The Yale-Jefferson Awards are presented annually, recognizing sustained public service that is individual, innovative, impactful, and inspiring. The recipients are three Yalies – a Yale College student, a graduate or professional school student, and a member of the alumni body – all of whom have demonstrated service that draws on the Yale community and benefits the world beyond Yale.
Once again in 2022, Yale will honor three deserving candidates, Yalies who have given back and paid it forward, whether it’s for their role in the fight against loneliness, providing educational and health resources to vulnerable populations, or supporting underrepresented entrepreneurs in the New Haven area.
Here are your 2022 Yale-Jefferson Award recipients – Jacob Cramer '22, Dan Li ’25 MD/PhD, and Caroline Tanbee Smith ’14 – all of whom will be honored during the Yale-Jefferson virtual awards ceremony on Monday, Oct 10th at 7pm ET, part of Celebrate Service Week 2022.
Jacob Cramer ’22
Yale is honoring Cramer for his leadership in service to elders and to the fight against loneliness. While volunteering at an assisted living community as a teen, he saw how many of his older friends were socially isolated and didn't hear from family or friends for months. They didn't even get something as simple as a letter – so Cramer founded Love For Our Elders, a nonprofit that delivers handwritten letters to elders and facilitates intergenerational connection.
Since 2013, Love For Our Elders has delivered more than 250,000 letters of love across 70 countries and thousands of care and hygiene supplies, shared nearly 100 stories of the world's most inspiring elders, and built 18 campus volunteer chapters. To celebrate elders during the gloom of the post-holiday season, they created a national holiday, "Letter to an Elder Day" on February 26th and has since been celebrated by tens of thousands and recognized by the U.S. Postal Service. Most recently, Love For Our Elders was one of three organizations named a 2022 Culture Catalyst by Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve.
"During a time when it's so much easier to think about ourselves, people have chosen to think about others, and specifically, our elders," Cramer said. "I'm so grateful to the Yale community for uplifting this work. The Yale Club of Cleveland has championed our Yale Day of Service letter writing project, and the Slifka Center funded my picture book, 'Grandma's Letter Exchange,' to help young kids embrace their elders and learn how to write and address a letter."
In May, Cramer graduated with a bachelor's degree in psychology. At Yale, he regularly volunteered with Dwight Hall, creating and coordinating free acting workshops and performances for Greater New Haven students as artistic director of Yale Children's Theater and leading hands-on science experiments as a Demos volunteer at Fair Haven School. He hopes to use his passion for making people smile as a children's theater and screen media creator. He currently teaches English at a primary school in Madrid, Spain through the Fulbright Program.
Dan Li ’25 MD/PhD
Yale is honoring Dan Li (Dan-Dan), founder of Education without Barriers, for her work and dedication to provide educational and health resources to orphans and other vulnerable populations globally.
After witnessing the education and healthcare gaps children in orphanages face in several continents, in 2016, Dan-Dan founded Education Without Barriers (EWB), which is an educational NGO to utilize real-time, online platforms to bridge the education inequality gap. Since its founding, Education Without Barriers has provided more than 50,000+ hours of free, online, real-time mentorship and tutoring sessions to hundreds of orphans, in addition to donating technical and educational resources. EWB currently has hundreds of volunteers worldwide. EWB develops curricula and educational programs that target barriers faced by the children that it serves, such as “trauma and resilience-focused curriculum” and “empowering through feminine hygiene.”
“The best source of healing and empowerment comes from compassion and action, and education is the best vehicle for delivering our care and love to children and other populations in need. It is truly a privilege to have the opportunity to serve others.”
Dan-Dan is currently an MD/PhD candidate who aspires to become an OBGYN to contribute to the rights of women and children through education and reproductive healthcare.
Caroline Tanbee Smith ’14
Yale is honoring Caroline Tanbee Smith, Co-Founder of Collab, for her passion and commitment to the New Haven community.
As a Yale undergraduate in Davenport College (Class of 2014), Caroline became quickly involved in New Haven – building strong friendships and relationships. She spent her time increasingly invested in the city, including coaching high-school students, leading a volunteer effort to shovel neighbors out during snowstorms, and being awarded the Presidential Public Service Fellowship to intern for the City of New Haven Mayor’s Office. By her senior year, she received the Yale Seton Elm-Ivy Award for providing “exemplary service to further strengthen the relationships among the New Haven and Yale University communities.”
In 2017, after staying in New Haven post-graduation, Caroline co-founded Collab — a community-based accelerator dedicated to supporting underrepresented entrepreneurs across New Haven and Connecticut. Collab has grown to support hundreds of entrepreneurs in efforts to build more inclusive economic development in the state. Collab’s entrepreneur graduates are supporting many local jobs, have generated over five million in revenue, and raised two million in additional funding. Of the entrepreneurs that graduate from the Collab Accelerator, 83% are founders of color and 74% are female founders. Outside of Collab, Caroline co-founded New Haven Bike Month, a citywide volunteer-led transportation justice effort, and is an organizer with aapiNHV, a collective of Asian-identifying individuals advocating around local issues in New Haven.
“I came to New Haven as a teenager to attend Yale — and it has become the place that has largely shaped who I am today,” Smith said. “I will be forever grateful for my friends, neighbors, and community in New Haven whose wisdom and mentorship I’ve grown from, whose fierce love I’m inspired by, and who make me honored to call New Haven my home.”