Women's Leadership Celebration

Women's Leadership Award Recipients 2017

Each spring, the community has come together to honor community members who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made a meaningful impact on fellow students, the campus, and/or the community at our Women's Leadership Celebration (formerly referred to as Women's Leadership Award Ceremony).  These celebrations have held space for speeches from and acknowledgement of our Women's Leadership Award recipient, Women in STEM Mentorship Program Mentor of the Year, and the Professional Achievement Award recipient. Invitations to the celebration and awards are announced in mid-spring through the Women's Center newsletter and social media accounts. 

These awards, collectively known as The Harvard College Women's Leadership Awards have recognized deserving women annually since 1998, and the WiSTEM Mentor of the Year award was first awarded in 2018. Previously, all recipients were honored at the annual Women's Leadership Award Ceremony held toward the end of April. Starting in 2020, the Women's Center has hosted a week-long celebration over social media to honor women's leadership and will be moving this celebration to March as a capstone to Women's History Month.

Find out more about the broader Harvard College Leadership Program on their website.

Recognizing Leadership & Mentorship

The Women's Leadership Award honors a Harvard College senior who has demonstrated exceptional leadership and made a meaningful impact on fellow students, the campus, and/or the community.  As a result of their transformational leadership, they have set an example that could inspire or empower women at Harvard College to assume leadership roles. The undergraduate award is given in conjunction with a $1,500.00 cash prize. Please note: all applicable fees and taxes are the responsibility of the winner.

Past Recipients

Awardee Bio

Chiamaka Obilo '21

Chia is a Kirkland House affiliate originally hailing from the Boston area concentrating in Human Developmental & Regenerative Biology at the College. In the words of her nominator: "Chia Obilo serves as the Vice President of the Philip Brooks House Association (PBHA), where she facilitates and supervises several programs committed to serving girls in underserved communities throughout the greater Boston area. She also serves as a continual inspiration and role model to her female peers in PBHA, who she leads in her role as Vice President. When Chia is not devoting an enormous amount of her time to PBHA, she is also interning with Black Girls Vote, advocating around public policy issues that affect Black communities and inspiring people to value the voices of women in politics. Even more, Chia has worked with Planned Parenthood supporting reproductive healthcare access for women. On a personal note, she is an immensely supportive and kind friend and member of the Harvard community, and I have witnessed firsthand her unparalleled commitment to social justice, particularly for Black womxn, in everything she does."

Najya Williams '20

Najya Williams has demonstrated exceptional leadership to create a safe haven for herself and other Black students on this campus who were trying to carve their path forward. She served as the Vice Chair of the First-Year Black Table and Special Events Chair of the Black Students Association. As a Black woman in STEM, she found a deepened purpose as a Peer Study Leader (PSL) in the Chemistry department, also serving as a model for her peers. She has amplified women in art through her work as an Editorial Board member of the Women’s Issue magazine, and, as a poet and spoken-word artist herself, she has raised her own voice about critical issues of race, gender, and intersectionality as a featured performer for The Title IX Gender Summit, National Conference of Citizenship, and several other private events. From mentoring young, Black women in the Alberta V. Scott academy to creating a spoken word album about the righteous anger of Black women that will be included on the syllabus of a WGS course, she has consistently centered her leadership on nurturing the communities around her. 

Anwar Omeish '19

Leaders like Anwar keep us honest – honest to ourselves and to the work we have committed ourselves to. She brings her whole self to her leadership, an uncommon level of dedication and sacrifice to remake our world into a better one for all communities. Anwar’s leadership is centered in coalition-building, and through collaborative efforts has advocated for worker’s rights (such as the HUDS strike with the Student Labor Action Movement), building inclusive community within the Harvard Islamic Society (such as establishing the Anti-Islamaphobia Network), and her contributions to our understanding of public service as a leader within PBHA are undeniable. Her efforts have not only motivated her peers, but also served as a catalyst for activism, the impact of which has been felt across campus, and extended beyond the gates of Harvard into neighboring communities.

