Ethic of Service Award celebrates 15 years of community service, civic engagement

2018 honorees have improved education, addressed gun violence and expanded health care

The Gerry and Bob Virgil Ethic of Service Award winners (from left) Risa Zwerling Wrighton, Xiefangzheng “Will” Sun, Sarah C.R. Elgin, Adis Terzic, Ramesh Agarwal, Sarah Garwood and Christine Berg stand next to Bob Virgil. Virgil and his wife, Gerry,  launched the award 15 years ago to recognize members of the Washington University community who have improved the St. Louis region. (Photo: Whitney Curtis/Washington University)

A doctor who opened a health clinic in a high school; a student who works with the children of Clinton-Peabody; an alumna who launched Washington University in St. Louis’ gun violence initiative — the recipients of the 2018 Gerry and Bob Virgil Ethic of Service Award have made a clear and lasting impact on campus and in the St. Louis community.

Equally impressive is the ripple effect they have created, motivating others in the university community to do more, said Stephanie Kurtzman, the Peter G. Sortino Director of the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement.

“The most rewarding aspect of this award is what it inspires in others,” Kurtzman said. “Everyone can see themselves in one of the honorees. Each year, we as a university community are inspired to do more, to engage more fully with the people, places and issues of St. Louis.”

On April 17, the Ethic of Service Award celebrated 15 years of civic engagement and service at a ceremony at the Charles F. Knight Executive Education Center. Founded during Washington University’s sesquicentennial year by Bob Virgil, dean emeritus of Olin Business School, and his wife, Gerry, the awards have honored nearly 100 members of the university community.

Kurtzman speaks with Virgil at the event, hosted by the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement. (Photo: Whitney Curtis/Washington University)

Virgil said the recipients share common characteristics: creativity, intelligence and commitment.

“This recognizes members of the university community who go well beyond the superficial, well beyond putting something on their resume,” said Virgil, himself an active member of the community who has supported many organizations and has served on the Washington University Board of Trustees and the board of the  Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. “We have a lot of awards and recognitions at Washington University, but there are very few that recognize just plain old day-in, day-out, ‘get involved in something to try to make a difference in the community.’”

Kutzman said the recipients share another quality: humility. It is her honor to notify the winners every year, one she treasures.

“The consistent response I have received over the years is disbelief,” Kurtzman said. “Our honorees are humble by nature, focused on others over themselves, and many of them have sought to stay out of the limelight.”

2018 Gerry and Bob Virgil Ethic of Service Award honorees:

Ramesh Agarwal: Agarwal, the William Palm Professor of Engineering at the School of Engineering & Applied Science, supports K-12 education by writing and editing books about aerodynamics and flight, speaking at local high schools about degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, and mentoring high school researchers through the STARS Program. He also has worked with Engineers Without Borders, Scientists Without Borders and Engineers for a Sustainable World.

Christine Berg: Berg, associate professor of occupational therapy at the School of Medicine, has helped students collaborate with more than 100 local agencies to better reach patients in neighborhoods with limited health resources. She also works with Beyond Housing and United4Children in their efforts to provide professional development for early-childhood educators.

Sarah C.R. Elgin: Elgin, the Viktor Hamburger Professor in Arts & Sciences, has affected the lives of countless St. Louis children through her work improving the science curriculum in local area elementary schools. Her efforts created the infrastructure for what is now the Institute for School Partnership (ISP), which supports educators and connects St. Louis schools to university resources. ISP’s acclaimed MySci curriculum has been adopted by the majority of the region’s school districts.

Sarah Garwood: In the aftermath of Ferguson, Garwood, associate professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine, worked with community leaders and the Jennings School District to launch the school-based health center The SPOT@Jennings, which provides health and mental-health resources to students. This year, she designed the Transgender Center, a program that serves young people anywhere along the gender spectrum and holistically supports them and their families.

Xiefangzheng “Will” Sun: A senior studying architecture in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, Sun is a leader of the Alberti Program, which teaches elementary, middle and high school students about architecture and the design process. Sun also serves Artists First, a community art organization that helps people living with disabilities express themselves through art, and has worked to develop a map that highlights historic sites in the Ville neighborhood.

Adis Terzic: A junior studying anthropology in Arts & Sciences, Terzic is a Civic Scholar, a tutor with City Faces and president of Design for America. He has coordinated a gun violence workshop in the Clinton-Peabody housing district and spent last summer in Uganda with GlobeMed, working to provide safe access to contraception for young adults.

Risa Zwerling Wrighton: An Olin Business School alumna (PMBA 1989) and four-year academic adviser in Arts & Sciences, Zwerling Wrighton spearheaded the university’s gun violence initiative, which has led to the innovative St. Louis Area Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Program, the first such partnership between hospitals and academic institutions in the nation. She also has served generations of students through the Home Plate program, which she founded in 2001, and has supported student-led philanthropies such as Relay For Life, Dance Marathon and Mx. WashU.

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