Gator Nation News

All Together Now

Dr. Marsha McGriff, UF's chief diversity officer and senior adviser to the president, welcomes attendees to the inaugural Diversity, Equity and Inclusion awards given out by the UF Alumni Association.

Sixteen Gators were honored in the inaugural Gator Nation LeaDErshIp Awards for their championing of diversity, equity and inclusion.

The University of Florida recently honored its first recipients of the Gator Nation LeaDErshIp (DEI) Award. The DEI awards recognize alumni, students and university employees who are championing diversity, equity, inclusion-related issues and social justice efforts in their communities, industries and on campus.

This year’s honorees were chosen from a large pool of nominees and applicants representing dozens of companies, civic groups and UF academic and support departments. Honorees were recognized in one of five categories: volunteer service, industry achievement, young alumni, philanthropic support and university community. The DEI Leadership celebration for 2022 took place on campus on May 20.

“These DEI leaders represent the best of us — women and men who put words into action for the greater good,” said Brian Danforth, executive director of the UF Alumni Association. “They’re on the frontlines creating opportunities, building bridges and tearing down walls. These 16 honorees, and thousands more Gators like them, truly are making the world a better place for all of us.”


Industry Achievement

Tonya (BSBR ’85) is vice president for development, inclusion and wellness at ESPN. Prior to joining ESPN, she was director for executive development and organizational effectiveness at TBS and vice president for training and organizational development at Aegis Communications Group. She spent the first decade of her professional career as an educator in various school systems and is involved with professional and civic organizations, including the UF Foundation Board. She is often recognized for her leadership and professional accomplishments, most recently as part of the 2022 Multichannel News Wonder Women and as 2021 Cablefax Mentor of the Year. She has been named one the most influential minorities in cable and has been featured in professional magazines. She has also written several peer-reviewed articles and a book chapter on career development and diversity, equity and inclusion.

Jessica (BSPR ’04, JD ’07) is a litigator and DEI advocate. The general manager of Global DEI for Delta Air Lines, she leads a core, matrixed team responsible for ensuring that Delta’s DEI strategies permeate throughout all divisions. She works on an international level with employees ranging from frontline to executive leaders, understanding the nuances of each division, translating opportunities into action and conveying DEI complexities in a clear and compelling manner. Additionally, Jessica created and leads a professional development class at Delta to empower new leaders. She finds purpose in uplifting young professionals and providing spaces where allyship can be established and professional growth can take place. Jessica’s career started at the Florida-based law firm Cole, Scott and Kissane. A proud Gator, she currently serves on the Alumni Council for UF Law.

Mahogani (BS ’07) leads a new business transformation and engagement function within Bacardi North America. She is on the frontlines of driving a transformational and sustainable shift across the region that focuses on advancing change in workplace culture around diversity and inclusion. Prior to taking on this position, Mahogani spent five years at Bacardi infusing creativity into the planning and execution of many highly visible and engaging employee programs through her regional and global corporate communications roles. Her professional experience also expands employee engagement, executive positioning, public relations, human resources, marketing and event management for notable organizations like ADT Security, Burger King and the Orange Bowl Committee. She remains committed to fundraising and mentorship programs with her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta.

Dre Graham poses with DEI honoree Rhonda Wilson. Graham is an incoming UFAA board member starting in July. Wilson was recognized in the DEI Volunteer and Community Service category.

Young Alumni

Jonathan (BFA ’06), senior vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, is a small-business and public-policy advocate and community organizer based in Pennsylvania. He helped establish more than 20 county, city and state laws over the last four years, creating opportunities for small businesses owned by minorities, veterans, people with disabilities and those who identify as LGBTQ. A DEI public policy adviser to the National Business Inclusion Consortium, Jonathan is a frequent guest on MSNBC, CNBC, NPR and Bloomberg, and has been a keynote speaker for the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Treasury, United Nations, The Trevor Project, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and others. The Advocate Magazine named him a 2019 Queer Icon, and in 2018 and 2019 he was recognized by Philadelphia Business Journal as one of its 40 Leaders Under 40. Jonathan was UF’s Outstanding Young Alumnus in April 2018.

