The pandemic made this past academic year one unlike any other for University of Northern Iowa students.
But those challenges didn’t stop students from making an impact on campus.
The Lux Service Award is the most prestigious award given to graduating senior students each academic year to acknowledge the culmination of their overall involvement. Recipients consistently go above and beyond, leaving a lasting legacy upon graduation.
This year, seniors Ayah Al-Durazi, Cassie Hendrix and Zoella Sneed were recognized with the award.
Growing up in Waukee, Sneed loved seeing musical theatre performances with her parents. But as she attended more and more shows, she noticed something about the performers - none of them looked like her.
“It was hard to place myself in those sorts of roles and to see myself doing this, because I wasn't seeing any people of color in lead roles,” said Sneed, a theatre performance and theatre for youth major.
Throughout her time at UNI, Sneed has dedicated herself to promoting diversity in theater. She co-founded the Multicultural Theatrical Society, a new organization on campus that works to give marginalized students a platform to showcase their voices and talents.
“Giving especially marginalized students the chance to take up space and to have that moment is so incredibly important for what I want to be doing with the rest of my life,” Sneed said.
Sneed also facilitated listening sessions with faculty to give students a chance to address concerns about diversity, equity and inclusion issues. And she advocated for the creation of the Equity and Anti-Racism Faculty Board, which works to ensure equitable practices in the department.
Sneed is on the board of the UNI Student Theatre Association and as a sophomore created the annual Best of Broadway Cabaret, which gives students and community members from outside the theatre department a chance to exhibit their talents.
After graduation, Sneed will start a teaching artist and acting position with the Rose Theater Company in Omaha, Nebraska.
Al-Durazi has always seen herself as a change maker.
So when she arrived at UNI as a political science student, she immersed herself in diversity, equity and inclusion issues while taking a course load that allowed her to graduate in just three years.
“I would hear about UNI tackling some of its diversity issues, and that’s one of the things that led to my involvement and acknowledging what can be changed,” Al-Durazi said. “But it was also about my appreciation for UNI. I was really glad for the opportunities that I've had with faculty and creating connections. So, it was just my way of giving back to the university.”
She started her first semester, joining the Latinx student organization UNIdos UNI and Ethnic Student Promoters, a student group that seeks to increase the amount of students of color in higher education, as well as attending Black Student Union meetings. She currently serves as the director of community outreach for the Ethnic Student Promoters and the program coordinator of UNIdoes UNI.
Al-Durazi joined the Northern Iowa Student Government in her second year, eventually becoming chair of campus relations.
“Helping others isn’t something I do for recognition, it’s just part of my personality,” Al-Durazi said. “It just was a big thing to know that I really did have an impact on the university. And I'm leaving here knowing that that will go on and the work will continue.”
After graduating, Al-Durazi will attend Colorado State University to pursue a master’s degree in public policy administration.
Cassie Hendrix is an ambitious and driven leader. A first-generation college student, the marketing/advertising and digital media, and textiles and apparel (TAPP) double major made the most of her college experience.
At UNI, Hendrix took on several leadership roles, including vice president of community outreach for Business Student Ambassadors (BSA), public relations co-chair for Student Admissions Ambassadors, co-editor-in-chief for student-run magazine Uprising, and executive director for the 2021 TAP fashion show. She's also a member of Connecting Alumni to Students (CATS).
Her involvement has had an impact far beyond campus. She’s coordinated new community service volunteer efforts through BSA, and partnered with the Cedar Valley Fashion, Arts and Culture Expo, an event that aims to promote African American culture throughout the Cedar Valley, through “Uprising.”
In October, she accepted a full-time position as an assistant buyer with Ross Stores Incorporated. Though she’ll be moving to Manhattan to begin her new role in June, she credits UNI with giving her the confidence to succeed and will look back on her time on campus fondly.
“The reason why I'm the person I am today, and the reason why I'm going where I'm going is because of the support I've had from faculty and from the university,” she said. “Those relationships, those memories won’t go away.”