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Graduate Student Leadership Award Winner Announced

The Graduate College is pleased to announce the winner of the Graduate Student Leadership Award: Alexandra Van Doren, a doctoral student in Comparative and World Literatures. 

During the Syrian refugee crisis of 2015, Alexandra realized there was no refugee welcome center in Champaign or Urbana, and decided to take action. In January 2016, she founded the non-profit Three Spinners Inc. with the help of fellow graduate student Meagan Smith and her husband Tim King. The nonprofit collects clothing donations and transports them to Indianapolis to meet its local refugee needs in tandem with Catholic Charities, and aids refugee home furnishing as well as employment needs in Champaign-Urbana. Three Spinners is also working with other local organizations to establish Champaign-Urbana as a refugee resettlement center.

Alexandra’s research focuses on genocide and human rights, particularly the Holocaust. When she became aware of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015, she was “shaken to my core,” she said. “I knew that I needed to take action in a more direct way than my previous volunteer efforts.”

One of her recommenders noted: “In her tenure as a graduate student at the university, Alexandra has shown immense commitment and leadership to her department as well as to core international human rights issues. She is undoubtedly an asset to the university, breathing life into its stated mission to ‘transform lives and serve society.’”


Two graduate students also received special recognition. They are:

Uttam Thakore - a doctoral student in Computer Science for founding, growing, and leading the Association for Computing Machinery Inter Collegiate Programming Competition Special Interest Group (ACM ICPC SIG). This group facilitates the development of contest programming skills, with the goal of producing highly competitive teams in the prestigious ACM ICPC competition.

Yanfen Li - a doctoral student in Bioengineering for cofounding the Illinois Female Engineers in Academia Training Program (iFEAT) a year-long training program and support network for female graduate students in engineering.

The awards were announced at the Image of Research/Graduate Student Leadership reception that took place on Wednesday, April 5 in the Illini Union.

This award is sponsored by The Graduate College and its student advisory group, SAGE (Students Advising on Graduate Education). It was created to recognize graduate students who have exhibited outstanding service that has positively impacted the campus or wider Urbana-Champaign community.