Leen Al Kasaab '18

Leen’s impact is felt deeply as she works to highlight olive branches during times of disconnect. Her leadership was tested as the president of the Society of Arab Students when national leadership instituted a travel ban on countries in Africa along with Iran and Syria amongst others. During this time of division, Leen saw the importance of allyship and created an opportunity for Harvard students from these countries to connect and create a stronger community. In addition, she has worked to grow the Society of Arab Students from 10 to 70ppl and created a more inclusive board which included LGBTQ identified students, more women students which had not been represented on the board in previous years.

Karen Chee' 17

As an artist, Karen couples a bold comedic charm with a thoughtful and determined nature leaving the Harvard College community more inclusive, warmer, and funnier than how she found it. Her presence has had a major impact on the comedy scene at Harvard through her powerful role as president of the Immediate Gratification Players; through her service as an Officer of the Signet Society, and as founder of the SKETCH comedy show. Karen has established a long list of accomplishments and recognition during her time at Harvard. She was profiled by the Harvard Leadership Magazine, interned with Stephen Colbert, her work was published in both the New Yorker and Huffington Post, and Karen was invited to the White House last fall for the first ever South by South Lawn. According to one of her several nominators, “seeing another student already reaching such incredible heights is an inspiration for us all.” In the tradition of improv, Karen’s approach to leadership is based on “yes, and.” She has “confidently walked into spaces not built for her, saying “yes” to what exists, “and” then working to make those spaces better. She argues that “leadership is about walking through doors, then turning around and helping others enter that door too.” While this alone is admirable, Karen has gone a step further by creating new doors. As a freshman, Karen wanted to work on a sketch comedy show, but none was to be found, so she started SKETCH, a “collaborative SNL-style comedy show that brings together students from all walks of life into its creative process.” Already in its fourth year, SKETCH has become one of Harvard’s more inclusive comedy cultural traditions.

Jasmine Fernandez '16

Jasmine Fernandez '16, a first generation college student of Mexican/Salvadoran background from Los Angeles, was heavily involved in the initiatives of inclusion on campus, specifically that of first-gen students. From the beginning of Jasmine's time here, she has been a fierce advocate for students who have been barred from Harvard’s campus—whether due to race, class, gender, or otherwise. Additionally, she speaks tirelessly on the role race plays on campus, and how race/racism intersects with gender/sexism. Her work no doubt inspires other students and makes campus resources more accessible to them as well. She was the Inaugural President of the Harvard College First Generation Student Union, working on campus to raise visibility in administrative offices, across campus, and with incoming freshmen during Visitas weekend.

Rachel Sandalow-Ash '15

Rachel Sandalow-Ash '15, from Brookline, MA and Lowell House, was nominated for the Women's Leadership Award because of her work on a topic close to her heart. In November 2012 Rachel co-founded Open Hillel, which aims to transform Hillel International and other Jewish institutions to become inclusive organizations that engage in conversations that represent diverse perspectives. Currently, Hillel International has exclusionary Standards of Partnership, which bar speakers and organizations deemed too critical of Israel. These standards do not allow open discourse reflecting diverse perspectives including those of Palestinians discussing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Open Hillel has been covered in the New York Times and the movement held its first national conference this past October where over 50 speakers drew over 300ppl from across the country. It is clear that Rachel is working to create a community that is open, equal and empowering.

Amy Yin '14

Amy Yin came to Harvard from a small town in Wisconsin called Onalaska, where her parents constantly instilled in her the belief that "the sky is the limit." On campus, she thought she would go into finance, so she joined and became the President of the Harvard Financial Analysts Club, turning it into the largest finance club on campus. Upon taking the introductory Computer Science class CS50, she realized that coding allowed her to innovate and realized that her passions were in entrepreneurship and technology. Her experiences in the male-dominated discipline of Computer Science sparked her desire to encourage more women to go into technology as well as to support the women who were already studying and working in the field. To this end, she started Harvard Women in Computer Science (WiCS), an organization that, over the past two years, has extended its membership from just 2 to over 200 women technologists on Harvard's campus and has been recognized by Google and the Anita Borg Institute for her efforts to increase the number of women in STEM. In addition to founding this organization, Amy interned with Facebook and Microsoft, and she took a year off to co-found Vapor Communications, Inc., a tech start-up based in France, where she developed a device to transmit scents using an app on your smartphone. After graduation, she will work as a full-time engineer at Facebook on their Internet.org project, which brings data access to developing nations. Furthermore, she has been accepted to Stanford's Business school, where she will procure her MBA in the Class of 2019.

