On Wednesday, January 25, 2012 California Southern University presented the inaugural CalSouthern Difference Award to Dr. Mara Leigh Taylor—a 2011 PsyD graduate—for her work with incarcerated men, women, and children around the world. Known as “Coach” by the individuals with whom she works, Taylor is the founder of the non-profit organization Getting Out by Going In (GOGI), which helps current and former inmates learn positive decision-making skills through its innovative 12 tools.
CalSouthern learners, alumni, faculty mentors, deans, staff, and guests packed the auditorium at the university’s Irvine campus for a luncheon and award presentation. The ceremony was a moving one. Editor of University Publications Tom Dellner reflected on his personal interactions with Coach Taylor and the GOGI staff (made up entirely of volunteers, most of whom are former inmates and GOGI graduates). Then, University President Dr. Caroll Ryan delivered a short speech to articulate the purposes behind the founding of the CalSouthern Difference award, as well as the ideals which it is intended to represent and to honor. Then, Dr. Ryan turned her focus to Coach Taylor and her innovative, selfless, and extraordinarily effective work with the nation’s incarcerated population, noting that Coach Taylor was a “perfect embodiment of the values and ideals upon which the award—and the university itself—was founded.” A short video was played to give the audience a better appreciation of the work done by Coach Taylor and her staff at GOGI.
Coach Taylor was emotional in accepting the award, clearly moved by the remarks, the reaction of the audience, and the sight of GOGI volunteers and graduates in the crowd. After giving a heartfelt acceptance speech, Coach Taylor was surprised with the presentation of a $2,500 donation to GOGI by the university. She remarked that this amount could fund the printing of more than 1,000 new GOGI textbooks, or be used for the postage necessary to communicate with several thousand GOGI correspondence students.
After the event was concluded, guests lingered to meet and congratulate Coach Taylor. Clearly moved by the ceremony, more than a dozen expressed an interest in performing GOGI volunteer work. In addition, learners, alumni, and faculty from the psychology and business schools took advantage of the opportunity to spend some welcome time together face-to-face with the deans and staff, and to tour CalSouthern’s campus.
The CalSouthern Difference Award Ceremony was truly a landmark event for the university, and will be an important milestone event on the university’s calendar for years to come.