34th annual Rainville Awards honor student leaders

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 10, 2022 – The University of Rhode Island recently honored three undergraduate student leaders and one student organization as part of the 34th annual A. Robert Rainville Student Leadership Awards ceremonies. The award is named in memory of A. Robert Rainville ’64, vice president for Student Affairs from 1980 to 1986, who was a friend and mentor to students.

This year’s recipients are: Jacqualine Cerbone ’22 of Kings Park, New York, Student Leadership Award; Leila Cox ’22 of Washington, D.C., Robert L. Carothers Servant Leadership Award; and Ashley Tai ’23 of Quincy, Massachusetts, Employee Excellence Award. URI’s Society of Women Engineers was awarded the Team Excellence Award.

Below is information about each recipient:

Jacqualine Cerbone, Student Leadership Award

Jacqualine Cerbone ’22, Student Leadership Award.

Cerbone, who graduates this month with a bachelor of science degree in cell and molecular biology and minors in chemistry and leadership studies, has held leadership roles throughout her four years at the University. Along with serving as an orientation leader, a URI 101 mentor and tour guide, she was a peer leader in the Leadership Institute, where she was a program coordinator and mentor for numerous first-year students. She also helped organize the 2021 Leadership Institute and facilitate Peer Leader Training.

“There are students on campus that I will partner with, advise, teach, or simply connect with and I will think to myself ‘how do they do it?’ Jackie is definitely one of those students,” said Amy Albert, community engagement coordinator in the Center for Career and Experiential Education. “In addition to being enrolled as a full-time student, the list of leadership roles she holds here at the University of Rhode Island seems to grow exponentially with each passing day. … It would be easy to assume that she would not have the capacity to give 100 percent to each of her roles. To the contrary, her ability to be present and give her complete attention to the position she is actively focusing on is incredible.”

Leila Cox, Robert L. Carothers Servant Leadership Award

President Marc Parlange congratulates Leila Cox ’22 after she was named recipient of the Robert L. Carothers Servant Leadership Award.

In her four years at URI, Cox has worked tirelessly with fellow students, staff and faculty to ensure the Multicultural Student Services Center has been more responsive to the needs of Black and Brown students. Today, the center’s leaders make sure the students are heard, educated and supported, more students go to the center, and Black and Brown leaders from Rhode Island come to the center to speak, Cox said in her application for the award.

“Nothing could get in the way of my goals since freshman year to see the MSSC change,” wrote Cox, who was also nominated for the Rainville Student Leadership Award. “Now in my senior year at URI, it is humbling to see how far the MSSC has come. … Students of color deserve nothing more than a safe space, especially at a predominantly white institution.”

In 2019, Cox, who graduates this month with a double major in journalism and communication studies and a minor in leadership studies, and two other Black women restarted the Black Student Union as a foundation of emotional healing and empowerment. Cox, a member of the Student Senate, said she has used education as a tool for social change, getting others involved as activists and using social media to educate students on issues.

Ashley Tai, Employee Excellence Award

Ashley Tai ’23, Employee Excellence Award.

Tai, an honors student and double major in cell and molecular biology and Chinese, credits her two years as administrative assistant to Assistant Dean Michelle Fontes in the College of the Environment and Life Sciences Office of Diversity, with enhancing her skills in organization and communication. In the role, Tai, who was nominated two years in a row for the Employee Excellence Award, has led student staff in coordinating office procedures and responsibilities, collected data on diversity, retention and student success, and organized events and programs to enhance student success and provide a sense of belonging in the College.

Tai has also served as secretary and vice president of the student-led CELS Seeds to Success, as a tutor in biology and chemistry in the Academic Enhancement Center, and as a peer mentor for fellow tutors and the junior lead tutor for the biology cohort.

“Ashley creates a positive work environment where she goes, whether it be within the CELS office, her research lab, and the Academic Enhancement Center,” said Fontes. “Ashley, who is always looking for opportunities to gain new experiences, contributed to different student organizations and took part in different fellowship programs on campus and beyond.”

Society of Women Engineers, Team Excellence Award

URI’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers promotes the society’s national mission of empowering and supporting women in engineering, a discipline dominated by men in the workplace and academia. The chapter has done this by building a community of members from all genders and disciplines that works to empower women pursuing STEM careers. The chapter hosts a variety of events, including outreach activities, networking and professional development opportunities, and social and collaborative events that allow members to get to know each other as students and as people. During the pandemic, organization leaders quickly switched to online events to keep members involved.

The chapter’s outreach activities focus on increasing the number of girls in STEM by reaching them at a young age. Activities include the organization’s SWE Next club, which works with middle school students. The success of SWE Next inspired the addition of two other programs focused on STEM workshops with Latina middle school girls. At the 2021 SWE National Conference, the URI chapter was awarded a Gold Mission Award for Best Practice in Outreach for the third straight year.

Michael A. Lambert has worked closely with the Society’s officers and members the last three years as academic adviser in the College of Engineering and through the first-year women in engineering mentor program. “They are a remarkable group of women who work tirelessly to serve as role models, promote community, and support the diversity and inclusion of women in engineering,” he said. “SWE plays a critical role in fostering programming, engagement and community with students in our college.”