In June 2022, the Duolingo English Test and more than 60 university leaders, UNHCR humanitarian aid workers, and international students gathered in Pittsburgh for our annual celebration, We Rise Together. This event was both a forum on lowering barriers to education, and an opportunity to recognize distinguished colleagues in the field for their outstanding contributions in improving education access and enriching the lives of students.

The We Rise Together Awards recognize individuals and organizations whose work has an immense impact on education access. This year, we had more than 1,000 nominations across 4 award categories (Access, Innovation, Social Justice, and Student Advocacy), and 5 finalists were selected.

Read on to learn more about the incredible work of this year’s We Rise Together awardees, and how we are continuing to work towards our mission of making testing available to all

Get inspired

Our 8 awardees are working across the globe to empower students, raise awareness, and enact real change. Read on to learn more about these inspiring leaders!

Award for Access: Ehab Badwi, Syrian Youth Assembly

Ehab Badwi is the founder and General Director of the Syrian Youth Assembly, an organization that focuses on education, development, and peacebuilding. Through its online platform, Syrian youth can gain skills and knowledge on social and professional topics, including nonviolent communication and leadership. In addition to education programs, the Assembly focuses on career pathways for Syrian youth. Ehab oversees a team of over 30 young leaders and experts in education, technology, student support, and more. Since 2016, Ehab and his team have led programs for more than 130,000 Syrian young people around the world, and his impact on the community is clear: He received 867 nominations for this award, largely coming from the vast network of young people benefitting from the Syrian Youth Assembly.

Ehab Badwi, Founder and General Director of the Syrian Youth Assembly

Award for Innovation: Lawrence Mur’ray II, Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business

Lawrence Mur’ray II serves as the Senior Assistant Dean at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business, where he advocates for underrepresented populations in graduate management education. Through partnerships and scholarship, Lawrence is increasing representation and expanding opportunities for professionals to pursue their MBA without a significant financial burden. Lawrence created MBA Regional Awards and Deans Premiere Scholarships: fully funded awards to recruit exceptional individuals from traditionally underrepresented populations. As a member of Fordham’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion board, Lawrence is a driving force behind the graduate admission office’s DEI Conference. Recognizing that more and more students were enrolling across graduate programs without access to or knowledge in the necessary technical skill sets, Lawrence launched an ambitious six-week orientation program to equip incoming students with these skills. This program highlights his innovation and has become one of the most anticipated aspects of a Gabelli education.

Lawrence Mur’ray II, Sr. Assistant Dean at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business

Award for Social Justice: Dauri Torres, Merrimack College

Dauri Torres serves as the Senior Assistant Director at Merrimack College, and demonstrates a long-standing commitment to issues of access and social justice. Dauri runs the recruitment and selection process for Merrimack’s Pioneer Scholars program, providing full scholarships to students attending Lawrence High School, Dauri’s alma mater. The first cohort of 40 fully-funded students is slated to graduate next year. With a 100% success rate with Pioneer Scholars, Merrimack has expanded their full scholarship offerings under the O’Brien Scholars, a program for students in the community of Lynn, MA. Dauri helps to train the campus community on the interview process, assists with programming for incoming scholars, and serves as a translator for Spanish-speaking families of scholarship recipients. He’s also a board member for Northeastern Consortium Bridging Access to College, and has for years volunteered as a mentor at Camp College New England, Upward Bound, and Local CBO.

Dauri Torres, Sr. Assistant Director at Merrimack College

Award for Social Advocacy: Mary Maker, Diing Manyang, Joseph Dudi Miabo, and Deirdre Hand, Elimisha Kakuma

The co-founders of Elimisha Kakuma met in 2015 when Deirdre taught Mary, Diing, and Dudi in a tutoring program in Rwanda. The three former students and Deirdre strategized ways to offer similar tutoring programs for refugee high school graduates. Answering the UNHCR’s 2018 Global Compact call to increase refugee access to higher education, the group launched Elimisha Kakuma ("Educate Kakuma" in Swahili), with the goal to provide tutoring and college counseling while instilling values of social justice. The program encourages students to imagine the ways that their access to education will serve their communities. During their first year the co-founders faced many challenges, including finding classroom space, internet access, laptops and supplies—all while working or attending undergraduate classes full time. The pandemic heightened these challenges, but the co-founders worked with their teachers and tutors to make a successful program for 12 students.

Co-founders of Elimisha Kakuma: Mary Maker (pictured), Diing Manyang, Joseph Dudi Miabok, and Deirdre Hand

Award for Student Advocacy: Linet Aguko, United States International University

Linet Aguko was nominated for this Student Advocacy Award because she has quietly and competently been running some of the very best refugee student recruitment and support programs in the world. She serves as Program Director for the Mastercard Foundation Scholars program at the United States International University - Africa (USIU) in Nairobi, Kenya, one of the MasterCard Foundation’s most respected partners in their pan-African Scholars Program. Thanks to this partnership and Linet’s leadership, USIU now enrolls 250 high-achieving, low-income African students. Linet is deeply thoughtful, both about the work and about the students themselves, and always centers students’ dignity and success. Every university on the continent has something to learn from how Linet identifies and supports refugee students—especially now as the MasterCard Scholars Program is expanding across the continent and new universities are coming on board.

Linet Aguko, Program Director for the Mastercard Foundation Scholars program

Get involved

Are you also interested in expanding access to education?

Explore our white paper: "Lowering barriers to education: How technology makes increased global access a reality," informed by the Duolingo English Test team, higher education professionals, UNHCR humanitarian aid workers, and international students. It examines how the current social and geopolitical landscape is impacting higher education access and the way innovative models, technology, and institutional investments could offer solutions.