University and City Honor Those Who Have Strengthened Town-Gown Ties

Yale University President Richard C. Levin and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. honored 12 individuals and one group with Yale University Seton Elm-Ivy Awards at a ceremony on campus on April 27.

Yale University President Richard C. Levin and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. honored 12 individuals and one group with Yale University Seton Elm-Ivy Awards at a ceremony on campus on April 27.

The Elm-Ivy Awards recognize people whose leadership helps sustain the strong collaboration and supportive partnership of the university and its hometown. Each year, some of the most outstanding efforts that enrich 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 for the stately elms that lined New Haven’s streets and earned it the name “Elm City” and for Yale’s membership in the Ivy League.

This year’s Elm Awards were given to Christine Alexander, founder of New Haven Reads; Roslyn Milstein Meyer, co-founder of LEAP and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas; Nichole Jefferson; executive director of the New Haven Commission on Equal Opportunity; and Emily Byrne, Office of the Mayor and New Haven Promise.

Pictured at the Seton Elm-Ivy celebration on April 27 are (front row, from left) Mayor John DeStefano Jr., President Richard C. Levin, Georgina Lucas, Nicole Jefferson, Sarah Miller; (second row) Roslyn Milstein Meyer, Emily Byrne, Charisse Mandimika, Rotimi Okunade; (third row) Caesar Storlazzi, Drew Ruben, Danielle Gunther-Gawlak (in green), Amy Moreno, Kayla Iman Vinson; (back row) Michael Morand, Russell Adair and Jorge Ramallo. Mandimika, Okunade, Moreno and Ramallo were accepting the award on behalf of the Yale Student National Medical Assocation.

Faculty/staff Ivy Awards were given to Georgina Lucas, deputy director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars program at Yale; Danielle Gunther-Gawlak, senior project manager in Facilities; Russell Adair, associate director of Institutional Research; and Caesar Storlazzi, university director of Student Financial Services.

Undergraduate Ivy Awards were given to Drew Ruben, SY ”11, founder of Blue State Coffee, and Kayla Iman Vinson, DC ‘11, founder of Students Activating for Youth.

Graduate/professional student Ivy Awards went to Sarah Miller, a Ph.D. candidate in the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science, leader in science outreach with the public schools; and to the Yale Student National Medical Assocation in the Yale School of Medicine for its Health Professions Recruitment.

A special Elm and Ivy Award was given to Michael Morand ‘87 DIV ‘93, for service in Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs and with New Haven community organizations.

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, 402 individuals have been honored.

The award citations for the honorees follow.



When Chris Alexander started New Haven Reads in 2001, she probably did not expect that in 2010, over 100,000 books would be distributed annually and that over 450 students would be part of its tutoring program every week.  But, it is no surprise to those who know Chris that her dedication, commitment, and compassion yielded such spectacular results. 

The idea for a free book bank and a free tutoring service for any child who needs it grew out of a citywide initiative to promote literacy.  And since its inception, New Haven Reads has stood up to that challenge and has grown from a powerful idea to a thriving center of literacy. 

The overall goal is to provide an environment where children and adults have access to free books and tutoring to increase their literacy skills and academic performance. Emphasis is placed on serving the most economically and educationally disadvantaged children and families who otherwise would not have access to these resources.  Chris recognizes that literacy is among the largest barriers poor children confront and that literacy rates directly affect a person’s quality of life.  Many of her tutors are Yale student and staff volunteers, strengthening the relationship between Yale and the local community.

“Every child should have a home library and books at their fingertips” is what you will hear from Chris, who continues on as the Director of New Haven Reads.   As the students pack up their belongings, they may take some books off the shelf and throw them in their backpacks.  These books will not be returning to the library’s shelves — and that’s the idea.



It’s a good thing for our community that Roslyn Milstein Meyer transferred from Cornell University to Yale in 1969, when Yale admitted women.  After earning master’s and doctoral degrees in clinical psychology at Yale, she and her husband decided to remain in New Haven. She has ever since served as a model of leadership and social change in our community.  Ithaca’s loss was certainly New Haven’s gain.

Known to friends and colleagues as “Roz,” in 1991, she cofounded  LEAP, (Leadership, Education, and Athletics in Partnership), a mentoring program that trains high school and college students to provide academic and social enrichment to inner-city youth.   Roz’s goal is to “help inner-city youth view education as an avenue to get out of poverty.”

Five years later, Roz also served as a founder of the city’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas, which brings performers and artists from around the world to New Haven annually during two weeks in June.   The event aims to break down racial and socio economic barriers through the arts. 

