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2011 Best Award Winners

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2011 Best High School Individual Activist Award Winners

Jessica Ahlquist

Ahlquist is a courageous high school sophomore in Rhode Island, a tireless advocate for the separation of church and state. Much of her activism surrounds her objection to a prayer banner at her public high school, which her school district upheld even after she complained. This spring, in concert with the Rhode Island Chapter of the ACLU, Ahlquist filed a lawsuit to have the banner removed. All the while, Jessica has been in the public eye supporting the separation of religion from government. As a result of her activism, she has received both threats from believers and admiration from freethinkers. In her own words, the "hate" that she is getting is painful, but it is worth it:

"Yes, it's degrading to go to school everyday where you are hated by nearly everyone. It's painful to lose friends and know that the smiles some of your favorite teachers give you are forced. It's annoying to walk down the hall and hear people say things under their breath about you. However, it is a small price to pay in the scheme of things. We should all value our rights and freedom much more than what petty haters have to say."

In addition to protesting the prayer banner, Ahlquist has started two facebook groups promoting her cause, garnering a total of nearly 1,000 members. She has also helped clean up parks and volunteered in food drives in concert with the Atheists of Rhode Island and plans to start an SSA affiliate at her high school. In addition, she has created her own blog at http://www.jessicaahlquist.com, where she uses her freethinking nature to address important issues of secular concern.

For the proactive stances she has taken, Jessica has been an inspiration to church-state separation activists, Damon Fowler and Harrison Hopkins, as well as to several other secular students in the United States and around the world. As a result of her tireless activism, the SSA is proud to award Jessica Ahlquist first place in the Best High School Individual Activist competition.

Zack Kopplin

Congratulations to Zack Kopplin for winning second place in the Secular Student Alliance's Best High School Individual Activist competition. Kopplin has made a name for himself through his advocacy on behalf of repealing Louisiana's creationism law. In 2008, Republican Governer, Bobby Jindal, signed the Louisiana Science Education Act into law, which allows for the teaching of creationism in the guise of presenting supplementary material on evolution. A resident of Baton Rouge, Kopplin created http://www.repealcreationism.com, an informative website that addresses the controversy from an atheist perspective.

Not only has Kopplin created a website, he has also appeared on national media outlets such as MSNBC. The seventeen-year-old activist has spearheaded efforts to counter the law, and his website provides a great resource for the pro-rational thought, anti-creationism efforts in Louisiana. He also is behind attempts to repeal the law in the 2011 spring legislative session. As a result of his activism challenging creationism, we are proud to award Zack Kopplin second place in the Best High School Individual Activist competition.

Harrison Hopkins

The SSA is pleased to announce that Harrison Hopkins is the third place recipient of the Best Individual High School Activist award. Harrison initially contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation objecting to the practice of allowing a student vote to determine whether there would be sectarian prayer at his June 2 graduation. After the FFRF's attorney wrote three letters of complaint, the school backed down. However, the issue caused a community-wide uproar, with Harrison making numerous media appearances. In the end, Hopkins received a Freedom From Religion Foundation $1,000 Youth Activist Award.

Through all of these tribulations, Harrison has been a public advocate for the separation of church and state and our godless Constitution. Here's just one example of the media coverage that he has received for his bold stand on behalf of our secular values: http://www2.wspa.com/news/2011/may/18/9/no-graduation-upstate-school-ar-1837419/ . Since Hopkins has been a courageous advocate for the separation of church and state "even in the face of disdain from peers and teachers" Hopkins has won third place in the Secular Student Alliance's Best Individual High School Activist competition.

2011 Best High School Individual Activist Award Winners

Jessica Ahlquist

Ahlquist is a courageous high school sophomore in Rhode Island, a tireless advocate for the separation of church and state. Much of her activism surrounds her objection to a prayer banner at her public high school, which her school district upheld even after she complained. This spring, in concert with the Rhode Island Chapter of the ACLU, Ahlquist filed a lawsuit to have the banner removed. All the while, Jessica has been in the public eye supporting the separation of religion from government. As a result of her activism, she has received both threats from believers and admiration from freethinkers. In her own words, the "hate" that she is getting is painful, but it is worth it:

"Yes, it's degrading to go to school everyday where you are hated by nearly everyone. It's painful to lose friends and know that the smiles some of your favorite teachers give you are forced. It's annoying to walk down the hall and hear people say things under their breath about you. However, it is a small price to pay in the scheme of things. We should all value our rights and freedom much more than what petty haters have to say."

In addition to protesting the prayer banner, Ahlquist has started two facebook groups promoting her cause, garnering a total of nearly 1,000 members. She has also helped clean up parks and volunteered in food drives in concert with the Atheists of Rhode Island and plans to start an SSA affiliate at her high school. In addition, she has created her own blog at http://www.jessicaahlquist.com, where she uses her freethinking nature to address important issues of secular concern.

