2020 Heller Awards winners announced during virtual celebration

April 24, 2020

Screenshot of Laura Beales, Monika Mitra, Sandra Jones, Ilhom Akobirshoev, Muhammed Ali Nebiogullari and Sandy Ho
Top row, left to right: Laura Beals, Monika Mitra, Sandra Jones; Bottom Row, left to right: Ilhom Akobirshoev, Muhammed Ali Nebiogullari, Sandy Ho

Heller gathered this week for a virtual celebration of this year’s Heller Award winners. Each spring, the Heller School recognizes individuals for outstanding service in teaching, mentoring, teaching assistance, staff service, research, and equity, inclusion and diversity. The awards are nominated from within the school community and determined each year by a committee of past awardees, students and recent alumni. 

Dean Weil said, "The annual Heller Awards ceremony is a great barometer of our community engagement. That's shown by the 120 nominations received this year for the awards we're presenting today."

Laura Beals received the teaching award—the first adjunct faculty member to win this honor. Nominators called her “an exceptionally engaging lecturer and creative leader in the classroom” who “regularly drew on her own experience in the field, drawing a vivid picture for students about what it is like to be an M&E [monitoring and evaluation] professional.” She challenged and inspired students to produce their best work, including for their Capstone projects. 

Monika Mitra, director of the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy, received the mentoring award. In her role, she not only mentors post-docs and doctoral students, but also works with master’s and even Brandeis undergraduate students through the Lurie Undergraduate Fellowship program. One nominator said, “She has provided me opportunities to conduct real research that is publishable and has taken the time to get to know me and my goals. She has offered great advice and has been flexible with me and my obligations as a parent. I feel lucky to have her as a mentor here!” 

The staff award went to Sandra Jones, the executive director of global programs at Heller, overseeing MA in Sustainable International Development, MA in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence and MS in Global Health Policy and Management programs. The committee noted that Jones is “always available in her office, ready to meet with her students one-on-one to discuss any issue or concern that arises. She is one of the strongest advocates students have at the Heller School.” She has been promoted several times since she arrived in 2013 to work for the COEX program as the assistant director of international recruitment, increased her teaching load as well as administrative responsibilities, but is still “always thinking about the well-being of our students,” says one colleague.

Lurie Institute Research Scientist Ilhom Akobirshoev received the early career research investigator award. One nominator said, “He is a highly productive, rigorous, and independent researcher with a deep interest in research on improving the health and wellbeing of people with disabilities in the United States and globally.” His work includes NIH-funded grants on the perinatal health of women with intellectual and developmental disabilities and pregnancy outcomes among Deaf and hard of hearing women, as well as a U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator-funded project to examine health care service among disabled women who are HIV-positive.   

This year’s teaching assistant award went to Muhammed Ali Nebiogullari, MA SID’20, who was lauded in his nominations for helping students understand complex information, and for making sure students felt respected, welcomed and included during classes and office hours. Nominators said he “was always there to help students, not only regarding the subject but beyond.”

Sandy Ho, a research associate at the Lurie Institute, received the Inclusion, Equity and Diversity award for her work both on and off-campus. At Brandeis, she has planned and moderated talks with prominent disability advocates and policymakers, collaborated with the Heller Disability Working Group and worked with Chief Diversity Officer Mark Brimhall-Vargas to address students concerns on campus. She is also the founder of the Disability and Intersectionality Summit, a biennial national conference. Ho shows that “being both a policy researcher and an activist is possible,” said one nominator.