Lena Awwad '13

Lena Awwad was born and raised in Ramallah, Palestine. Throughout her time there she witnessed various acts of violence and human rights abuses which often hindered her access to education. Along with her three younger sisters, Lena was forced to cross extensive Israeli checkpoints in order to get to school. During her time at Harvard, and despite her interest in pursuing a medical degree, Lena maintained her passion for and dedication to the Palestinian cause and specifically the Palestinian right to education. She was committed to raising awareness both on campus and in the greater community through her involvement in a number of student groups specifically the Palestine Solidarity Committee. During the fall of her senior year, Lena learned from students at her alma mater, the Ramallah Friends School (RFS), that their SAT exams were held up by the Israeli authorities leading to the cancelation of the last testing session of the semester. Upon hearing the news, Lena worked tirelessly with a group of RFS alumni to publish an op-ed (Israel vs. No. 2 Pencils) which later prompted the State Department to ensure that the exams were released and that the test was rescheduled. Despite her interest in human rights, Lena aspires to work in the medical field a discipline she believes sees beyond racial, ethnic, religious, and gender differences. Before attending graduate school to work towards a degree in optometry, Lena will be spending a year in Palestine working with local NGOs.

Naseemah Mohamed '12

Naseemah Mohamed was born and raised in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. She left Zimbabwe in 2004 to attend Portsmouth Abbey High School, in Portsmouth RI. As the only African student and one of the few black students  in her high school, she recognized the need for exposing her fellow students to issues about poverty and human rights in Africa; she founded the Portsmouth Abbey Human Rights Group.  During her time at  Harvard, Naseemah has maintained her passion for exploring development issues on the continent and pursued a joint degree in African and African American Studies (African Studies track) and Social Studies. She has been on the board of the Harvard African Students  Association for three years, and served as president-elect in her junior year. She has also been a board member of  YALDA (Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa) and the co-director of the Pan African Dance and Music Ensemble.  Naseemah spent two years working on her thesis-  designing and implementing a literacy project in her hometown in Zimbabwe. Her project focuses on training teachers to use the arts as a teaching tool in order to break the colonial legacy of rote learning and corporal punishment that is still pervasive in the Zimbabwean educational system. She is currently working with officials in the Ministry of Education on piloting the project in a separate part of the country. Before attending graduate school for a degree in Education Policy or International Development, Naseemah will spend a year in India learning Indian classical dance as a Harvard Michael C. Rockefeller fellowship recipient.

Madeline Ballard '11

A native of Montreal, Madeleine graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 2011 with an A.B. in Social Studies. A Harvard College Scholar and Conant Prize winner, she wrote her thesis on indigenous approaches to HIV education in Mali. Madeleine was involved with numerous global health initiatives on campus, including the Harvard Global Health and AIDS Coalition, SPINALpedia, Peer Health Exchange, and the research team for Dr. Paul Farmer and Dr. Arthur Kleinman’s upcoming textbook. She also served as an overnight volunteer at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, a four-year starter for the 2011 DII National Champion Harvard Radcliffe Rugby Club and your friendly neighborhood bartender at the Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub. She is currently working for Tiyatien Health in rural Liberia.

