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Outstanding Alumni Awards

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Outstanding Alumni Awards

Outstanding Alumni Awards

Rebecca Lee Funk
Rebecca Lee Funk
Aimee Harris

2023: Rebecca Lee Funk and Aimee Harris

Rebecca Funk graduated from Penn State in 2007 with degrees in General Science, Accounting, and Philosophy, followed by two master’s degrees from Yale University. She is the founder and CEO of The Outrage, a hub for activism based in Washington, DC, where she helps new and long-time activists make social change through community, events, and culture. Rebecca launched The Outrage from her couch in 2016 and opened the first physical location just months later. It has partnered with the Women’s March, March for Science, March for Our Lives, Families Belong Together, and many other important activist movements. The Outrage has hosted hundreds of events, raised millions of dollars for partner organizations, registered thousands to vote, and found innovative and data-driven ways to get people more civically engaged. Prior to The Outrage, Rebecca held positions at the United Nations, International Food Policy Research Institute, National Geographic, and LivingSocial. She has been recognized by Marie Claire’s New Guard as one of 50 women changing the world and by the Washingtonian as one of Washington, D.C.’s 100 most powerful women.

Aimee Harris graduated from Penn State in 2001 with bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy, French, and Journalism and a minor in international studies. A Schreyer Honors Scholar, she spent a year in Montpellier, France as an undergraduate, and presented her thesis to the Schreyer Honors College on the role of broadcast media in courtrooms hearing the cases of minors. Since 2007, Aimee has been a journalist at The New York Times, where she has worked on the Metro and Business desks. She was also the senior editor of The Neediest Cases Fund, a nonprofit project established in 1911 by the New York Times, which supports a global community of people in need. She is currently Director of Internal Communications for the Times. Among her proudest accomplishments are running the Neediest Cases Fund campaign during the first year of the pandemic and assisting in the evacuation of former Afghan colleagues and their families. Prior to joining the New York Times, Aimee held positions at the East Valley Tribune, Slack, Inc., and the Wilmington, Delaware News Journal. Aimee is married to a fellow Schreyer Honors Scholar.

2022: Ryan Suto and Adam Yenser

Ryan Suto earned degrees from Penn State in both philosophy and political science in 2008, followed by two master’s degrees from Syracuse University and finally a law degree from Syracuse University’s Law and Public Diplomacy program, where he received certificates in Middle Eastern Affairs, International Law, and Post-Conflict Resolution. In November 2021, he was named senior policy advisor at FairVote, a nonpartisan organization that advances electoral reforms at the local, state, and national level. Prior to FairVote, Ryan served nearly five years at the Washington, D.C.-based Arab American Institute, first as government relations manager and later as policy counsel. The Arab American Institute is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization created to nurture and encourage the direct participation of Arab Americans in political and civic life in the U.S.  Ryan has worked for other organizations, including UNDP Bahrain and the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. His writing has appeared in Fair Observer, Atlantic Council’s MENA Source, Middle East Eye, Jurist, and elsewhere.

Adam Yenser attended Penn State Lehigh Valley before completing dual degrees in philosophy and film and video production in 2005 at the University Park campus. During his time at Penn State, he interned for “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” which marked his entrance into the television industry. Adam went on to become a comedian and Emmy-award winning writer who has written for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” the Oscars, and Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update. He began performing stand-up comedy at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York City, and he has toured the country, appearing on “Conan” and other programs. Adam was named the Best New Political Comedian of 2015 at Politicon in Los Angeles. In 2017, Adam was Penn State Lehigh Valley’s spring commencement speaker. 
Dr. John Kaag
Dr. John Kaag accepted this year’s Alumni Award in recognition of his work in the field of Philosophy.

2019: John Kaag

John Kaag is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and the Miller Scholar at the Santa Fe Institute. He is the author, most recently, of American Philosophy: A Love Story (FSG, 2016), named an NPR Best Book and an NYT Editors’ Choice, and winner of the John Dewey Prize in Intellectual History, and its sequel, Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are (FSG, 2018), also named an NPR Best Book. Kaag publishes regularly in the New York TimesWall Street JournalHarper’s Magazine, the Paris Review, and other venues.

He graduated in 2002 from the Schreyer Honors College with a simultaneous MA and BA degree in philosophy and was marshal for the Department. He did his graduate work in philosophy at the University of Cambridge and the University of Oregon, and post-doctoral study at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and Harvard University.

Marci Hamilton and Melissa Protzek

2018: Marci Hamilton and Melissa Protzek

Marci Hamilton received her MA in Philosophy from Penn State in 1992 and a JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she also served as editor-in-chief of the Law Review. She later clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Hamilton is currently the Fox Professor of Practice, a Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow, and co-chair of the “Common Ground for the Common Good Project” at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She is also the founder, CEO, and academic director of CHILD USA, a nonprofit academic think tank that conducts interdisciplinary, evidence-based research on improving laws and public policy to end child abuse and neglect. Widely recognized as a leading critic of extreme religious liberty and an expert on clergy sex abuse, her work has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. 

Melissa Protzek graduated from Penn State with a BA in Philosophy in 1995 and later received her JD from the University of Pittsburgh Law School. She is currently the executive director and CEO of CASA of Allegheny County, a nonprofit organization that helps concerned community members become volunteer advocates for abused and neglected children within the child welfare system. Protzek has been named National CASA Director of the Year, one of the “Top 25 Women in Business” by the Pittsburgh Business Times, and Woman of the Year by the Pitt Law Women’s Association and the Allegheny County Bar Association.

2017: Dr. Jafar Al-Mondhiry

Dr. Al-Mondhiry graduated Summa Cum Laude from Penn State in 2010 with a BS degree in Neuropsychology and a BA/MA in Philosophy, with a minor in English. While at Penn State, he received the Philosophy Department’s Shibley Award and a Dotterer Travel Award, and was active in our Philosophy Club. Dr. Al-Mondhiry went on to graduate the New York University School of Medicine in 2015 with interests in internal medicine, hematology/oncology, palliative care, the medical humanities, and clinical medical ethics. He currently works as a medical resident at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, Bellevue Hospital, and the Manhattan VA hospital. He continues his interests in the medical humanities and medical ethics with his work as president of the NYU Harm Reduction Coalition and as founder and president of the NYU Bioethics Interest Group.

2016:  Ravi (Romel) Sharma

After graduating from Penn State with Honors in Philosophy, Economics and International Studies in 2003, Romel Sharma embarked on a series of internships, travels abroad, and post-graduate training. He interned at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, worked for CIMA Technology as the Director of Business Development, and then went on to earn his JD at the University of Virginia while also earning an MA in Law and Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of International Affairs at Tufts University. Sharma went on to intern and clerk in a number of important offices, including for a U.S. Attorney, a U.S. Senator, and a U.S. District Court Judge, all before embarking on his own law career. He is currently an Associate at the firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, and Garrison in Washington DC, where he negotiates highly complex international finance agreements and advises multinational companies on legal, policy and social issues.