Feingold Excellence in Diversity award winner recognized for creating sense of belonging

Kiran Szekeres

Director of the Office of Foundational Learning and Practice

In a learning environment that has students in masks while on campus and in remote classrooms when not, it can be difficult to navigate the student population, making sure they are all cared for in an appropriate manner.

That’s not the case for Kiran Szekeres, director of the Office of Foundational Learning and Practice in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education (HBHE) at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, where she also leads alumni engagement efforts and supports graduate student coordination.

For creating an academic home for Michigan Public Health students as well as creating a sense of belonging and for leadership, Szekeres was awarded the 2022 Feingold Excellence in Diversity award winner.

“She seems to know every student extremely well,” said Mary Janevic, research associate professor in HBHE. “She has shown so much flexibility, empathizing and understanding around their individual situations. She works hard and creatively to ensure that they succeed in the program despite any obstacles they may face.”

Szekeres wears many hats and interacts with several people across the department and school. She connects with people as true individuals, meeting them where they are and providing genuine support.

“Kiran is an incredible leader in the HBHE community,” said Meredith Mase, an HBE student. “She puts so much care and compassion into her work and has deep insight into all of the different groups of people that will be impacted by department change, with inclusion at the forefront of her work.

“Working directly with her as the department assistant, she has taught me so much about DEI and has truly exemplified how to consistently keep DEI at the center of all of the work she does. Beyond this, Kiran is one of the kindest, most open and caring people, and makes herself truly accessible to all HBHE students.”

Szekeres is instrumental in coordinating events for prospective and admitted students in HBHE, mobilizing faculty and staff in welcoming and supporting students. She has been a staff member at Michigan Public Health and in HBHE for more than a decade. Her significant contributions toward advancing diversity and inclusion in the department and within the school makes her highly deserving of this award, said Cleopatra Howard Caldwell, HBHE chair.

“In her role, Kiran is in a distinct and unique position where she interacts with every MPH student in HBHE and maintains relationships with them as alumni,” Caldwell said. “Ms. Szekeres has consistently taken on her role with excellence and professionalism, and truly embodies the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion in making HBHE and Michigan Public Health a welcoming and supportive environment. Her most significant contribution to our department and school is the help and counseling she provides to our students to reach their goals and full educational potential no matter where they are starting from.

“She tailors her message and the kind of support she provides and also helps connect students with each other as well as school and campus resources, if necessary.”

Bill Lopez, clinical assistant professor in HBHE, works closely with Szekeres in the HBHE Office of Foundational Learning and Practice.

“I have worked with Kiran for four years and have seen her exceptional dedication to students of all stages and abilities,” Lopez said. “She organizes workshops in advance as well as in reaction to specific student needs. She is incredibly skillful at matching the type of support to the needs of a given cohort, moving between one-on-one meetings, group settings, recorded events, and email to a list-serve.

“She has always been a clear champion for diversity, supporting students in all stages in their career, and is able to support both the most high-achieving student as well as the student who is finding it hard to place an internship. She is an asset to the department, the office, and the school.”

With each interaction, Szekeres treats everyone—students, faculty, staff, and alumni—with kindness. She takes her role in modeling the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion seriously, something the student body notices every day.

“In my opinion, diversity isn't just having all sorts of people from different backgrounds in a classroom,” said Tasneem Abushaban, a second-year HBHE MPH student. “Rather, diversity is embracing, appreciating, and warmly welcoming everyone for who they are fully and showing that through your words and actions. Kiran Szekers not only embodies these traits, but I see through her actions and words that she continuously works to improve these skills as well.”