By Suresh Bodiwala
CHICAGO: Seven awards were conferred at the third annual Asian American Heritage Awards gala of the Asian American Heritage Committee (AAHC) of Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) here at the weekend.
Themed `Sharing Traditions, Celebrating Excellence,’ the gala, which was held at Alumni Hall on the main campus (North Park), featured a mosaic of Asian music and dance performances for the audience.
With Yasmin A. Ranney, director of NEIU Asian and Global Resource Center at the Angelina Pedroso Center for Diversity and Intercultural Affairs, as the emcee, the evening started with Ana Ren and Xiaoxuan Wu entertaining the gathering on piano and guitar during the reception.
Then AAHC members Rohit Joshi and Saba Ayman-Nolley co-chaired the invocation ceremony.
Provost and VP Richard Helldobler joined them in lighting the ceremonial lamp.He underlined NEIU’s status as the most diverse campus in the Midwest. NEIU Board of Trustees member Jin Lee followed with his own remarks.
Laura Kina, Vincent de Paul Professor at DePaul University Department of Art, Media, & Design, delivered the keynote speech that defined the origin and necessity of the term “Asian American.” She urged those present to recognize and value their ancestral legacy and ensure transmission of these traditions to the next generation.
The awards presentation was conducted by Simin Hemmati-Rasmussen, Masami Takahashi, and Uma Patel. Each awardee was invited to address the gala and provide additional insights into their work, personal backgrounds, and outlook on life and learning.
The Administrator Award of Excellence went to Prof Saba Ayman-Nolley, chair of the psychology department at NEIU. Her research explores non-verbal communication (drawings, gestures, etc.) and creativity in relation to children’s understanding of social concepts and roles (leadership, aging, families, friends, etc.). A board member and VP of communications for the Jean Piaget Society, she has done over 40 presentations in the last decade, including children’s implicit theory of leadership, Piagetian perspective on creativity, and Vygotsky’s perspective on development of imagination and creativity. Ayman-Nolley has conducted spiritual education training for parents and teachers, and coordinates programs for families, sponsored by the Baha’i community.
The Alumni Award of Excellence went to Arab American artist, architect, and community activist Hamza J. Salim whose work has been exhibited in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, London and Dubai. He is the project director of the 12th Chicago Palestine Film Festival, the community coordinator at Arab American Family Services, and co-owner/design director of HJS Arts and Interiors.
The Community Award of Excellence went to Bhailal Patel, Vice president of Parikh Worldwide Media LLC which as the largest Indian-American publishing group in the United States publishes five periodicals, including Desi Talk Chicago and News India Times, a national weekly newspaper. He is also a Founder-Chairman of the Vishwa Bharatiya Samaj.
Faculty Award of Excellence went to Yi Hao, associate professor/co-coordinator of Early Childhood program at NEIU, who has taught these courses for over 13 years. A Chinese American who grew up in China and moved to Chicago in 1984, Dr. Hao’s specialty is teaching how to work with infants and toddlers. “Let children be children“ is her motto.
The Staff Award of Excellence went to Uma Patel, Office Manager of the Political Science Department where she has worked since 1989. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology from NEIU in 1990. Uma helped organize several Political Science Career Days; Dr. Shirley Castelnuovo book lecture and launch of the Castelnuovo Scholarship in Political Science; Pi Sigma Alpha conferences; coordination of Political Science expansion at University Center of Lake County; and administering research surveys and offering logistical support for the Interdisciplinary Symposium on Human Security: Building a Human Security Network between U.S. and Japan.
The Student Award of Excellence was shared this year by Samira Savani and Jean Matelski Boulware. Savani, who graduates in accounting in May 2013.
She is an executive member of the Council of Clubs (COC), a representative of the Student Government Association (SGA), President of Indian Student Association (ISA), VP of Honors Society, VP of Financial Management Association (FMA), member of Accounting Club, and VP of Belly Dance Club. Boulware is a senior, also graduating in Spring 2013. As a McNair scholar, she is involved in numerous research projects including studies evaluating health benefits of complementary medicine, assessments of social schema, and a film examining the social impact of sculpture in Chicago neighborhoods. Her research has been presented at professional conferences for American Psychological Association, Chicago Society for Neuroscience, and Jean Piaget Society. She volunteers with local elementary schools and is involved in Psi Chi National Honors Society and NEIU Psychology Club.
Following the awards ceremony, NEIU alumnus Mai Kato Riggins was invited to read a translation of Japanese poetry. Dressed in a vermilion kimono that drew many compliments, Riggins is now co-owner of M Square Inc. that donated the sushi bar for the evening. NEIU students graduating in December 2012 and May 2013 then came up one-by-one to receive bright yellow sashes.
The Kalapriya Center for Indian Performing Arts presented two dance performances as dinner was winding down. Sisters Meghana Sharma and Monika Sharma performed a lively Bhangra, which was followed by Kinnari Vora’s serpent dance (Kal Beliya).
The evening concluded with outgoing co-chairs Ayman-Nolley and Joshi receiving plaques of appreciation and handing over the torch to the co-chairs of the 2014 Asian American Heritage Committee – Malti Rathore (New Student & Family Programs) and Prof. Shenchen Xu (NEIU Art Department).
MC Yasmin Ranney received a vermillion sash for her services.
Restaurants run by NEIU alumni offered their diverse meno for the evening. Grand sponsor was Hala In, owned by Tareq Yoghmour. M Square Inc. donated the sushi bar, and Yummy Buffet the Chinese fare.
(In arrangement with Asian American Media)