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SOC Recognizes 42 Students for Leadership, Excellence

Campus buildings behind trees

Throughout the academic year, more than 2,000 students in the School of Communication pursued achievements in the classroom, in the campus community, and beyond.

As the Spring semester came to a close, the school paused to recognize 42 outstanding individuals who were nominated by the faculty for the annual SOC Student Awards. Here we present the awardees and their recognition as shared by Dean Raul Reis and the academic department chairs.

2021 SOC Student Award Recipients


Kristen Cawog ’21

Business of Creative Enterprises

“Kristen has been a stellar undergraduate student leader and all-around contributor in the department’s Business of Creative Enterprises (BCE) program, …directed by [Executive-in-Residence] Wes Jackson. Without question, she has earned and sustained the highest respect of her peers and our faculty.

Kristen Cawog ’21
Kristen Cawog ’21

Since fall of 2019, Kristen has played key roles in conceptualizing, producing and/or hosting a variety of programming for BCE and the School of Communication. These include the inaugural Future of the Creative Industries Conference, the BCE At-Work Speaker Series, and the Hallway podcast—all featuring faculty and industry experts and so much more. As a champion for BCE, Kristen has been instrumental in promoting the program in all manner of digital spaces, and most importantly, in person.

To Kristen, we say to you, congratulations, we see you. We are extremely proud of you. We are delighted to celebrate you. We are honored to have been a part of your journey.” —Dr. Brent Smith, professor and chair of Marketing Communication

Additional nominees for Leadership

  • Melanie Curry ’21 and Eryn McCallum ’22, Journalism
  • Lia Kim ’21, Communication Sciences & Disorders
  • Allison Valton ’21, Communication Studies

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Astrid Esquilín Nieves, MS’21

Communication Sciences & Disorders

“In Spring 2020, Astrid approached my colleague, Robin Danzak, about initiating a chapter of a graduate student organization called Bilingual Language and Literacy Investigative and Networking Group, or BLLING, at Emerson. Astrid turned her considerable energy, intelligence and dedication to developing a constitution and assembling a seven-member executive board to make this happen.

Astrid Esquilín Nieves

More importantly however, Astrid made a point of recruiting students in our online Speech@Emerson program, in addition to the on-campus program, and thereby created one of the very few structured opportunities for these two student cohorts to be actively engaged with each other.

Astrid didn’t just create BLLING Emerson. She put it on the map. There is a very active BLLING Emerson email, an Instagram account that I encourage everyone to follow, and an increasingly large membership of over 150 individuals and an extraordinarily impressive slate of programming. BLLING Emerson has offered roughly one event per month since October, with a couple of extra ones in April just to round out the academic year. That is a dizzying pace even for an established organization, let alone a new one.

Astrid did all of that while maintaining a 3.9 GPA in a rigorous graduate program and accumulating 350 clinical contact hours toward her degree. Quoting Robin Danzak from her nomination letter, ‘With the socio-political health turmoil in the USA and around the world, this academic year was the perfect moment to initiate BLLING at Emerson. Astrid took an existing framework and built BLLING Emerson as both a space and a voice for bilingual and BIPOC students and allies, uniting graduate students in the on-ground and online program, and connecting with graduate students from NYU and other communities.’

Astrid, thank you for your extraordinary engagement for always thinking beyond your immediate surroundings and for building BLLING into a community that will benefit generations of CSD students to come. We are so grateful for all the wonderful ways in which you enhance the CSD Department, Emerson College and the world.” —Dr. Ruth Grossman, associate professor and chair of Communication Sciences and Disorders

Additional nominees for Civic and Community Engagement

  • Khary Higgins ’21, Communication Studies
  • A list of 13 co-nominees who inspired the next category. Read on…


Leaders of POWER and Emerson Students of Color Week of Action

Awarded to co-nominees and collaborators in change:

