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College Honors Three 'Great Minds' with 2023 Outstanding Student Medal

by Ashley Lawrence Pellegrini / May 12, 2023

2022-23 Outstanding Student Medallion Recipients

The Outstanding Student Medal award is presented annually to an undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral student completing their degree in the College of Education.

Faculty members of the College of Education nominate students they believe display a superior level of scholarship within their departments and programs; offer their time and service to the college, campus, or community; and show promise as potential leaders in the education field. This award is given each year at the College of Education Convocation Ceremony, where recipients deliver a speech to their peers.

Introducing the 2023 Outstanding Student Medal winners:

Ananya Tiwari

Ananya Tiwari is this year's Doctoral degree Outstanding Student Medal recipient. Now a two-time College of Education at Illinois alumna, earlier this spring, Dr. Ananya Tiwari successfully delivered her Ph.D. dissertation defense in Educational Psychology—specifically, in the Developmental Sciences Division. Born, raised, and educated in India, prior to coming to Illinois Ananya was a teacher in a rural school, opened a school in a village, and designed, implemented, and evaluated at-scale student interventions.

In 2018, when beginning her master’s degree program in Educational Psychology, Ananya co-founded the international non-profit organization SwaTaleem. It addresses childhood marriage and school dropout by enhancing educational and life skills for girls in rural India.

In 2022, Ananya was named by Google as one of seven “Leaders to Watch” from non-profits around the world. Through grants and donations, to date SwaTaleem has raised nearly a million dollars to grow its programming and reach throughout rural India.

This fall, Dr. Tiwari will join the faculty at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and looks ahead to a career involving international development as an expert and policy advocate in the gender equity space.

In her nomination letter of Ananya for this award, Nidia Ruedas-Gracia, assistant professor of Educational Psychology, said, “Ananya is known throughout the College for her exemplary faculty-level international work that contributes to our College-wide emphasis on diversity and social change.”

Mariyam Sheikh

Mariyam Sheikh is the 2023 Master’s degree Outstanding Student Medal recipient, graduating with her Ed.M. in Special Education.

Mariyam’s home country is Pakistan, and her experiences as an early childhood teacher there spurred her to pursue a master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education at Illinois. She supported fellow students in the department, including serving as a mentor to first-year master’s students. Mariyam embraced research by attending and presenting at an international early childhood special education conference as well as the College’s recent Graduate Student Conference. Her work involves interviewing parents of children with disabilities in Pakistan to gather their perspectives on the education and supports their children have received.

As a scholar, Mariyam works diligently to build community in and outside of the classroom using her passion for improved access to all school environments as a compass. She is highly motivated to make a meaningful difference for her students and looks forward to taking her educational experience back home to Pakistan.

Jessica Hardy, assistant professor of Special Education, commended Mariyam as an important contributor to the culture of the graduate program and the department with her positive attitude, openness, and reflective nature. Hardy wrote, “Mariyam’s experiences, dedication, academic success, and positive disposition make her an ideal recipient of this award.  She is an emerging leader who I am confident will make a difference for young children with disabilities.”

Kennedy Record

Kennedy Record, a Champaign, Illinois native, is the 2023 Bachelor's degree Outstanding Student Medal recipient. Kennedy is graduating with her B.S. degree in Special Education.

A consistent theme in Kennedy’s nominations regarded the depth and quality of her coursework, “beyond what is expected of an undergraduate student.” In each of her field experiences in schools, she impressed expert teachers and school administrators with her skilled instruction and dedication to serving students.

In addition to doing outstanding work in a rigorous and demanding teacher preparation program, Kennedy volunteers for several Champaign-Urbana community organizations committed to supporting children and adolescents’ learning opportunities.

And somehow, she even found time to be a member of the Orange Krush and regularly attend Fighting Illini athletic events.

Laurie Andrews, clinical instructor in Special Education, said about Kennedy, “she has a passion and drive to serve others and make her community the best it can be—a true Illini!”

Congratulations to our 2023 Outstanding Student Medal recipients!