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Women of Color Day at Penn Awards
March 18, 2008, Volume 54, No. 25



Awardees from left to right: Mahlet Mesfin, Lisa Zhu and Karlene Burrell-McRae.


For the 21st consecutive year, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania Health System presented Women of Color Day at Penn, an effort to increase awareness of the concerns, talents and achievements of women of color. The accomplishments of these women were recognized at the Annual Women of Color at Penn Awards Luncheon on March 7.

Faculty/Staff Honoree
Karlene Burrell-McRae is the director of MAKUU, the Black Cultural Center. Mrs. Burrell-McRae has been very instrumental in the creation of MAKUU and its purpose. Prior to coming to MAKUU, during her employment at the Greenfield Intercultural Center, she worked closely with black student groups and understood the growing need for more resources and support for black students. Presently, MAKUU provides services and programs for Penn students of the African Diaspora. While serving as director, she has gone above and beyond the call of duty. She has provided mentorship, academic, personal and professional advice for her students. Her outstanding leadership has allowed MAKUU to provide exceptional programming, collaborative partnerships and services to black students. In addition, she serves as a facilitator for the Office of Student Life’s Leadership Retreat and the HIV/STI Task Force comprised of staff members from across the VPUL division.

Throughout her professional career at Penn, Ms. Burrell-McRae has volunteered on the Women of Color, Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, Student Health Initiatives and numerous committees throughout the University. Additionally, she has received a number of awards recognizing her dedication and service.  Ms. Burrell-McRae completed her undergraduate degree at Colby College, received master’s degrees in both social work and education from Penn, and is presently completing her doctorate at GSE, in the education, policy, management and evaluation division.

In addition to Ms. Burrell-McRae’s involvement on campus, she is actively involved in her community. She serves as vice president of the Caring Center Advisory Board, which her two young children attend. It is with great pleasure, that the Penn Women of Color honor Karlene Burrell-McRae for the 2008 Faculty/Staff Award.

Graduate Student Honoree
Mahlet Mesfin is a PhD student in bioengineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. In addition to being super smart and a delightful person, Ms. Mesfin was chair of the Black Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (BGAPSA) from 2005-2007.  As the chair, she reinvigorated the organization by holding events and partnering with other student organizations and campus centers.  She was involved with the diversity fund project to create cultural supports for graduate and undergraduate students and provided guidance on how to better serve under-represented students.  She was one of five student leaders representing Penn at the Ivy Graduate Student Leaders Summit at Dartmouth University in the fall of 2006.

When Ms. Mesfin stepped down from her leadership role in BGAPSA, she turned her attention to creating a new student organization, Penn Graduate Women in Engineering and Science (PGWISE).  This organization works to enhance the graduate experience of women in science and engineering; to improve the environment for women pursuing careers in science and engineering, and to increase the representation of women in these fields at all levels at Penn.  Ms. Mesfin is the organization’s secretary and has created a new website, handles public relations, and is organizing a network/mentoring luncheon for students and alumnae.
Ms. Mesfin is an incredible role model.  There are few students who have been as impactful.  For these contributions, we recognize her as the 2008 Women of Color at Penn Graduate Student Honoree.

Undergraduate Student Honoree
Lisa Zhu is a junior in the Wharton School and the College.  She has served as the vice chair of external affairs of the Asian Pacific Student Coalition (APSC), a coalition responsible for facilitating an alliance of twenty constituent groups and represents over 2,000 Asian Pacific students at Penn to the larger university and community.  She is an outstanding young woman who has shown concern for many social issues including immigration rights and hate crimes. She advocates for her beliefs by organizing school events which increase awareness of concerns among her peers. In the past year, her diligence in urging Penn to increase its commitment to the environment helped prompt President Gutmann to sign the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment.

Ms. Zhu has shown tremendous cultural sensitivity in her conversations among the diverse population within the Asian American community and in her meetings with other minority coalitions.  She participated in Programs for Awareness and Cultural Education (PACE), a course teaching students how to facilitate dialogue around various social issues with people from varied backgrounds.

As a participant in the Asian Pacific American Leadership Initiative, Ms. Zhu learned the importance of discussing and sharing her experiences as a woman of color.  As a result, she is developing a program on leadership and empowerment for local high school students of color.

Because of her initiative, sense of community and social responsibility, we recognize Lisa Zhu as the 2008 Undergraduate Woman of Color Undergraduate Honoree.

—2008 Women of Color Committee




Almanac - March 18, 2008, Volume 54, No. 25