Twelve seniors from the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Program at Seton Hall University graduated at the Prudential Center on May 20.
This year's class includes one student who graduated summa cum laude, one who graduated magna cum laude and three who graduated cum laude. In addition, two students received the President's Volunteer Service Award, three students were recognized as Service Leadership Fellows and one student launched her own nonprofit organization.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Program is the oldest and most prestigious servant leadership program at Seton Hall University and is one of the earliest programs of its kind in the United States. Established in 1970, the program provides partial tuition scholarships each year to its scholars as well as management and leadership development skills. Scholars learn how to execute programs and events from their conception through development and implementation. They also complete research on issues involving values and social justice in addition to completing more than 40 hours of community service annually.
"We encourage our MLK scholars to be exemplary servant leaders who are involved on campus, in their communities and in global issues, because the world needs empathetic leaders who understand the process of change from the 'inside out' perspective," said the Rev. Dr. Forrest Pritchett, director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Program. "This engagement helps them appreciate the role for civic engagement, which works to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and develop the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community through both political and non-political processes."
Below are this year's graduating seniors from the program:
Ryan Bisumber of Jersey City, New Jersey, is enrolled in the dual-degree biology/physical therapy program. He completed over 55 hours of community service his junior year and was a co-chair of the Freshman program, the Public Relations Committee and the Service Buddies Committee. Bisumber has been involved with the MLK program since his freshman year. His future plans are to finish graduate school and volunteer as a physical therapist for the homeless.
Sherin Cheriyan of Newington, Connecticut, is in the dual-degree biology/physician assistant program and graduated cum laude. She completed over 200 hours of community service throughout her time at Seton Hall. Her service includes reading to children at South Mountain Elementary School, conducting arts and crafts activities at Cerebral Palsy of North Jersey and preparing Thanksgiving meals at St. Paul's Church. "The MLK program provided me with the confidence and leadership skills to create programs and create discussion on what I believe in," Cheriyan said. "The intellectual culture of the program has allowed me to learn how to spread social consciousness around my community. It has given me the tools for academic and social growth." She plans on finishing graduate school and hopes to do work that provides medical services to underprivileged communities.
Joshua Corpuz of Middleboro, Massachusetts, graduated cum laude and is a diplomacy and international relations and religion double major with a minor in women and gender studies. Corpuz was named a Servant Leadership Fellow this spring and completed service trips to El Salvador with the Division of Volunteer Efforts (DOVE), raised funds for charity with his fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, and participated in Service on Saturdays. He is a member of the Delta Epsilon Sigma, Theta Kappa Alpha and Sigma Iota Rho honor societies and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. "The MLK program has helped me grow in so many ways," Corpuz said. "I think what I am most grateful for is that the adviser and organization believed in me. By believing in me, they gave me the confidence that I am indeed enough and that I can reach my highest potential and exceed any expectations."
Jaceline Dejean of Orange, New Jersey, is a biology major. She was involved with the Education Opportunity Program Student Organization and the Build Up Mentorship Program during her undergraduate career at Seton Hall. Dejean earned the Education Opportunity Program Senior Spotlight Award. She plans on attending graduate school to earn her doctorate in physical therapy.
Isabella Fleetwood of Tinton Falls, New Jersey, is a business management major. In May of 2018, Fleetwood was recognized for the completion of the Service Leadership Fellows program as she completed over 115 hours of community service. She received the State of New Jersey General Assembly Citation for academic excellence and placement on the Dean's List in 2016. In addition to her involvement with the program, she was also a member of the Seton Hall Gospel Choir for two years, one of which she served as the choir’s treasurer. Her future plans include upholding the MLK program standard for volunteerism, obtaining a permanent position with an investment firm, and attending graduate school.
Ava Ikbal of Seattle, Washington, is a diplomacy and international relations major and Arabic minor and graduated cum laude. She spent over 100 hours volunteering and building water systems in Bangladesh. During her time at Seton Hall, she served as a Student Government Association senator and interned at the United Nations and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative. Her future plan is to work in the public policy sector.
