When Sydney Fitch received the news that the Walkie Talkie Journalist group had won the University of Houston-Victoria Student Organization of the Year award, she was surprised but happy that others recognized the group’s dedication.

“It is such a shock because I just never thought we would be selected,” said Fitch, a Houston native and president of the organization. “All of our hard work and passion actually paid off, and I am really proud of our organization.”

The organization hosted a variety of events throughout the 2019-2020 school year to help students unwind and have fun with arts and crafts. This included a Bob Ross painting party the group hosted in the fall. The organization created an online blog called The Outlet so students could have a place to submit poetry, music, recipes, entertainment reviews and essays. Before events were canceled or postponed during the spring semester because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization hosted a Valentine’s Day event where the theme revolved around self-love. Students created homemade soaps, flower crowns and face masks.

The seventh annual UHV Student Organization and Leadership awards were announced May 28 by video. Typically, the awards are announced during a banquet to celebrate the year of activities and achievements, but because of COVID-19, the annual banquet was canceled.

Plans are underway to make the 2021 banquet bigger and better to help make up for this year’s cancelation, said Freddie Cantu, Student Life coordinator.

“It’s important for us to recognize our students and the hard work that they did as individuals and members of student organizations,” Cantu said. “We wanted to show them that their hard work wasn’t for nothing, and they each made a difference at the university.”

The Student Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Alma Gutierrez, of Austin. The annual award is given to a student who has shown outstanding dedication to the Victoria and UHV communities through service and volunteering. Gutierrez, a junior biology major, said she committed the school year to volunteering and becoming more involved with the university. She volunteered throughout the year with beach cleanups, the UHV community garden, JP’s Market and the Student Government Association.

Whether it was handing out fliers or moving furniture into University Commons, Gutierrez said “yes” to every request and volunteered her time and energy to helping others on campus, she said.

“My mom always told me, ‘If you have time to volunteer and help, do it,’ and I took those words to heart because we should always help our community,” Gutierrez said. “Volunteering has changed my perspective on life, my confidence and overall well-being, and I am grateful to be nominated for this award.”

Nadya Pittendrigh, an assistant professor of English and director of English, was named the Advisor of the Year. She is the advisor for the Playwriting Club, a student organization that formed in fall 2018. The students have written about 20 plays and met weekly, and sometimes do improv to help brainstorm for scripts.

Pittendrigh said at first she thought her role with the club was to help the students organize their creative energy. But the students quickly took ownership of both the creative work and planning, and she simply became the club’s biggest supporter.

“This award means a lot, especially in the context of the coronavirus,” she said. “I miss the dynamic collaboration that was possible on campus before the virus. I hope we can get back to that.”

Several students also were named recipients of the Spirit of the Jaguar Award. This award recognizes integrity, citizenship, academics and respect, and recipients also are given a $300 scholarship. This year, the award was presented to Claudialicia Walker, of Dallas, Alexis Arceneaux, of Houston, Savannah Malone-Eades, of Waller, and Sarah Stanaland, of Jarrell.

In addition to the Spirit of the Jaguar scholarships, two UHV upperclassmen were awarded “I Am UHV” scholarships because of their strong leadership characteristics. The first-place scholarship of $1,000 was awarded to Noemi Bustamante, of Rosenberg. Preetha Philip, of Missouri City, received the second-place award of $500.

The winners of the Student Government Association Class Ring Giveaway Contest also were announced. UHV class rings are awarded to two outstanding students who possess strong leadership characteristics and demonstrate why they are deserving of a free 10K gold Jaguar ring. The winners were Ricardo Correa-Altiery, of Houston, and Meredith Winkenwerder, of Victoria.

“Initiatives such as these awards, scholarships and the class ring giveaway are important because they give students something positive to participate in,” said Michael Wilkinson, UHV senior director of Student Services & Judicial Affairs. “During difficult times like this pandemic, it is essential to come together as a campus community and find ways to celebrate our student leaders and the work they do. I am so impressed with how our students have persevered through this situation thus far.”

Other award winners and their hometowns were:

Campus Humanitarian of the Year – Marissa Longoria, Houston

Emerging Leader of the Year – Alexis Arceneaux, Houston

Leadership Legacy – Cesar Gonzalez, Cypress

Quiet Influencer – Keiundra Jones, Fort Worth

Student Employee Excellence Award – Angela Neinast, Victoria; Maria Carrillo, West George; Hailey Crow, Edna

Student Government Member of the Year – Jocelyn Martinez, Austin

Student Organization Member of the Year – Autumn Taylor, Houston

Staff Member of the Year – Freddie Cantu, Student Life coordinator

Faculty Member of the Year – Delores White, psychology lecturer

To watch the video, go to youtu.be/axkX2yvPu_w.

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