Wednesday, April 8, 2015

UNO Circle of Omicron Delta Kappa Honors Faculty and Staff, Raises Money for Scholarships

UNO Professor Emeritus of History Raphael Cassimere Jr., a distinguished alumnus, accepts the Legacy Award from the UNO Circle of Omicron Delta KappaUNO Professor Emeritus of History Raphael Cassimere Jr., a distinguished alumnus, accepts the 2015 Legacy Award
from Edie Talley, president of the UNO Circle of Omicron Delta Kappa.

The University of New Orleans Circle of Omicron Delta Kappa National Honor Society honored dedicated faculty and staff Wednesday at its inaugural Spring Gala, held in the University Center Ballroom. The inaugural gala raised money to fund new scholarships for students.

“In a way, it is a love letter to those who make learning possible at UNO,” said Charles McMaster, vice president, who said the awards bestowed helped to honor "dedicated faculty and staff" who display "exceptional campus and community leadership."

Leaving a Legacy              

UNO Professor Emeritus of History Raphael Cassimere Jr., a distinguished UNO alumnus, delivered the keynote address and received the UNO Legacy Award, an award ODK gives annually to a faculty member who has had a strong influence over student involvement groups on campus.

Cassimere, a civil rights leader, gave a speech entitled "We Are Not Alone," and spoke of the good cheer he always had as a professor when he received a compliment for a job well done. He encouraged the more than 100 people in attendance to stand strong together during trying times and to honor the time, perseverance and dedication - the true efforts - that colleagues make to ensure a top-flight education for UNO students.

In his speech, Cassimere invoked Washington’s dire situation at Valley Forge and his plea to the US Congress “Is anybody listening?” to illustrate the current fiscal situation of higher education in Louisiana.  He also invoked Benjamin Franklin’s segmented snake imagery to illustrate that the only way to survive is to unite. He encouraged faculty, staff, students and alumni to unite in a peaceful revolution to overturn the current thinking in Baton Rouge and persuade lawmakers and tax payers to agree to moderate tax increases to make our universities viable.

Cassimere is a native New Orleanian and a product of city public schools. He received both a bachelor's and master's degree in history from LSUNO (now UNO), where he was a member of one of the University's earliest classes, then went on to attain a doctorate in history from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.

Cassimere was the first black instructor hired at LSUNO and retired from the UNO History Department after 37 years of service in 2007, according to his biography. He is the author of African Americans in New Orleans Before the Civil War and numerous scholarly articles.

Cassimere, a known civil rights leader who as a young man participated in the March on Washington and various civil rights struggles throughout New Orleans, has been actively involved with the NAACP since 1960 and held many offices at the local, state, regional, and national levels. His civic service includes a stint as secretary of the Louisiana Election Revisions Commission and another as chairman of the Vieux Carre Commission. He is married to the former Inez Hale, another UNO alumna and local leader. They have one son and one daughter. 

Five Pillars of Leadership

In a new tradition, the UNO Circle of Omicron Delta Kappa recognized faculty and staff who have distinguished themselves in at least one of the honor society's five pillars of leadership. Bringing a special moment to the evening was presentation of the scholarship award, which was offered posthumously to Michael Mizell-Nelson, a beloved history professor who died of cancer Dec. 1 at the age of 49.

ODK presented the special award to his wife, Catherine Mizell-Nelson, who attended the event with their children.

Mizell-Nelson, a UNO faculty member since 2004, was a lifelong New Orleanian and a foremost authority on two quintessential New Orleans topics: the po-boy and the streetcar. He served as the public history coordinator for the UNO history department and among his myriad accomplishments helped to establish and advance InnovateUNO, the University's undergraduate research competition.    

"Our members nominated several outstanding individuals," Talley said. "Voting was extremely close because all of the candidates were so deserving."

The nominees and winners in each category were:

Scholarship

Michael Mizell-Nelson (History) – Winner 

Jacqueline Nesbitt (Biology)

Christopher Surprenant (Philosophy)

Matthew Tarr (Chemistry)

Campus and Community Service

LeeAnne Sipe (Office of Student Involvement & Leadership) – Winner

Dan Harper (Office of Interdisciplinary Studies)

Steve Striffler (Anthropology)

Creative and Performing Arts

Brent Rose (Music) – Winner

M. O. “Neal” Walsh (Creative Writing Workshop)

Athletics

Mark Slessinger (Men’s Basketball) – Winner

Keeshawn Carter Davenport (Women’s Basketball)

Kassie Thibodeaux – Recreation and Intramural Sports

Journalism, Mass Media, and Speech

Peter Schock (English) – Winner

Patricia Murret (Marketing and Public Relations)

Sarah Bergez (Marketing and Public Relations)

Advancing Higher Education through Scholarships

The event included a candlelight ceremony honoring spring graduates and new members while raising money for a new scholarship established by ODK. The ODK Scholarship Fund will help to create scholarships for fulltime undergraduate and graduate students.

"As a fundraising kickoff, the event was hugely successful," Talley said. "We anticipate being able to fund at least two $500 scholarships in the Spring 2016 semester, possibly more as we expand our fundraising efforts into the fall."

The spring gala, which included dinner and a performance by the UNO Jazz All-Stars, was completely funded by donations and sponsorships. Entry was by donation and additional funds were raised by a silent auction held during the ceremony.

Donors included: Aramark, Pierre Champagne, City Park Putt, Follett Bookstore, Morning Call in the Oaks, Judith Roberson, Lee Anne Sipe, UNO Federal Credit Union, M.O. "Neal" Walsh, Chantrelle Varnado-Johnson, Lakeview Harbor Restaurant, Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, The Woodhouse Day Spa, and the UNO Alumni Association.

Gold donors included: Snap Fitness 24-7, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management and the UNO Music Department. Platinum Donors included the UNO Student Government and Lakefront Arena.

"ODK is truly creating a new UNO tradition founded on gratitude and servitude,” said Director of Student Involvement and Leadership Dale O'Neill of the beautiful spring gala, candlelight ceremony and silent auction created entirely by students.

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