Devyn Johnson of Bowie, Maryland, graduated magna cum laude and is a diplomacy and international relations major with a minor in Arabic and Africana Studies. She has completed 150 hours of community service with DOVE and the MLK program and was a student in the honors program. "The MLK program has been the absolute best part of my college experience," Johnson said. "Through this program, I have become more confident and assured of my duty to see the importance in everything and to do my part to bring even the ugliest truths into the light." Johnson interned with Little Kids Rock, a nonprofit organization in Verona, New Jersey and with Congresswoman Karen Bass on Capitol Hill. She was accepted into the Peace Corps and will be doing service work for the next two years in Morocco.
Layla Ogletree of Houston, Texas, is a physics major who completed over 300 hours of community service throughout her undergraduate career. She has served numerous hours tutoring students in elementary schools and received the President's Volunteer Service Award and the University's Servant Leadership Award. Ogletree is also a member of the Sigma Pi Sigma physics honor society and presented research at the Mid-March Meeting for the American Physics Society. "The MLK program strengthened me as a leader and helped me build relationships on and off campus," Ogletree said. "I have learned so much about myself and I've grown from it." Her future plans are to study engineering in graduate school, work at a company in the field of energy, and start her own nonprofit organization focused on helping to rebuild and improve the infrastructure in underdeveloped countries and locations.
Soo Min Kim of Fort Lee, New Jersey, is enrolled in the dual-degree biology/physical therapy program and graduated cum laude. During her time as an undergraduate student, Kim served as the MLK program class representative in her junior year and as the secretary of the Korean American Student Association. She also served as the class representative for the Organization of Physical Therapy Students and completed over 100 hours of community service. "The MLK program has helped me grow immensely as an individual," Kim said. "Most importantly, the program has taught me to take valuable leadership skills with me through higher education and in the workplace." Her future plans are to finish graduate school and work toward her Doctor of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.). She also plans to work in a nonprofit hospital and rehabilitate patients who have suffered traumatic injuries.
Emani Miles of Summit, New Jersey, is an Africana Studies and political science double major and graduated summa cum laude. She is a two-time Visionary Award winner from the National Council of Negro Women and earned the Black Student Unions Outstanding Advocacy Award, the Motivator Award, and the Community Award from the NAACP of the Oranges and Maplewood. "The MLK program has helped me get to where I am today by its focus on leadership, confidence and revolutionary love," Miles said. "The Scholarship has taught me how to be a leader and how to stand and fight for what I believe in for the sake of the community and for the people." She will be working at Seton Hall Law School as an office assistant for the Institute of Pre-Legal Studies and plans to enroll in graduate school to pursue a career as a civil rights attorney and Africana Studies professor.
Alexandra Recupero of Nanuet, New York, and Charlotte, North Carolina, is a double major in diplomacy and international relations and communication major with a Spanish minor. She completed more than 1,000 hours of community service throughout her undergraduate career and received the President's Volunteer Service Award. Recupero served on several mission trips with DOVE to Jamaica, El Salvador and West Virginia, worked as a team leader for Service on Saturdays and tutored English as a second language to teenagers and adults. In addition, she is a Service Leadership Fellow, a Joseph A. Unanue Latino Institute scholar and a member of the Sigma Delta Pi honors society. Recupero developed her own nonprofit mentoring program for girls in her hometown and in neighboring communities. In October, she will be moving to the island of Samoa to serve as an English Literacy Educator in the Peace Corps.
David Tapley of Riverhead, New York, is a social and behavioral sciences major with a minor in psychology. He has completed over 100 hours of community service mentoring students in low-income communities. "The MLK program has helped me get to where I am now in a multitude of ways," Tapley said. "It has given me a family away from home, provided me a friendship that will last forever and developed and driven me to find my passion—to fight educational inequalities and serve as an advocate for my community." He plans to attend graduate school and become a school psychologist for students in impoverished communities as well as an advocate for equitable education systems across the nation.