Each year, Newman University selects one male and one female recipient for the prestigious Ablah Awards. This year, however, the awards committee decided on two female recipients and one male recipient, all three of whom were announced at the spring commencement ceremony held Friday, May 7.
The Ablah Awards were established by Fran and Geri (Ablah) Jabara to honor the memory of Geri’s parents, Harvey J. and Leona J. Ablah, and to perpetuate their vision of entrepreneurism and the American dream. Award recipients must graduate with a minimum grade point average of 3.0 or higher, and each student receives a $2,500 award.
The 2021 Ablah Awards
The 2021 co-recipients of the Leona J. Ablah Award were Gabrielle Altenor, a biology graduate, and Karen Quynh Do, who also received a degree in biology. Both were part of the Newman University Honors Program.
The recipient of the Harvey J. Ablah Award was English graduate Cole T. Schnieders.
“This year’s recipients have made their marks on the entire Newman community,” says Father Joseph Gile, dean of Newman’s School of Catholic Studies and associate professor of theology. “So much so, in fact, that when it came to the female winner, the committee decided for the first time in the awards history to present it to two deserving students.”
Altenor, former student body president, describes her reaction to hearing her name announced as one of the winners as “happiness and complete surprise.” She also feels like the people who believed in her throughout her time at Newman were pleased.
“They have poured so much into me, and they’ve supported me throughout these three years,” she says. “I couldn’t be more thankful, and I’m sure they are just as happy.”
Altenor says one of the reasons she came to Newman for her undergraduate studies is because of co-recipient Karen Do, so being given the honor alongside her friend meant a lot.
“We went to high school (Kapaun Mt. Carmel) together, so we’ve known each other for a long time,” Altenor says. “Even when we were talking about this award, we were like, ‘you’re going to get it,’ ‘no, you’re going to get it.’ It’s just so amazing that the committee thought we were both worthy of having it in the same year. And it’s such an honor to be able to share it with her.”
As she steps into the next chapter of her journey, Altenor will reflect on her time at Newman with pride.
“The community building has been amazing, whether it was in (the) Guatemala study and serve (program), or in Colorado with the Asian Student Association or just right here in Wichita, it’s amazing the amount of community and sense of belonging that I’ve been able to feel and build here.”
She adds, “I can’t even speak to the magnitude of everything I’ve gained from Newman, and I’m sure I’m going to continue learning every day. It’s helped me to be successful in my life.”
Karen Quynh Do
Upon hearing her name called as one of the two female award winners, Do says she was shocked.
“Whenever I give tours, I always talk about the Ablah Awards, and I tell people it’s one female, and one male student,” she says. “When they said that they were breaking rules this time with two female winners, my heart was racing.”
Do, who went to high school with Altenor, says it’s a privilege to be named alongside the friend she admires.
“I’ve always aspired to be like her,” Do says. “She’s a very eloquent, very sophisticated person, with a lot of leadership qualities that I wish I possessed as well. And so hearing that the tie couldn’t be broken, that I’m at the same level as her, means so much.”
Do says her Newman “degree of difference” reaches beyond the classrooms she studied in and links to the support she received from dedicated professors and peers. At the end of the summer, Do plans to pack her bags and move to Missouri where she will attend Southwest Baptist University for the doctor of physical therapy program.
Schnieders received the award named for Harvey J. Ablah. When he heard the two female names called, Schnieders thought that they were the two chosen Ablah Award winners this year, he says. Then he heard his name called, remembered his vision blurring and hands shaking, then stood up to receive the unexpected honor.
“I think it means that God was right when he asked me to leave K-State to join the seminary, and then he was right when he asked me to leave seminary,” Schnieders says. “As I looked to the rest of my teachers, I have to trust that the skills that I’ve learned here and the connections and friends I’ve made will further me in doing what God has planned for me.”
Schnieders, who’s passionate about social justice, plans to find a career in the non-profit sector or journalism, sharing the voices and telling stories of marginalized people.
View the Newman Flickr gallery from the 2021 Commencement ceremonies: