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The Secular Student Alliance 2011 Best Individual College Activist Awards


By: Leslie A. Zukor

Congratulations to the winners of the Secular Student Alliance's new Best Individual College Activist Awards, which will be given annually to students who show activism independent of a college student group. First place goes to Kylie Sturgess of the University of Western Australia, second place is awarded to Amanda Helling of Dickinson College, and third place goes to David Osorio of Universidad Externado de Colombia.

Kylie Sturgess- First Place

Among a number of great applications, Kylie Sturgess's really stood out. She has been involved in a number of activist endeavors, including the 10:23 campaign to expose homeopathy. Hailing from Australia, Sturgess co-coordinated efforts to discredit this dangerous pseudoscience across the whole continent and in Antarctica. She also traveled to the United Kingdom to take part in a panel at QEDCon, which started the 10:23 campaign. Beyond this campaign, Kylie served as a Master of Ceremonies at the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, ran the Perth Skeptics, and is co-organizer of the Perth Atheists.

In addition to her efforts against homeopathy, Sturgess has made her mark as an academic promoting science and freethought. During the 2010-2011 school year, Kylie wrote her Master's of Education thesis, examining faith in the paranormal among women and exploring the prevalence of beliefs in creationism and evolution. She is no stranger to attending prestigious conferences, as she lectured on her paper at the 2009 Dragon*Con, as well as at the 2010 Global Atheist Convention. Having given the aforementioned talks, Sturgess has presented or will be lecturing on her research at the Victorian Association for Philosophy in Schools Conference, the New Zealand Skeptics Convention, and on Podcasting Philosophy - Critical Thinking Online.

Now attending Edith Cowan University as a student of Psychology, Sturgess has also broadened her skeptical efforts to being a formal instructor. During the past two years, she has been teaching Religious Education and Philosophy and Ethics at St. Hilda's Anglican Girls' School. Her work includes writing programs, presenting comparative religion materials, and providing philosophical insights into belief and nonbelief in the supernatural. In addition to this paid work, Kylie has advanced her freethinking principles by volunteering to be a judge in the high school competition Philosothon, which is similar to U.S. College Bowl Philosophy contests. For all of her diverse service to secular communities, the SSA is excited to present its first place award for Best College Individual Activist to Kylie Sturgess.

Amanda Helling- Second Place

Congratulations to Amanda Helling for winning second place in the SSA's Best Individual College Activist Award competition. In addition to founding Secularist Students United at Dickinson College, Helling has been an active contributor to the secular movement on an individual level. For example, Amanda has gained acclaim as a longtime writer of weekly opinion columns for her school's newspaper. She has addressed issues of freethinking concern, encouraging her readers to take a rational look at controversies over church and state, gay marriage, and sectarian prayer. In addition to being published at her college, Helling's article protesting the prayer-infused "A Million Minutes for Peace" was reprinted on CFI - On Campus's blog, garnering a wide audience for Amanda's nontheistic insights.

As well as being a published writer, Helling helped organize an event known as "A Panel Discussion on Faith" at Dickinson College. At this gathering, two students from each major religion, as well as a couple of representatives who supported the freethinking point of view, presented about their convictions and why they advocated for such views. The event's success was a testament to Helling's organizational skills, which she honed as co-founder and President of Secularist Students United. For all her work as both a nontheistic columnist and advocate for the secular viewpoint, Amanda received first place in the 2011 American Atheists Founder's Scholarship competition. As a result of all of her efforts, the SSA is proud to award second place for Best Individual College Activist to Amanda Helling of Dickinson College.

David Osorio

Attending the Universidad Externado at Colombia, Osorio is an international journalism student who advances skeptical principles. Besides attending several freethought conferences in his home country, David has been an advocate for the nontheistic viewpoint on his Spanish language blog, De Avanzada (http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/). He has written articles from a freethinking perspective about Islamic fundamentalism in England, The Ground Zero Mosque in New York, and the separation of church and state and abortion in his home country. With a decidedly international flavor, Osorio's blog has been linked by a number of atheist websites, not to mention being a detailed exposition of secular values.

In addition to advocating nontheism on his blog, David has been published in a number of other online venues. His artwork was featured on Hemant Mehta's The Friendly Atheist as part of Draw Mohammed Day (DMD) in both 2010 and 2011 and on the Everybody Draw Mohammed blog. As well as participating in DMD, Osorio has advanced the atheist cause by translating and subtitling a Christopher Hitchens documentary, "Hell's Angel" from English to Spanish, as well as by writing articles on what he calls the Dalai Llama's "hypocrisy." Throughout all his activism, Osorio has described himself not merely as "godless liberal," but someone who critically evaluates all points of view, whether they be from the Left or Right. We are pleased to give our third place Best College Activist Award to David Osorio.

The 2011 Best Individual Activist Award winners were recognized at the Secular Student Alliance's annual conference in Columbus, Ohio held during the last weekend of July, where they received an attractive plaque and a cash prize.

Leslie A. Zukor is Secretary of the Secular Student Alliance's Board of Directors as well as a longtime freethought activist. She started the Reed Secular Alliance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where she studied Anthropology. In addition, Leslie spearheads the Freethought Books Project (http://www.freethoughtbooks.org), which gives secular literature to prisoners across the United States and matches atheist prisoners with freethinking Pen Pals. She aspires to a career in photography and journalism.

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