  • Sonali Anand ’22, Communication Studies
  • Jehan Ayesha ’23, Journalism
  • Marissa Cardenas ’21, Journalism
  • Clarisa Carrillo ’23, Communication Studies
  • Jalyn Cox ’21, Communication Studies
  • Melanie Curry ’21, Journalism
  • Monica Keipp ’22, Marketing Communication
  • Lia Kim ’21, Communication Sciences & Disorders
  • Jiachen (Esther) Liu ’21, Journalism
  • Eryn McCallum ’22, Journalism
  • Shruti Rajkumar ’22, Journalism
  • Diego Torres ’21, Marketing Communication
  • Jillian Towson ’22, Journalism

“As we all know, this was an extraordinary year at Emerson, in more ways than one, and it reminded us that the culture at Emerson College is very much tied to the culture of our society. And over the past year, as our society was reminded once again of the social injustice and inequity that we still must overcome, a number of students stepped up to hold Emerson College to not just the same standards, but to higher and better standards, as it should be.  

Therefore, this year, we have chosen to introduce a new award category, which we are calling the CATALYST FOR CHANGE, and it is my honor to present it to the School of Communication students who lead the many efforts and activities leading up to and around the Students of Color Week of Action.

I should add that this is not an award that we expect to bestow every year, but we cannot let this year pass without recognizing this resourceful group, who dedicated so much effort to the betterment of the Emerson College community.

To each of you, on behalf of the SOC faculty and students, I offer heartfelt thanks for your contributions. You truly are catalysts for change, and we couldn’t be more proud of your work, or happier to recognize your efforts.” Dr. Raul Reis, dean of the School of Communication

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Jaelen Johnson


“Jaelen just blew me away when I finally got to see some of the things that he has done in the past year. Jaelen has been spending an incredible amount of time being an artist, visionary website builder, and a strong writer and reporter.

He noted that while at Emerson, ‘I have learned many new ways to apply my creativity and utilize multimedia to tell stories in the most engaging and immersive way possible. Innovation is a big aspect of my work and helps me accomplish my ultimate goal in reporting, which is to amplify the voices of underrepresented communities and to seek solutions for dismantling social systems that perpetrate inequality.’

By the way, his GPA is extremely strong and he’s a member of the Emerson basketball team, but more importantly, his use of journalism in terms of innovation, and in terms of strengthening voices has been incredible. While at Emerson LA, he worked for an interactive learning guide for students as part of Ava DuVernay’s anti-racism and anti-sexism advocacy collective ARRAY, and also worked for its online platform crew.

Jaelen, I am thrilled that you leave the Emerson program with this incredible skillset and mindset to do great things, and I can’t wait to see where you go from here.” Janet Kolodzy, professor and chair of Journalism

Additional nominees for Innovation

  • Andre Padovani ’21, Marketing Communication
  • Cole Salamone ’21, Communication Studies

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Arianna Cruz ’21

Political Communication

Arianna Cruz ’21
Arianna Cruz ’21

“It’s exciting to present this award to Arianna Cruz. And when I mention Arianna, I have to think, not only has she maintained this incredible grade point average, but she’s also been someone who has guided Communication Studies, in addition to outstanding work in the classroom, to also presenting for academic conferences. In addition to presenting at the Emerson-Blanquerna Conference, she was part of the American Behavioral Scientist Retrospective, and the International Academy of Business Disciplines Conference. She’s also presented in Madrid, and she has revived a tradition at Emerson which launched back in 1985, and that is Pizza and Politics, which is a very spirited discussion on politics, not only local but national and global. What’s even more exciting with Arianna, with the student ambassadors, …she’s continued to help supervise over 35 events, engaging the community, not only with other students at Emerson but globally. So I’m very excited to present this to Arianna and also note that her education doesn’t stop here, as she moves on to the Blanquerna master’s program.”Dr. Greg Payne, associate professor and chair, Communication Studies

Additional nominees for Undergraduate Academic Excellence

  • Brilee Carey Sears ’21 and Nicole Poitras ’21, Journalism
  • Michelle Gaudet ’21, Communication Sciences & Disorders
  • Samantha Hogan ’21, Marketing Communication

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“Each of these categories present tough decision, as each nominee gives us so much to consider. This category was particularly tough, and we decided to present two Awards for Academic Excellence at the graduate level.” Dean Raul Reis

Samantha Grynberg, MS’21

Communication Sciences & Disorders

“As we all know, this has been a rough year. It has often been difficult to maintain focus on academics when there are so many other personal, medical, societal issues to draw our focus. Somehow, Sam has managed to focus on all of the above and maintain a 3.99 GPA—let’s just round that to a 4.0 in our rigorous and demanding graduate program. And she has been doing it with style.