Roy (BSTEL ’12) is an entrepreneur, multicultural marketing expert, inspirational speaker and moderator. In 2016, he launched the Intuition Consulting Firm, working with brands like AT&T to position multicultural audiences as an integral component of marketing strategies. Since launching Authentique, he now travels the country sharing thought leadership on avoiding tone-deaf multicultural marketing. The immediate past president of UF’s Association of Black Alumni, Roy is creating opportunities for multicultural and LGBTQ+ audiences through DEI efforts. He is currently vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion for the Atlanta chapter of the American Marketing Association, where he pioneered DEI efforts on a national platform to showcase the organization’s dedication, adaptability and inclusivity. He also serves on the boards of the Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre and OUT Georgia Business Alliance.

Alicia (BA ’08) is working to eradicate racism in the hair industry. She is the first senior director of antiracism and racial equity at the hair care products company DevaCurl, where she leads strategy and advocates for equity. Her passion for DEI began while working in education. Alicia spent a decade in nonprofit roles that allowed her to share her passion for helping students and promoting change. After transitioning to the corporate sector, she found her niche at Converse. As founder and co-chair of the Converse Diversity Network, she helped create its DEI framework while building company culture. Leaving an imprint on one of the world’s most iconic brands, she sought further leadership roles to directly improve employees’ work experiences and give them a sense of belonging. Since then, Alicia has held DEI roles in health care and the food industry.

Honoree Mahogani Chery, second from left, attended the event with her husband Frantz Chery Jr. on her left and her parents Marilyn and Mack Jones on her right.

Volunteer and Community Service

Adrienne (MED ’70, EDS ’71, EDD ’78) is executive director of the Hillsborough Community College Foundation, raising private donations for scholarships, particularly for Hispanic and African American students. She served on the Tampa Gator Club Board, UF Alumni Association Board, College of Education Alumni Council and Athletic Association Board. Currently, she is on the UF Foundation Board and the UFAA Past Presidents’ Council and co-chairs Grand Guard. A graduate of Leadership Florida and Leadership Tampa, Adrienne has also served on boards of various community organizations, including Ybor City and West Tampa chambers of commerce, Arts Council of Hillsborough County and USF President’s Latino/Hispanic Advisory Committee. Her numerous awards include Tampa Hispanic Woman of the Year, Suncoast Girl Scouts Woman of Distinction and Tampa Gator Club/UF Alumnus of Distinction.

Delphine (BA ’71, EDS ’73, MED ’75) is a retired high school guidance counselor. While at UF, she was a student assistant in the Office of Student Services and helped open the Institute of Black Culture. She also served as president of the Black Students Union. Later, in 1997, she was president of the Association of Black Alumni. Delphine was the first Black female president of the UF Alumni Association in 2001. A community leader, Delphine has been involved in the Northeast Florida Education Consortium, the East Development Taskforce, Pace Center for Girls and the Gainesville chapter of Links Inc., while also serving as president of her son’s Willie Jackson Youth Foundation. In addition to being lauded by a UF conference for women leaders, her awards include Distinguished Service to Gainesville Sports Organization, Women of Distinction for Alachua and Bradford counties, and Outstanding Alumna for Pioneering Contributions to UF (commemorating 40 years of desegregation).

Rhonda (BS ’07), a middle school educator, is the founding executive director of the Star Center Theatre in Gainesville. For the past 22 years, she has given her time, energy and resources to use the arts to educate and empower. She understands the need for making space, not only as a producer, director and educator, but as a performer. Rhonda has been honored and recognized nationally, statewide, regionally and locally for her work. She was recently featured in USA Today and recognized on the floor of the U.S. Capitol for her contributions to community theater. Other recognitions include Excellence in Theatre Education finalist from the Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon, AATE’s National Youth Director of the Year, Allstate National Champion for Good, SETC’s Sara Spencer Child Drama Award, State Distinguished Career Award, Diversity and Inclusion Award, and the Governor’s Award for Community Investment.

Philanthropic Support

Yolanda (BSJ ’80, JD ’90) is a lobbyist and shareholder with the Florida law firm Becker & Poliakoff. She has spent the past years honing her craft, forging relationships with lawmakers and state government staff, and influencing laws that govern Floridians. A vivacious and enthusiastic Gator, she recently inspired a host of other alumni to create a scholarship for law students who have earned undergraduate degrees from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. She has received numerous accolades for her leadership. In 2021 alone, she was named to Florida Trend magazine’s Florida’s 500 Most Influential Business Leaders list, received the South Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America’s Whitney M. Young Award and was nominated for the South Florida Business Journal’s Influential Business Women and the National Bar Association’s Women Lawyers Division’s Outstanding Minority Partner/Majority Firm Award.