Her most recent philanthropic venture is the creation of the Milstein Meyer Center for Melanoma Research and Treatment, with the goal of developing new treatments for this disease.



Nichole Jefferson is truly building a better New Haven.  And she’s doing it brick by brick, worker by worker.  As the Executive Director of the City’s Commission on Equal Opportunity, Nichole works tirelessly to provide the opportunity for New Haven residents to train for long-term careers in the construction trade. 

Anyone who has graduated from Nichole’s boot camp of the city’s construction readiness program, Construction Workforce Initiative, knows that Nichole won’t accept slacking off.  And Yale and City contractors realize that they need to build training of New Haven residents into their bids upfront.

Danielle Gunther-Gawlak, as Senior Project Manager in the Facilities Department at Yale, champions the furtherance of New Haven residents in employment practices amongst Yale’s many construction managers and subcontractors.  The result of her efforts has been a steady and significant increase in the number of local residents employed on construction projects at Yale.

Danielle holds her contractors accountable and on a monthly basis calls them together to reward positive behavior and admonish those who do not meet the hiring goals.  Danielle sets the example for her colleagues.  She also devotes a significant amount of her time to Career Development School — a complementary employment-oriented program funded by the Housing Authority of New Haven, whose primary goal is to teach our local youth the skills required by the various construction trades.

Through the joint efforts of Danielle and Nichole, both Yale and the city have made an unprecedented commitment to finding, training, and employing city residents who can succeed in the construction trades.   Through this commitment, individuals have the opportunity to grow wealth for themselves, their families and contribute to their communities.

NEW HAVEN PROMISE (Emily Byrne, Russell Adair, Caesar Storlazzi)


Certainly one of the most exciting announcements of 2010 was the creation of New Haven Promise.  A collaboration between the city, the University, and the Community Foundation, New Haven Promise, by definition, exhibits the true character of an Elm-Ivy Award. 

Although the announcement of the Promise was made on November 9, a few had been tasked with its creation many months prior.  Then-Deputy Chief of Staff Emily Byrne was charged with the design and guidelines for the Promise.  Yale’s Russ Adair, Associate Director of Institutional Research, and Caesar Storlazzi, University Director of Student Financial Services, spent hours modeling the various guidelines and structuring options.  Their collaboration on a staff level supported the City and University’s efforts to position New Haven Promise as one of the key initiatives of New Haven School Change.  Emily has since accepted the role as the Director of New Haven Promise and continues to drive forward its mission. 

Part of the Promise’s goal is to stimulate a college going culture across the city by providing economic access to two- and four- year colleges and universities and community outreach and involvement.  It also supports economic development in New Haven by growing a competitive workforce and encouraging New Haven residency.  The first year of scholarship applications were due for the Class of 2011 on March 1, and the response was overwhelmingly positive: 360 New Haven public school students applied. 



As deputy director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars program at Yale, Georgina Lucas trains select physicians to become leaders in improving the nation’s health and health care.  When it comes to leadership, Georgina certainly sets a high bar.  Armed with her Masters in Social Work, Georgina has contributed to many significant initiatives over the years including improving mental health services to underserved populations and establishing partnerships between the public and private sectors focused on long term care for the elderly.

At Yale, the core mission of the Clinical Scholars program is to work with community members to meet community health needs.  Georgina recognizes that this does not mean taking one’s area of interest and forcing its implementation.  She trains her scholars that the most impactful studies are ones that are identified by the community as a need and supported by the community as an integral part of the process.  It is research collaboration in its truest form.  In order for her scholars to become leaders, they must first become partners with the community.

Georgina has developed relationships within New Haven that allow her to guide her scholars in projects throughout the city.  Among the projects Georgina has overseen are Project ACCESS, providing medical care and assistance to the uninsured, and Photo Voice, which provided cameras to New Haven children so they could tell stories about their lives.



Some of us can’t generate a great idea until after we’ve had our first cup of coffee of the day.  For Drew Ruben, it was waiting in line for a cup that sparked his brainstorm.  Why not create a model linking local enterprise to philanthropy?  Why not include sustainability and an environmentally-sound operation?

Thus was born Blue State Coffee, a rapidly expanding local business with coffee shops in New Haven, Providence and Boston.   Drew, now a senior at Yale, has epitomized socially conscientious entrepreneurship and civic vision.   The company donates 2% of sales to local causes, and has given over $225,000 to date to over 50 non-profit organizations.  The list of New Haven agencies and projects that have received direct financial support maps right onto the list of those supported by the United Way of Greater New Haven.  In New Haven, the establishment of two branches has also created over thirty new jobs.  

