Meet the Winners of Our 2020 NASPA Scholarship

Here, at Presence, when we say we’re committed to disrupting the higher education industry, we mean it.

But it doesn’t stop with sophisticated engagement software. It means improving the entire world of higher education.

gif of a man saying 'we're here to make it better'

And we believe that SA pros are key to this — but only if they have access to opportunities to keep them on top of their games. 

One pivotal opportunity is the annual NASPA conference. Hosted by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, it’s a flagship event of our field, bringing together SA pros from all focus areas and levels of experience — from undergraduate student leaders to brand-new full-time professionals to seasoned vice presidents. 

Last year’s conference in Los Angeles welcomed over 7,200 attendees, and this year’s in Austin, Texas may have even more. 

Yet, despite being an alluring opportunity, getting there isn’t always easy. In addition to the time commitment required, it comes with a collection of costs, including hotel reservations, event tickets, travel expenses, and more.

In true Presence style, when we see a problem, we brainstorm ways to solve it.

That’s why we came up with the Presence NASPA scholarship. A few weeks ago, we invited student affairs professionals to nominate their friends and coworkers to attend NASPA… on us. 

The response was tremendous! We received more than 100 submissions, with SA pros from all over the country gushing over the work of their colleagues. We learned about professionals creating ongoing programs from the ground up, folx who’ve had enormous impacts on their students’ day-to-day lives, unofficial heroes who saved leadership initiatives from the brink of extinction, and more.

In other words, you made our decision tough. Very, very tough. Thanks for that. 

In the end, we selected four winners. Their stories of perseverance, devotion to their students, and work philosophies all wowed us. (Literally, we said “wow” a lot.) And we’re excited to introduce you to them now.

Readers, meet our fab four…

Our 2020 Winners

Brandi Stone smiles at the camera. She is the director of African American Student Services at the University of New Mexico

What her nominator said: 

“Brandi started her journey to become an academic advisor because Black students were not getting the help they needed on campus. In 2017, while working full-time, taking graduate classes full-time, and being pregnant with her first child, Brandi’s little brother died by suicide. It is hard to describe the impact this had on our campus community. As the community searched for answers, Brandi stepped into a leadership role she should have never had to occupy. She continued to show up for students, encourage students to keep working, and created opportunities for students to feel better connected and engaged. Brandi’s positionality is more than academic. In our small Black community, Brandi is seen as an inspiration and a community symbol of what Black education can look like. Every Black student that arrives at the University of New Mexico is met and welcomed by Brandi.”.

— Desa Daniel, Program Coordinator of Counselor Education Supervision at the University of New Mexico

Why Brandi is excited to attend NASPA 2020:

NASPA was my first student affairs conference I was able to attend as a professional intern. It was this experience that solidified my passion for student affairs. Four years later, I am now a director and I am excited about returning to NASPA and continuing to learn under this new capacity!”

Fun Facts:

  • Brandi is the first female director of the African American Student Services (AFRO) program at the University of New Mexico.
  • She founded the Black Cultural Conference at UNM. Her nominator, Desa Daniel, says, “With little help or guidance, Brandi has continued to make this conference a leader in Black education and knowledge in the Southwest.”
  • Brandi is undefeated as a coach in UNM’s annual student vs. staff basketball classic.
Tabitha Venezia is smiling at the camera. She is an academic success coordinator at Arizona State University.

What her nominator said: 

Tabitha is continually learning, growing and searching for solutions in higher education. Her passion and purpose is to make higher education accessible to all students, especially those who come from marinized backgrounds. She puts her heart into her work and strives to make any organization better through inclusivity and empathy. Tabitha has a special ability to see the potential and greatness in her students and colleagues and empowers them to reach their goals. Her passions lie in areas that are often under-supported or recognized; she serves as a fervent advocate for transfer and first-generation college students. With her background in housing, admissions, academic advising, and student engagement, she understands the gap in student support for transfer and first-generation college students.”

– Daniel Ramirez-Escobedo, Coordinator Senior of First-Year Programs at Arizona State University-Tempe

Why Tabitha is excited to attend NASPA 2020:

“I am so excited to learn at NASPA from professionals from around the world! I am hoping to learn new and innovative research and practices that retain students, specifically transfer and first-generation college students. I am passionate about making higher education accessible and hope to take this knowledge back to my studies and my institution.”

Fun Facts:

  • Tabitha was the first person in her family to graduate from high school.
  • She is currently pursuing her doctorate in higher education at the University of Arizona. She says, “It has always been a dream to pursue a doctoral degree and this has been one of my proudest moments.”
  • Tabitha has her sights set on becoming an institution’s vice president of student affairs.
Dayne Hutchinson is smiling at the camera. He is the assistant dean and director of student development and activities at Marymount Manhattan College.

What his nominator said:

Dayne started with Marymount less than two years ago and has completely changed the culture around student involvement and student engagement. As a small liberal arts college with less than 1800 students, Dayne goes above and beyond to advocate for students, to seek external resources, and to do the best he can with the monies available. Dayne is the life our team, and our students love him!” 

– Emmalyn Yamrick, Dean of Students at Marymount Manhattan College 

Why Dayne is excited to attend NASPA 2020:

“NASPA is an exciting time in general to reconnect with colleagues and to really engage with current trends in higher education. I am inspired by so many colleagues doing great work and leading the way in terms of innovation and best practices. NASPA allows me to soak it all in, to follow their example, and to share what I have learned with others.” 

Fun Facts:

  • Dayne was born and raised in Jamaica until age 12, which Dean Yamrick says “allows him to connect with many students in special ways.”
  • He earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences from Florida State University, plus master’s and doctorate degrees in higher education from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln,  all before the age of 29.
  • He adores Six Flags and will eagerly volunteer to staff any student trips there.

Partner Scholarship

In addition to the three scholarship slots we made open to anyone, we also created a scholarship for our campus partners

We cherish our relationship with each and every one of our partners, so we’re always looking for ways to express our gratitude — beyond friendly emails filled with GIFs. So, we decided to send a partner to NASPA!

Meet Chelsea, this year’s Presence Partner NASPA Scholarship winner.

Chelsea Creaturo is smiling at the camera. She is a research analyst for institutional effectiveness at Eckerd College.

What Chelsea told us about herself:

“Mad Scientist was my first official job title in the world of education. I worked for a company that demoed science experiments during school assemblies, ran science-themed summer camps, and held in-class workshops to reinforce curriculum. Back then, I wore a lab coat and went by the stage name Charged-Up Chels. I regularly made cotton candy to teach chemistry, rode homemade hovercrafts to demo physics principles, and became particularly skilled with flash-paper and dry ice. My favorite science experiment, one I still break out as a party trick, involved a combination of dry ice, water, and dish soap to make a massive bubble. Ten years later, I now work as a Research Analyst but I’m still a Mad Scientist at heart.”

Presence teammates Natalie Emerson and Brittany Mijatovic high-fiving and saying 'yeah'

Natalie Emerson and Brittany Mijatovic are among our many Presence teammates who are pumped for NASPA!

Brandi, Dayne, Tabitha, and Chelsea — we can’t wait to see you in Austin.

(Ditto everyone else! We hope you’ll stop by our booth. Spoiler alert: We’ll be giving away some freebies.)



Jodi Tandet

About the author: Jodi Tandet loves writing about the magic of campus life as the Lead Storyteller at Presence. She's also passionate about baking, mental health advocacy, all the Presence office dogs, and her ever-growing podcast collection. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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