Boatmun ’23 honored for campus-community leadership
By James Dean, Cornell Chronicle
Abigail Boatmun ’23 remembers participating in community service from her early childhood, tagging along with her parents in their hometown of Durant, Oklahoma. Growing up, she helped wash dishes at a soup kitchen each week, and sold baked goods to raise money for Relay for Life campaigns.
It was a commitment to service that Boatmun, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, continued to nurture and develop as an undergraduate in the College of Human Ecology.
“It’s been a huge part of my life since I was 2 or 3 years old,” she said. “I’m really thankful that I’ve had the chance to continue that passion at Cornell, and to learn with and from my community.”
In a virtual ceremony on May 15, the Division of University Relations honored Boatmun with the Campus-Community Leadership Award, which each year recognizes a graduating senior for their engagement with and service to the greater Ithaca area.
Joel Malina, vice president for university relations, presented Boatmun with a plaque highlighting her participation and leadership “on a myriad of town-gown interests through volunteer, academic and professional positions.” Those interests included the Ithaca Youth Bureau’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program; the nonprofit Ballet and Books; Upward Bound, a college prep program; Cornell’s American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program, where Boatmun was a student employee; and the Program for Research on Youth Development and Engagement (PRYDE) Scholars program, part of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR).
Malina said Boatmun’s major in human development and minor in leadership further reflected her “strong interest in mentorship, literacy and educational equity, and a clear dedication and empathy for our shared, diverse communities.”
When she arrived at Cornell, Boatmun said a Pre-Orientation Service Trip (POST) immediately exposed her to a wide range of opportunities and a network of service-oriented peers and mentors.
“That really set me up for success for the rest of Cornell,” she said. “I’m so thankful to be involved in organizations and have mentors and supporters that are passionate about supporting students with community engagement.”
Renée Farkas, who co-leads POST as an associate director at the David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagement, said Boatmun was among the students who played a key role in rebooting the program during the pandemic. Typically hosted at Boynton Middle School, Boatmun helped design a modified program on campus, then its return to Boynton this year.
Joe Gibson, program coordinator of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ithaca and Tompkins County, thanked Boatmun for recruiting volunteers and leading activities for children on waitlists for mentors through the CU Bigs student organization, and for virtually mentoring an 8-year-old girl early in the pandemic, “when it was the hardest possible time to be a mentor.”
Charles Izzo, a research associate at BCTR, said that as a PRYDE Scholar, Boatmun had contributed valuable research and outreach for the Residential Child Care Project. She also helped develop a curriculum teaching middle schoolers about social science research, which was implemented at several schools in Rochester, New York.
“She’s continually gravitating towards, what can I do in the community, what can I do to be in the presence of other people who need my help?” Izzo said.
Liz Millhollen, associate director of Upward Bound, praised Boatmun’s dedication and community-building skills, saying a Saturday program Boatmun led near Thanksgiving one year was like “watching a master put all the pieces together.” The high schoolers engaged in cooking lessons and food science experiments with university staff and graduate students, heard from an Indigenous storyteller and concluded with a letter-writing gratitude exercise.
Among the virtual award ceremony’s attendees were Boatmun’s mother, Charla Hall, an Indigenous scholar in residence at Akwe:kon, Cornell’s residence hall celebrating North American Indigenous heritage; and her father, Tim Boatmun, an adjunct professor and retired administrator at Southeastern Oklahoma State University; and several close friends.
“It takes a lot of courage to go out and do these things that she’s done,” Tim Boatmun said. “Abigail has had so many opportunities and so many wonderful mentors at Cornell that we just could not be more appreciative.”
From childhood volunteer work to her focus on youth and education access while in Ithaca, Boatmun, who will soon begin teaching at a charter high school in Washington, D.C., said after the ceremony that her family’s emphasis on service had instilled in her a belief in helping others.
“Regardless of their circumstances,” she said, “everyone deserves kindness.”