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Michelle Padrón receives Warren Wilson’s highest honor

The Pfaff Cup is awarded to students who excel in all areas of the college’s academic program: academics, work, community engagement and campus life.

Michelle Padrón has received the Alton F. Pfaff Cup, Warren Wilson College’s highest honor given to a graduating senior.

Padrón recently graduated from Warren Wilson College with a major in social work. During her time at the college, she served as an advocate for micro and macro system change, social justice and equity.

Padrón was part of a small group of students who developed a policy brief on the necessity to ban conversion therapy. At Social Work Advocacy Day at the North Carolina General Assembly, Padrón and the other students met with Buncombe County senators and representatives about their research. As a result, language from the policy brief was used in House Bill 516, the bill that Governor Roy Cooper signed into law in August 2019. The work was part of a course called Advocacy from the Ground Up.

Padrón also participated in the Inside-Out program, which brings together campus-based students with incarcerated students for semester-long credit-bearing courses held at the Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women. Padrón co-presented about the Inside-Out teaching and learning experiences at the Workshop on Intercultural Skills Enhancement conference at Wake Forest University.

“What has impressed me most over the past few years is Michelle’s commitment to speaking truth to power,” said Shuli Archer, the associate dean of community engagement at Warren Wilson College. “This phrase, popularized by Bayard Rustin, represents a person’s commitment and drive to tell the truth, the real, raw, and painful truth, to people in positions of authority. Michelle has done this again and again, with her story, with the lived experiences of her peers and closest friends, to bring a reckoning to the college. She speaks for what she knows to be true and to bring accountability to not only our institution, but to the many spaces she has navigated.”

Padrón worked on Warren Wilson’s Creative Writing MFA crew, the Writing Studio crew and the WIDE crew. As a tutor in the Writing Studio, she travelled to Columbus, Ohio, for a grant-funded presentation with director Julie Wilson and a group from the Writing Studio at the International Writing Centers Association. 

As a leader of the Student Life crew in the WIDE Office, Padrón was a member of the Alma Shippy Coalition, a regular attender for Black Student Union events, and served a speaker at a WIDE- organized program SPACE: A Place to Talk About Race. During the pandemic, she drove students to the vaccination clinic at UNCA during the vaccination event. 

From her very first semester at Warren Wilson College, Padrón began engaging in deep and meaningful community engagement — on her own, through her courses, and through additional academic pursuits. She spent more than a semester supporting MANOS, a program that connects Warren Wilson students with Latinx high school students as mentors and tutors. 

Padrón interned at Verner Center for Early Learning, where she assisted teachers and helped the children de-escalate PTSD symptoms. This internship led to her being offered an internship with Child Protective Services. 

In 2020, she was a Z Smith Reynolds Fellow and interned at Pisgah Legal Services, where she worked on the immigration team as a Spanish language translator for clients in legal proceedings, scheduled appointments with clients and conducted needs assessments.

In January 2020, Padrón participated in a short-term study abroad course to Cuba. As the culmination of her semester-long research and 10-day field study in the country, she wrote a scholarly paper on race in Cuba. Her paper explored nuances of race in the island nation, noted historical complexities of race within the Revolution, and included contemporary perspectives from Afro Cubans.

“Michelle was an indispensable member of the group with her maturity, intercultural insights, fearlessness, and commitment to group learning,” said Lucy Lawrence, the social work professor who co-taught the course. “Her paper, much like her other work at Warren Wilson College, demonstrated her critical thinking skills, expertise in written communication, and ability to authentically connect with others.” 

During her final semester at Wilson, Padrón completed her social work field practicum at NC Brookhaven, a local behavioral and mental health organization. Through her 330+ hours in the field, she worked on the interdisciplinary Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) Team, providing person-centered services to individuals who were at risk of hospitalization, homelessness, and substance abuse. Through professional networking, Padrón will begin her employment at Trinity Place Runaway and Homeless Youth Shelter upon graduation.

Since 1942, the Alton F. Pfaff Cup has been awarded to a graduating senior who demonstrates integrity, common sense, a willingness to work, and a commitment to growth and progress. Pfaff was a 1929 graduate of the Asheville Farm School. He was president of the Warren Wilson College Alumni Association and a member of the Board of Trustees. 

The Pfaff Cup is awarded to students who excel in all areas of the college’s academic program: academics, work, community engagement and campus life. Nominations are solicited from the community and a committee of faculty and staff chooses a finalist to appear on a ballot given to all employees who vote for a winner. 

This year’s Pfaff Cup was made by Fine Woodworking crew members Wyatt Sutter, Jeremy Epstein, and instructor Ben Blackmar. It is made from wood grown on our campus. The cup is aged spalted poplar, the pedestal is white oak, and the base is red oak darkened with iron oxide stain.