Pitzer College Seniors Kenneth Butler ’22 and Benjamin Sievers ’22 Win Napier Awards to Support Social Change Initiatives

Butler will draw on Pitzer Inside-Out classes he took while incarcerated, and Sievers will integrate research experience from working in an infectious disease laboratory

Claremont, Calif. (April 14, 2022)—Pitzer College seniors Kenneth Butler ’22 and Benjamin Sievers ’22 both aspire to use their Pitzer educations and personal experiences to help create a more just world. On April 9, they each received a Napier Award for Creative Leadership to do exactly that. The awards are part of the Napier Initiative, an intergenerational mentoring program born from a partnership between Pilgrim Place, a senior community in Claremont, and The Claremont Colleges.

Only open to graduating seniors from The Claremont Colleges, the Napier Awards for Creative Leadership support student-initiated projects that spark social change and are “intended to stop the weeping in the world,” said Pilgrim Place CEO Ronald Bolding during a virtual awards ceremony on Saturday, April 9. Butler and Sievers, along with Scripps College senior Anna Burns SC’22, will each receive $20,000 to carry out social justice projects with guidance from Pilgrim Place mentors.

Kenneth Butler ’22

Butler was driving to visit his mother when he got the call telling him he had won the Napier.

“I actually cried in the car—and I haven’t cried since I don’t know when,” Butler said. “The floodgates just opened. It means so much to be recognized in this way.”

With the Napier Award, Butler will establish a peace and reconciliation program to bring together formerly incarcerated people whose lives have been impacted by gang culture. He will develop the program with Pitzer’s Institute for Global/Local Action and Study as well as the Reintegration Academy and the Prison Education Project, both founded by Cal Poly Pomona Professor Renford Reese. An organizational studies major, Butler plans to lay the foundation for conflict resolution and racial justice through workshops that incorporate environmental and social justice education.

Butler will draw on his own experience with incarceration—he served 15 years before being paroled last summer—and in Pitzer’s Inside-Out courses in which “outside” college students and “inside” incarcerated students learn together in the same classroom taught by a professor from The Claremont Colleges.

“My motivation for creating a peace and reconciliation program is based on the Inside-Out model—this space where we try to bring out the best in everyone,” said Butler. “I want to create a space like that for formerly incarcerated people, especially those who have been raised with a warrior mentality, to give them a place to decompress and be comfortable with being vulnerable, with being human, instead of putting on a persona.”  

Sievers also proposed a project that combines his personal history, academic interests, and dedication to social justice. Sievers’ grandfather invented an inhalable measles vaccine, and Sievers, who is a biology major, has been building on this discovery, working with his grandfather and father to develop a measles vaccine made from an inhalable, temperature-stable, live-attenuated dry powder. For his Napier project, Sievers will seek to better understand how people living in a remote, itinerate boat community in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, view measles outbreaks.

Benjamin Sievers ’22

“Measles may seem like ancient news for those of us in the US, but it kills more than 100,000 children every year in low- and middle-income countries, despite being completely preventable using an exceptionally safe and effective measles vaccine,” Sievers says. “I’m headed to Cambodia to interview itinerant ‘boat-dwelling’ citizens to understand how and why children are missing the vaccination and figure out a way to ensure they are protected in the future.”

In partnership with the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge and with the World Health Organization’s mobile immunization team, Sievers plans to evaluate the possibility of self-vaccination using the dry-powder measles vaccine. Ultimately, he aims to launch a self-vaccination educational campaign with the goal of helping Cambodians, and eventually people all over the world, eradicate the measles.  

“In conversations with my father and grandfather, it has become clear that we might be able to protect far more people from measles and other viral infections if we enable people to vaccinate themselves with a simple, safe vaccination device,” Sievers said. “Global eradication of measles may be closer than we think—we eradicated smallpox, and we can do it again.”

Sievers has been working toward this goal throughout his college career. In 2021, his paper “Measles Eradication: Let’s Root Out Measles, Ring-Vaccinate Hotspots, and Eradicate this Deadly Scourge Forever” earned a Claremont Colleges Library Undergraduate Research Award.

Professor of Political Studies Nigel Boyle, who played a pivotal role in establishing Pitzer’s Inside-Out courses and Inside-Out Pathway-to-BA program, said he was thrilled when he heard that Butler and Sievers won Napier Awards for Creative Leadership.

“They met in my spring 2021 Inside-Out class, and they learned so much from one another,” Boyle said. “Through Inside-Out classes, they got to shape and sharpen one another’s understandings of complex social problems, and their Napier projects will springboard them into making a big impact on the world as Pitzer alumni.”

Butler and Sievers were two of seven Napier Fellows from The Claremont Colleges who were eligible for this year’s Napier Award. Each of the five undergraduate Claremont Colleges may nominate up to three seniors who demonstrate outstanding leadership ability and commitment to social justice to be Napier Fellows. This year’s Napier Fellows included Pitzer senior Jessica Sass ’22.

Napier Fellows are connected with residents from Pilgrim Place who serve as mentors, drawing on “a lifetime of experience, leadership, and professional skills in fostering social justice for all people, caring for our fragile Earth home, and nurturing peace and reconciliation,” according to the awards program. Previous Napier Award recipients from Pitzer College include Rachel Conrad ’13, Caitlin Watkins ’13, Marcela Jones ’14, Eric Benjamins ’16, Tiffany Ortamond ’17, and Angel Sherpa ’21.

About Pitzer College

Pitzer College is a nationally top-ranked undergraduate liberal arts and sciences institution. A member of The Claremont Colleges, Pitzer offers a distinctive approach to a liberal arts education by linking intellectual inquiry with interdisciplinary studies, cultural immersion, social responsibility, and community involvement. For more information, please visit www.pitzer.edu.

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