This year’s president of the Student Government Association not only captured the hearts and minds of the student body of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, but her impressive achievements during her UA Little Rock career also earned her the 2020 Edward L. Whitbeck Memorial Award.
Katie Zakrzewski, a Donaghey Scholar from North Little Rock, earned the top graduate award while double majoring in criminal justice and anthropology at UA Little Rock. In the fall, she will begin the criminal justice graduate program at UA Little Rock.
Frank L. and Beverly Whitbeck established the award in memory of their son, Edward Lynn Whitbeck, who was a senior at Little Rock University, the predecessor of UA Little Rock, at the time of his death in 1965. Each scholar receives a personalized plaque and a monetary award.
“I still can’t believe that I won,” she said. “A lot of my friends also applied, and I honest to God thought that one of my best friends won. This is pretty amazing!”
Dr. Richard Harper, dean of students, described Zakrzewski as an exceptional student leader with a strong record of service.
“As advisor for SGA, she has been an asset to the organization and has used her skills to advocate for the student body, subsequently enhancing the student experience at UA Little Rock,” Harper said. “She has tirelessly volunteered and coordinated numerous community service programs and events within each organization she has been involved in and is identified as one of our top student leaders at the university. I have no doubt she will continue these endeavors and make the global community a better place for all.”
In addition to SGA, Zakrzewski also served as president of the Criminal Justice Society and president of the Anthropology Club. She helped restart the College Republicans group on campus and was vice president.
Zakrzewski said some people are surprised to learn that she is a conservative who advocates for climate change and environmental issues, which are considered liberal issues, but she’s very passionate about helping the environment. In 2019, she interned with Audubon Arkansas to campaign for the passing of the Solar Access Bill.
“In October of 2019, my efforts as a conservative concerned about the environment caught the attention of the bipartisan organization, Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), who covered all of my expenses in order to travel to Washington, D.C. and lobby for United States House Resolution 763, calling for carbon pricing,” she said. “I personally met with U.S. Senator Cotton, U.S. Senator Boozman, and U.S. Congressman Hill to discuss bipartisan environmental solutions.”
While she is active in multiple student organizations, Zakrzewski is also passionate about helping the community. She has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas, Girls of Promise, Fair Park Early Childhood Center, Arkansas Hospice, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, and Be the Match bone marrow drive.
“Katie is passionate about climate change and works to help make changes on campus and on a larger scale,” said Dr. Kathryn King, assistant professor of anthropology. “At UA Little Rock, she spearheaded a campaign to make student dining greener by introducing reusable materials and reducing the use of disposable plastics. Katie is active in the local community as well. Katie never shies away from service whenever she sees a need. She strives to make the lives of those around her better.”
Last year, Zakrzewski had two opportunities to study abroad. She studied death in the Basque culture while studying abroad in San Sebastian, Spain. Additionally, she traveled to Morocco to compete in the International Model Arab League Conference.
Zakrzewski has lived much of her life by the motto, “Be the change you want to see.” For future students to be successful, she said they must be active in making the world a better place.
“If you don’t like the way something is, don’t run away. Change it,” she said. “I’m very much of the opinion that taking charge and working to fix things is key. If any student wants to be successful at UA Little Rock, they are going to have to get involved.”