Five students receive 2023 Graduate Leadership Anchor Awards

The Vanderbilt Graduate Student Council has announced the winners of the 2023 Graduate Leadership Anchor Awards. The awards identify and honor the hard work and leadership of graduate students at Vanderbilt, recognizing graduate student leaders on a school-wide level. Awards given this year included a service award, mentorship award, departmental leadership award, research award and best overall award.

Service Award

Teresa P. Torres, microbe-host interactions

Torres is a member of the Vanderbilt Institute of Infection, Immunology and Inflammation DEI committee and is very active in the Nashville community.  She volunteers with Best Buddies, an international organization focused on including people with special needs in society through friendship. In 2021, she started her own organization, “Let’s STEM,” a nonprofit that introduces people with special needs to STEM fields. Along with Melissa Farrow, research assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Torres launched an Emerging Scientists after-school club at Valor Academy, a local charter school. “Teresa jumped at the opportunity to help organize and execute our programming. Her energy galvanized a fledging effort. And she made the experience a smashing success for all stakeholders,” Farrow said. 

Mentorship Award  

José Luis de Ramón Ruiz, Spanish and Portuguese

de Ramón Ruiz served as a graduate teaching fellow at the Center for Teaching. He consulted with more than 70 graduate students and postdocs, providing mentorship and training.  

“I think José makes a significant effort beyond his duties to support and mentor graduate teaching assistants in these sessions,” said Edward Friedman, Emeritus Gertrude Conaway Professor in the Humanities. For several summers, de Ramón Ruiz designed and led sections of the Teaching Assistant Orientation. This past spring, he participated in a panel discussing support for multilingual undergraduate writers.  

Department Leadership Award 

Jamie Joseph, biostatistics

Joseph is president of the Biostatistics Graduate Student Association. Under her leadership, the BGSA advocates for students and organizes social and academic events, including a weekly journal club. Joseph is working on an initiative to partner BGSA students with other Vanderbilt departments or local organizations in an education outreach program to help Vanderbilt undergraduates and local middle and high school students. In 2022, the biostatistics faculty selected Joseph for their department’s Commodore Award in Biostatistics for enriching the department and graduate program through ingenuity, dedication and altruism. “Jamie has a reputation for being the go-to person and department Wikipedia. She is caring, thoughtful, and gives her time to everyone,” one nominator wrote.  

Research Award 

Yu Wang, computer science 

Wang’s research focuses on data mining and machine learning, with a specific emphasis on recommendation systems and mitigating data quality issues in machine learning on network data. His work addresses important issues related to fairness in AI systems, such as mitigating bias against underrepresented groups. Since 2022, he has published six works as first author; one of his papers won Vanderbilt’s C.F. Chen Best Paper Award in computer science. “Yu’s contributions to research have been exemplary; he is an outstanding role model for current and future students in his lab, the department, and the university,” said Tyler Derr, assistant professor of computer science. 

Best Overall Award 

Kayla M. Anderson, community research and action

Anderson is a lead research assistant in the Drinking Water Justice Lab and is involved in multiple collaborative projects with students, faculty and community organizations. Anderson has been pursing action research on local housing issues and leads a team of graduate students in responding to requests from several local affordable housing advocates to analyze the effects of short-term rentals on housing affordability and neighborhood quality. In 2022, when the Tennessee state legislature was considering a bill that would strip municipalities in the state of their authority to regulate short-term rentals, Anderson provided an evidence-based, community-informed testimony that helped prevent the bill from passing. “Kayla is a thoughtful leader who is adept at finding and creating roles that suit the strengths of others. She will leave a formidable legacy within the Ph.D. program and beyond the university when she graduates,” said Yolanda McDonald, assistant professor of human and organizational development. 

The following students received honorable mentions at the awards ceremony: 

  • Ebony Pearson 
  • Natalie De Lucca 
  • Nhung Hoang 
  • Nicolette Granata 
  • Michael Havazelet 
  • Nabil Saleh