For the proactive stances she has taken, Jessica has been an inspiration to church-state separation activists, Damon Fowler and Harrison Hopkins, as well as to several other secular students in the United States and around the world. As a result of her tireless activism, the SSA is proud to award Jessica Ahlquist first place in the Best High School Individual Activist competition.

Zack Kopplin

Congratulations to Zack Kopplin for winning second place in the Secular Student Alliance's Best High School Individual Activist competition. Kopplin has made a name for himself through his advocacy on behalf of repealing Louisiana's creationism law. In 2008, Republican Governer, Bobby Jindal, signed the Louisiana Science Education Act into law, which allows for the teaching of creationism in the guise of presenting supplementary material on evolution. A resident of Baton Rouge, Kopplin created http://www.repealcreationism.com, an informative website that addresses the controversy from an atheist perspective.

Not only has Kopplin created a website, he has also appeared on national media outlets such as MSNBC. The seventeen-year-old activist has spearheaded efforts to counter the law, and his website provides a great resource for the pro-rational thought, anti-creationism efforts in Louisiana. He also is behind attempts to repeal the law in the 2011 spring legislative session. As a result of his activism challenging creationism, we are proud to award Zack Kopplin second place in the Best High School Individual Activist competition.

Harrison Hopkins

The SSA is pleased to announce that Harrison Hopkins is the third place recipient of the Best Individual High School Activist award. Harrison initially contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation objecting to the practice of allowing a student vote to determine whether there would be sectarian prayer at his June 2 graduation. After the FFRF's attorney wrote three letters of complaint, the school backed down. However, the issue caused a community-wide uproar, with Harrison making numerous media appearances. In the end, Hopkins received a Freedom From Religion Foundation $1,000 Youth Activist Award.

Through all of these tribulations, Harrison has been a public advocate for the separation of church and state and our godless Constitution. Here's just one example of the media coverage that he has received for his bold stand on behalf of our secular values: http://www2.wspa.com/news/2011/may/18/9/no-graduation-upstate-school-ar-1837419/ . Since Hopkins has been a courageous advocate for the separation of church and state "even in the face of disdain from peers and teachers" Hopkins has won third place in the Secular Student Alliance's Best Individual High School Activist competition.

The Secular Student Alliance 2011 Best Individual College Activist Awards

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 Secular Student Alliance's 2011 Best Group Awards

Best High School Affiliate

Rutherford High School Secular Student Alliance

In its first year of existence, the Rutherford SSA has been very visible, having been featured in a New York Times in an article about the national Secular Student Alliance. Furthermore, the club's President had a letter published in the local paper. Also, club members have created community by going as a group to school football games and forming a team for Rutherford High's Frisbee tournament, all the while proudly wearing their freethinking t-shirts. In addition, the Rutherford SSA has raised awareness by going on the school announcements to promote both Banned Books Week and Darwin Day. In addition to raising awareness of secular issues, the group has also undertaken service projects that benefited the Catholic Charities and a local homeless shelter. For all its accomplishments, the national Secular Student Alliance is proud to award the Rutherford SSA with its Best High School Affiliate award.

Best College Affiliate

The Illini Secular Student Alliance at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

This year, the ISSA has featured diverse programming, including organizing a number of lectures and excelling at promoting freethought, church-state separation, and secular values. The club sponsored Michael Shermer's presentation, "Why People Believe Weird Things," to a crowd of over 400. In addition to educating the community, the Illini Secular Student Alliance took on an activist project unprecedented among college clubs; the group put on its own billboard campaign. Asking if onlookers could be good without god, the ads featured secular benefactors such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Even if many were in disagreement with the message, in the end, the ISSA garnered a significant amount of publicity. In addition to educational and activist events, the group embarked on a weeklong service trip to Florida, sending ten members to work with Habitat for Humanity to make the community a better place for both the secular and religious. Combine these events with hosting pub and movie nights and creating great relationships with other campus groups, and the Illini Secular Student Alliance is very deserving of the SSA's Collegiate Affiliate of the Year award.

Best Activist

Kansas University Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics

KU SOMA has put together a number of outstanding activist events. Among these include setting up Ask an Atheist tables several times a semester to help dispel common misconceptions about nonbelievers. However, the KU group's biggest achievement was its spearheading ReasonFest, a two day event that showcased five speakers, including a debate on the existence of god featuring Dan Barker. This debate attracted a crowd of over 500 people, many of whom had never attended a SOMA event before. Unlike Ask an Atheist tables, which were marketed only on Kansas's campus, ReasonFest was an activist endeavor that garnered people from across the Midwestern United States. It was even featured on the front page of KU's student newspaper, as well as on a local TV station, the Lawrence-Journal World, and the Topeka Capital-Journal. For the club's outstanding activism, SOMA merits the SSA's Best Activism award.

