Two Chemistry Undergraduate Students Recognized for Leadership and Service

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (05/25/2022)—Two undergraduate chemistry majors, Leah Baker and Yukino Nakamura, are 2022 recipients of the President’s Student Leadership & Service Award (PSLSA). This award "recognizes the accomplishments and contributions of outstanding student leaders at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. It is presented to students for their exceptional leadership and service to the University of Minnesota and the surrounding community.”

Nakamura also received the Donald R. Zander Alumni Award for Outstanding Student Leadership. Awarded annually as a $2,000 scholarship from the University of Minnesota Alumni Association (UMAA), the Zander Alumni Award is awarded to four undergraduate students, honoring their exceptional academic achievement, personal character, and outstanding leadership and service to the University of Minnesota. Candidates for the Zander Alumni Award must demonstrate compassion for others and a high degree of personal integrity.

The quotes below are taken from their nomination statements.

Leah Baker, Chemistry & Chemical Engineering major

Leah Baker

“As the leader of SWE’s outreach committee, I coordinate opportunities year round to make an impact on local communities. I recently brought the Girl Scouts to campus for a day of sustainable engineering challenges. 50 middle schoolers learned to ask critical design questions while discovering the power of a little engineering magic. In addition to stand-alone events, I have led traveling science talks, which bring 4-5 SWE members to speak at local high schools where science exposure is low. The initial goal was to share information about the transition from high school to college, such as selecting a major or finding internships. But the events are evolving. All talks have turned into amazing dialogues with questions about PSEO, paying for school, living with roommates, walking to class in the cold, being first generation, and more. With two talks down and three more on the schedule, we plan to partner with SHPE, SASE, and NSBE to ensure all students can visualize their own success in STEM. After all, there is immense power in a single conversation. I spoke at a middle school math tournament this month and I will never forget one exchange. A team of girls were enthralled by engineering. They asked questions at an immeasurable rate with an unmatched giddiness and curiosity. I told them all about the toolbox in my mind and how strong an imagination can be. All the while, the sparkle for science in their eyes was reflected in my own.”

Yukino Nakamura, Chemistry major

Yukino Nakamura

“As someone who had a difficult time adjusting to the University environment due to my background and identities, I have been driven to create supportive environments on campus, especially for students with different, non-traditional backgrounds. My leadership within the department's DEI committee has allowed me to reflect on ways in which the student learning experience can be enhanced through inclusive teaching and to facilitate equitable changes within the classroom. To offer more direct support to students, I became a student mentor for the Center of Academic Planning and Exploration (CAPE) and CSE Ambassadors to share my stories, provide access to resources, and empower chemistry students to reach their personal and academic goals. When I became confident in my chemistry abilities as a senior, I became a ChemFoundations leader for general chemistry to reduce the barriers typically associated with introductory STEM courses, aka ‘weed-out’ courses. Through continuous engagement in DEI work, I sought opportunities for change that extended beyond campus, both to utilize what I have learned and to discover how different hardships warrant different solutions that, with direct involvement with the community, could be addressed properly.”