McKay, Myers, Rosen, Santos, Wolfs named 2021 Oswald Award winners


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Five Penn State students in their respective areas of leadership have been honored with the 2021 John W. Oswald Award. Awards were given in the following fields: Rachel Rosen, athletics; Alexander Myers and Elise Wolfs, scholarship; Diego Santos, social services; and Zachary McKay, student government.

The John W. Oswald Award, established in 1983, annually recognizes graduating seniors who have provided outstanding leadership in at least one of several areas of activity at the University. The award consists of a medallion honoring John W. Oswald, president of the University from 1970 to 1983.


Rosen majors in media studies in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

Nominators said Rosen has been a force for the Penn State Women’s Lacrosse program since 2017 but her leadership and philanthropy off the field also stand out. She represents Big Ten athletes on the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and serves as the group’s chair for the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon known as THON.

As a member of SAAC, Rosen works to enhance student-athlete welfare within the Big Ten. There, she’s dedicated to creating more structure within school advisory boards. For THON, she helped raise more than $50,000 through community outreach initiatives while managing 800 student-athletes. The funds went towards helping those impacted by pediatric cancer.

“Rachel spent every waking hour at THON throughout the weekend, except for when she had to help our team earn a win against Cornell,” a nominator said.

Rosen is also a standout internationally. In 2019, she helped lead Israel Lacrosse to a silver medal in the European Championships.

“She is continuously pushing for and putting herself in leadership situations that represent and drive the Penn State name forward,” a nominator said. “Rachel is continuously coming up with ideas to succeed in embodying the Penn State name, both as a member of the women’s lacrosse team and as a Penn State student.”


Alexander Myers

Myers majors in mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering.

Nominators said he is an exceptional student, researcher and leader. He’s earned numerous accolades and has conducted meaningful research at Penn State.

Myers, who has a 3.99 cumulative grade-point average, earned the Boeing Outstanding Mechanical Engineering Junior Award, Professor H.A. Everett Memorial Scholarship and the President’s Freshman Award. He was recently selected for the CSL Behring Biotechnology Innovation Award and the nationally competitive Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honors Society National Scholarship.

In the research realm, Myers works in the Wong Laboratory for Nature Inspired Engineering where he contributes to two projects. The first looks at creating bird-friendly glass that is transparent to humans but opaque to birds to lessen collisions. Specifically, Myers helped develop experiments that capture visible light and ultraviolet images to simulate the vision of different types of birds.

Myers also researches optical coatings on glass. He’s designed several computer-aided design models to create nature-inspired coatings to achieve desired functions for the material.

He’s active in various leadership roles on campus. He is an engineering ambassador and uses that role to promote engineering to K-12 students. As the community chair for Tau Beta Pi last year, he helped plan events. He served as a leader after his sophomore year for AURORA, Penn State’s Outdoor Orientation for incoming and change-of-campus students. During the COVID-19 epidemic, he served as a student representative on an academic planning committee in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

“Alex has outstanding scientific ability with excellent communication skills,” a nominator said. “I can certainly rank him among the best undergraduate students in the department. He is a well-rounded individual who has the potential to become a future leader in science and engineering.”

Elise Wolfs

Wolfs majors in criminology and sociology in the College of the Liberal Arts.

Nominators said Wolfs is an exceptional student who uses her experiences outside the classroom to better the educational experience for herself and her peers. She supplements her course load with multiple teaching assistantships, a research assistantship and internships connected to her interest in understanding criminal victimization and law related to sexual violence.

Wolfs pulled from experience gained during an internship in Amsterdam during a course on sexual violence. Her internship researched how sexual knowledge could help produce healthy behaviors among adolescents.

“When discussing difficult issues in class, Elise often brings insights directed toward social and legal change,” a nominator said. “She looks at the big picture and has many ideas and is quite motivated to fix the social issues we discuss.”

She’s able to share that knowledge with her peers through teaching assistantships and research opportunities. She’s been a TA for three faculty members within the department.

Wolfs is an advanced dialog facilitator in the department’s flagship program World in Conversation, which fosters student-led dialogues to probe the opinions, biases and understandings of contentious social issues.

“Elise is passionate about facilitating dialogues about social issues and her choice to pursue this field of study at this highly polarized historical moment underscores her courageous attitude and commitment to truth and justice,” a nominator said. “Most people shy away from facing the conflict and contentiousness of social issues. Elise does not. Instead, she is one of the few students who actually goes out of her way to elaborate and explore her ideas.”

Wolfs is also active in two club sports at Penn State — field hockey and curling — volunteers with THON, “Students Helping Honduras” and is a member of Penn State’s Omega Phi Alpha National Service Sorority.

Social Services

Santos majors in biochemistry and molecular biology in the Eberly College of Science.

Nominators said Santos has made an impact on Penn State through several leadership positions, particularly through Lion Ambassadors, a group of students tasked with communicating the University’s history, personality and traditions to students, alumni and friends through tours and programming.

Santos became a Lion Ambassador in 2019 and since then has held various leadership roles. Currently, he serves as the university relations director and is responsible for building ties with other organizations and offices across Penn State.

Nominators said he used this role to bolster inclusivity, professionalism, and service initiatives of the organization.

“His most impactful accomplishment has been his ability to lead Lion Ambassadors through a critical transformation, which ensures that Lion Ambassadors is an organization for all Penn Staters, regardless of their backgrounds, their experiences or their interests,” a nominator said. “Diego provides the necessary voice that challenges tradition in the pursuit of inclusivity.”

Nominators said Santos is constantly looking for ways to make an impact at Penn State. He served for three years within the University Park Undergraduate Association, occupying numerous positions, while being an advocate for students. Recently, he served on the Penn State Select Presidential Commission on Racism, Bias and Community Safety, a group that’s dedicated to making Penn State a more diverse, equitable and inclusive institution.

“I have had the immense pleasure of working with some phenomenal students, but I can confidently say that Diego is among the best,” a nominator said. “He is incredibly involved on campus, not because of the leadership titles or recognition that often comes with them, but because he believes that through these positions he can help others have a meaningful, enjoyable and enriching college experience.”

Student Government

McKay majors in economics in the College of the Liberal Arts.

McKay serves as student body president in the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA), a group he’s been a part of since his first year at Penn State. He represents more than 42,000 students while pushing for change and improved diversity within the student government and the University at large.

He became president his junior year, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning.

“To say that his election and term have been difficult is an understatement,” a nominator said. “The campaign for the president role started the day after spring break in 2020, the same day that the University switched to a remote learning environment because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” a nominator said. “Zach and his campaign easily switched to a virtual environment by meeting with individual students and organizations electronically and creating a host of platform initiatives on his website that outlined his plans. He won a close election and was installed in April 2020.”

McKay used his leadership position to promote integrity, transparency, racial and social justice and student health and safety. By creating new departments and restructuring the organization’s Executive Branch, McKay has created an inclusive environment that recognizes, welcomes, and empowers student expertise — even if they didn’t run in an election. This restructuring for the better isn’t new; he spent his sophomore year lobbying constitutional changes that created legislative seats for underrepresented students on campus, now known as “Community Group Representatives,” after listening to students’ calls for their implementation. He then spent his junior year leading the organization’s “PSU Votes” efforts and built on that work as president by creating a Department of Civic Engagement.

“Zach is an articulate and forceful student advocate. He listens, is respectful and admits when he is wrong,” a nominator said. “He leads with integrity. He knows what is important to him and his actions are consistent with his values.”


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Megan Lakatos