Best Advisor

University of South Carolina Pastafarians

Always donating to the club, Dr. Barry Markovsky has been an excellent advisor to the Pastafarians. Winning USC's Advisor of the Year for the 2009-10 school year, this professor teaches a class entitled, "Sociology of the Paranormal," which debunks specious pseudoscience. In addition to teaching, Dr. Markovsky has been a visible presence in club activities. In his fourth year of advising the group, Markovsky spoke eloquently on the Pastafarians' Ask-An-Atheist panel, which impressed club President-elect Kelley Freeman. Freeman explained that it "was awesome, because he didn't have to put himself out there like that." Markovsky's activism reaches beyond the walls of the USC campus, as he has spoken at the SSA's Regional Leadership Summit about why people believe in the paranormal and to a local "science café" as to why some believe in ghosts. According to Freeman, in addition to being an outspoken skeptic, Dr. Markovsky is "an awesome advisor and [a] genuinely nice guy." For all of these reasons, the USC Pastafarians are a compelling choice for the SSA's Advisor of the Year award.

Best Community

Secular Student Alliance at St. Cloud University

The SSA at St. Cloud has gone to great lengths to create a safe and welcoming atmosphere for all, including believers. After meetings, which garner fifteen to twenty attendees, students play games such as Apples 2 Apples. As a result of this bonding experience, there has been great community-building between the SSA affiliate and Cru, the university's largest Christian group. In addition to meetings and games, the SSA at St. Cloud also has movie nights and monthly events, which lead to bonding among members, as well as fruitful discussions about secular issues. For example, Jen McCreight's talk, "God's Lady Problem," allowed club members to talk openly about issues of gender imbalance in the service of better group dynamics, in addition to leading to more active collaboration with the campus's Women's Center. As well as working with Cru and the Women's Center, the SSA at St. Cloud has also created a space for open dialogue about LGBT issues. The end result of the club's great community is the willingness of others to be more accepting of nontheists. According to club leadership, "We strongly believe that many students within the faith communities are amenable to embracing the secular perspective, and by becoming an amicable part of the dialogue in the community, we are able to create a safe environment for anyone to express their views." For the group's outstanding social ambiance, the national Secular Student Alliance presents its 2011 Best Community award to the St. Cloud SSA.

Best Cooperation

Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics at the University of Wisconsin - Madison

The AHA at the University of Wisconsin - Madison did an outstanding job of collaborating with other organizations, both on campus and in the wider world. In October of 2010, the club worked together with campus group, Badger Catholic, to co-sponsor a debate on the existence of god between Dan Barker and Dinesh D'Souza. Because of superior cooperation between the AHA and the largest Christian group on campus, the event was a smashing success, filling a 1,400 seat auditorium. Later that November, two members of AHA collaborated with a statewide Catholic radio station to produce a series of podcasts on secular issues. In February of 2011, AHA collaborated with several citywide freethought groups to form MadCOR, the Madison Area Coalition of Reason. During the second semester, the club worked together with a number of campus clubs to host Ted Cox on gay-to-straight conversion therapy, in addition to sponsoring an interfaith panel, "Gender, Sex, and Marriage. Perhaps most notably, in May of 2011, AHA worked with the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religious, among other groups, to submit a proposal in response to President Obama's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. For all of the group's efforts, the SSA is proud to award Best Cooperation to the AHA at Wisconsin-Madison.

Best Educator

University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers

UNIFI has embarked on a number of educational events on topics such as science and religious criticism and history. Among these are a Know Your Arguments series, which teaches the community about common justifications for creationism, the Noah's Ark Story, and how to talk to people who disagree with people's secular convictions. Such events have been very successful over the years, as they educate freethinkers about previously unfamiliar viewpoints. For as successful as the Know Your Arguments series has been, the University of Northern Iowa club has been most well-known for its signature Darwin Week. Winning campus-wide awards two years in a row, the weeklong events in conjunction with Darwin's birthday were a huge success. In total, 1,500 seats were filled, with a theme for each day, including topics as diverse as evolution, sexuality, and critical thought. This year, UNIFI broke records for attendance, volunteer hours, funds raised, and the sheer number of events in the week. We are excited to award our Best Educator award to the University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers.

Best Service

Skeptics and Atheists Network at East Tennessee State University

The Skeptics and Atheists Network at ETSU embarked on a fabulous fundraiser that ended up raising a considerable amount of money for a great cause.After hearing about the destruction in Japan, the organization decided to hold a benefit concert to aid the humanitarian efforts in Japan. Dubbed Japanapalooza, the two-day concert was a smashing success, raising $1,050 for the victims of the tragedy. Such efforts included involving the music community, which built and donated a custom guitar. Working with the Japanese Cultural Society, which handled the donations, the Skeptics and Atheists Network raised money by cooperating with groups that normally wouldn't work together. Among these organizations were the ETSU's Campus Crusade for Christ, the campus chapter of the Reformed University Fellowship, the Vegans and Vegetarians of the Tri-Cities, and Students for a Free Society, among others. According to club President, Perry Winters, "Through the event, we succeeded…in providing the community with a better understanding of atheists as compassionate, friendly, community-involved people despite negative stereotypes." In short, because of its collaborative efforts in raising $1,050 for the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the Atheists and Skeptics Network at ETSU is deserving of the SSA's Best Service Project award.

 

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