Wells honored with WuDunn award

Wiess College senior Anne Marie Wells’ service, research and academic experiences in women’s health, international community development and education have earned her the 2016 Sheryl WuDunn Commencement Award for Social Justice.

Pictured from left are President David Leebron, Anne Wells and Sheryl WuDunn. (Photo by Tommy LaVergne)

Pictured from left are President David Leebron, Anne Wells and Sheryl WuDunn. (Photo by Tommy LaVergne)

Each year, Rice University honors a graduating senior who exemplifies the values and ideals of the commencement speaker. This year’s speaker was Sheryl WuDunn, the first Asian-American reporter to win a Pulitzer Prize and one of Newsweek’s “150 Women Who Shake the World.” WuDunn and her husband, New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof, shared the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for their coverage of the mass movement for democracy and its subsequent suppression in China.

Wells, who received a bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies and premedicine, was selected for the award for her work questioning injustices and creating positive change on campus and globally.

In one of several recommendation letters for the award, a nominator touted Wells’ compassion, drive and leadership.

“Anne approaches the world around her with intentionality,” the nominator wrote. “She seeks out opportunities that further her understanding of social-justice issues and implements innovative programs to share those issues with her community.”

During her studies at Rice, Wells served as a Harvard Multidisciplinary International Researcher in Lima, Peru, with the Hospital Nacional. Her work focused on increasing awareness of the complications to women’s health, especially during pregnancy, as a result of experiencing childhood and intimate-partner violence. Her findings were presented at Peru’s National Maternal and Perinatal Health Institute.

“As a woman and biracial student, I knew that historically marginalized groups were presented with unique health challenges complicated with social and economic pressures,” Wells said. “And I believed that these populations were more than worth my effort and time as a student, advocate and activist.”

As a Loewenstern Fellow in Huyro, Peru, Wells led volunteer teams on an archeological dig to catalog Incan artifacts. While creating lesson plans for the local children, Wells was able to share Incan culture with the indigenous community.

Following her own experience working with Engineers Without Borders, Wells helped establish a partnership with Amigos de las Americas, a nonprofit youth development organization. Now Rice students participating in engineering programs abroad can receive predeparture training on how to partner effectively with local communities to build trust and respect.

Another nominator noted that Wells’ outstanding strong drive, intelligence and sustained enthusiasm in the face of adversity set her apart from other students.

“I applaud Anne’s vision, her persistence, her cleverness, her hard work and the broadness of her intellect, the powerful combination of which I have rarely seen before,” the nominator wrote. “Anne Wells is one of the best college students I have ever known and, I will add, a genuinely warm, empathetic person.”

After graduating from Rice, Wells plans to serve with the Peace Corps in Cameroon.

“I am thrilled to embark on this new adventure and for the opportunity to explore public health in a completely different way,” Wells said. “I will be stepping out of the comfort of Latin America that my undergraduate years have lended me, but I am excited to see how this opportunity will shape me and my future career in medicine, public health and medical anthropology.”

About Arie Passwaters

Arie Wilson Passwaters is a Web editor in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.