For the first time in history, graduation was held online due to the unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. That did not mean that the achievements of the Class of 2020 went unmarked. During the 2020 Virtual Graduation Ceremony, Dean Jason Wingard presented the Dean’s Excellence Awards, the school’s highest honors, and the Campbell Award to individuals who embody the values of the school: leadership, academics, community service, and professional achievement.
Chosen through a rigorous nomination process, the Dean’s Excellence Awards are the highest honors bestowed by the School of Professional Studies and are awarded in five categories: Student, Faculty, Alumni, Administrator, and Administrative Team.
This year’s Dean’s Excellence Award recipient in the Student category is:
Emamsy Rudrech Mbossa Ngossoh’s road to receiving this award was paved by resilience and the courage to “dream big.” Originally from the Republic of Congo, Ngossoh survived the civil war there before studying international law in Morocco and eventually making his way to New York.
His first “tour” of Columbia was non-traditional: In 2016, he took a job delivering pizzas for Papa John's on the Upper West Side. His first delivery was to a Columbia student studying at 116th and Amsterdam—it was his dream to be a Columbia student, too. Although he was nervous to apply, he eventually did—to SPS as a Negotiation and Conflict Resolution master’s student. After all, a mentor once told him, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.”
While at SPS, Ngossoh has served as a United Nations representative of Meaningful World, the Association for Trauma Outreach & Prevention; co-founded African Youth Architects, which specializes in youth empowerment and improving Africa through education and entrepreneurship; been elected President of SPS’ Association for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Students; and spoke publicly on the topic of youth engagement and human rights at such forums as the United Nations and the World Youth Forum.
This year’s Dean’s Excellence Award recipient in the Faculty category is:
Beloved faculty member Alexandra M. Merceron, or “Alex” as she is known in our halls, is a Lecturer in the discipline of Strategic Communication, and her commitment to students is beyond debate. Over the past three years at SPS, Merceron has consistently received outstanding reviews from students. As one of her students said: “You can tell that she is passionate about the teaching profession … She advocates for students, works closely with them on finding internships and jobs, and does everything she can to be a resource.”
Merceron is also a scholar whose research examines audience engagement with digital and social media. Two recent studies—one on mobile health apps, and another on social TV viewing among young adults—were published in academic journals in the last year. Before coming to SPS, Merceron spent more than 20 years in the field of communication, digital, and research working for organizations like the FDA, Harvard Business Review Group, and The New York Times Company.
This year’s Dean’s Excellence Award recipient in the Alumni category is:
In the four years since Shaun Hoyte graduated with an M.S. in Sustainability Management, he has become a committed advocate for SPS. Extraordinarily engaged with alumni activities at both the School and University, Shaun was instrumental in launching the SPS Alumni Advisory Council and is now its Vice Chair.
Today, Hoyte is a program manager for Con Edison’s Small-Medium Business Energy Efficiency Program, where he has oversight of nearly $40 million in incentives—distributed annually. His work is critical to New York state and its Energy Plan to fight climate change. In that role, Shaun has also been a dedicated resource for students, including hiring them because he knows their value.
This year’s Dean’s Excellence Award recipient in the Administrator category is:
Phong H. Luu, the Director of Student Support on the Student Affairs team, exemplifies the school’s mission to provide a best-in-class experience for all students. He is also an absolute delight to work with. He joined SPS in 2018 and through a combination of hard work and natural talent for connecting with people, he rose to the role of Director, where he has significantly expanded the portfolio of student support services offered. Those services now include scholarships, tutoring, and a wide variety of academic workshops. He has been an outstanding liaison for students with disabilities.
Those who have collaborated with Luu say “he is one of the most positive, calming people I know, who sees the good side of everything.” And as his nominator wrote, he “always looks at the bigger picture with a student focus,” and “always has a smile on his face.”
This year’s Dean’s Excellence Award recipient in the newly-created Administrative Team category is:
Now more than ever, this team deserves our utmost thanks for their hard work as the backbone of logistical and strategic support to faculty and every unit at SPS. Part of the Academic Affairs department, the Instructional Support Team has been called the “311 of SPS,” and “the true heroes” of the school. The team works all hours of the day to ensure that students are able to get into their courses and that faculty can teach without any hiccups. The team always says “yes” to helping a fellow SPS community member.
This year, as with every year, they made the urgent transition to remote learning This has included printing course materials, ensuring tech equipment functions, shipping ethernet cables and headsets all over the world, and providing phone support to faculty at all hours during the transition from in-person to virtual learning. They have truly supported the school’s mission to advance knowledge with purpose.
The Campbell Award, which recognizes a student “who shows exceptional leadership and Columbia spirit,” was established in honor of the late Bill Campbell, a distinguished alumnus of Columbia and co-founder of the Columbia Alumni Association.
This year’s award recipient is:
Alberto Mastrotto, a native of Arzignano, Italy, has long been developing data-driven narratives that help build robust business strategies. At SPS, he has exemplified the type of leader that the Campbell award was created to recognize. Not only did he serve as the President of the Applied Analytics Club, where he hosted high-profile events with Goldman Sachs and Facebook, he also served as the Student Government Representative for the Applied Analytics program.
Mastrotto also organized an event with the Columbia Data Science Society that attracted more than 300 students and partnered with the Career Design Lab to offer development opportunities to students, organizing Career Talks and the Knowledge Graph Conference. Described by his peers and professors as determined, intelligent and warm, Alberto has facilitated not only his own success, but the success of many others