President picks exceptional talent

UC's Presidential Leadership Medal of Excellence winners break the mold

The University of Cincinnati taps six 2021 undergraduate scholars who best exemplify the ideals of the university — scholarship, leadership, character and service.

Celebrated in a virtual ceremony on April 27, the UC Presidential Leadership Medal of Excellence Awards (PLME) recognized students who have made extraordinary contributions to the university’s academic traditions and initiatives in service to the community.  Academic excellence is reinforced by UC President Neville G. Pinto’s Next Lives Here strategic direction, which aims to continuously support a new era of innovation and impact.

Virtual screen with 12 windows showing UC students and leadership during a PLME and PMGSE ceremony in 2021.

UC President Neville G. Pinto, upper left, presents the Presidential Leadership Medal of Excellence and the Presidential Medal of Graduate Student Excellence awards during the 2021 award ceremony with the help of UC Provost Kristi Nelson, second from bottom right, and Vice Provost for International Affairs Raj Mehta, bottom right.

In alphabetical order, the 2021 PLME awardees are Nicole Baah, industrial design major from the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP); Chinmay Bakshi, neurobiology and medicine, health and society for the College of Arts & Sciences; Chloe Elleman, medical sciences program from the College of Medicine; Chandler Rankin, economics and political science from the Carl H. Lindner College of Business; Priyanka Vemuru, medical sciences program from the College of Medicine, and FearGod Okwubido-Williams, biomedical engineering from the College of Engineering and Applied Science.

Nicole Baah

As a Darwin T. Turner Scholar, among a list of other prestigious awards she receivd along the way, Nicole Baah entered UC’s DAAP industrial design program with a strong desire to give back. She did so through service organizations on- and off-campus such as UC’s chapter of Design for America — an initiative that became the catalyst for her love of design research. Through these efforts she became a studio lead with the goal of providing opportunities for other incoming students across majors. 

UC's Nicole Baah stands on a bridge surrounded by ocean and buildings in Santiago, Chile.

Nicole Baah

While enjoying several co-op opportunities, Baah was especially fond of working with Crown Equipment in New Bremen, Ohio, where she first experienced hands-on design research.

Among her international experiences, Baah studied abroad on a faculty-led trip to Tokyo doing a packaging workshop with design students and co-oped in Santiago, Chile, where she helped install an exhibit in La Moneda (the Chilean Presidential Palace).  

Baah won a DAAPcares award for diversity, equity and inclusion for her capstone project, titled “Point of Re-entry,” a rendition of a system that seeks to support people in their transition out of the criminal justice system. She did this by creating a concept that provides access to resources at a kiosk in a centralized location such as a public library.

“After graduating from DAAP, I’m excited to begin my position at Milwaukee Tool as a design researcher!” says Baah.

Chinmay Bakshi

After conducting three consecutive summer medical research internships at UC College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center during high school, Chinmay Bakshi, UC neurobiology and medicine, health and society student in the College of Arts & Sciences, got a jump on creating award-winning poster presentations in college. 

Portrait photo of UC's Chinmay Bakshi

Chinmay Bakshi

For six academic semesters until the COVID-19 pandemic began, Bakshi conducted cardiovascular research at CCHMC in the Molkentin Lab where he co-authored two publications and presented a poster at the Ohio Physiological Society meeting where he received the top prize. Through his work in biomedicine, he also received a national Barry Goldwater Scholarship.

Being raised in the Cincinnati area, he witnessed low-income communities struggling with substance abuse upclose and personal and made it his goal to do what he could to make an impact.

Staying true to his promise, Bakshi worked in underserved communities suffering from addiction, organizing high-impact projects through a nonprofit organization he co-founded called "Rooting4Recovery" and volunteered extensively with The Exchange Project, a Cincinnati-area needle exchange program.

On campus, he served as chief of “Generation Rx Ambassadors,” where he personally taught hundreds of students how to avoid drug and alcohol abuse and strategies for staying healthy. His curriculum eventually became a mandatory teaching module for all freshmen and now reaches thousands of students a year.

As president of the UC chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, he also spearheaded a campaign that helped pass a major piece of legislation on the Ohio ballot that changed minor drug charges from felonies to misdemeanors. 

“Ohio is one of the top two states with the most overdose deaths in the country,” says Bakshi. “As I watched our community suffer, I felt it was really important to address that crisis and channel my efforts where I could make a change.”

In addition to his PLME award, Bakshi received UC’s Robert McKibbin Medal given each year by the College of Arts & Sciences to the graduate deemed the most outstanding for academic achievement, character and contribution to UC and the broader community. 

Chloe Elleman

A lifelong resident of Cincinnati, Chloe Elleman aspired to be a doctor from a very early age. Her first choice for college was the University of Cincinnati for its unique medical sciences program and outstanding faculty. 

Portrait photo of UC's Chloe Elleman

Chloe Elleman

As a Cincinnatus Scholar with a Choose Ohio First Scholarship for STEM disciplines, Elleman hit the ground running adding several other prestigious scholarships to her list of academic accomplishments including UC’s Highest Achievement in Organic Chemistry Award. 

With her eye on clinical experience as an undergrad, Elleman spent over 250 hours shadowing in a variety of medical settings at UC Health, Mercy Health and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. She also worked on pediatric traumatic brain injury research. 