Samantha Grynberg MS’21
Samantha Grynberg MS’21

Sam seamlessly and successfully transitioned from in-person learning to online learning, from in-person clinical work to telepractice without ever deviating from the high standard she sets for herself and the high quality of work she produces.

Pandemic or not, in-person or online, for all the pivoting and transitions in unprecedented times, Sam has been fully engaged with her learning and dedicated to becoming a strong clinician with the goal of best supporting her clients and their families. She has been succeeding, and then some.

Sam, thank you for your whole-hearted commitment to academic and clinical learning, your dedication to putting all of the pieces together in order to benefit your clients, and for your fearlessness diving into the unknown. You exemplify academic excellence in every sense of that term. We are tremendously proud to have you as part of our growing community of Emerson CSD alumni, and just cannot wait to see what you’ll accomplish next. Congratulations.” Dr. Ruth Grossman, associate professor and chair of Communication Sciences and Disorders

Paige Hansen, MA’20

Digital Marketing & Data Analytics

“Paige Hansen excelled in the department’s Digital Marketing & Data Analytics (DMDA) program, directed by [Assistant Professor] Sereikhuoch Eng. Graduating in Summer 2020 with a 4.0 cumulative GPA, she is known by peers and faculty for her maturity, professionalism, organization, and time management.

Paige Hansen MA’20

Early in the DMDA program, Paige conveyed a sincere interest in both research and scholarly inquiry. Indeed, she expressed an aspiration to pursue doctoral study soon after completing the DMDA program. Tapping both her aspiration, as well as her acumen, she did a directed study project with [Assistant Professor] Naa Amponsah Dodoo, exploring the intersections of advertising, esports and video gaming. Paige presented one outcome of that project to the American Academy of Advertising in March of this year, in the form of a research paper titled ‘The Effect of Source Credibility in the Experiential Atmosphere of Video Game Live Streaming.’

I am also pleased to share that Paige was promoted to a senior clerk with the City of Gardena, California, in recognition of her research of commuters’ experience with the city bus system. In this project, Paige thoughtfully applied the knowledge and skills learned from the DMDA program – from digital strategy, to storytelling and data-informed progress monitoring and evaluation. Currently, Ms. Hansen awaits admission decisions from doctoral programs in the Boston area.

To Paige, congratulations. We see you, we celebrate you, and we are grateful to have been part of your journey.” — Dr. Brent Smith, professor and chair of Marketing Communication

Additional nominees for Graduate Academic Excellence

  • Tsung-Lin (Johnny) Cho MA’20, Strategic Marketing Communication
  • Jules Struck MA’21, Journalism

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Ziqi Wang ’21


“Ziqi Wang, we are going to miss you after you graduate in a few days—but also what you have done as a consistently excellent student, front desk employee for the Journalism Department, and in all the ways that you help students in that respect.

Ziqi Wang ’21
Ziqi Wang ’21

You also have been very strong as both a reporter and a columnist in the Berkeley Beacon in your beginning years, really pushing the agenda of understanding the perspectives and concerns of international students. I still recall one of your first columns on how people should really learn how to pronounce things in Chinese and in Mandarin. You have since taken on being a chair at The Intersectionalist, which is an incredibly new and vibrant student-run publication, focusing on necessary and critical discussions on identity.

I believe that you plan to do great things once you leave Emerson. I understand that you have been bitten by the data visualization bug and will be going to to grad school in that area at the Pratt Institute. Congratulations on that!

