2023 Heller Awards celebrate leaders in our community

April 20, 2023

The Heller School celebrated its 2023 community award winners through a hybrid ceremony, with most attendees present in Zinner Forum and several others dialing in over Zoom. 

Each spring, the Heller School recognizes outstanding service in teaching, mentoring, teaching assistance, staff service, research, and equity, inclusion and diversity. The ceremony also included the Barbara Wakefield Award, which is presented annually to a student who has contributed to community-building within and outside of Heller. A special dean's award was also given in 2023 to celebrate a staff member who went the extra mile in their work. All award winners are nominated from within the school community and determined each year by a committee of past awardees, students and recent alumni. 

At the start of the ceremony, Interim Dean Maria Madison noted that all of the award recipients are following in the shared legacy of Brandeis University and the Heller School in their commitment to the pursuit of knowledge and creating a more equitable future.

"They are leaders, they are creating community, and they are fostering belonging, inclusion, and participation in this extraordinary school," Madison said.

Jon Chilingerian

Teaching Excellence Award: Jon Chilingerian, Professor, Founding Director, Executive MBA for Physicians Program

Jon Chilingerian received the Heller Teaching Award. Common themes in his nominations were his extraordinary passion for training and guiding the next generation of leaders and going above and beyond in engaging students through course topics and teaching methods which allow them to accelerate their learning and put it into practice immediately. One nomination reflected, "This awardee has a long history of teaching and leading in the Heller School. He was instrumental in developing and leading the MBA program and is creator and Program Director of the Executive MBA for Physicians program where he encourages and trains practicing physicians in, as he describes it, 'the new science of medicine and management.'"

In fond memory of Jon Chilingerian, d. May 5, 2023.

Sandra Jones

Mentoring Award: Sandra Jones, Lecturer and Executive Director of Global Programs

Sandra Jones received this year's honor for mentorship in recognition of her exceptional ability to meaningfully foster students' academic and professional growth. One nominator praised her for stepping into the breach when they most needed it. Jones offered to review the student's work and provide an additional layer of support throughout multiple drafts, not only offering specific comments, but also building the nominator’s confidence, being encouraging all through the process, and "giving me new angles to consider when I hit a dead end." Jones offered this support not only for this student but also for many others.

Meelee Kim

Early Career Research Investigator Award: Meelee Kim, PhD'19, Scientist

Meelee Kim, PhD'19, scientist in the Institute for Behavioral Health (IBH), received the Early Career Research Investigator award for her work focused on under-served populations; reducing the impact of alcohol, drug, and mental health problems; building supports for youth and young adult populations; and addressing the impact of the opioid crisis, in addition to her earlier work on HIV. "She's a skilled community-engaged researcher who focuses on the strengths of marginalized populations even when addressing prevention and treatment of their substance use and mental health issues and their intersection with other health and social issues," says Mary Brolin, senior scientist in IBH.

Calla Mattox

Staff Service Award: Calla Mattox, MPP/MBA'17, Program Manager

This year's Staff Service Award went to Calla Mattox, for her dedication to students, her passion for her work, and her commitment to ensuring Heller is a safe and welcoming place for all. Nominators noted that she "demonstrates excellence in service for all of her colleagues and students on every project. She is punctual, responsive, considerate and does everything with kindness, sensitivity and respect. As an LGBTQ+ ally, she was instrumental in creating space in Heller meeting opportunities/scheduling and in the raising of the colorful flags adorning the Zinner Forum to increase visibility and awareness of our LGBTQ+ community. She always follows through, thinks ahead, and helps connect Heller members to one another."

Sonam Deki

Teaching Assistant Award: Sonam Deki, MA SID'23

Sonam Deki, MA SID'23, received the Teaching Assistant Award for her work as a leader, a mentor, a guide, an instructor, and a bridge between academic confusion and total comprehension. Nominators said Deki went beyond the call of a teaching assistant, ensuring that other students had support academically and in general. "What stands out most about this year's winner is her unwavering support within the classroom context and without. Her attentiveness when engaging with students, and compassionate guidance without making them feel ashamed for needing assistance is why she is wholeheartedly supported in her role as co-chair and student advocate within the Heller Student Association," one nominator said.

Vianny Rodriguez

Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Award: Vianny Rodriguez, MPP'23

Vianny Rodriguez, MPP'23, received the Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity (EID) Award for her many contributions to the Heller-wide EID efforts as an EID graduate assistant helping to plan and execute events, and spearheading the book group for Julie F. Kay's Controlling Women: What We Must Do Now to Save Reproductive Freedom. She has taken every opportunity to bring an EID lens to other parts of her Heller experience and her larger community through class conversation, feedback to faculty and staff and as an active Segal Fellow. Committee members recognized her for her "boldness" and "bravery" to challenge the administration in an effort to provoke transformative action that led to meaningful positive changes in the student experience.

Lisa Thorn

Barbara Wakefield Award: Lisa Thorn, MPP'23

Lisa Thorn, MPP'23, received this year's Barbara Wakefield Award for her ability to create a community and help grant access to everyone in the community to particular services. Nominators mentioned Thorn's efforts to make menstrual products free across campus as well as her work as one of the founders of the Open-Air Journal, which publishes works by students and faculty across Heller on Substack. One nominator wrote, "She touched many areas of Heller and Brandeis, and the community is stronger as a result of her efforts."

Mila Bagynuk

Dean's Award: Mila Bagynuk, Manager, Pre-award Grant Administration

A special award was given out this year to honor Mila Bagynuk for her work in supporting the high volume of proposals the investigator teams are writing as well as the minute details and deadlines of federal grant proposals. One nominator shared, "The person we are honoring is smart, thoughtful, capable and encouraging. She balances an immense amount of time-sensitive work, often with research staff who are over-tired and maybe just a bit cranky during the proposal crunch, with attention to detail and a calming manner."