The Yale-Jefferson Awards are presented annually, recognizing sustained public service that is individual, innovative, impactful, and inspiring. The recipients are three Yalies – a Yale College student, a graduate or professional school student, and a member of the alumni body – all of whom have demonstrated service that draws on the Yale community and benefits the world beyond Yale.
By those and all measures, the 2020 honorees are most deserving. They have made an impact – for minorities in STEM, for those in need, and for those with special needs – improving the lives of their communities and those within them.
Here are your 2020 Yale-Jefferson Award recipients: Robert Fernandez ’20 PhD, Scott Morris ’80 MDiv, and Megan Sardis ’21.
[Related: YAA Leadership Awards recognize five outstanding volunteer leaders]
Robert W. Fernandez ’20 PhD
Yale is honoring Fernandez for his dedication to transforming and building programs to improve the diversity of STEM education at Yale and beyond, helping to shape the minds of future scientists within the university undergraduate and graduate communities. A dedicated mentor, Fernandez serves as a coordinator for Yale’s Science, Technology, and Research Scholars program (known as STARS II), which is committed to supporting women, minorities, the economically underprivileged, and historically underrepresented students in the sciences, engineering, and math. He also co-founded Científico Latino, a STEM organization that works to bolster the pipeline of underrepresented students in higher education in the sciences.
Fernandez is a decorated scientist, having been named a 2014 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow and as one of the 100 most inspiring Hispanic/Latinx scientists in America by Cell Mentor. He received his PhD from the Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry Department at Yale and is currently a postdoctoral scientist at Columbia University.
“When I came to Yale, I didn’t know how to navigate undergrad to grad school, and I didn’t know how different it was – a lot of self-learning and asking questions on topics you’re not familiar with. Also, pretty much at the time I was the only Latino on my track and one of three in the entire department,” Fernandez said. “Through that experience, I learned that grad school isn’t something you do by yourself; it’s something you do as a community. … It taught me that sometimes under-represented students are pretty isolated in higher education. So, I wanted to do something to help the community, to work with undergraduates and prepare them for the next step.”
G. Scott Morris ’80 MDiv
Yale is honoring Morris for his dedication and tireless efforts to provide healthcare for those in need. He is the founder and chief executive officer of Church Health in Memphis, Tennessee, which provides quality, affordable healthcare for working, uninsured people and their families. A board-certified family practice physician and an ordained United Methodist minister, Morris has revolutionized healthcare for the working poor in Memphis, recruiting doctors, nurses, dentists, and more to volunteer, all while securing a broad base of financial support from the faith community. Buoyed by those efforts, Church Health has grown to become the largest faith-based, privately funded health center in the nation, serving more than 75,000 patients and handling approximately 44,000 patient visits annually.
For his efforts and great work, Morris has been recognized by a number of major organizations, including the American Medical Association, which awarded him its Excellence in Medicine Award in 2008.
“I started Church Health after going to Yale Divinity School and then going to medical school and doing a residency in family medicine,” Morris said. “I came to Memphis to start the work we did in 1987, so I’ve never had a real job. But for 34 years, Church Health has existed in order to provide healthcare under the umbrella of the faith community to the people who work to make our lives comfortable. We take care of those people who wash our dishes, who cut our grass, who take care of our children, who will one day dig our graves. They don’t complain, yet when they get sick, their options are very few.”
Megan Sardis ’21
Yale is honoring Sardis for her work providing innovative healthcare solutions for children with disabilities. A believer in the power of community to help vulnerable children reach their full potential, Sardis co-founded the nonprofit organization SNUGS National, which has developed free aquatic clinics for special needs children at eight locations across the U.S. That includes Yale’s Payne Whitney gymnasium, where the sessions are run by Yale student volunteers. To date, SNUGS National has served more than 150 families and has raised more than $15,000 in donations, and it has cultivated a 13-member board with teams in finance, communications, marketing, and development.
As a student of Global Affairs, Sardis is on pace to graduate in May 2021. She has a specific interest in health initiatives on the African continent and hopes to attend medical school and pursue a career in pediatric global health after her time at Yale.
“When I got to Yale, I noticed that there weren’t any real programs for children with special needs, and no program for swim lessons for children with special needs,” Sardis said. “So, I talked to the swim coach and we worked together to get this program off the ground. We started off with six Autistic girls who we got connected with through the Yale Child Study Center. And since then it’s taken off. As of last year, we had 150 kids of all different sorts of intellectual and developmental disabilities come be part of our program. It’s been really, really great. Every time I go there, I fall even more in love with it.”