From the Moment They Arrived on Campus, Sullivan Award Winners Have Strengthened Community

Three receive university award for humanitarian and community work

Interim Provost Jennifer Francis is surrounded by Sullivan Award winners Adela Guo and Rabbi Elana Friedman. The third winner, Bijan Abar, was not able to attend the ceremony.

These efforts are example of how members of the Duke community make serving others a basic value in their daily lives. Based on the recommendations of their peers, Friedman, Abar and Guo were presented with Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards.

Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award Nominees

Erin Hecht
Warren Kinghorn
Jeremy Petranka
Malinda Teague

Graduate/Professional Students
Rebecca Gibson
Adam Malik
Ian Petranka

Undergraduate Students
Davan Desai
Emily Gitlin
Faraan Rahim

The New York Southern Society established the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards in 1925 in memory of Sullivan, a prominent lawyer, businessman and philanthropist in New York in the late 19th century. The award, given at dozens of Southern colleges and universities, honors examples of excellence of character and service to humanity.

Interim Provost Jennifer Francis presented the awards Monday, praising the three winners – along with the more than a dozen other Duke faculty, staff and students who were nominated – for helping to make Duke a stronger community. (See list of nominees, left)

Meet the 2023 winners:

Elana Friedman

Since she arrived in 2015 as the Duke Campus Rabbi, Elana Friedman has successfully helped grow the Jewish community around spirituality and celebration, but she has also supported all members of the university. In individual meetings, students said her ability to create personal connections endears them to her. In larger meetings, her colleagues say Rabbi Friedman is a strong voice for addressing issues with a “generous spirit, gracious authority and wise knowledge.”

“What I most value is how collaborative Elana is in her leadership role, and how effortlessly and impressively she wears her charisma: the way she knows every student not only by name, but by individual concerns and experiences; by how she works to balance the needs of a diverse student body, finding a fruitful and congenial balance between respect for tradition and contemporary sensibilities; and how, when a student needs her, she is immediately there for them—and I can attest that this same generosity of heart and soul carries through to faculty colleagues, as well,” said Professor Laura Lieber, Smart Family Director of the Duke Center for Jewish Studies, one of her nine nominators for the award.

When students asked Friedman to incorporate musical instruments into their services along with traditional Shabbat services, she recognized how music served as a meaningful connection to their Judaism and organized student gatherings with guitar and song which proved popular. Another successful tradition she facilitates is the Jewish Learning Fellowship, an experiential education program that wrestles with life's big questions through a Jewish lens, in which more than 60 students participate each year.

"It is my greatest honor to serve as the Campus Rabbi and Jewish Chaplain of Duke. During rabbinical school, I realized that this is the work I wanted to do – to be in an academic setting, to work with emerging adults, to connect students to the beauty and challenge that Jewish tradition provides, to help people belong, find community and find purpose in this complex, wild and beautiful life,” Friedman said. “How awesome is it that I get to do this every day?"

Bijan Abar

Rebecca Gibson and Bijan Abar
Rebecca Gibson and Bijan Abar both received the Graduate School Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring.

At a university where mentoring is crucial, Bijan Abar, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate, took on that responsibility literally all hours of a day. One student, struggling with a problem and knowing that Abar would want to help, called for assistance in the early hours of a morning. Abar gladly walked him through the problem.

“Nearly all of my academic achievements since meeting (Bijan) were due in large part to his mentorship that was entirely out of his own selfless volition and kindness,” said undergraduate student Trent Lau.

Abar’s mentoring efforts were also in the Durham community. As on the of the student leaders of the BOOST Beyond program, he assisted around 60 local high school students in school and in the college application program.

His story has a special aspect. He is engaged to fellow graduate student Rebecca Gibson, also a member of BOOST and nominated for the Sullivan Award.  They met on the first day of medical school and quickly bonded over faith, service and mentoring.

“From a young age, my family, especially my grandparents, installed in me the belief that all the accolades of the world didn’t mean anything if you are not serving the community,” Abar said in video comments at the ceremony, which he had to miss because of a previous engagement. “Duke is full of amazing individuals who are deserving of this award. I’m incredibly lucky and grateful that I have wonderful mentors and mentees who nominated me.”

Adela Guo

A political science and psychology major, Guo has many academic accomplishments, earning her recognition as a Baldwin Scholar and a Stanback Fellow. But to many, this work is equaled by her deep empathy and generosity in all her actions with others.

Colleen Scott, director of the Baldwin Scholars, said when asked what was memorable about being a Baldwin Scholar, many answered “Adela Guo.” Some of the strongest comments came from international students or those from underrepresented group who said Guo helped them feel more comfortable at Duke.

“Ever since I was a freshman, Adela has shaped my Duke experience for the better,” said one student.

At Duke, Guo has been a strong leader in Progress.Period., a student group that seeks to reduce the stigma around menstruation, both on Duke’s campus and in national and international communities. One of her colleagues in the group said, “(Adela) is someone who isn’t just interested in social justice, she lives (it) in her values.”

Her international work has also focused on issues of social justice and equity, often as part of her scholarly work. One project included nine-month effort as project lead in Anhui, China, evaluating local gender equity work done by the United Nations Population Fund. Guo also has studied the effect of gender and student classroom behavior, and assessed the government response to gendered violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.