The University of Notre Dame’s Division of Student Affairs recognized nine students at the 37th annual Student Leadership Awards Banquet on April 4. These annual awards honor current students who have made exceptional contributions to the Notre Dame community.
The Rev. A. Leonard Collins, C.S.C., Award, honoring a graduating senior who has made substantial personal efforts to advance the interests of students at Notre Dame, was given to Elizabeth “Eliza” Smith of Kennesaw, Georgia.
A psychology and global affairs major with minors in computing and digital technologies and Italian, Smith served on the Student Government Executive Cabinet as director for race and ethnicity and was instrumental in the creation of the 2023 Walk the Walk Week event “Celebrating Black Excellence,” which welcomed the president and CEO of the NAACP, Derrick Johnson, as a keynote speaker. Smith served as a leader in Johnson Family Hall and as a peer mentor in the Building Bridges Mentoring Program within Multicultural Student Programs and Services. She also helped to shape the experience of first-year students through her service on the St. André Bessette Committee and various Class Councils in her time at Notre Dame.
The Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C., Leadership Award was awarded to Grace Gasper from Los Angeles. This award is given to a graduating senior who embodies Blessed Moreau’s vision of educating the heart and mind as well as someone who has demonstrated significant effort in advancing the Catholic character of the University.
Gasper, a theology and film, television and theater major, was extensively involved in advancing the Catholic character at Notre Dame through extensive leadership roles in Campus Ministry and the wider community. She served as a Compass Small Groups leader, retreats co-chair and Anchor Intern. She also ministered locally throughout the South Bend community and worked as a McGrath Institute for Church Life Vision mentor.
The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., Award honors a graduating senior whose leadership has significantly advanced the climate of welcome and inclusion within or beyond the University community. This year the division honored two recipients: Molly Doerfler and Nicholas Crookston.
A mechanical engineering major originally from Pittsburgh, Doerfler served as secretary, vice president and, most recently, president of PrismND, the University’s first and only official LGBTQ undergraduate student organization. She also served as a member of the Student Affairs Advisory Committee for Student Climate Related to LGBTQ Students and as a student representative for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee within the College of Engineering.
Majoring in political science, global affairs and Latino studies, Crookston, a Balfour-Hesburgh Scholar from Muncie, Indiana, worked to increase the climate of inclusion in his time at Notre Dame through the Diversity Council and UndocuAlly ND, a training program created to educate the campus community and promote allyship on behalf of immigrant community members. Additionally, under his leadership within the Latino Student Alliance, Crookston launched a nonpartisan campaign to educate young voters and increase voting participation.
The John W. Gardner Student Leadership Award, given to a graduating senior who exemplifies the ideals of the University through outstanding community service beyond the University, was awarded to John Sexton from Cumming, Georgia.
Following his father’s diagnosis of ALS, Sexton developed an assistive power wheelchair that can be controlled by a user’s eyes. Named LifeDrive, Sexton’s product was featured as a part of the 2021 What Would You Fight For campaign and will soon be available for wider distribution with the goal of spreading hope, independence and dignity to those in need. An electrical engineering major, Sexton, who served as the head drum major for the Band of the Fighting Irish, also coordinated a photo of the 1,900 students, faculty and staff from the College of Engineering on the field of Notre Dame Stadium to honor the 50th anniversary of co-education at Notre Dame.
Molly Schroeder, from San Diego, was awarded the Ray Siegfried Award for Leadership Excellence, given to a graduating senior who exemplifies the qualities for which former Notre Dame Trustee Ray Siegfried was known, including leadership, generosity, devotion to the Catholic faith and affinity for athletics.
An economics and history major, Schroeder generously served her home community of Cavanaugh Hall where she was an active participant on various interhall sports teams and held roles as a spiritual life commissioner, hall president and, most recently, a resident assistant. Beyond her residential community, Schroeder served on the Financial Management Board within Student Government, was appointed Class Council treasurer and became an RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) sponsor through Campus Ministry, accompanying others into the life of the Catholic Church.
Blake Ziegler and Austin Wyman, both from New Orleans, were awarded the Mike Russo Spirit Award, honoring outstanding undergraduate students who exemplify the qualities for which Russo was known, including service, personal character and striving to bring the best out of themselves and others.
A political science and philosophy major, Ziegler has worked diligently in his time at Notre Dame to enhance interfaith relationships and provide support for students from a variety of faith backgrounds through his leadership of the Jewish Club and in his role as president of the Jewish on Campus Ambassador Program, which serves as the union of Jewish students in North America. Among other initiatives, Ziegler spread awareness about antisemitism and developed Antisemitism Awareness Week, organized sabbath celebrations, hosted various speakers and coordinated a Holocaust remembrance campaign. Ziegler is also a Lauder Fellow of the World Jewish Congress and vice president of Jewish advocacy for the American Jewish Committee global board.
Wyman, a psychology major and theology minor, has been a champion for conversations among students, faculty and staff regarding the awareness and de-stigmatization of mental health support at Notre Dame. A Balfour-Hesburgh Scholar and Fighting Irish Scholar, Wyman often worked as an adviser to the Student Health and Wellness unit and held leadership roles as a senior fellow in the Office of Student Enrichment, president of Active Minds and co-director of health and wellness within Student Government. Wyman is also one of 10 young adults in the United States who serves on the National Alliance on Mental Illness Next Gen youth and young adult advisory board.
The Denny Moore Award for Excellence in Journalism was awarded to Claire Reid from Madison, Wisconsin. This award is given to a graduating senior who exemplifies the qualities of Moore, a former Notre Dame associate vice president who was known for his integrity, character, commitment to Notre Dame and writing ability.
A film, television and theater major with a minor in journalism, ethics and democracy, Reid served as an associate news editor for The Observer and held news internships with the South Bend Tribune, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Los Angeles Times. A Spanish-speaking math and reading tutor at South Bend’s Holy Cross School, Reid often reported on underrepresented people and communities.