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Awards presented for promotion of multiculturalism, affirmative action (Released: 5/8/96)

by Luis Mocete, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- Three University of Connecticut faculty members and a staff person were recognized today for their efforts in pursuit of multiculturalism and affirmative action at a luncheon hosted by President Harry J. Hartley and the President s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Equity s (PACDE).

We were looking for individuals who were going out of their way to contribute beyond what is required of them in promoting multiculturalism, said Jaishree Gopinath, chair of the awards subcommittee.

The fourth annual UConn Awards for Promoting Multiculturalism/Affirmative Action were presented at the African- American Cultural Center to Salvatore Scalora, associate professor at the School of Fine Arts; Ramesh Malla, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering; Michael Borrero, professor at the school of Social Work; and Linda Drake, state coordinator for the Cooperative Extension System s Expanded Food and Nutrition Program.

The awards began in 1993 at the request of PACDE to recognize employees and departments for extraordinary effort in pursuing multiculturalism and affirmative action.

If we didn't have the award, people would probably still be doing their thing, but the award makes it a public affirmation that says the University values the importance of multiculturalism and affirmative action, Scalora said.

Since joining the University in 1983, he has curated and developed visual exhibit programs at the Atrium Gallery which have stressed multicultural art and artists. He also has been active in bringing cultural appreciation programs and lectures to area elementary and high schools.

I think it is important that the gallery showcase the work of different cultural groups because it provides students, faculty, staff and the community an opportunity to experience fresh voices that are not always from the mainstream, Scalora said.

Malla, who came to the United States from Nepal in 1979 for his graduate studies, joined the University in 1985. He is the founding member and first vice president of the Asian Faculty and Staff Association. He also has served as a faculty advisor for several student organizations.

According to a letter of nomination from Harold Brody, dean of engineering, Malla serves as a role model for students and junior faculty from many ethnic backgrounds. His contributions to student mentoring and recruiting are exemplified by his strong participation in such areas as the Engineering Diversity Program.

Working with young people is an everyday occurrence for the award recipients, but some of the youngsters Borrero deals with are gang members from across the state and Hartford in particular. As director of the Institute for Violence Reduction, Borrero acts as a liaison between the three largest street gangs in Hartford: Los Solidos, the Latin Kings and 20 Love. Borrero tries to get gang members to consider education and legitimate jobs. He also negotiates peace between rival groups.

His efforts have exemplified several areas emphasized by the Committee on Diversity and Equity: mentoring minority students, serving as an outstanding role model, and involvement with community service aimed at diverse populations, Mark Abrahamson, acting dean of the school of Social Work, said in a nomination letter.

Drake, who has been at UConn for 25 years, is dedicated to helping people with low incomes and minorities overcome barriers to proper nutrition.

As a youngster she read many novels and biographies about people from different backgrounds and the struggles they faced in the search for equality. This early exposure to diversity motivated her to work toward promoting diversity through her extension work and with students. This semester she taught a nutritional science course called Food, Culture and Society.

Drake also provides leadership and training to her staff so that they may work as a team to solve problems and meet the needs of at-risk families and youth. Her staff develops programs and materials sensitive to and appropriate for the participants' culture and life experiences, including language and literacy concerns.

Recipients received a plaque and a stipend of $500 to be used to help sustain or expand multiculturalism and affirmative action at the University.

I plan to use the money for professional development or I may try to research an exhibit along this vein, Scalora said.

Malla, Borrero and Drake are uncertain on how they will use the money.

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