For her outstanding scholarship and extraordinary service to the university, Zenzile Saharee Riddick is the recipient of the 2019 Thomas More Storke Award for Excellence, the campus’s highest student honor.
Riddick’s nominators describe her as “a remarkable scholar and an extraordinary human being who has made an impact in multiple ways for students, both at UC Santa Barbara and across the UC system.
Earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in history, Riddick was admitted to UC Santa Barbara as a Promise Scholar, a program that commits four years of financial aid to low-income students who demonstrate great academic promise. She took advantage of every opportunity, becoming a scholar and activist who excelled in academics, conducted original research and worked to create institutional change.
As a McNair Scholar, Riddick engaged in research that involved a comparative study of the criminalization and cultural erasure in colonial mission schools and in United States urban schools. She was invited to present her research on numerous occasions to history classes, at statewide and national conferences. Graduating with a grade-point average of 3.95, Riddick landed on the Dean’s Honor Roll for most of her quarters at UC Santa Barbara and excelled not only in her undergraduate coursework, but also in graduate-level seminars.
Sociology professor Beth Schneider described Riddick as “a lover of research,” who has gone far beyond what is expected and serves as a role model for research. History professor Paul Spickard described a situation that arose in one of his 500-student modern history classes when the discussion turned to racist graffiti. Riddick spoke to the entire class, “holding the floor for 20 minutes,” Spickard said, “with a spontaneous lecture on structural racism and its impact on the individual psyche, the economy and politics. It was a tour de force.”
Beyond her academic achievements, Riddick’s commitment to service and to the campus community led her to become a champion for increasing access and affordability for low-income students of color. She held leadership roles in the Black Student Union and worked with the Office of Admissions to develop the Black Freshman Mentorship Program to improve retention rates among black students. As a Michael D. Young Scholar Intern, she contributed her knowledge and passion for others while working as an intern in the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships.
As part of her internship she worked on several initiatives, including a re-entry program for students who had dropped out, a campuswide Cal-Fresh program to promote food security resources and the development of strategies and initiatives to improve the low rates of students completing the FAFSA applications. During her sophomore year, Riddick was invited by the UC Regents to give a presentation on access and affordability.
Next fall, with a U.S. Presidential Scholarship in hand, she will head to Harvard University to pursue a Ph.D. in education. Riddick’s advice to incoming UC Santa Barbara freshman and transfer students? Lead!
“If something needs changing, do not ever underestimate your ability to change it,” she said. “It is your duty, and it is not out of reach. Whatever you are passionate about, you can make a reality.”