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Loyola announces Ignatian award winners

May 8, 2009

Loyola University New Orleans has announced its 2008-2009 Ignatian Awards for outstanding senior and graduate students. Awards for Outstanding Senior Male and Female and Graduate Student were presented at the Baccalaureate Mass Friday, at Holy Name of Jesus Church, and the Spirit of Ignatius Award for Outstanding College of Law Graduate will be presented at the Law Graduation Mass, Friday, May 15, at 2 p.m., also at Holy Name.

Greg Fontenot, who will receive a Bachelor of Business Administration degree Saturday and will graduate magna cum laude with an honors certificate, was presented the Ignatian Award for Outstanding Senior Male.

Puja Cuddapah, who will receive a Bachelor of Science degree, was presented the Ignatian Award for Outstanding Senior Female.

Jana Justine Levitov, who will receive a master’s degree in criminal justice, was presented the Ignatian Award for Outstanding Graduate Student.

Meghan Claire Harwell, who will receive a Juris Doctor degree, will be presented the Spirit of Ignatius Award for Outstanding College of Law Graduate.

The Ignatian Awards for outstanding undergraduate and graduate students are the highest awards presented by the university to graduating students. Recipients are students who have distinguished themselves through involvement in the university and by representing Loyola with honor and distinction. Criteria for this award includes maintaining a high grade point average, commitment to the integrity of life by providing service to others and contributing to the advancement of religion and citizenship.

The selection committee for outstanding male and female seniors is composed of the vice presidents of Student Affairs and Mission and Ministry; the deans of the Colleges of Business, Social Sciences, Humanities and Natural Sciences, Music and Fine Arts; the dean of Libraries; and the director of University Ministry. Recipients of the Ignatian Award are true examples of what it means to be women and men with and for others.

Outstanding undergraduate students:

Greg Fontenot, a magna cum laude business administration graduate from Lafayette, La., garnered a strong work ethic at a very early age. Fontenot took on many of his family’s responsibilities, after his mother was diagnosed with tongue cancer and became very ill. As the cancer spread, Fontenot was forced to care for his two younger siblings, while his father worked overtime. Because of these experiences, Fontenot acquired the skills needed to become focused and goal-oriented, which ultimately carried him through his college career.

Completing his degree in finance and minoring in pre-med, Fontenot volunteered for various organizations including the Ignacio Volunteers, a series of international immersion programs for the Loyola community, which included immersion and service trips to Belize and Jamaica.

In the future, Fontenot plans on completing medical school, contributing to his local community as a physician and joining other global humanitarian efforts such as Doctors without Borders.

“My success in academics, extracurricular activities and community service can all be traced back to the strong work ethic and sense of commitment developed during these early, formative experiences,” said Fontenot. “Highly self-motivated, I learned that one person can make a difference.”


Puja Cuddapah
, a biology graduate from New Orleans, has maintained an active career of service while at Loyola.

During the summer of 2007, she spent time in Dharamsala, India, on the Loyola Himalayan Study Abroad Program. While there, she was able to study with native people and immerse herself in the culture of the region.

“The most important lesson that I learned from the Buddhist monks and nuns was to show compassion and understanding towards others,” said Cuddapah. “In order to show compassion to every being, one must be able to be accepting of others who are different from oneself.”

Cuddapah brought these life lessons back to Loyola and began to play a more proactive role in influencing change. She created and led the program, “I am not a Stereotype,” which helped the Loyola community reflect on current prejudices and educate faculty, staff and students on the detriments of categorizing people.

In the spring of 2008, she organized a similar, but larger-scale event, “I am not Tolerant.” With this event, Cuddapah engaged many of the Loyola organizations such as the Jewish Student Association, Etcetera, Muslim Student Organization, Black Student Union and Loyola Community Action Program. Members of these groups were invited to give presentations on topics of prejudice pertinent to their organization and Loyola community.

“The purpose of this event was to create a more unified Loyola, and we accomplished just that with our large attendance and participation of students,” said Cuddapah.

While at Loyola, Cuddapah was the president of Bridging the Gap, an organization focused on alleviating racial conflict and raising campus awareness of diversity. She was also highly involved as a resident assistant for the Cardoner Leadership Fellows and with the 2009 Loyola Student Conference on World Peace.

After graduation, Cuddapah hopes to continue to working and raise awareness about issues in diversity.


Jana Justine Levitov
, a master’s of criminal justice graduate from Metairie, La., initially chose Loyola for its small size. Having received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Loyola, Levitov chose Loyola also for its innate ability to provide opportunities for success.

As a graduate student, one of her most significant experiences has been working as a graduate assistant for Dee Harper, Ph.D., professor of criminal justice. “I learned in a very hands on environment and mastered many skills that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Levitov.

She also credited the interactive learning environment with allowing her to research a variety of criminal justice issues by applying analytical and statistical techniques. Because of this, she was able to present her research at the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences meetings last March in Boston, Mass.

According to Levitov, the greatest Ignatian values are those that deal with justice and equality. “Ignatius Loyola believed that you can apply a faithful stance to any field of study. In other words, a stance for justice, which is what my field of study revolves around,” said Levitov. “It is not very difficult to act justly and think critically in the field of criminal justice.”

After graduation, Levitov hopes to enter the criminal justice field to gain insight and experience. One day, she hopes to hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in either criminology or sociology and become a college professor


Meghan Claire Harwell
, a law graduate from New Orleans, will be presented with this year’s Spirit of Ignatius Award for Outstanding College of Law Graduate.

Harwell said her law school experience at Loyola has been very tumultuous, but very rewarding and has given her faith and belief in God. She entered law school with the hope of being able to help people, and throughout her time here, she has been able to make this into reality.

After her first year, she assisted in the defense of death penalty cases at the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center. “Through my work on these cases, I quickly learned that the value of a person is greater than the worst thing he’s every done – a lesson in compassion that I will strive to fulfill for the rest of my life,” said Harwell.

After her second year of law school, she lived in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she served the needs of the poor and disenfranchised by working on human rights cases.

“These jobs challenged me to apply principles of compassion, forgiveness and gratitude to my everyday life,” said Harwell. “I have found this to be the most important lesson I’ve learned during law school – the pursuit of which requires daily reflection and practice.”

Harwell credits God for continually challenging and shaping her perception and practice of compassion. “I can hardly practice total compassion for the poor if I lack total compassion for my colleagues. And I can hardly forgive a death row inmate for his crimes when I can’t let go of a personal insult,” said Harwell. “For me, this growth has been the result of consistent practice for which I deserve very little credit.”

For more information about the Ignatian Award winners, contact Sean Snyder in Loyola’s Office of Public Affairs at smsnyder@loyno.edu or call 504-861-5882.

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