Graduate Students to be Honored at UMass Amherst Commencement with Commitment to Diversity and Distinguished Teaching Awards
AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Amherst will honor three graduate students for their exceptional service to the university community during Commencement 2023 on Friday, May 26 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.
Nicholas Perello ’18 will receive the Commitment to Diversity Award, while Ajit Kumar Sorout and Porntip Israsena Twishime ’18G will receive Distinguished Teaching Awards.
Commitment to Diversity Award
Miami, Fla., native Nicholas Perello ’18 is a Ph.D. candidate in the Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS) and a tireless leader working to create an inclusive environment for computer science education, both as a student advocate and as a mentor and instructor of underrepresented undergraduates.
After earning dual bachelor’s degrees in computer science and mathematics, Perello received a prestigious national GEM Fellowship and remained at UMass Amherst for his Ph.D., focusing on ethical artificial intelligence and machine learning.
As a graduate student, he was a founding member and cochair of the CICS CARE Subcommittee on Inclusive Teaching. This group of faculty and students leads anti-racism efforts to identify and dismantle barriers to inclusion and equity in admissions, academic success, and the workplace.
Perello also served as a mentor in EMBER (Energizing, Mentoring and Broadening Exposure to Research), a program that aims to make research opportunities accessible to all students. Additionally, he volunteered to tutor undergraduates during the height of the pandemic, worked as a highly regarded teaching assistant, taught two first-year seminars for CICS scholarship students, and is an academic coach.
As he pursues his doctoral degree, Perello’s campus leadership aligns with his research goals. While his research targets discrimination and disparity in artificial intelligence, he personally serves computing students from nontraditional backgrounds as a committed and empathetic ally.
Distinguished Teaching Awards
Ajit Kumar Sorout was born and raised in Sondhad, a small village in Haryana, India, in a family of modest means. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Delhi, where he taught high school students and discovered his gift for inspiring others. He then earned his master’s degree in physics from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Bhopal.
At UMass Amherst, he was introduced to team-based learning (TBL), a teaching methodology that eschews lectures and fosters collaboration, problem-solving and reasoning skills among students. Sorout excelled as a teaching assistant for multiple courses before becoming the lead instructor for both introductory and advanced physics courses, tailoring his style of instruction to each student’s background and educational stage. He encouraged students to learn systematic and analytical ways to tackle problems and used technological tools such as online forums to encourage full participation in his classes.
His students praise him for helping them to gain confidence in their abilities, for his knack for explaining complex concepts in multiple ways and for his willingness to spend extra time to ensure that they fully understand the course material.
Sorout plans to complete his Ph.D. in 2024 and pursue a career in teaching and research.
The interactive teaching practice of Toledo, Ohio’s Porntip “Ploy” Israsena Twishime ’18G, who is completing her Ph.D. in communication, emerged from her commitment to social justice and consciousness raising.
She taught four different communication courses at UMass Amherst, including “Stories of Race in the United States,” an upper-level undergraduate course she designed. The course examines contemporary issues of race, material that is both sensitive and conceptually challenging. Approaching students as fellow intellectuals, Twishime fostered a student-centered class environment that kept students critically engaged and invested in the course materials. Those who were previously reluctant to speak in class felt free to participate in the judgment-free environment of her classroom.
Twishime also worked as a writing coach for CHC students and taught fellow graduate students how to navigate difficult moments while teaching.
She cofounded and cochaired Scholars of Color in Communication, an organization serving grad students, faculty, and staff. She earned a graduate certificate in Advanced Feminist Studies and completed her dissertation, “PLOY: An Immigrant Daughter’s Archival Survival Strategy,” during the global pandemic as a new mother.
With the goal of telling and teaching stories that reimagine the world in more equitable ways, Twishime will develop her dissertation into a book as the Pauline Scheer Fellow at GrubStreet, a nonprofit creative writing center in Boston.
For more information on UMass Amherst Commencement 2023, visit: www.umass.edu/commencement.