Campus and City Celebrate Community Leaders

Yale Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development Bruce Alexander and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano honored 10 individuals with Yale University Seton Elm-Ivy Awards at a ceremony at Yale on April 28.

The Elm-Ivy Awards recognize individuals and organizations that have enhanced the many partnerships between the university and its host city. Each year, a few of the outstanding efforts that sustain and nourish the “town–gown” relationship are recognized through these awards.

Elm Awards are given to members of the New Haven community, and Ivy Awards are given to Yale faculty, staff and students. The awards are so named because New Haven is called the “Elm City,” and Yale is a member of the Ivy League.

This year’s Elm Awards were given to Abigail Benitez, principal of Columbus Family Academy in Fair Haven; Ruth Henderson,vice chair of the Dixwell Enterprise Community Management Team and a staff member at the Wexler Grant School; and Lise Orville, coordinator for mentor recruitment, training and placement for the citywide science fair.

Faculty/staff Ivy Awards were given to Ruth Feldman, Yale School of Drama director of education and accessibility services; Erin Lavik, associate professor of biomedical engineering and co-organizer of Science Saturdays; Forrester Lee, professor of internal medicine and a leader in the Hill Regional Career High School partnerships with Yale and in local African-American history celebrations; and Christine Weideman, director of manuscripts and archives in the University Library and creator of partnerships with the Cooperative Arts and Humanities Magnet High School.

Undergraduate Ivy Awards were given to Daniel Edeza, head of the Dwight Hall Public School Intern program; and Leon Noel, creator of the “List Full of Hope,” bringing together individuals in need with people who can help them.

The graduate/professional student Ivy Award went to the Yale Health Professional Schools Annual Hunger and Homelessness Auction.

The awards were established in 1979 through the inspiration and support of the late Fenmore Seton (Class of ‘38) and his spouse, Phyllis Seton, who established an endowment at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven to fund the awards. The first Elm and Ivy Awardees were named in 1980. Since that time, 392 individuals have been honored.

The award citations for the honorees follow.

Abie Benitez
Columbus Family Academy
Abie Benitez, principal of the Columbus Family Academy, is constantly “on the hunt” for educational enrichment opportunities for her students and teachers. There are few Yale outreach programs and resources that she has not taken advantage of over the years.

Her school has run a successful Yale University Dr. Ben Carson Book Club for the past two years and boasts three winners of the Carson Scholars award. Her students are also active in the Science Fair. She has brought the Yale Peabody Museum’s biodiversity carts into her building to extend science enrichment opportunities for teachers and students. After school her halls and classrooms are full of students and volunteers, including Yale students and staff.

Dr. Benitez has also been an active Fellow in the Yale New Haven Teacher’s Institute for five consecutive years, where she has participated in seminars led by Yale faculty members to create new curriculum units for the New Haven Public Schools. As a school representative, Dr. Benitez encourages other colleagues to participate and study on the Yale campus through the Institute as well.

In recognition of her work in connecting her K-8 public school with university resources to benefit her students and teachers, Mayor DeStefano and President Levin presented Dr. Abigail Benitez with an Elm Award.

Ruth Henderson
Community Activist
Ruth Henderson is a longtime community activist for the needs of youth, seniors, and her neighborhood. As vice chair of the Dixwell Management Team, Ruth helps support residents’ efforts to strengthen the neighborhood by working with a multitude of government and institutional partners. In this role she has helped support neighbors’ efforts to expand and improve Scantelbury Park – efforts that are coming into fruition this year when the park will reopen to public, doubled in size and boasting new equipment and amenities.

Ruth works at the Wexler Grant School and volunteers her time to support youth in the community. During summers, she has organized block parties for youth on Dickerman Street that have given neighbors and youth an opportunity for fellowship with each other. She has also developed curriculum and taught classes to youth on life skills and preparing for job interviews.

In all of this work, Ruth has welcomed Yale University as a partner and friend in supporting the Dixwell renaissance. She takes the time to get know the resources of Yale and to share them with her neighbors, and she helps the University understand the neighborhood’s priorities so Yale can be an effective partner.