Ms. University of Florida Zoe Larson poses with her fellow Florida Cicerones after the organization received the UFAA DEI award in the University Community—Department or Organization category. Left to right: Kyle Hamilton (Cicerone Membership VP), Lakshay Goyal and Mark Lewis (Cicerones STAT VP)

University Community—Faculty and Staff

Aysegul “Ayse” (PHD ’08) is an associate professor in UF’s J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering, and is affiliated with UF’s Fixel Institute for Neurological Disorders, the Malcolm Randall VA Medical Center Brain Rehabilitation Research Center and the university’s neuroscience and electrical engineering departments. Among her many honors, she has received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (2019), the National Science Foundation Early CAREER Award (2016), the International Academy of Medical and Biological Engineering Early Career Award (2015), the Anita Borg Institute Denice Denton Emerging Leader Award (2017), the UF Provost’s Excellence Award for Assistant Professors (2017), UF’s Pramod P. Khargonekar Junior Faculty Award for Excellence (2018) and UF’s Graduate Education Diversity Champion Award (2019).

Madeline (HS ’92) is a professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics and associate dean for UF’s College of Medicine-Jacksonville, overseeing inclusion and equity. She established the Women in Medicine and Science Committee at the UF Health Science Center-Jacksonville and is leading efforts for gender equity in academic medicine. Madeline has numerous publications, including two books and over 110 refereed articles, along with book chapters in pediatrics. She has served on numerous national committees at the American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics; currently, she serves on AAP’s board of directors and board committee on equity. On the state level, she co-chairs the Council of Florida Medical School Deans’ committee on diversity, equity and inclusion and is the immediate past president for the Florida chapter of the AAP.

University Community—Students

Adania (MS ’18) spent her formative years in Trinidad and Tobago, a twin island nation in the Caribbean. Fascinated by water and aquatic systems, she earned a bachelor’s in marine biology at the University of Tampa, followed by a UF master’s in zoology. She is now a doctoral student in UF’s biology department, with a joint appointment in the Florida Museum of Natural History, where she is a research assistant. She is interested in exploring the ecology of fishes, their role and niche in the environment and their life history, as well as understanding how form relates to function. She is also interested in using natural history collections to introduce students of diverse backgrounds to ichthyology and other scientific fields. Adania’s leadership in academic and nonacademic spaces (both within and outside of UF) is motivated by her need to create more inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible spaces for everyone.

Adrienne (BSMSE ’19) is a doctoral candidate in UF’s J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering and served as co-president of the BME Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA) student committee from 2019 to 2021. She has since helped other UF departments start student-led IDEA committees. Working with the UF Diversity Office, she designed and implemented an instructional platform to start IDEA committees with UF Engineering. Her lesson was later introduced to the Center for Pre-collegiate Education and Training and developed into a two-week course for high school students. Adrienne is currently developing a college-outreach program for low-economic high schools or those with low graduation rates. She also volunteers as a science fair judge for Alachua County Schools and leads outreach efforts for the BME department to promote women in STEM.

University Community—Departments and Organizations

The UF Career Connections Center serves more than 57,000 students annually and thousands of alumni representing all majors and degree levels. The center cultivates a community that is inclusive and reflects the diverse backgrounds and experiences at the university. A centralized and comprehensive unit, it provides a wide range of services to connect job seekers with employers. Its staff facilitates recruiting efforts to ensure easy access to UF talent for entry-level and experienced positions, alike. The CCC is nationally recognized as the No. 2 career center by Best Colleges in the support of students, employers and alumni. The center is also a hub with experts and connectors to unify the university community for career development and serves several populations with specialized services and resources to bridge career connections for students.

Founded in 1968, the Florida Cicerones are the official student ambassadors for the University of Florida. Florida Cicerones are the governing body of the “Students Today, Alumni Tomorrow” tour guides for the university, aid in athletic recruiting for the University Athletic Association and serve as the official student hosts for UF’s president and guests. The Florida Cicerones support the mission of the UF Alumni Association and UF by enhancing the experiences of students, alumni and guests and fostering lasting relationships with the university. As a community, the Florida Cicerones challenge each other to evolve every day as ambassadors and as individuals.