Eva Lam '10

Eva Lam is currently pursuing a doctorate in education at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. Her research investigates the implementation of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme in American urban public schools. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa with high honors from Harvard with a degree in Social Studies and a certification as a high school history teacher. During college, she was president of the Harvard College Democrats and worked as a writing tutor, a field intern with Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and a research assistant. Eva is a proud native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Sarah Lockridge-Steckel '09

Sarah Lockridge-Steckel is a Senior Associate Consultant at the Bridgespan Group, which specializes in strategic solutions for mission-driven organizations. Sarah’s recent work included helping to develop a national strategy and measurement approach focused on increasing the number of youth that are college and career ready in the United States. She also supported the development of a measurement system for 10,000 Women, an initiative of the Goldman Sachs Foundation that trains thousands of women entrepreneurs in over 20 countries. Her work included tracking the outcomes of 1000 women, developing materials and training 18 ground managers on measurement and producing a measurement report for the organization. Sarah then developed a measurement toolkit and guided the implementation in over 20 countries. Her other work at Bridgespan has included crafting a national five-year strategic plan for a child welfare organization, with over $150M in annual revenue. Before Bridgespan, Sarah attended Harvard College, where she was active in the Phillips Brooks House Association and the Black Students Association. During the summer of 2007, she served as co-director of PBHA’s Franklin I-O Summer Program. The program provides educational enrichment to 80 campers, ages 6-12, during a seven-week program. Additionally, Sarah served as Black Students Association President and led the organization in a political action campaign focused on youth violence in Boston. She concentrated in sociology. She is originally original from Detroit, MI.

Katherine Beck '08

After graduating from Harvard College in 2008, Katie joined Teach For America as a corps member in Greater New Orleans.   She taught 5th and 6th grade English for two years at Schaumburg Elementary School and loved watching her 126 students become stronger writers and readers. After two years in the classroom, Katie joined Teach For America’s staff in New Orleans where she now works as Director of Regional Strategy and Innovation. In her role, Katie manages an innovation portfolio of emerging projects and seeks to increase innovation across the regional organization. Outside of work, Katie enjoys her adoptive home city’s fine restaurants, festivals, and music. 

Tracy Nowski '07

Tracy Nowski graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 2007 with an A.B. in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, having written a Hoopes Prize winning thesis was on female gubernatorial candidates. While at Harvard, Tracy was Director of Strong Women, Strong Girls (and is currently in her sixth year serving on SWSG's National Board of Directors). She also worked extensively with the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, as well as the Harvard Undergraduate Council. Her contributions to campus life were recognized with the Paul Revere Frothingham Scholarship, which is awarded to the Harvard senior who best exemplifies excellence in scholarship, character, and community service. After graduating, she joined McKinsey & Company as a strategic management consultant, first in the firm's Atlanta Office serving private sector clients, then in McKinsey's Washington, DC location serving non-profits, NGOs, and multilateral organizations. Tracy is currently pursuing a JD at Yale Law School, and spent her first summer doing impact litigation with the ACLU Women's Rights Project.

Lauren Schuker '06

Lauren Schuker, a native of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is currently a staff writer at The Wall Street Journal in New York. She covers media and television for the national newspaper; before that, she was based in Los Angeles where she wrote about arts, culture and film and covered Hollywood. She has been on staff for four years. Before joining The Wall Street Journal, Lauren studied as a Marshall Scholar in London, England. She received her Masters in Art History, with a special focus on modern and feminist art, from the University of London's Courtauld Institute in 2007. Lauren graduated Phi Beta Kappa with highest honors from Harvard in 2006. She majored in English, but her real concentration was The Harvard Crimson, where she first worked as a reporter covering former Harvard President Larry Summers and then served as president of The Crimson during her junior and senior years at Harvard, forgoing a year’s worth of sleep for the excitement of the newsroom, and appearing on Charlie Rose to discuss Larry Summers’ embattled presidency.

Lia Larson '05

Since graduating from Harvard in 2005, Lia has been working in New York City and London as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs. She is currently working on Emerging Markets financing for the firm, covering the Middle East, Africa, and FSU regions. In her free time she enjoys travelling and marathon running. She recently raised over $6,000 for the American Cancer Association by running the New York marathon.

