SIA students win multiple University-wide graduate awards

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA. -- Students at the Penn State School of International Affairs were a major presence at the University’s Graduate Student Award Ceremony on April 18, earning three awards for academic and professional achievement in competition with graduate students from across Penn State.

Karen Coker was selected as the recipient of the W. Lamar Kopp International Achievement Award, which is awarded to students who have “contributed significantly to the advancement of the international mission of the University.” Shuofei Zhao and Jason Isgrigg were honored for their “outstanding achievement in a professional master’s degree program” with the Professional Master’s Excellence Award, with two of the four total awards in that category being awarded to SIA students.

SIA students Karen Coker, Jason Isgrigg, and Shuofei Zhao were each honored for their professional and academic achievement at the University’s Graduate Student Award Ceremony.

“This is the first time I’ve ever really won an award, so it feels really amazing and humbling” said Coker, who was selected in part for her interest in global health and her real-world work on issues of air pollution and public health research during a semester in Senegal. Over the course of the semester, she worked closely with doctors and researchers at the Fann National Hospital in Dakar to examine the effect of pollution in West African cities, giving her a chance to make a positive impact while gathering data for her SIA capstone paper.

“The way I see it, this award isn’t about me,” Coker said. “It’s about the doctors at that hospital and the Senegalese people who are being impacted by the work we did together.”

Zhao was selected for the Professional Master’s Excellence Award for not only his academic excellence, but for his work in the ecommerce and marketing department of the German company Bosch Thermotechnology. In a recommendation letter to the selection committee, Zhao’s supervisor at Bosch praised his “fast learning ability and strong leadership skills,” “strong communication and problem solving skills,” and his ability to take point on complicated projects to protect consumers and reduce the numbers of unauthorized Bosch vendors—an effort that’s still underway thanks to Zhao’s hard work.

“It’s very rewarding to be recognized like this,” Zhao said. “So many people helped me in this process, and everyone at SIA has been very supportive and done everything they can to help me and other students find opportunities.”

Isgrigg, a captain and intelligence officer in the U.S. Army as well as an SIA student, was selected for his outstanding academic performance and his professional experience working at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin last summer. Given his level of professional and military experience, Isgrigg spent his time at the embassy doing the work of a junior to mid-grade foreign service officer, rather than the less intensive work of a traditional intern. He hosted visiting dignitaries, wrote briefing and decision memos, helped research and draft official position statements on U.S. foreign policy, and wrote diplomatic cables— knowing that some of his work went as high up the chain of command as the president’s desk.

“I’m very honored and humbled to have been selected, knowing how many qualified, intelligent students we have here doing great things,” Isgrigg said. “I was just glad to have the opportunity to serve; I feel that is my calling, whether it’s in the military or in some other capacity when I hang up the uniform.”