LEEP Fellows take center stage in Hervey Ross ’50, L.H.D. ’07, LEEP Oratorical Contest

October 1, 2015
Winners Top prizes in the Hervey Ross ’50, L.H.D. ’07 LEEP Oratorical Contest went to (left to right) Themal Ellawala ’17, third place; Jules Ochoa ’16, second place; and Gabby Seligman ’16, first place.


Gabby Seligman ’16 stood on the stage in Jefferson 320 and embarked on a walking tour — without ever leaving the building. Instead, she verbally painted a picture for her audience of the dramatically altered Beaver Brook neighborhood in Worcester, not far from Clark University.

She spoke about the historic Harrington & Richardson Arms Co., demolished in 1986 to make way for a Burger King, which later gave way to a Walgreens. She described the razing of 12 homes to expand the offices of an engineering firm, and noted the human stories that have been lost over time because of this and other encroachments.

“Neighborhoods are integral to who we are,” Seligman said, noting her own vivid memories of growing up in Denver, Col., and imagining similar memories imprinted on the former residents of Beaver Brook.

Seligman’s words were moving, her delivery impeccable, her presentation award-winning as she took first place in the Hervey Ross ’50, L.H.D. ’07, LEEP Oratorical Contest.

The Sept. 30 event gave 12 LEEP Fellows an opportunity to discuss their summer projects in five-minute speeches. A panel of judges scored the speeches in areas like poise, pitch and content.

Second place went to Jules Ochoa ’16, who spent six weeks living with Tibetan monks, an experience that included meeting the Dalai Lama. Ochoa spoke about the value of interconnectedness — the awareness of all things that go into a particular moment in time — and impermanence — the notion that everything changes.

“I hope my LEEP talk inspired you to question and interact with the world around you,” said Ochoa, who is offering meditation sessions at Clark.

Third-place winner Themal Ellawala ’17 researched the unique mental health risks of racial and sexual minorities. Ellawala described the various challenges facing “Aaron,” an African-American man living in a poor neighborhood in Chicago. He cited statistics showing that Aaron’s prospects for a solid education, good health and a decent-paying job drop considerably due to his race.

“I’m happy to say that Aaron is fictional,” Ellwala said, “but the statistics are not. … Why do we take for granted that someone must endure a lifetime of suffering for the color of their skin?”

The other LEEP presentations covered a range of topics, from the value of conducting research on Wall Street to the experience of resettling refugees in Worcester, to the struggle of reconciling what your employer wants you to do with what you believe is the right course of action.

The farthest geographical distance traveled by a LEEP fellow was the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail, hiked by Ted Randich ’16 this past summer. Randich said the idea to make the trip from Georgia to Maine was hatched last year while he worked a routine summer job in his home state of Connecticut. He suggested that any adventure, large or small, is a worthwhile pursuit.

“Reject the mundane, reject the boring, reject the uncomfortable,” he advised, describing the act of seeking adventure as “the foundation of personal progress.” (Read Randich's Appalachian Trail blog here.)

The full roster of presenters:

  • Mickayla Aboujaoude ’17 (economics and music), “A Self-designed On-campus Music Project”
  • Doga Bilgen’16 (economics and mathematics), “An Internship at the Clearinghouse”
  • Rahul Dutt ’16 (economics and mathematics), Telsey Advisory Group Research Analyst Internship”
  • Themal Ellawala ’17 (psychology), “Research on Unique Mental Health Risks of Racial and Sexual Minorities”
  • Ethan Giles ’17 (economics), “Interning at Vision Advertising”
  • Melissa Miller ’16 (environmental science and music), “Water Management Strategies for Clark University”
  • Clara O’Rourke ’16 (international development and social change, and Spanish), “Worcester Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation — Reducing Demand Initiative”
  • Jules Ochoa ’16 (biology), “Stress Reduction with Tibetan Meditations”
  • Nikala Pieroni ’16 (international development and social change, and communication and culture), “Building Community Assistance of Refugee Resettlement”
  • Ted Randich ’16 (geography), “Exploring Perceptions of Space on the Appalachian Trail and Beyond”
  • Gabby Seligman ’16 (history and psychology), “The Beaver Brook Project”
  • Leah Simonson ’17 (psychology and women’s and gender studies), “Coexistence and Beyond: A Summer with Children in Jerusalem"