Wells College and the Association for Alumnae and Alumni (WCA) established the Outstanding Achievement Award, named this year in honor of recently-retired President Lisa Marsh Ryerson ’81, to recognize the accomplishments of Wells alumni in the years shortly after their graduation; it will be awarded annually to former students who have put their liberal arts education to use and exemplified the College’s values through a commitment to their community or outstanding accomplishments in business, philanthropy or other fields. Three recent graduates received the 2014 award at a ceremony on campus this fall: Keela Dates Grimmette, Class of 2006; Laurie Munroe Abkemeier, Class of 1992; and Crystal Purcell Cosentino, Class of 1998.
After graduating in 2006 with a certification to teach elementary education, Keela Dates Grimmette temporarily placed her career on hold in order to volunteer as a teacher at Jambo Jipya, a school in semi-rural Kenya, for ten weeks. Grimmette’s experiences in Kenya prompted her to raise awareness for the children who had changed her life. She began raising funds and developing a support base to coordinate a non-profit organization. Grimmette’s persistence and dedication for educational activism led to the creation of Reason2Smile, her nonprofit organization that was officially recognized in March 2009. Grimmette has since expanded the Jambo Jipya School from six huts to thirteen concrete buildings that provide K-10 education to 300 students. Grimmette plans to expand her outreach further through more schools and orphanages that worth with at-risk and orphaned children in developing countries. In 2012, Grimmette was chosen as one of four winners of Glamour Magazine’s Sally Hansen “Best of You” contest for nonprofit leaders.
Crystal Purcell Cosentino ’98 has been dedicated to transforming her community through non-profit organizations and leadership in local government. After graduation, the United Way of Cayuga County and the Child Care Council of the Finger Lakes hired Cosentino to lead “Success by 6,” a community-wide early-childhood initiative that works to improve children’s literacy, health and creativity. In 2000, Cosentino took a job coordinating Options for Independence, a non-profit agency that recognizes people with disabilities. In support of the homeless community of Cayuga County, Cosentino raised nearly $500,000 in federal dollars as an in-house grant writer. Due to her immense contributions to local communities, U.S Representative Michael A. Arcuri hired Cosentino to serve as the 24th Congressional District’s caseworker. Most recently, Cosentino has taken a job as the executive director at Home HeadQuarters, a non-profit housing development organization committed to revitalizing neighborhoods throughout Central and Upstate New York.
Laurie Munroe Abkemeier has gone to extraordinary measures with her degree in a self-designed communications major earned in 1992. Abkemeier has made a name for herself in the editing and publishing industry as a literary agent. While at Wells, she gained experience in the communications industry through internships at ABC studios, the Syracuse Post-Standard, and the Ithaca Journal. Immediately after receiving her degree, Abkemeier began working in New York City at Simon & Schuster as an editorial assistant, where she was responsible for the publication of five New York Times bestsellers. Abkemeier now represents more than fifty journalists, bloggers, poets, academics, and artists. She has negotiated film and television deals for her authors, including John Grogan, who wrote the New York Times bestseller “Marley and Me.” Through her career, Abkemeier has redefined what it means to be a woman in an executive position of authority in today’s world.
These three outstanding women epitomize the Wells spirit as they contribute to their communities and generate change through their work. Through their volunteer efforts, philanthropic work and professional ingenuity, Grimmette, Abkemeier, and Cosentino share the privilege of their education with others, in keeping with the Wells motto “Habere et Dispertire”—“To Have and To Share.” The award was granted by President Emerita Ryerson at a ceremony in September.