In recognition of her life long service to the community, Mayor DeStefano and President Levin presented Ruth Henderson with an Elm Award

Lise Orville
Civic Volunteer
Lise Orville truly embodies the spirit of partnership between New Haven and Yale University to better the environment we all share. For 13 years she has served as coordinator of mentors in the New Haven Science Fair organized by the public schools and co-sponsored by the University. The word “coordinate” may sound benign, but Lise’s involvement with both sides of that equation is one of total and active immersion in the people and the process.

Lise brings mentoring to another level, changing the way students think about mentors and scientists, and how mentors look at students and teachers. For students it has led to positive directions in their career and life paths. For mentors is has led to the reawakening of a sense of discovery which was often a primary driver for them in their youth.

For Lise, the Science Fair is a vehicle to share her love for science, for scientists, for teaching and for young people. Lise has brought the strength of Yale’s students and faculty interested in mentoring to a conduit – the citywide Science Fair – to reach a student and teacher body anxious to learn about each other and the world of science.

In recognition of her many years of service in helping students and mentors foster a love of science, Mayor DeStefano and President Levin presented Lise Orville with an Elm Award.

Ruth Feldman
Yale Repertory Theater
Ruth Feldman is the ultimate catalyst and connector. As Director of Education and Accessibility Services at the Yale Repertory Theatre, Ruth is a vital link between the New Haven community and the theater. Under her guidance, the Yale Rep became the first theater in Connecticut to serve patrons with visual disabilities by providing high-quality audio-described performances, and she is active in developing a national standard for the live audio description of events.

Ruth helps New Haven public school students connect with and appreciate theater. She manages Yale Rep’s WILL POWER program, a series of performances for local high school students. As part of the program, this season over 1,500 students and educators will attend performances of “Death of Salesman.” She creates and distributes educational materials to help educators connect performances to their curriculum.

In the summer, Ruth runs the Dwight/Edgewood Program in which School of Drama students help nurture future playwrights from the Troup Magnet Academy. Drama students give life to word and perform the plays written by the middle school students, stimulating a love of writing and the theater for a new generation.

In recognition of her efforts to help connect New Haven and Yale through theater, Mayor DeStefano and President Levin presented Ruth Feldman with an Ivy Award.

Erin Lavik
Yale School of Engineering
Erin Lavik, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Yale, is among the leading teachers and researchers of her generation in the field. She develops new therapeutic approaches for the treatment of spinal cord injury and retinal degeneration and has been recognized by the Technology Review 100 as one of a hundred young individuals whose innovative work in technology has a profound impact on today’s world. Last year, she was honored by the Connecticut Technology Council as one of their 2008 Women of Innovation award winners.

Erin is also one of the leaders in Yale engineering who works to inspire future generations of scientists through the Science Saturdays program. This series brings Yale scientists together with New Haven middle and high school students to share the researchers’ excitement about their research. Founded by Professor Ainissa Ramirez and co-directed by Professor Lavik, Science Saturdays help shatter stereotype about scientists and make science fun.

In recognition of her dedication to sharing her passion and her knowledge with the scientists of tomorrow, Mayor DeStefano and President Levin presented Erin Lavik with an Ivy Award.

Dr. Forrester Lee
Yale University School of Medicine
Cardiologist, professor, and Assistant Dean of Multicultural Affairs for Yale School of Medicine, Woody Lee is also a strong supporter of K-12 science education in New Haven. He has been instrumental in bringing together the Hill Regional Career High School with the medical school in a collaborative educational partnership that gives Career High students and teachers access to the resources and facilities at Yale University.

Through this partnership, he has been a leader in SCHOLAR, a residential summer program at Yale for Hill Regional Career High School students who participate in small-group, problem-based science modules, with hands-on laboratory research led by Yale faculty. All of the participants in SCHOLAR have gone on to higher education, many pursuing advanced studies in science and medicine.

Dr. Lee also helps us know and celebrate our history, thanks to his work on behalf of the legacy of Edward Bouchet — a New Haven native, the first African American Yale College graduate (1874), and the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in the United States, when he graduated from Yale in 1876 — as well as the inspiring story of Dr. Cortlandt Van Rensselear Creed — the first African American to graduate from Yale, when he earned his degree from the School of Medicine in 1857.

In recognition of his many contributions to science education and local history, Mayor DeStefano and President Levin presented Dr. Woody Lee with an Ivy Award.

