The 2020 Unsung Hero Book Prize

Energy || Power Shaping the American Landscape Exhibit

The Harvard University Graduate School of Design’s Alumni Council is pleased to honor four students with the 2020 Unsung Hero Book Prize. This year’s honorees are Yonghui Chen MDes ’18, DDes ’21, Sydney Fang MUP ’20, MPP ’20, Brittany Giunchigliani MLA ’21, and Kyle Miller MUP ’21, MPH ’21.  

The Unsung Hero Book Prize celebrates GSD students who act in selfless ways to make the School a better place. Deserving students are nominated each spring by fellow GSD students, faculty, and staff, and winners are selected by the Alumni Council. Prize recipients are recognized with a book of their selection by the Alumni Council, with a second copy donated to the Frances Loeb Library with a bookplate commemorating the awardee’s service to the GSD community 

Established in 2006, the Prize is now in its fourteenth year. This year the Alumni Council received 59 nominations for 37 students. The nomination pool included a diverse group ranging from first-year to graduating students, and spanning seven degree programs at the GSD. Two of this year’s four winners are pursuing concurrent degrees with other Harvard graduate schools 

Among many admirable traits, this year’s Unsung Heroes demonstrate through their words and actions how to put diversity, equity, and justice at the forefront of design education and extracurricular activities at the GSD. They show leadership in their work as teaching fellows, research assistants, and student group leaders, and also highlight the importance of building community through simple acts of kindness.  

Yonghui Chen received a Master in Design Studies from the GSD in 2018 and is currently pursuing his Doctor of Design Studies. He is recognized as an Unsung Hero for his contributions to the GSD’s academic community, especially as a Teaching Fellow for the Urban Planning first-year core class Spatial Analysis and the Built Environment. Yonghui’s nominators wrote: 

More than an excellent Teaching Fellow, Yonghui is an amazing friend who supported us at our final reviews during our busy semester, keep in contact as a constant resource, and is just truly a gem. I know my experience at GSD would be a lot less warm and bright if it was not for Yonghui’s guidance and care for me and many other classmates. 

The GSD is lucky to have such a kind and dedicated educator. If I go on to teach in the future, Yonghui will be one of the examples I hold in my head of the importance of humility and generosity in teaching. 

Sydney Fang is a member of the class of 2020, having pursued a Master in Urban Planning concurrent with a Master in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy SchoolShe is recognized as an Unsung Hero for her work with the course CoDesign Field Lab: Program Evaluation for Change Leadership and for her perspective as a classmate and peer. Sydney’s nominators wrote: 

[Sydney’s] leadership has shaped a lot of my time at the GSD – in formal ways, with CoDesign, and informal ways in classes..Sydney doesn’t critique from the sidelines. If she sees a limitation or a weakness to something, she doesn’t just scoff at it. Instead, she works hard to build and learn with those involved, creating something better. 

Sydney has a magical way of sharing her compass of justice. She models by doing. She repeatedly gives life to her values by the way she speaks up in class and the ways in which she brings the communities she is from and has worked with into any space she occupies.  Sydney never forgets the front-line communities, the ones we have endless things to learn from as well as reparations to pay to as we face the climate crisis. Perhaps most importantly, these communities are at the center of any visions of the future Sydney helps imagine – and invites us to see as well. 

Brittany Giunchigliani is a second-year student in the Master in Landscape Architecture program. She is recognized as an Unsung Hero for her contributions to student life and academic life at the GSD, including but not limited to her leadership role in Womxn in Design and her work as a Technical Assistant at the Fabrication Lab.  Brittany’s nominators wrote: 

Brittany is one of the most involved, engaged, and passionate students in our cohort. She is a fierce defender of the marginalized. She energetically dives into team projects, and she works to welcome and ease the challenges for students who speak English as a second language… The GSD is lucky to have her. 

[Brittany] is really involved in making the design world better for designers. She organizes Womxn in Design workshops, lectures and events. She speaks up for equity, earnings and emotions within the design world…. She has been a savior during my time here at the GSD. 

Kyle Miller is pursuing a Master in Urban Planning at the GSD concurrent with a Master in Public Health through the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. He is recognized as an Unsung Hero for his work as a Teaching Fellow, a Research Fellow in the Just City Lab, and a member of multiple student groups. Kyle’s nominators wrote: 

Kyle has been integral in planning events at the GSD that promote diversity of thought, and a key figure in brokering relationships across campus and beyond. The GSD would be at a loss without him, as would I. 

Kyle consistently makes time for students, helping others with academic challenges, planning extracurricular events, and helping build community outside of school. He works innumerable jobs and is an active member of multiple groups. And still, he always comes to class with brilliant contributions, charm, and baked goods for everyone. If Kyle did half of what he does for this community, he would deserve this award. The fact that he does so much is nothing short of astounding and inspiring.