Graduating biochemistry student who creates awareness about poverty wins first Engel Family Upstander Award

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A May 2011 Iowa State University graduate who has been active in creating awareness about poverty, homelessness and access to food is the first recipient of the Engel Family Upstander Award from ISU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Nidhi Shah is a native of India who graduated with concurrent undergraduate and master’s degrees in biochemistry.

"Being from a developing country where I see people suffering from hunger and poverty, I had always wanted to work towards solving it," said Shah. "However, I was unable to do anything back home. Iowa State University gave me the opportunity as well as the platform to work towards these causes seriously."

The Engel Family Upstander Award recognizes individuals who choose to take a positive stand on an issue of diversity and tolerance – often in difficult circumstances – and act on behalf of others. The award is inspired by the Upstander Awards by Facing History and Ourselves, a Massachusetts-based educational nonprofit organization.

The award is named for the family of Iowa State alumna Debra J. Engel. She earned a psychology degree in 1973 and a master’s degree in industrial relations in 1976.

Shah, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. degree in international and community nutrition, met others at Iowa State who had similar ideas and passions about hunger and poverty.

"When I came to ISU and learned about the different organizations that were dedicated to different causes," she said, "I thought of doing something about it. Over time I realized that a lot of people lack awareness of these issues. Hence, awareness was the first step towards solving these issues."

Shah got busy working in several causes. With a friend she co-founded the group UNICEF @ ISU, an official UNICEF chapter that raised more than $2,000 within its first year. The chapter also raised awareness about issues related to water sanitation, education for girls and UNICEF’s "Believe in Zero" children’s project.

As a member and later president of the ISU International Student Council, she helped develop a Humanitarian Awareness Committee. The council twice conducted a 12-hour famine (inspired by World Vision’s 30 Hour Famine) to make people experience hunger, poverty and a lack of resources. The council also helped raise relief funds for the Haiti earthquake and Pakistan flood in 2010 and the Japan earthquake and tsunami this year.

Shah will receive $1,000 with the Upstander Award.