10 Years of Doing More
The UM-Dearborn Difference Maker award, launched for the university’s 50th anniversary during the 2009-2010 school year, honors 50 outstanding students annually for the positive impact they have on their campus, neighborhoods, communities and beyond.
Since that time, we’ve recognized nearly 500 students for their creative acts of leadership and their commitment to being the best in their personal and professional lives.
As we welcomed in our 10th class this spring, Legacy put together a page-turning reunion to show what some of our previous award winners are up to today — and how they’re continuing to make that difference. Looking for more? Catch up with even more Difference Makers.
Freda Shatara ('15 B.A.)
Difference Makers Class: 2016
Current City: Dearborn Heights, Mich.
Profession: Second Grade Teacher, Crestwood School District
Freda Shatara listed “second grade teacher in her hometown of Livonia” as her dream job back when she was a 2016 Difference Maker. Change “Livonia” to “Dearborn Heights” and she’s living her dream in 2019. At Hillcrest Elementary, the bilingual, third-year teacher leads a diverse “laid-back, but high- expectations” classroom that, among other cool perks, has bean bags, yoga mats and wobble stools instead of desks.
Stevan Miller II ('15 B.B.A.)
Difference Makers Class: 2014
Current City: Southfield, Mich.
Profession: Technology Team Leader, Quicken Loans
With a knack for leadership and an interest in innovation, Stevan Miller II climbed the ladder at Detroit’s Quicken Loans from intern to technology team leader in only four years. Working with a cross-functional team of software engineers, quality engineers and business analysts on improving the user’s online experience, Miller said he continues to build up others by coaching his team members on their own career growth.
Mark Bajor ('12 B.S.E.Mech., '16 M.S.E.)
Difference Makers Class: 2012
Current City: Minneapolis, Minn.
Profession: Senior Calibration Engineer, Polaris
To craft the perfect off-road engine, Mark Bajor has tested his team’s signature go- anywhere vehicle, the RZR, in all kinds
of extreme outdoor playgrounds — from the sand dunes of California to the mud bogs of Louisiana. “Adventure is basically baked into the job,” he said. Outside work, he’s always moving too: He’s currently finishing up his second UM-Dearborn master’s degree — this one an MBA.
Breana Cappuccilli ('18 B.S.E.B.E., B.S.E.Mech.)
Difference Makers Class: 2017
Current City: West Lafayette, Ind.
Profession: Graduate Student, Purdue University
As a first-year grad student and Clare Boothe Luce Fellow in Purdue’s Human Injury Research and Regenerative Technologies Lab, Breana Cappuccilli is already elbow deep in a trio of biomechanical research projects. Her latest opportunity: traveling to Texas to study the connection between on-field impacts and brain injuries among football players in an NFL development league.
Alicia Zelaya ('18 B.S.)
Difference Makers Class: 2019
Current City: Melvindale, Mich.
Profession: Public Health
Whether it was building awareness around student mental health or helping metro Detroiters live healthier lives during an internship with Joy-Southfield Community Development Corporation, Alicia Zelaya didn’t wait for graduation to put her passion for public health to good use. Now post graduation, she hopes to continue making an impact as a public health educator, and soon after, pursue a master’s in dietetics.
Hardeep Singh ('18 B.S.E.)
Difference Makers Class: 2018
Current City: Rochester Hills, Mich.
Profession: Contract Vehicle Integration Engineer, Fiat Chrysler
Fresh off a 2018 graduation, Hardeep Singh landed a job working on ergonomics and human factors in the quickly evolving automotive industry. But his after-work gig is keeping him just as busy. To help rural kids in his home country of India further their careers and education, Singh recently launched a nonprofit called Saarthi, which connects students with mentors across the world.
Farah Harb ('10 B.B.A.)
Difference Makers Class: 2010
Current City: Dearborn, Mich.
Profession: Global Education Programs Analyst, Ford Motor Company Fund
Farah Harb’s hometown of Dearborn has given her access to education and growth. Now the city serves as her home base as she supports students who are looking for their own opportunities — to advance both themselves and their communities. As the global education programs analyst at Ford Motor Company Fund, Harb’s work includes providing higher education scholarships and funding student-led projects that tackle community issues in nine countries.
Gregory Hurst ('12 M.P.A.)
Difference Makers Class: 2013
Current City: Detroit, Mich.
Profession: Senior Director of Business Operations, Detroit Public Schools Community District
As an M.P.A. student, Gregory Hurst — then an elementary school principal — would mow grass, clean streets and
curbs and trim trees to make his Detroit neighborhood a better place. Today, Hurst is playing an even greater role in improving his native city. Now a Detroit Public Schools senior administrator — a position he accepted in fall 2018 — he oversees DPSCD areas like food service and building maintenance. “Growth starts with education, and a school’s environment sets the stage for learning,” said Hurst. “That learning can advance neighborhoods. Better neighborhoods make for stronger communities. It’s all connected.”
Cassandra Balderas ('14 B.A.)
Difference Makers Class: 2015
Current City: Detroit, Mich.
Profession: Access and Operations Manager, Henry Ford Cancer Institute at Henry Ford Health System
As an undergraduate student, Cassandra Balderas wanted to “focus on the huge issue of inaccessibility to care
for many people.” Today, she has found that role at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute. She looks at opportunities to create a positive and accessible experience for all oncology patients seeking care, including partnering with other teams to address potential health care barriers for patients — transportation, language, insurance. “Cancer care is more than an oncologist appointment,” she said. “There’s a continuum of care needed; that’s where my team comes in.”
Christopher French ('11 B.A.)
Difference Makers Class: 2011
Current City: Gibralter, Mich.
Profession: Managing Partner, Downriver Family Law Center
Christopher French, who returned to college in his late 30s, said faculty “must have seen something in me” and encouraged him to attend law school. He did just that and now uses his legal chops to advocate for his clients at the Downriver Family Law Center. French — a longtime proponent of community engagement and outreach — founded the center in 2016 to assist others and make legal services available to families of all financial means.