Lindsay Hyde '04

Lindsay Hyde is the Founder and President of Strong Women, Strong Girls, a Boston-based not-for-profit agency dedicated to supporting the healthy development of girls. Since her graduation in 2004, Lindsay has grown the organization to serve 2,000 girls and women at over 100 schools across the country. Lindsay’s leadership of Strong Women, Strong Girls has been recognized with a Do Something BRICK Award for Social Entrepreneurship and  a national Jefferson Award for the Greatest Public Service by an Individual 35 Years and Under. In addition to her work on Strong Women, Strong Girls, Lindsay also serves as an Elected Director with the Harvard Alumni Association and on the Board of The Commonwealth Institute.

Braxton Brooks '03

Braxton Brooks began her professional career as a dancer after training at the Alvin Ailey Dance Center and studying on full scholarship at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. After shifting her focus to theatrical dance and away from concert work, she has performed internationally, regionally and on Broadway as an actress, singer and dancer in addition to appearing on national television shows and commercials.  Most recently, she completed a two-year Meisner technique program at the prestigious William Esper Studio, studying under William Esper himself.  Braxton currently resides in New York City where she continues to perform and search for the perfect cup of hot chocolate.

Laura Clancy '02

Business Week TV calls her "whipsmart and fearless." The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network says that she's "a wunderkind at the forefront of the next generation of nonprofit leadership."   After graduating with what the Gazette called a "gallery of awards," Laura led the corporate and foundation relations office at Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, and raised eight figures a year to support the organization's growth. While in business school at Columbia,where she received their William Randolph Hearst Scholarship, she has served as a strategy consultant to New Visions for Public Schools, the Gates Foundation's education reform grantee in New York City. She's served as a consultant at The Bridgespan Group, a spinoff from Bain that offers management consulting to nonprofits, and is now the Chief of Staff at Achievement First, one of the country's premier charter management organizations.

Peggy Lim '01

Peggy Lim currently lives in Kansas City, Mo., and works at Deluxe Corporation in content marketing and strategy. Prior to joining Deluxe, she worked as operations manager of Splash Language Immersion, a division of the VIF Program, the nation’s largest cultural exchange program for international K-12 teachers. At Splash, she helped establish language immersion programs (primarily Spanish) in North Carolina public schools. She also worked in newspaper journalism for five years, spending time at her hometown newspaper “The Tampa Tribune” and the “The [Raleigh] News & Observer.” After college, Peggy spent two years abroad in Asia, studying at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American studies and at National Taiwan University’s graduate institute for international business as a Rotary scholar. Peggy graduated magna cum laude in East Asian Studies from Harvard — where she also participated in the Women’s Leadership Project, “Diversity & Distinction” magazine and the International Relations Council and edited the “Women’s Guide to Harvard.”

Sameera Fazili '00

Sameera Fazili graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 2000 with a BA in Social Studies and from Yale Law School in 2006. She then spent two years in Medical School at SUNY Buffalo, before making the career switch into Law. While she has worn many hats and dabbled in many fields since Harvard--including public health, human rights, housing finance, and her current work in economic policy--her work has always focused on issues of social and economic equity. Currently she serves as a Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary for International Affairs at the U.S. Treasury Department. Prior to the Treasury Department, she was a clinical lecturer of law at Yale Law School where she ran two clinics focused on economic development and development finance. Regionally she has worked in both South Asia and the Middle East.

Sarah Russell '99

Sarah Russell, MD, MBA: Founder and CEO of Rx-Text, LLC, a healthcare services firm focused on patient adherence to treatment plans. Board-certified physician in internal medicine with active clinical practice at the VA Medical Center in Philadelphia, PA. Her clinical work and research has been at the intersection of entrepreneurship, technology, and public policy. Prior to Rx-Text and while in clinical practice, she negotiated the first contract between Beckton-Dickinson and the public hospital sector of KwaZuluNatal, South Africa in order to improve access to and distribution of safety needles. She completed residency training at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA and earned an MBA in Healthcare Management at the Wharton School in Philadelphia, PA, where she was the recipient of the Eilers Award for Healthcare Delivery Innovation. MD, Harvard Medical School; MPhil in Development Economics, Cambridge University; BA, Harvard College in Afro-American Studies.

