The biennial Making A Difference awards seek to highlight ideas, discoveries, or new and innovative approaches that solve a critical problem, aid underserved populations, or break down barriers of misunderstanding and intolerance. By honoring such individuals on a regular basis, the University signals a recommitment to its motto: a private university in the public service.

Making A Difference Awards logo

2020 Making A Difference Awards

When President Andrew Hamilton was inaugurated in 2016 as NYU’s 16th president, he instituted the first-ever Making A Difference Awards to recognize members of our NYU community – students, faculty, young alumni, and employees – who have made a profound and lasting impact for the better on the city, region, nation, or globe.

The 2020 awards honor individuals who are making a difference in the areas of reducing inequality and advancing racial justice. They honor NYU community members whose scholarship and/or advocacy focuses on racial injustice, economic disparity, or the intersection of these interlocking forms of structural inequality.

The virtual event in honor of the 2020 recipients premiered on Friday, October 30, 2020 at 12:30 p.m. (EDT).



2020 Making A Difference Award Recipients

Elise Cappella

Elise Cappella, Associate Professor of Applied Psychology, and Director, Institute of Human Development and Social Change, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, for improving our understanding of factors impacting children's positive adaptation in schools and communities, with particular attention to academic and social-emotional functioning among low-income children

Elise Cappella

Jacob William Faber

Jacob William Faber (GSAS ’15), Associate Professor of Sociology and Public Service, Faculty of Arts and Science and Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, for his scholarship and teaching focused on the hidden and unsettled causes of segregation by race and class in American society, and how geographic sorting of individuals perpetuates economic disparities in urban ghettos, wealthy suburbs, and the diverse set of places in between

Jacob William Faber

Leah Lattimore

Leah Lattimore (CAS ’04; STEINHARDT ’10, ’22), Assistant Vice President for Inclusive Global Student Leadership and Engagement, and Director, Center for Multicultural Education and Programs, Office of the Senior Vice President for Global Inclusion, Diversity and Strategic Innovation, for supporting historically underrepresented students at NYU and being in the vanguard of our university-wide inclusion, diversity, belonging, and equity initiatives

Leah Lattimore

Marcus R. Pyle

Marcus R. Pyle, Graduate School of Arts and Science, Doctoral Candidate, Class of 2021, and Founder and CEO, ChamberWorks Music Institute, for opening the doors of music and arts and culture to economically disadvantaged middle and high school students, enriching their lives and setting them on a promising path for success academically and in their future lives

Marcus Pyle

Lorel E. Burns & Cheryline Pezzullo  

Lorel E. Burns (DEN ’15), Assistant Professor, Endodontics, NYU College of Dentistry, and Cheryline Pezzullo (DEN ’15), Clinical Assistant Professor, Cariology and Comprehensive Care, and Assistant Director for Community Based Dental Education, NYU College of Dentistry, for co-founding and continuing to serve as co-faculty mentors of the Saturday Academy program at the NYU College of Dentistry, which increases diversity in the healthcare professions, especially dentistry, by introducing underrepresented high school students to the profession of dentistry, while preparing them for the college application process

Cheryline Pezzullo and Lorel E. Burns

Dr. Pezzullo (left) and Dr. Burns (right). Photo: Andre D. Wagner

Previous Recipients

2018 Making A Difference Award Recipients

Isabela "Isay" Acenas, College of Arts and Science, Class of 2021; Founder, IE, for her projects advancing entrepreneurship and agricultural methods in the Philippines

H.E. Shamma Suhail Faris Al Mazrui (NYUAD '14), Minister of State for Youth Affairs, United Arab Emirates, for advocating for youth interests in the UAE

Alina Das (WAG '05, LAW '05), Professor of Clinical Law and Co-Director of the NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, for defending the rights of immigrants through scholarship and litigation

NYU Veterans Working Group, consisting of administrators from across NYU's schools and divisions, for supporting student veterans on campus


2016 Making A Difference Award Recipients

Olugbenga G. Ogedegbe, a physician, professor in NYU’s School of Medicine, and Vice Dean of NYU’s College of Global Public Health, for his health research and outreach in the U.S. and Africa

Diane Geng, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at NYU Shanghai, and Wei Ji Ma, professor of neural science and psychology in NYU’s Faculty of Arts and Science, for their work in establishing the Rural China Education Foundation

Alumnus Scott Harrison for founding the nonprofit “charity: water,” which has provided over 6 million with clean water

The Mercy Project, a sentencing relief initiative founded by the NYU School of Law’s Center on the Administration of Criminal Law and conducted by NYU Law students