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Four transformative student leaders win Alderson, Leffel University Awards

Monday, May 11, 2015

LAWRENCE — In 1971, Rusty Leffel was a second-year law student at the University of Kansas rallying the campus and the state to support higher education funding. His call to action, “WOULD YOU VOTE TO ABOLISH THE UNIVERSITY?,” dramatically drew attention to his cause and transformed debate on the topic among students, their families and across the state.

Four KU seniors — Allyson Briggs, Cassandra Osei, Margaret Young and Beatrice Tretbar — have each been part of transformations in their own dramatic way, sometimes being equally bold as Leffel was 34 years ago. As the three recipients of 2015 Rusty Leffel Concerned Student Awards and, for Tretbar, the recipient of the 2015 Donald K. Alderson Memorial Award, their contributions to KU have benefited and energized their programs, their fellow students and their communities.

Ally Briggs was already finding her place as a first-year honors student living in Templin when she participated in a KU Alternative Break. “My most rewarding experience at KU has been my involvement with KU Alternative Breaks," she said. “I was able to volunteer with students from different areas of the university and represent KU on a national level, all while learning about myself, nonprofits and social justice through a service learning course.”

She became co-director of Alternative Breaks as a senior, teaching the same course she discovered during her first year and cementing her commitment to mentoring and education in the future. It was a leadership role she was prepared for after participating in the Kansas Women’s Leadership Institute.

“Being able to share a part of myself and find that I have things in common with women from across the globe was truly inspiring,” Briggs said. “Their passions energize me to return to my hometown and work on the issues that inspire me — particularly access to women’s health in rural areas.”

Cassandra Osei’s shock when receiving her award couldn’t have been based off of her accomplishments at KU: Her honors adviser calls her thesis “extraordinary"; she’s among the top 1 percent of history majors; and she has been a leader on campus on diversity issues.

Still, it was her activism on diversity issues that gave Osei momentary pause. “It is uncommon for students like myself to be rewarded for their leadership or advocacy because generally what we do is not as ‘cookie-cutter’ as, say, being president of a scholarship hall or of the student body,” she says. “Being honored with this award may point to a recognition by KU administrators and staff that perhaps the university isn’t as inclusive and welcoming as they believed, and that they will move in a direction to make it more so.”

It took a personal transformation for Osei to start transforming KU with her advocacy. Her original major, pre-pharmacy, was not a match. History, though, has allowed her to blossom. “Success does not mean ‘one-size fits all,’ but that ‘many sizes are available,’” Osei said. “I wish more people would understand there is nothing inherently wrong with them when they do not succeed on the first time. Flowers don’t grow in a day’s time; you have to take care of them one day at a time.”

Maggie Young began giving back to the community and demonstrating her passion for combating the issue of violence against women starting her freshman year. She began volunteering at Willow Domestic Violence Center and became a trained student volunteer for KU Student Conduct Hearing Boards. The summer after her junior year, she interned in court advocacy for women seeking orders of protection from abuse and stalking.

Then, the topic of sexual violence began dominating conversations on campus, and nationally she found herself in a unique leadership position as Panhellenic president. “I was already active in doing my part to raise awareness surrounding the issue as well as to prevent it from happening, and being Panhellenic president gave me the opportunity and the platform to do even more, which was one of the best parts of that experience,” Young said.

She credits her experiences both as a member of Chi Omega and with the people at Willow as examples of how women can do impressive things every day and how people can be dedicated to ridding the community of heinous acts of violence. “There are plenty of people who deserve recognition around here, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be considered one of them,” Young said. “I have tried to be an advocate for change during my time, and I hope to continue to be one as I pursue my law career here at KU and to continue to work on behalf of survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.”

Donald K. Alderson Memorial Award winner Bea Tretbar is a fourth-generation Jayhawk, so whether to attend KU was never a question. Becoming a student leader? Not so obvious. Yet once she become involved with Student Union Activities and her sorority, Kappa Delta, she was eager to do more.

