Each year, the Dean of Students recognizes seniors who, through their involvement on and off campus, embody Oxy’s four pillars of Equity, Excellence, Community and Service.
The Dean’s Award winners are selected by Dean of Students Rob Flot in consultation with others at the College, and they recognize a small and select number of exceptional seniors who through their involvement on and off-campus have been the embodiment of the College’s four cornerstones of Equity, Excellence, Community, and Service. It's among the most prestigious awards that a student can receive at the College regarding leadership and involvement outside of the classroom.
The College recognizes these exceptional undergraduates for their passion, dedication, hard work and commitment to the Oxy community and beyond. This year, five winners were selected from the Class of 2022.
Major/minor: History/Critical Theory & Social Justice
Nominated by: Marcus Rodriguez, Assistant Dean of Students / Director, Student Leadership, Involvement & Community Engagement (SLICE)
Ellie Findell (she/her) is a Minnesota native who has served on ASOC student government the past two and a half years with her most recent role being ASOC President. In addition to ASOC, Ellie has been involved with Oxy Women’s Baseball, the Community Literacy Center, Dance Pro, The Occidental, and will be doing self-designed research through the Undergraduate Research Center this summer.
Ellie’s focus in her time on ASOC at Oxy has been to improve the student experience through increasing transparency and accountability between students and Oxy’s senior administration as well as creating a more equitable student governance structure. She feels most successful when helping other students to take on leadership positions and create the changes that they want to see at Oxy. Following graduation, Ellie plans to enroll in law school and potentially begin a career in public service.
A word of advice from Ellie for fellow students: believe in your ability to create change. You belong in every space, as long as you want to be there, because you have personal experiences and opinions that are valid and will echo in the hearts of others.
From Rodriguez: Ellie is an incredible talent. Her political savviness, amplified by true care and tactfulness, has allowed her to be an influential powerhouse on campus. Finding the intersection of allyship, advocacy, and student representation, she has been able to both effectively lead and elevate her peers. Ellie's lasting legacy will be her ability to bring people together and hold equitable space for student voices.
“Ellie and I met together countless times, mostly in her role as President of ASOC. I was always impressed with Ellie’s ability to fairly and assertively represent students, and challenge me and others to keep working to improve the student experience at Oxy.”
–Dean of Students Rob Flot
Major/minor: Black Studies/Religious Studies
Nominated by: Chris Arguedas, Director, Intercultural Community Center
Esther Aliah Karpilow was raised on unceded Ohlone land, also known as Oakland, CA. During her time at Oxy, she spent three years in leadership for the Black Student Alliance (BSA), served as an Equity Ambassador at the Intercultural Community Center (ICC), participated in the Values and Vocations Fellowship twice, and served as a student worker for Emmons Wellness Center, the Black Studies Department, and the Hameetman Career Center (HCC). Finding her passion in wellness and community organizing, Esther majored in Black Studies and minored in Religious Studies.
Serving on the Organizing Committee for BSA was a rewarding and challenging experience for Esther, and she is thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow with her community. Through BSA and her involvement with the ICC, Esther was able to participate in the planning and execution of various programs, initiatives, and events including serving as a mentor for the MSI 2020 Cohort and creating the Love Your Hair event alongside Irma Breakfield. More recently, Esther facilitated Sunday Sessions for all Black identifying students to receive free breathwork, Reiki, guided meditation, and tarot readings.
Following graduation, Esther will continue to seek out learning opportunities both within and outside of academia, in order to heal, empower, and support herself and her community. She is currently pursuing her interests in holistic wellness, birth work, and mental health and hopes to hold space for her community with authenticity and humility. Esther would like to extend deep gratitude to her friends, family, and mentors who held and guided her during her time at Oxy.
From Arguedas: When Esther learned as a sophomore that the ICC’s top priority was to extend February’s celebration of Black History month beyond the month of February, she was quick to lead our office in the design of the 365 Speaker Series, an initiative designed to recognize Black history, Black lives, and Blackness at Oxy and beyond. Without Esther’s programming skills and organizational savvy, the 365 Series would not have been the robust, inclusive and intersectional celebration that it was.
Knowing that Emmons Counselor Irma Breakfield was interested in providing a “Black Hair'' program during the month of February, Esther took is upon herself to contact an Oxy alum who is in the field of health and beauty, with a specific interest in the holistic wellbeing of womxn of color. Over twenty folx attended this collaborative event, undoubtedly thanks to Esther. The “Love Your Hair'' program continued long after its origin, and Esther went on to work as a student assistant at Emmons alongside Irma. There, she supported initiatives and services that contributed to mental health and wellbeing at the College. She also supported “BIPOC care”, a space co-facilitated by Robin Maxile and Irma Breakfield. BIPOC care was an outlet for Black Indigenous and Students of Color to be in community with each other, and connect across diverse communities.
“Esther was highly involved as an effective and assertive leader in many ways at the College. Among Esther’s myriad involvements, I think I was most impressed with her involvement in the re-emergence of the ICC, and her involvement with the development of the Black Action Plan. Esther was truly impactful in helping the ICC become a home away from home for many students.”
–Dean of Students Rob Flot
Majors/minor: Politics and English/Art History
Nominated by: Barbara Thomas, Adviser, The Occidental
River hails from Farmington Falls, Maine. In her first year, River fell in love with Oxy and Northeast Los Angeles while working as a reporter for The Occidental, meeting new people for her articles and making lasting friends. She eventually served as Editor-in-Chief during her senior year, a semester which yielded the staff-wide honor of "Best Newspaper" from the California College Media Convention. In that position, River most fondly remembers her experiences mentoring younger writers and working with her fellow editors to cover breaking news stories.