Without hesitating, Elleman added community outreach to her undergrad initiatives as a co-op in UC’s student-run free clinic. There, Elleman worked with a team of medical and pharmacy students and communicated with patients in Spanish.

Throughout her busy schedule, Elleman received the opportunity to travel in a faculty-led four-week study abroad to Guatemala and earned a trip to Northern Ireland through a Fulbright Summer Institute grant in 2019.

"Not only has she excelled academically, but she has worked hard to understand social conflict at the community level," says Anil Menon, UC associate dean for the College of Medicine undergraduate medical sciences program.

After graduating with honors this spring, Elleman will attend the University of Michigan Medical School this fall and hopes to specialize in pediatric medicine.

Chandler Rankin

As a native of Columbus, Ohio, Chandler Rankin looked forward to attending college far enough away from home, but close enough to visit. “But it was the incredible Darwin T. Turner Scholarship and Kolodzik Business Scholars Program that attracted me to the University of Cincinnati,” says Rankin.

UC's Chandler Rankin wearing a graduation cap and gown kneels in front of McMicken Hall holding a Facebook T-shirt.

Chandler Rankin

The secrets to his success include UC’s support through co-op, internship and study abroad opportunities — all helping to enhance his leadership skills on campus and in the community, he says.

Rankin’s positive impact in the community started as the political chair for the United Black Student Association where he helped found the #WeChooseLove campaign and continued on through leadership roles as a member for UC’s Student Alumni Council.

In addition, he earned several honors such as the Commencement Student Marshal 2020, Kautz-Uible Economics Institute award, Student Trailblazer Award, William J. Keating Leadership Award and the Marian Spencer Equity Ambassador Award.

Rankin’s journey through the University Honors Program and rise to student body president — where he worked with UC’s Board of Trustees, the university president’s cabinet and in governance committees on student policy — all had a major impact on his graduating in December of 2020 with a double major bachelor’s degree in political science and economics with honors from UC’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business. 

Rankin’s academic and leadership prowess ultimately resulted in accepting a full-time position with Facebook in Silicon Valley beginning later this summer. He will work in their rotational product manager program before attending Harvard Law School in 2023.

After law school, Rankin hopes to pursue legal roles in both the public and private sectors in Washington, D.C.

Priyanka Vemuru

Even before entering UC’s medical sciences program, Priyanka Vemuru always knew she wanted to devote much of her time to community service.

UC's Priyanka Vemuru wearing a UC graduation cap and gown holding her diploma.

Priyanka Vemuru

As a pre-med student, Vemuru’s leadership in medical research carried over in her ability to make a positive impact in community outreach, including her work helping local immigrant families to increase their English proficiency through Cincinnati's AmeriCorps: Santa Maria Community Services.

She also helped translate for underserved Latino families seeking medical and financial help through the Cincinnati Women, Infants and Children organization, and as a mental health advocate on campus, Vemuru gave presentations to first- and second-year pre-med students on positive mental well-being, the value of being vulnerable and debunking stigma.

"Not only has she excelled academically, but she has worked hard to help other students and members of our community who are struggling with mental health — exacerbated by the pandemic," says Anil Menon, UC associate dean. 

After working in wet labs on campus, Vemuru found an even greater reward working in UC’s psychology lab, which also allowed her to concentrate on community engagement. 

“I really find it rewarding to work with the Latino community and immigrant population, especially with underserved and undocumented people or anyone with a fear of getting health care,” says Vemuru. “These experiences have helped shape how I see medicine change in different socioeconomic areas and has inspired me to work with different cultures around the country.” 

As part of UC’s Dual Admissions Medical Sciences Program, Vemuru has her spot saved in the College of Medicine this fall and plans to find ways to continue her passion for community service while in UC’s medical school.

FearGod Okwubido-Williams

As a native of Nigeria, FearGod Okwubido-Williams was the first of seven children in his family to travel to the U.S. to get an education. After starting college in Richmond, Indiana, Williams transferred to UC because of the co-op program offered in bioengineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, where he would eventually go to five different cities on five unique co-ops with five major companies.

Portrait photo of UC's FearGod Okwubido-Williams

FearGod Okwubido-Williams

Among his co-ops in biomedical research Williams worked at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center where he earned his first publication. Other co-ops included Boston Scientific in Arden Hills, Minnesota, and Zimmer Biomet in both Indiana and in Jacksonville, Florida, — all while still making time to join the UC Engineering Tribunal as vice president. In addition, he later served as a senator in UC’s student government. 

It was while serving in the National Society of Black Engineers and being surrounded by a community of black engineering mentors where Williams was inspired to not give up on his dream of becoming a successful engineer.

“I had so much support from the engineering faculty, as well as inspiration for innovation by UC’s Next Lives Here strategic direction," says Williams. 

After Williams helped to found a Bearcats organization, he worked to increase the number of Bearcats in technology by connecting current students with Bearcat alums at top companies around the world. His leadership through the National Society of Black Engineers, the College of Engineering Tribunal and GlobeMed helped launch his place as a member of Forbes 30 Under 30 and as a Cincinnati Global and International Outreach Scholar.

As a result of his last co-op with Microsoft in Seattle, Washington, Williams has accepted a full-time position with Microsoft as a program manager starting later this summer.

Learn more about the Presidential Leadership Medal of Excellence. 

Featured image at top: UC 2020-21 Student Body President Chandler Rankin speaks at a university event. Photo/provided

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