It is safe to say that no new strategy for raising consciousness AND money for exemplary and essential community services has appeared nor been anywhere near so successful nor as widely recognized as the model that Drew, along with his father, Blue State co-owner Marshall Ruben, have introduced, sustained, and expanded with such wide-spread benefits to our community. 



From the day she set foot in New Haven, Kayla Vinson has been a true champion of cooperative programs between the New Haven Public Schools and Yale University.   At every University one comes across some students who have pursued community service because they believed it was an important way complete their college resume.  Kayla is not one of them. Her resume runs three pages long and is filled with roles to which she has fully committed herself.  Her dedication to public service and public education is palpable and it runs deep.

Kayla was a co-founder of Students Advocating for Youth and served as a mentor in Women and Youth Supporting Each Other and Visions of Virtue Christian Mentoring Program before taking on a leadership role in Yale’s educational outreach efforts.  She served as the Public School Intern at Wilbur Cross High School for two years where she introduced a classroom assistant program. Kayla also served as the Education Network Coordinator at Dwight Hall.  Kayla is currently conducting ethnographic research on the experience of black male 9th-graders at Wilbur Cross as part of her Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Fellowship. 




Sarah Miller is full of energy and ideas and has a passion for both public education and science. As a graduate student pursuing a PhD in Yale’s engineering school, Sarah has taken her excitement and acted as a catalyst for science outreach to the New Haven Public Schools.  Sarah comes to her mission well equipped.  Having majored in chemistry in college, Sarah later taught in middle school through the TFA program, received a masters in education, and currently serves as a Leadership Fellow in Yale Engineering’s competitively-awarded Advanced Graduate Leadership Program.

To highlight just a few of her initiatives, she has organized a Girls in Engineering Day, co-designed and co-taught a course on Environmental Disasters on Saturday mornings at Betsy Ross Middle School, helped high school students in the Evolutions program at the Peabody, designed and taught a green chemistry and engineering summer school course at Career HS and worked weekly in math classrooms.

Equally important, Sarah recognizes that she is only one person yet her goals are large.  So she recruits other graduate engineering students in her efforts.  Through these additional resources she has created programs that are sustainable and able to impact more students.  Two examples of this include the formalized volunteer program with NH’s Engineering Science University Magnet School and the Pathways to Engineering Day at Yale for local middle school students.

Sarah continues to make an outstanding contribution to the education of our young scientists and engineers.  She also provides the roadmap for others at Yale to do the same.  We expect to continue to see Sarah build bridges between science and public education. 



For 18 years, the Yale Chapter of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) has conducted the Health Professions Recruitment Exposure Programs or HPREP, a 10 week health professions pipeline intervention program for New Haven area high school students.  The program serves to identify and motivate African American, Native American, and Latino high school students to pursue careers in the sciences and the health professions.  Under the mentorship of Yale graduate and professional students, sophomores and junior high school HPREP participants are introduced to various topics within medicine and public health.  They are taught to critically read, evaluate and discuss scientific literature, which special emphasis on problems and issues disproportionately affecting minority communities.

In addition to mentorship and academic support, the SNMA also raises scholarship money for outstanding members of each HPREP class.  Over 70 scholarships have been awarded to college bound New Haven high school students. 

The success of HPREP is driven by the dedication of its leadership each year.  This year’s leadership included officers of both Yale SNMA and the Yale chapter of the Latino Medical Student Association.



Michael Morand has been active in the community since he first stepped foot into New Haven as a freshman at Yale in 1983.  Michael went on to graduate from the Divinity School, while concurrently serving as a two term Alderman.  Although his roots are elsewhere, he has blossomed in New Haven.   Michael has served both the University and the City with such a passion and dedicated spirit we often forget that he was not born and bred here. 

Michael has been active in the public and nonprofit sectors.  In addition to his aldermanic responsibilities, he has served as president of the New Haven Public Library, chair of the board of directors of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the board of directors of numerous organizations including the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, Greater Dwight Development Corporation, and STRIVE New Haven.  

In his decade of service as associate vice president in the office of New Haven & State Affairs, Michael has embraced his passion for his university and for his city and has served as a role model for breaking down barriers between town and gown.  Michael initiated such forums as the monthly community breakfast meetings, the summer construction meeting between the city and the university, and has strengthened both Yale and the city of New Haven in the process.

Now serving with Yale’s Office of Public Affairs and Communications and the Association of Yale Alumni, he continues to deliver his message and advocate strongly for both his university and his city.

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