Vazquez FP '11 Receives Inaugural Peterson Prize

A Mount Holyoke student who helped lead community service efforts in the city of Holyoke has been chosen as the first recipient of the Five College Lorna Peterson Prize. Sarah Vazquez FP ’11 transferred to Mount Holyoke in 2008 after graduating as Holyoke Community College’s valedictorian and quickly became involved in campus community service programs, according to Alan Bloomgarden, coordinator of Community-Based Learning at Mount Holyoke’s Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts.

“Sarah embodies the spirit and aspirations of Five College community-based learning in more ways than can be counted,” said Bloomgarden in his letter nominating Vazquez for the award.
Named for Lorna Peterson, who worked at Five Colleges for 29 years, 19 as the consortium’s leader, the award honors Peterson’s commitment to collaboration as a means of advancing understanding and expanding opportunities, especially for students. The $500 prize is awarded annually based on nominations from Five College programs.
A West Springfield native, Vazquez tutored and mentored predominantly Spanish-speaking students at Holyoke’s Peck School during her first year at Mount Holyoke. “I recruited her to become the Commonwealth Corps program assistant, to serve as a leader among the UMass, Holyoke Community College, and Mount Holyoke students serving as tutors and mentors in Holyoke,” said Bloomgarden. “She excelled at this work, helping to guide and mentor college students to build productive and responsible relationships with Holyoke youth.”
Vazquez’s accomplishments also include the creation of a health and nutrition fair at the Peck School and a student-run energy and resource audit of the school. Students found through the audit that by replacing broken thermostats in classrooms the school could save $30,000 to $40,000 a year in energy costs. Vazquez will use her prize money to continue this project.
“The Five College system introduced me to a widespread ethic of service and a model of collaboration,” said Vazquez of her experiences in the consortium. “Encouraged and enabled by the existence and infrastructure of the Five College exchange system, I’ve taken classes at Mount Holyoke College, UMass, and Hampshire College. Across campuses, I have made connections with and shared views of social justice, identity, and service delivery with classmates. I have discovered a diverse population of students who have a similar ethic of service.”

Vazquez received her award from Five College Executive Director Neal Abraham at a reception and dinner held at the Five College offices on April 20. At the dinner, which was attended by other student nominees and Lorna Peterson, Abraham praised the accomplishments of Peterson’s tenure at the consortium, during which Five Colleges created, among other programs, a film studies major, the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center, an astronomy fellows program, and several multi-campus performance opportunities for students.

Abraham also applauded the efforts of Vazquez and of the other students nominated by a Five College program for the award: Holly Sprague FP ’11 of Mount Holyoke--nominated by the Five College Native American Indian Program, Michael Meo of Hampshire--nominated by the Five College Architecture Program, and Linda Witkowski FP ’11 of Mount Holyoke--nominated by the Five College Film Program. Lorna Peterson congratulated all of the student nominees, saying she was honored to be associated with their accomplishments. Three of the four nominees--Vazquez, Sprague, and Witkowski--are enrolled in Mount Holyoke’s Frances Perkins Program for women of nontraditional college age.

For information about nominating a student for the Five College Lorna Peterson Award, contact Nate Therien at 413-256-8316.

Photo: Lorna Peterson, Sarah Vazquez FP '11, and Neal Abraham
Photo credit: Nancy Palmieri