Christine Weideman
Yale University Library
Christine Weideman is not onlyin the business of preserving history, she is also making history by helping introduce New Haven young people to the archives profession. She came to Yale in 1993 and has been Director of Manuscripts & Archives since 2005, where she created the Family and Community Archives Project to attract young people of color to the archives profession.

Working with Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, the project introduced 113 eleventh graders from five U.S. History II classes to the archives profession by training them to become archivists for their families or community organizations. As part of the program students received an introduction to the archives, chose a family and organization and found archival materials related to it, conducted oral histories, toured the library’s repository, understood the various uses of archival material and learned about basic preservation. After eight weeks of classes, the archivists mounted a public exhibit at Sterling Memorial Library of materials uncovered, created and selected by the student archivists.

Christine would be the first to say the success of the project was all due to the work of the archivists on her team, but all of these positive results stem from her vision and leadership as well as her dedication to community service and commitment to the profession. In recognition of her success in uniting the Yale University Library and the New Haven Public Schools, Mayor DeStefano and President Levin presented Christine Weideman with an Ivy Award.

Daniel Edeza
Yale College Class of 2010
From the day Yale College junior Daniel Edeza arrived from Hawthorne, California as a Gates Millennium Scholar, he began to make New Haven home and to dedicate his talents and time toward one of his true passions – public education.

Daniel has served New Haven students in numerous ways over the past three years. He has been a Public School Intern at the Fair Haven Middle School. Public School Interns serve as liaisons between a New Haven Public School and the Yale community, strengthening current volunteer efforts in the schools and finding new ways to match resources at Yale with the needs of the school. Next year, Daniel will be student director of the Public School Intern Program.

Daniel also served as a Yale President’s Public Service Fellow at Solar Youth, showing a dedication to New Haven youth that extends year-round.

Daniel’s commitment to service and public education has won him the respect and admiration not only of his peers but also of principals, teachers and guidance counselors in the New Haven Public Schools. In recognition of his dedication to enriching the lives of New Haven youth, Mayor DeStefano and President Levin presented Daniel Edeza with an Ivy Award.

Leon Noel
Yale College Class of 2010
Yale College junior Leon Noel has harnessed the power of the Internet to connect those who need help with those who can provide it. Leon conceived of, created and continues to operate ListFullofHope.com, a community-based website that makes it possible for people in need to find those who can help fill that need. As the website states, “This site is about bringing communities together. If you need something, ask for it, and if you have something to give, give it. Help build your community by helping your neighbors in need!”

Requests for help are posted almost daily on the website. Anyone willing and able to help can email the site and offer assistance. It is as simple to use as it is immediately and directly effective.

Leon is a social visionary with a practical streak. His idea has already sprouted similar websites in other cities including Philadelphia and San Francisco. Leon’s humanitarian and social-action goals have been realized in real time, with immediate benefits to the people of New Haven and beyond.

In recognition of his work using the power of the web to bring people together to help each other, Mayor DeStefano and President Levin presented Leon Noel with an Ivy Award.

The Yale Health Professional Schools
Annual Hunger and Homelessness Auction
The Yale Health Professional Annual Hunger and Homelessness Auction helps keep shelter doors open. For 15 years the auction has raised hundreds of thousands of dollar for greater New Haven nonprofit organizations that serve the underserved and needy in New Haven.

The auction was established in 1993 by students at the Yale School of Medicine and Public Health who were interested in alleviating hunger and homelessness in our region. They created an auction, organized and supported by the health professional community, the proceeds of which are given to local nonprofit organizations that provide programs to combat hunger and homelessness.

In addition to the auction, annual events include a concert, a hunger and homelessness’ educational panel featuring community members and workers from the community kitchen, and an annual football game with faculty members and students. The group raises over $30,000 annually. Grant recipients include Community Soup Kitchen, Domestic Violence Services, JUNTA, Christian Community Action, Youth Continuum and Columbus House.

In recognition of its more than decade-long efforts to support one of New Haven’s most vulnerable populations, Mayor DeStefano and President Levin presented the Yale Health Professional Schools Annual Hunger and Homeless Auction with an Ivy Award.

Campus & Community

Media Contact

Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325