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Students honored for their contributions to enhancing diversity on campus (Released: 4/15/97)

by Luis Mocete, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- Meidong Wang arrived in the United States feeling confident.

After a 16-hour flight from Shanghai to Bradley International Airport, Wang didn't think he would have a problem getting to the University of Connecticut. "From my understanding of America," says Wang, a graduate student in metallurgy and materials engineering, "every service in America should be user friendly."

But then Wang wanted something to eat. He walked to a vending machine and discovered he didn't know how to use it. He tried to call UConn's Chinese Student & Scholar Association for help, but he had never used an American pay phone before.

After something as simple as this, Wang realized that students from China need help adjusting to life in the United States. "Every year there are 50 to 60 new students coming from China, and once they get here many of them suffer culture shock," he says.

Because of the efforts he has made to help the Chinese community, Wang was one of two students honored at UConn's first annual Student Multicultural Award ceremony.

Wang, now president of the Chinese Student & Scholar Association, "is concerned about all ... international students," according to a nomination letter.

His efforts to help others was most prevalent in February 1996, when Yehong Qi, a graduate student and teaching assistant in the chemistry department, died of food-borne bacteria. Many students questioned the circumstances surrounding her death. Hoping to get some answers, Wang served as a liaison between students and the administration.

"His efforts effectively calmed down the overreaction," according to his nomination letter. Wang and other members of the association would later meet with University officials to address many issues, such as how the students felt, what they were thinking a nd what their needs were.

Another student, Chandana Banerjee of STAMFORD, a junior at UConn's Stamford campus, was recognized for her contributions to enhance diversity on campus and in the community.

When Banerjee arrived at Stamford, "there were no events that showcased the different groups of people we have on campus," she said. Banerjee wanted that to change. As a member of Hags Unlimited, a feminist group, Banerjee helped the group embrace multiculturalism.

By getting more people involved she was able to change the name of the organization to Waves, because it became a club rich in diversity and full of culture, she said.

"Chandana is outstanding in every way," according to a nomination letter written by Patricia Cramer, director of the women's studies program at Stamford. "She has carried her commitments to tolerance and to fighting inequalities of all kinds into the classroom."

Diversity is a prevalent issue in society, says Nancy J. Abohatab, coordinator for residence hall personnel and chair of the Student Multicultural Award Committee. "By recognizing our students' contributions to what is a very large societal issue we're providing another step in their education," she says.