Valerie Brader-Macmillan '98

Following her time at Harvard, Valerie worked for Governor Batt of Idaho as the staff assistant for natural resources.  She then spent two years on the Rhodes Scholarship, earning two masters degrees: a Masters of Science in Environmental Change and Management, and a Master of Studies in Historical Research.  Washington, D.C. was her next stop, where she was an award-winning environmental consultant to various federal agencies by day and a Georgetown law by night.  She clerked for U.S. District Court Judge John Feikens (E.D. Michigan).  Following her clerkship, she joined Bodman, PLC as an environmental and corporate attorney in Detroit and Ann Arbor, where she was named partner in 2010.  She departed Bodman in 2011 to join Governor Rick Snyder’s administration as Chief Energy Policy Officer for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.  A published author in the legal and scientific presses, Ms. Brader also serves as the secretary of the Women's Caring Program, a non-profit that provides child care scholarships to the working poor.  She has previously served as president of the Harvard Club of Eastern Michigan and as vice-president of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. 

The WiSTEM Mentor of the Year is recognized as a dedicated mentor whose insight and advice has proven an invaluable source of support and inspiration for their mentee as they explore their academic and career options in STEM.

Past Mentors of the Year

Year Honoree Bio
2021 Hannah Smith Biology PhD Student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Lab in William Mair's Lab
2020 Katie Weiner PhD Student in Molecular Biology
2019 Dr. Mami Iwamoto MD: Practicing Ophthalmologist/Surgeon
2018 Alyssa Hernandez PhD Candidate in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology

The Harvard College Women’s Professional Achievement Award recognizes an individual who has demonstrated exceptional leadership affecting women in their professional field and has used this leadership position to benefit their community. All eligibility and selection procedures for the achievement award are determined by the Dean of Harvard College, and the leadership of the Harvard College Women’s Center.

Past Honorees

Year Honoree Professional Career
2021 Jamesa Bailey Associate Director, Black Campaigns at Planned Parenthood Federation of America
2020 Reverend Mariama White-Hammond Activist, organizer, Chief of Enviro, Energy & Open Space at City of Boston
2019 Coach Kathy Delaney-Smith Harvard Women's Head Basketball Coach
2018 Chef Joanne Chang Chef, famous local business owner, College graduate
2017 Dr. Susan Marine Associate Professor, Higher Education, Merrimack College
Founding Director, Harvard College Women's Center
2017 Natasha Alford Deputy Editor of theGrio,  2015 TEDx talk “The Courage to Report”
2016 Nikki Giovani Poet, Virginia Tech University Distinguished Professor. 
2015 Reverend Liz Walker Pastor, Historic Roxbury Presbytarian Church; Award Winning Journalist, Documentary Film Producer, Entrepreneur
2014 Robin Chase Founder of Zipcar, Buzzcar, and Veniam 'Works
2013 Kathleen McCartney President-elect of Smith College and Dean of Harvard Graduate School of Education
2012 Rebecca Eaton Executive Producer, PBS Masterpiece
2011 Christina "Tina"  Tchen Chief of Staff for Michelle Obama
2010 Anne Garrels NPR Correspondent
2009 Stephanie Wilson NASA Astronaut
2008 Diane Paulus Artistic Director fo the American Repertory Theater
2007 President Drew Faust President-Elect of Harvard University, Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies and Lincoln Professor of History 
2006 Dr. JoAnn Manson Doctor; Chief of Division of Preventative Medicine; Harvard Professor of Medicine
2005 Carla Harris Finance; Managing Director at Morgan Stanley
2004 Hanna Holborn Gray President of U. Chicago (1st woman to lead a major american research university)
2003 Governor Jane Swift Governor of Massachusetts
2002 Ellen Goodman Journalist/columnist/writer
2001 Doris Kearns Goodwin Author, Pulitzer Prize winner; TV Political Analyst
2000 Carole Simpson journalist/emmy winning correspondent
1999 Pat Schroeder Member of Congress; Colorado
1998 Margaret Marshall Law/Chief Justice (retired) of Massachusetts