The Top Owl Social Justice Award is given to recognize contributions toward helping the university achieve its mission of creating and sustaining an inclusive community that appreciates, celebrates, and advances student and campus diversity.
This award, selected by the President’s Commission on Social Justice, will be awarded this year during the months of December, January, February, and March to recognize the contributions, leadership, and service of a worthy faculty, staff, part-time student, and full-time student.
For the month of December, the Top Owl Award winners are student David Bakies and Melanie Savelli, assistant professor of Communication.
David Bakies is a senior geography major and the president of the Geography Club. For the 2018-19 academic year, he is leading the food recovery program for the Sustainability Office, and spent the 2017-18 academic year interning on this project as well. Bakies oversees the daily collection of excess food from Conn Hall operations and the delivery of this food to St. Ann’s soup kitchen, a neighbor to the Southern campus.
Bakies ensures that the food recovery program has all shifts filled with volunteers, an important opportunity for SCSU students to participate and engage in an activity that actively supports food justice for all. The food recovery project puts large quantities of food on plates for neighbors who otherwise go hungry. Under Bakies’ leadership, Southern has donated more than 30,000 lbs. of fresh food, which translates to 25,000 meals.
Bakies is a non-traditional student at Southern and a decorated U.S. Army veteran. His nominator described him as “unfailingly kind and respectful to everyone, all the time,” adding that he devotes time above and beyond what is required on the projects he is involved with, simply because he is generous with his time and values helping people.
Dedicated to environmental restoration, Bakies has also involved himself with projects at the Werth Center for Coastal and Marine Studies. His nominator wrote that “he is happiest when working on projects where he can actively make a difference.” This coming spring, he will be using side scanning radar on a boat to detect and remove abandoned lobster pots, of which there are thousands, from the bottom of Long Island Sound. These abandoned traps needlessly kill marine wildlife and pose a risk to many animals, and to fisheries’ well-being.
Melanie Savelli teaches COM 150, World of Communication. Her nominator wrote that one requirement in the course is to watch weekly TED Talks that provide perspectives students don’t typically seek out. Recently Savelli had her class listen to a podcast called “Conversations with people who hate me,” in which the host had a conversation with someone who sent him a hateful message. The nominator, a student, explained that “at first, I was turned off by the immediate message and tone of the ‘someone’ who sent the message, but listening to the whole podcast I was able to hear and witness a change. Not only did the host and guest have a constructive exchange but the guest realized why and admitted to feeling guilty for sending the message. Dr. Savelli is requiring students to listen to a podcast that is an example of how to break the barriers that prevent both opposing parties from having a constructive conversation.”
The course has also included assignments such as watching a TED Talk about a woman who left the Westboro Baptist Church and now works to show people how to have more productive dialogs and how to manage the emotions and stress that comes with talking about controversial topics.
The nominator emphasized how these assignments have given students more tools to engage in difficult conversations with those who may not agree with them. Other students in the class have also expressed that the videos have made an impact on them.
Congratulations to December’s Top Owl Award winners!
To nominate someone for a Top Owl award, visit the university’s Social Justice website.