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2023 UT Tower Awards in Photos

View some photo highlights from this year's UT Tower Award winners
group shot of award winners at UT Tower Awards

The DDCE and the Office of the President recently hosted the UT Tower Awards ceremony to honor excellence in community leadership among students, faculty, staff and community partners. Featured below are just a few photo highlights from the big event held on Monday, April 17 at the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center. Find more photos on our Flickr site.

image of student emcees 2023 tower awards
Pictured here are Poorna Menon at the microphone and Amara Kwiatkowski standing behind

Amara Kwiatkowski and Poorna Menon—both members of student-led community service programs—emceed the event, brining smiles and applause to the room as they introduced the honorees. Kwiatkowski is a Plan II Honors/government junior and member of the Community Engagement Collective. Menon is a biology junior and member of the VolunteerUT program.

“Each of us hosting tonight represent a student-led program of DDCE whose core purpose is service to the community, and we are excited to help shine a spotlight on the work of all of our awardees tonight,” Kwiatkowski said.

image of Hartzell Tower Awards
UT Austin President Jay Hartzell and Dr. LaToya Smith, vice president for diversity and community engagement, gave a warm welcome to the crowd, applauding this year’s awardees for going above and beyond to serve the community.

“Dr. Maya Angelou once said, ‘Good done anywhere is good done everywhere,’” Hartzell said. “And I think that tonight’s winners embody that idea by focusing on their local communities, serving those around them. Though the work of each of our winners is unique, they are united by a common goal: to do the most good that they can for those immediately around them.”

The 2023 Honorees

Outstanding Community Engagement Award

Texas Asians for Justice

Asian Texans for Justice

Asian Texans for Justice connects Asian American and Pacific Islander Texans to opportunities for civic action. They envision a future where all people feel bold in their belonging, while creating meaningful connections with one another and their community.

Austin Child Guidance Center
Austin Child Guidance Center

For more than 70 years, the Austin Child Guidance Center has provided treatment for children’s mental health needs, providing affordable, in-depth care for children, teens and their families.


VELA is an Austin-based nonprofit that provides English- and Spanish-speaking parents with hands-on courses and support, so that all families can create the very best outcomes for their children with disabilities.

Outstanding Faculty/Staff Volunteer Award

Meera Rajagopalan
Meera Rajagopalan

Director of Clinical & Career Services, School of Nursing

For nearly 20 years, Rajagopalan has volunteered for the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Seminar, and within the past decade, she’s been one of the leaders of the Austin Cupid’s Undie Run, supporting the Children’s Tumor Foundation.

Outstanding Service-Learning Instructor Award

Hocket Cooper
Michele Hockett Cooper

Assistant Professor of Instruction, College of Natural Sciences

Hockett Cooper is a passionate advocate for community gardens and nutrition education across communities in Central Texas. She teaches undergraduates how to educate elementary students in fundamental nutrition concepts. Her activities include lesson planning, modeling classroom engagement and leading gardening days.


Stacy Sowards
Stacey Sowards

Professor, Moody College of Communication

To help students gain new perspectives and understanding of the refugee experience in the United States, Sowards teaches a course titled Decolonizing Communications Studies that involves volunteer work at Casa Marianella, a shelter that offers temporary housing and services to foreign refugees seeking asylum in the United States.

Outstanding Student Organization Award

Mechanical Engineers of Texas
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers at Texas

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers at Texas are passionate about bettering all facets of the Austin community. This past semester, they’ve hosted several service community events including WiSTEM’s STEM Girl Day at UT Austin, the Longhorn Run and the Expo Service Project.

Texas Cowboys Outstanding Student Volunteer Award

Maria Ghaly
Maria Ghaly

Senior, College of Natural Sciences

Ghaly is a senior in the College of Natural Sciences who focuses her studies on health care accessibility and equity. In partnership with Keep Austin Fed, she investigated barriers and preferences associated with food pantry access within the Austin community. Her community service also includes work with University Health Services, the Esperanza Community and the Osier Laboratory.

Ashray Saxena

Doctoral Student, Cockrell School of Engineering

During Saxena’s undergraduate years at UT Austin, he provided free classes and tutoring for students from vulnerable communities. He currently serves as chair for DEI and peer mentorship programs in the Cockrell School of Engineering. He is also active in several organizations including the annual UT Women’s Case Competition, the Longhorn Impact Fellowship at Texas and the Udaan Society.

William C. Powers Jr. Lifetime Service Award

Emilio Zamora
Emilio Zamora

Professor, College of Liberal Arts

Dr. Emilio Zamora is a professor of history, a Fellow of the George W. Littlefield Professorship in American History and the former president of the Texas State Historical Association. He served as the founder and driving force behind the Academia Cuauhtli, which works with several campus and community partners to provide Mexican American and Tejano history curriculum for fourth- and fifth-grade students. Zamora also serves on several boards including the Advisory Board of Austin’s Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center and the Hispanic/Latino Quality of Life Commission. He is also a leader and advocate for Ethnic Studies in the nation’s public schools.

More about the UT Tower Awards

The Tower Awards brings together two of the DDCE’s awards ceremonies: The Community Leadership Awards and the Tower Awards. Since 2007, the Community Leadership Awards were presented by the DDCE and the Office of the President to honor our community partners in the greater Austin area that work to bring access and equity to underserved populations. The Tower Awards were presented by the Center for Community Engagement to recognize excellence in volunteerism among students, faculty and staff at UT Austin.