Erin Erhart and Francesca Vaccaro named 2020 RISE Award Winners

Categories: Awards, Staff, Students

The awards celebrate MIT faculty, staff, and students on their work with diversity, inclusion and social justice and off campus.

Dr. Erin Erhart and Francesca Vaccaro have each been named the recipients of 2020 RISE (Recognizing Individuals Supporting Equity) Awards. The RISE Awards are an opportunity to celebrate MIT faculty, staff, and students on their work with diversity, inclusion, and social justice on campus. The awards are a collaboration sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Programs, the Office of Graduate Education, the Office of Minority Education, and the Institute Community & Equity Office.

Vaccaro, a third year graduate student in Professor Catherine Drennan‘s laboratory, won the Dr. Robbin Chapman Excellence through Adversity Award. Alessandra Robinson, the Assistant Director of the Office of Multicultural Programs presented Vaccaro with the award, which is given to one undergraduate and one graduate student who “have shown that leadership is often defined by persistence in the face of adversity.” Vacarro, a founding member of the Chemistry Alliance for Diversity and Inclusion (CADI), recently played a leading role in the Department of Chemistry’s #ShutDownSTEM activities. Hailed “an asset to the MIT community,” Vaccaro was praised for her tenacity in the face of strife, and her ability to demonstrate, resolve, and persevere in carrying out diversity and inclusion efforts in the community. “Francesca has served as a resolute and consistent leader in the face of adversity throughout her time at MIT, and in many, many capacities. In her time at MIT, Francesca has served as the co-president of CADI, as well as a graduate resident advisor (GRA),” said Robinson. Vaccaro has excelled in facilitating diverse and supportive communities, and succeeded in the face of adversity when she made an unexpected, chaotic, move off-campus due to COVID-19 as smooth as it possibly could have been. “She is a role model of resilience during times of uncertainty,” stated Robinson. “Her devotion to caring for others and her ability to put the needs of the community above all else makes Francesca a prime example of a caring and inclusive leader.”

Erhart, the Administrative Assistant to Professor Laura Kiessling, was awarded the LGBTQ+ Pride Award. Given by LGBTQ+ Services, the Pride Award is given to a staff member in recognition of the significant
contributions of those who join LBGTQ+ Services in its commitment to creating a community that values, supports, and celebrates LBGTQ+ individuals and their allies. Lauryn McNair, Assistant Director of Intercultural Engagement and LBGTQ+ Services, presented Erhart with the award in recognition of their work for T-Time, a student centered group for gender-diverse and gender-questioning students. After students expressed interest in a community to discuss topics, talk about identity, and potentially influence MIT policy, Erhart ran with the concept and implemented regular meetings, advertising, partnering with different groups, fundraising, and community service. “Erin is always reading, always having discussions, and always learning about how best to support these communities they care so much about,” said McNair. “It shines through so strongly, which is why students immediately latched on to Erin as a trusted role model and supportive person.”

A virtual ceremony was held on YouTube on June 15 to honor Erhart, Vaccaro, and all the recipients of the 2020 RISE Awards.