freshman Convocation, which involved students reading conscious-raising books written by a diversity of authors that Dr. Chappell brought to campus. "These books gave first year students a wonderful, important introduction to what the Jesuit ideal of educating the whole person is really about," said Ellen Umansky, Ph.D., director of the Bennett Center for Judaic Studies and co-chair of the Dr. King Celebration Committee.

Herman Boone with Fr. von Arx.

A resident of Shelton, Conn., Quan's name is synonymous with community outreach. Quan's work at the Center for Faith and Public Life entails supporting its array of programs that have such far-reaching objectives as helping immigrants nationwide. As director of the Office for Service Learning, Quan leads and supports the institutionalization of community-engaged teaching and research. She also has been instrumental in the Connecticut Campus Compact, which integrates community service into the academic and co-curricular cultures of its member campuses. To many community agencies and groups in Bridgeport, Quan is the connecting link to Fairfield University, according to Mary Frances Malone, Ph.D., associate academic vice president of academic affairs. "Melissa through her work and her life exemplifies what it means to be a woman for others," Dr. Malone said. "Her keen intellect, her passion for community engagement and her willingness to assist any student or faculty to become involved with the wider community are some of the reasons Melissa is so deserving of this award."

A native of Brooklyn, New York, Politics major Fernandez is a big believer that the arts can heal the human soul. After directing the stage play "For Colored Girls who Considered Suicide" on campus, Fernandez founded Performing for Change (PFC), a group that performs to address social issues. A member of Kairos, she has participated in such stirring, social justice events as "Take Back the Night" and the "Tunnel of Oppression." While studying abroad at the University of Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania, Fernandez taught literacy and health at a Jesuit high school and set up another chapter of PFC. During a recent Campus Ministry trip to Nicaragua, she volunteered for a local non-profit that works with street kids. "Jasmine has worked to be the change she wants to see in the world and has motivated others to join her," said Meredith Marquez, associate director of student diversity programs.

This year, all proceeds from the dinner went to the "MLK Ripple of Hope Scholarship Fund," which will be awarded to a Fairfield University student. The evening was also an opportunity to announce the winners of the Dr. King Essay Contest, an event for Bridgeport middle school students that is co-sponsored by the Connecticut Post. First prize went to Kelly Aarons, an 8th grade student at Longfellow School; second prize went to Clarice R. Pennock, a 7th grader at Multicultural Magnet School; and third prize was awarded to Audrey Szymanski, a 6th grade student at Park City Magnet School.

Rev. von Arx with the Dr. King Essay Contest winners from Bridgeport schools

The members of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Committee are: Dr. Ellen M. Umansky (co-chair), Fred J. Kuo (co-chair), Deirdre Bennett, Dr. Debnam Chappell, Rev. George Collins, S.J., Chrystie Cruz, Rony Delva, Jodie Fitzpatrick, Dr. Elizabeth Hohl, Kamala Kiem, Dr. Martin Nguyen, Sharon Pedrosa '13, Todd Pelazza, Dawn DeBiase, Katerina Sanchez '12, Meredith Smith, and Dr. Yohuru Williams.

Captions: 1) Fairfield University's 2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. Vision Award winners: (L-R), Jasmine Fernandez '12, Debnam Chappell, Ph.D., and Melissa Quan. 2) Rev. Jeffery P. von Arx, S.J., Fairfield University President, with the Dr. King Essay Contest winners from Bridgeport schools: (L-R), Audrey Szymanski, a 6th grade student at Park City Magnet School; Kelly Aarons, an 8th grade student at Longfellow School; and Clarice R. Pennock, a 7th grader at Multicultural Magnet School. 3) Inspirational football coach Herman Boone, the MLK Convocation speaker, with Fr. von Arx.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on January 27, 2012

Vol. 44, No. 177