“I can honestly say that SUA is the reason I'm the person I am today,” Tretbar said. “I learned from my advisers and my peers in this group. I also feel as though I am influenced every day by the people who surround me at KU. I can really say the different personalities of campus help me realize that there is so much more out there in the world, and I can't wait to explore it!”

The Alderson award honors the student who can be counted upon, an apt description of Tretbar. She was downcast after not being named SUA president for her junior year, but she picked herself up and took on a different leadership role in addition to several other opportunities across campus. Her dedication was rewarded when she was appointed SUA president for 2014-15.

“After talking about it with other students and some of my influences, I decided to stick with the group because I loved SUA too much to give it up,” Tretbar said. “That next year, I took the time to focus on my personal development. I worked at the University Career Center, KU Info and joined Hawks Helping Hawks. My junior year was a time of personal growth that helped me realize what I truly value and find important.”

Allyson Briggs is a senior from Ottawa majoring in biochemistry. She is co-director of KU Alternative Breaks, where she previously served as summer co-coordinator, a member of Mortar Board, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and a member of the Marching Jayhawks. She was an ExC.E.L. finalist in fall 2014 and participated in the Kansas Women’s Leadership Institute in summer 2014. Her additional volunteer and community service includes the Enroll Wyandotte County health initiative, working with the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department and volunteering at Ransom Memorial Hospital. She has a 3.94 GPA and is the daughter of Curt and Kendra Bittner of Ottawa.

Cassandra Osei is a senior from Shawnee majoring in history and Latin American & Caribbean Studies. She is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and 2014-15 Hall Center for the Humanities Undergraduate Fellow. As a 2013-14 Foreign Language & Area Studies Fellowship recipient she studied at Universidade Católica do Salvador in Brazil. She is a member of the CLAS Dean’s Student Advisory Board, the Student Senate Multicultural Affairs Committee and the Association for the Advancement of African Women Economists. Her awards at KU include two Undergraduate Research Awards and multiple scholarships. Proficient in four languages, she has maintained a 4.0 GPA in her major and is the daughter of Fred Opuni and Joyce Osei of Shawnee.

Margaret Young is a senior from Overland Park majoring in psychology and political science. She is the president of the KU Panhellenic Association and, as a member of Chi Omega, has served on her sorority’s executive board. She serves as chair of a Sexual Assault Task Force, initiated by the KU greek community. She is a member of Mortar Board and the Phi Alpha Delta pre-law society. In fall 2014 she served on the selection committee for the director of student conduct & community standards, drawing on her experience as a member on student conduct hearing boards. She has maintained a 3.74 GPA and is the daughter of Ellen Young of Overland Park and Brian Young of Ottawa.

The Rusty Leffel Concerned Student Award was established in 1973 by a group of graduating seniors in honor of their friend and fellow student Rusty Leffel. This award goes to three students who have demonstrated concern for furthering the ideals of the university and higher education. The award is meant for students who have made a significant institutional difference for KU students.

Ellen Beatrice Tretbar is a senior from Wichita majoring in strategic communications. She is president of Student Union Activities, overseeing the organization’s $350,000 annual budget and more than 250 annual events. Her community service at KU includes The Big Event and the KU Blood Drive. She has participated in Colors of KU, the KUnity Greek Retreat and is a graduate of LeaderShape. Tretbar was an ExC.E.L finalist in fall 2014 and is a member of Mortar Board. She is the daughter of Angela Wagle of Wichita and William Tretbar of Wichita.

The Donald K. Alderson Memorial Award was established in 1983 in honor of Dean of Men and first Dean of Educational Service, Donald Alderson. This award goes to a graduating senior whose campus contributions benefit other students. Recipients may not be the highest elected officer of an organization, but they are an officer or member who can always be counted on to see through a project, program or service. The recipient of the Donald K. Alderson Memorial Award is always concerned about the greater good for fellow students.