But most importantly, congratulations on being someone who other students could lean on for anything, from a technology badge in the Journalism Department to talking to international students about whether they should come here for journalism. So thank you, Ziqi, for being an incredible contributor to all the things that help us be a great and wonderful community.” Janet Kolodzy, professor and chair of Journalism

Additional nominees for Undergraduate Most Valuable Peer

  • Emily King ’22, Communication Studies
  • Victoria Sci ’21, Communication Sciences & Disorders

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Rachel Arnold, MS ’21

Communication Sciences & Disorders

“I don’t even know where to start. Rachel just cannot help standing out in positive ways, wherever she is.

Rachel Arnold  MS’21
Rachel Arnold MS’21

Long before Rachel came to Emerson, I heard her name from a colleague at SUNY Fredonia, who kept telling me about this extraordinary undergraduate student she’d been working with. And I mean, kept telling me about how amazing Rachel was—how engaged, how smart, how collaborative, how supportive of her peers.

It’s often difficult to live up to that kind of hype, but not for Rachel, who arrived at Emerson with a positive attitude, a thirst for learning, and a seemingly effortless ability to establish herself as a leader in her own quiet and unassuming way.

One way that we support incoming graduate students is via a buddy system that pairs new students with second-year graduate students. When the previous student buddy coordinator graduated, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Rachel would step into that role. Rachel stepped up to the plate, worked her magic, and helped establish a supportive and engaged community. Given the fact that serving food and hanging out on campus were not options this past year, Rachel found creative ways for students to connect virtually or socially and for academic and programmatic support.

And of course, she has done all of this while maintaining a 3.96 GPA, doing stellar clinical work, and also choosing to complete a graduate thesis.

Rachel has also been an extraordinary ambassador for our program beyond Emerson, connecting with prospective students to answer their many questions about the Emerson CSD experience. Nobody could possibly resist the genuine warmth, enthusiasm, and contagious energy with which Rachel speaks about our program.

Rachel, thank you for your energy, for your community spirit, for your relentless positivity, for your unassuming leadership, for your neverending support of your peers. We could not possibly ask for a better ambassador of our program than you. It is very comforting to know that you will always be out there cheering for your fellow and future alumni and making all of us happier just by your presence.” Dr. Ruth Grossman, associate professor and chair of Communication Sciences and Disorders

Additional nominee for Graduate Most Valuable Peer

  • Rebecca Ludman MA’21, Journalism

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Grace Tepper ’21

Political Communication

“I’d like to congratulate all the nominees as this is a tremendous, tremendous group. But at the same time, I’m very happy to announce that this year’s winner is Grace Tepper.

Grace Tepper ’21
Grace Tepper ’21

We really can talk about her [by using] her first name. She’s a very soft-spoken person. She graces around the campus like her first name—until she hits the volleyball court, and then she becomes a warrior.

In 2019, Grace was First Team All-Conference as she powered our team to the NEWMAC Championship. On the way, we beat third-place MIT and then second-place Wellesley. And even though we lost to first-place Babson, Grace had the authority to put the team on her back and just gave us thrills throughout the tournament.

Also, Grace was a two-year captain. She was first in NEWMAC in kills per set in 2019. That’s worth a little over 140 starters in the NEWMAC Conference for women’s volleyball. And in 2018, she was third. In 2021, she was NEWMAC Academic All-Conference.

I’m sad to see Grace leave Emerson but at the same time, I’m very happy that she has obtained the necessary skills to be successful in the game of life And I’m looking forward to following her progress as she pursues intellectual property law.” Stanford Nance, senior associate director of Athletics

Additional nominees for Athlete of the Year

  • Albany Alexander ’21, Journalism, Women’s Volleyball
  • Caroline Bond ’23, Journalism, Women’s Volleyball
  • Skyler Celotto ’22, Marketing Communication, Men’s Lacrosse
  • Bo Feekins ’23, Communication Studies, Men’s Soccer
  • Hunter Gervais ’22, Marketing Communication, Men’s Lacrosse
  • Khary Higgins ’21, Communication Studies, Men’s Soccer

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