Religion major Karissa Masciel saw a need to educate youngsters on various religions to give them the tools to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions.
Two years ago, Masciel created the Interfaith Ambassadors (iFam) program at USC, which trains students to give religious literacy lessons to high school teenagers in the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative. Since then, the program has been recognized by the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Interfaith Youth Core.
Now a senior, Masciel continues to immerse herself in civic engagement. She has taught folklore to first- and second-graders through the Joint Educational Project (JEP) at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. She has interned at the Downtown Women’s Center, facilitating vocational trainings and building support networks for women. She has also served as mentor for pregnant and parenting teens in USC’s Youth Exploring Passion program.
In honor of her exceptional service, Masciel was presented with the Extraordinary Community Service Award at JEP’s 2014 Community Service Awards Dinner held on April 29 at Town & Gown. The recognition honors a graduating senior for his or her significant service to the communities surrounding the University Park and Health Sciences campuses. Masciel’s name will be added to the wall in Grace Ford Salvatori Hall in commemoration of her commitment to service.
The evening honored JEP participants for their stellar community service. One of the oldest and largest service-learning programs in the United States, JEP works with more than 1,100 students and 50 community partners each semester.
She puts theories into practice
Grateful for her award, Masciel said that speaking to people in her community has taught her about everyday struggles faced by many: hours spent riding the buses to get to better schools, strained relationships with mothers who work four jobs and the perils of living on the streets of Skid Row as a woman with mental illness.
“It’s one thing to read about systemic inequalities and quite another to encounter those inequalities firsthand,” Masciel said.
Community service has complemented her work in the classroom by providing her with a richer understanding of the world.
“In my classes I learn about gender, race and socioeconomic structures, but community service is putting those theories into practice,” Masciel said. “It’s about making humanities live through human connections.”
George Sanchez, vice dean for diversity and strategic initiatives and professor of American studies and ethnicity and history at USC Dornsife, was the event’s master of ceremonies.
“On behalf of USC Dornsife College and the university community, we thank you for your service,” he told the 10 winners. “I know that you will continue this tradition of community service well beyond college.”
JEP Executive Director Tammara Anderson said she was thrilled to celebrate JEP and the service of several outstanding Trojans.
Anderson acknowledged the generosity of USC Trustee Henry Salvatori, and his wife, Grace, who have been steadfast supporters of JEP over the years. They provided funding for a number of the community service scholarships presented during the ceremony, as well as an endowment for the awards dinner.
“Henry and Grace were so dynamic, and they believe wholeheartedly in JEP and its mission,” Anderson said.
Five students earned Grace Ford Salvatori Community Service Scholarships in honor of their excellent community service, civic leadership, financial need and high academic performance. Colleen O’Brian (French and environmental engineering), Vijeta Tandon (progressive degree in economics), Tiffany Tse (biological sciences), Yihui Ashley Yang (international relations and global economics) and Lillian Zazueta (comparative literature) will each receive a $5,000 tuition scholarship.
English major Whitney Tolar received the Barbara Seaver Gardner Award, named after JEP’s founder and first director. The award recognizes a graduating senior who has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to community service through continued participation in JEP. Tolar, who has worked with students of all ages focusing on reading and writing, began as a JEP volunteer her freshman year and has since continued as a volunteer each semester.
The Richard “Dick” Cone Award was presented to occupational therapy master’s student Madison Aguirre. The honor recognizes a graduate student whose research has important practical applications for the community. As part of her master’s work, Aguirre developed an occupational therapy curriculum for JEP to help students witness the value of occupational engagement.
Andrienne Kibler, a master’s student at the USC Price School of Public Policy, received the Desiree Benson Work-Study Grant. The scholarship honors a student who has demonstrated service to the educational enrichment of youth in the USC community. Kibler, currently a literacy coordinator in JEP’s ReadersPLUS Program, manages students participating in JEP’s Project Read.
The USC Dornsife Award for Exceptional Service was a new addition to the annual JEP awards dinner. The recognition was presented to Deena Lew, who graduated from the USC Marshall School of Business in 1985. The award honors an alumnus or alumna, donor, faculty member or corporate sponsor for sharing his or her time, talents and donations with JEP. During Lew’s time at USC, she participated in JEP and continues to volunteer with the program.
Sanchez noted that in addition to co-chairing JEP’s 40th anniversary gala in 2013, Lew has returned to volunteer at the JEP House. She and her husband, Mitchell, an alumnus and a USC trustee, have helped to fund JEP programs, even purchasing a minivan several years ago so that students could be transported to some of the program’s community sites farthest from campus. The Lews participated in JEP when they were students at USC, a tradition their children Amanda and Troy now continue.
“It was my JEP experience that helped to define my passion, which became education,” Deena Lew said. She thanked Anderson, JEP staff and community partners. She also thanked Sanchez and USC Dornsife Dean Steve A. Kay for supporting the mission of JEP and offering students from across the university an opportunity to impact the neighborhoods in which they live.
“JEP is so unique and enriching to the USC experience,” she said.
In closing, Sanchez addressed the students who will be graduating from USC on May 16. He encouraged them to use what they have learned at JEP throughout their lives.
“You can make a difference in the world whatever your career is if you work closely with people different than you but full of the same aspirations and dreams,” Sanchez said. “You have been trained in the classroom and outside your classes to make a difference in the world. That’s what a real Dornsife education is all about.
“Now is your chance to take that education and apply it to solve problems and help people locally, nationally and around the globe.”