River was also dedicated to her studies, working as a Research Assistant for Professor Jennifer Piscopo in the Politics Department and for the Gender Equity Policy Institute. At the Undergraduate Research Center, River worked with English Professor Ross Lerner to investigate representations of gender in Revenge Tragedies from the English Renaissance. Throughout college, River has greatly enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate and share her academic passions with others in the roles of Writing Advisor, Residential Advisor, and as a tutor at the Community Literacy Center.
River received honors for both of her senior comprehensive projects, won the Politics Department's Caldwell Award, and is graduating from Occidental magna cum laude. River is incredibly grateful for all the support she has received from faculty, staff and her peers at Occidental, and for the overwhelming love of learning she developed throughout her four years there.
From Thomas: River came to The Occidental as an eager first-year student. Her articles were some of the best I’d read from a student. As a junior she was the managing editor, all during the last remote semester of the pandemic. Instead of wobbling through, River and the student leadership grew the paper. They started a journalism neighborhood project with the Boulevard Sentinel and received more applicants than ever as students clamored to join the paper. The paper won an American Collegiate Press Association Pacemaker Award for its coverage.
As Editor in Chief in Fall 2021, River beautifully managed the return of the newsroom. Students returned to campus traumatized by the isolation and sadness of the pandemic. But River made the newsroom joyful. As a mentor, River was generous and elegant. She nurtured other writers and she shone the spotlight on the next generation of student leaders. To me, that is what true leadership is all about. Her name stands on a plaque in the newsroom with other editors in chief. But surely her legacy is singular. The Occidental stands strong and ready to take on the 2022-23 school year because River maintained an iron grip in an elegant glove during one of its rockiest periods in recent history.
“River and I met every other week in her role as editor of The Occidental. I also came to know River in her capacity as an RA. She cares deeply for students at Oxy, and helped in significant ways to keep the Occidental student paper thriving, relevant and even award-winning.”
–Dean of Students Rob Flot
Nominated by: Vivian Garay Santiago, Associate Dean of Students & Director of Student Success/Student Success Advisor
Mariah Rutiaga Amaya is originally from Denver, Colorado. Despite being from a city far from Los Angeles, she has remained committed to joining and supporting communities congruent with her own identities, and she would not have been able to accomplish this without the support she received from student organizations, the biology department, and her family/friends.
Some of the various organizations she had the privilege of being involved with include COMPARTE, REHS, the Latinx Student Union, Planned Parenthood Club, Habitat for Humanity Club, OXY 350, and Professor Navarro’s Organic Chemistry lab. Being a part of these organizations gave meaning to her time at Occidental because they not only pushed her to explore communities beyond the biology department, but they also allowed her to develop a deep commitment to the community outside of Occidental.
During the beginning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mariah had the opportunity to work with ALMA Backyard Farms through the UEPI summer internship. ALMA is an urban farm that works with at-risk youth and previously incarcerated individuals in Compton, California, and her responsibilities as an UEPI researcher consisted of providing agricultural support on the farm.
Her involvement as a COMPARTE facilitator taught her there was a need to bridge the communication between students, staff, and faculty. This is why she also took on roles as a teaching assistant and as a residential advisor. The Oxy cleaning staff, whom she has had the pleasure of working with since her first year, has been a constant throughout her four years as Oxy.
Mariah’s various on-campus and off-campus have instilled in her a commitment to community and service. Upon graduating from Occidental, she hopes to work as a physician’s assistant, where she looks forward to serving underserved communities and breaking the language barriers in healthcare.
From Garay Santiago: Mariah was one of our MSI RAs in the summer of 2019. She was then, and continues to be, a pleasure to work with and a breath of fresh air. She balances commitment for students-of-color and first-generation students with both maturity and optimism and an unflappably positive attitude.
“I first met Mariah when she was an RA for the MSI program. She was entirely committed to the program, and most importantly, the success of the students. More than just an RA, Mariah appeared to me almost like a big sister to the students. I also engaged with Mariah in her ‘regular’ RA role at the College. She’s a young person with great wisdom, patience, and compassion.”
–Dean of Students Rob Flot
Major/minors: Economics/Politics and Philosophy
Nominated by: Rob Bartlett, Head Coach, Track & Field Team; Tyler Yamaguchi, Assistant Coach, Track & Field Team
Micah, who hails from Nebraska, is a senior resident advisor, track and field captain, and Obama Scholar. Micah also is a director of Occidental's Blyth Fund and a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Micah is inspired to help impoverished and underrepresented youth gain access to tools including education, accessible transportation, and financial literacy to grow and attain a higher quality of life. He transferred from Washington and Lee to Oxy in his sophomore year. After graduation, Micah will begin his finance career and work toward his ultimate goal of eliminating educational barriers for low-income and underrepresented youth.
From Bartlett: Micah is a SAAC rep, the Director of the Occidental Blythe Fund (a student managed investment portfolio), a Senior Fellow in the Occidental Office of Admission, an Obama Fellow (Micah is one of four Obama Fellows at Occidental), and an RA. After graduating in May, Micah will be working at J.P. Morgan.
From Yamaguchi: Micah is the embodiment of an Occidental student-athlete. His achievements on and off the track are unparalleled amongst his peers. I have no doubt that he will achieve his lifetime goal of increasing economic mobility amongst unrepresented communities and diminishing wealth and education gaps.
“I met Micah early on during his time at the College. He confidently came to visit me during one of my office hours, and stated, “I want to make a difference at Oxy.” And he did just that. Micah was involved in countless leadership roles at the College, and has truly left his mark.”
–Dean of Students Rob Flot