BOONE — Appalachian State University honored Claudia Cartaya-Marin, Rabbi Stephen Roberts and the Watauga County Schools Coffee Talk program with the inaugural Chancellor’s Awards for Inclusive Excellence.
The awards were presented by Appalachian Chancellor Sheri Everts during a luncheon held Jan. 13 on the university’s campus. The event included a keynote speech by poet and activist Nikki Giovanni.
“At Appalachian, we believe making real and powerful differences in the world is grounded in inclusive excellence,” Everts said in her remarks. She shared the awards were conferred to “help shine a light on some very special individuals whose work demonstrates their active, intentional and ongoing commitment to transformative change.”
Everts noted that from her first day at Appalachian, “inclusive excellence has been a priority,” and that she is proud of the “tremendous strides” the university has taken in diversifying its campus, citing a 47 percent growth in underrepresented students since 2014 and an 87 percent “historic high” for retention of underrepresented students this year.
Cartaya-Marin, who received the Chancellor’s Award for Inclusive Excellence for Faculty, is a professor in and chair of Appalachian’s A.R. Smith Department of Chemistry and Fermentation Sciences and serves on the Chief Diversity Officer’s Advisory Board. She created a summer bridge program designed for incoming students transitioning into STEM programs and helped found APP Unidos, the university’s Hispanic/Latino faculty and staff association.
Roberts received the Chancellor’s Award for Inclusive Excellence in the Community. In his acceptance remarks, he noted “this community is committed to inclusion now and in the future,” and for that reason, he was accepting the award on behalf of the Jewish and multifaith community.
Roberts has served as the spiritual leader of the Temple of the High Country since 2013 and is an active member of the High Country Multi-Faith Clergy and Leaders. He has edited two textbooks on pastoral care and founded ChaplainDL, a distance learning continuing education platform for professional chaplains.
The Coffee Talk program of Watauga County Schools received the Chancellor’s Award for Inclusive Excellence for Youth. WCS Superintendent Scott Elliott, Hardin Park Elementary School teacher Cindy Barr and Watauga High School teacher Cynthia Darcy accepted the award on behalf of all those involved with the program.
Coffee Talk began at Hardin Park Elementary in 2004 and expanded to Watauga High in 2008. Through this instructional program, students with disabilities plan, shop and host a coffee shop for faculty, staff, parents and community members that allows the students to refine skills related to academics, vocations, healthful living and social interactions.
Each month, Coffee Talk involves 14 students at Hardin Park Elementary and up to 30 students at Watauga High. The program has also donated to local charities, including the Health and Hunger Coalition, Hospitality House, OASIS (Opposing Abuse with Service, Information and Shelter), Western Youth Network and Watauga Humane Society. Notably, eight Appalachian alumni contribute to Coffee Talk.