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School of Education Honors Alumni at 2017 Award Reception

Published on 3/24/2017 6:00:00 AM

The School of Education is celebrating the 2017 Alumni Awards on Friday, March 24, at the University Club in Oakland. Awards for the school’s departments and also individual categories were presented at the reception. The winners and some information about their background is listed below.

Distinguished Alumni Award Karen VanderVen
Karen VanderVen has been affiliated with the University for more than 50 years. She retired as professor emerita in 2011 but has continued her involvement with the school. VanderVen served as senior visiting fellow at the SEARCH Institute, developing its Early Childhood Developmental Asset Framework, and as a visiting scholar at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She was a co-founder of FICE-North America (the International Federation of Educative Communities), and project director of the Conference-Research Sequence on Child Care Education, which developed curriculum guidelines for child and youth work education.

VanderVen is the author of several hundred publications, including books, edited collections, monographs, invited chapters, articles, reviews, and columns. Her most recent book was Promoting Positive Development in Early Childhood. Her internet column, "From the Soapbox" had appeared monthly for years. She served as editor of the Journal of Child and Youth Care Work and as an associate editor of the Child and Youth Care Forum. She has served on the editorial board of five other journals, including the Journal of Intergenerational Relationships.

Early Career Award Mandi Davis Skerbetz
Mandi Davis Skerbetz is currently the director of pupil personnel for the South Fayette Township School District, as well as member on The Woodlands Board of Directors. Prior to joining South Fayette Township School District, Skerbetz was a special education faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh, where she coordinated the special education supervision certificate program and worked with the MOSAIC (7-12 dual teacher certification) program. In addition, she served as a faculty fellow and founding advisory board member for the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Urban Education.

Previous to joining higher education as a clinical assistant professor in 2013, she worked at Propel Schools for 10 years as a special education teacher, gifted teacher, and director of pupil services. She was a founding member of Propel Schools and the architect of the Pupil Services Department and its initiatives.

Skerbetz graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Education in 2013 with her EdD in the education of students with mental and physical disabilities, a MEd in special education, and a BS in elementary education from Duquesne University.
Early Career Award Timothy M. Wagner
Timothy M. Wagner serves as a public educator in the Upper St. Clair School District, where he has spent time as an elementary and middle school teacher, a secondary gifted education coordinator, and the middle school English language arts curriculum leader. Currently, Wagner is the associate high school principal for program planning & innovation. Additionally, he holds an appointment as an adjunct faculty member in the Education Department at Washington & Jefferson College.

Wagner’s civic engagement includes service as the vice chair of the Community Foundation of Upper St. Clair and on the Boards for Beverly’s Birthdays, the Historical Society of Upper St. Clair, and the Young Life River Region. Past recognition includes the University of Pittsburgh School of Education’s Doctoral Book Scholarship Award in 2010, PASCD Outstanding Young Educator Award in 2014, and membership in the PASCD Emerging Leader Cohort in 2016.

Wagner is a graduate of Upper St. Clair High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts in child development and education from Washington & Jefferson College in 2007. He earned a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology in 2009 and a Doctorate in Education in administrative and policy studies in 2013, studying with Professor Mary Margaret Kerr in both programs.

Pre–K-12 Educator Award Mary Catherine Reljac
Mary Catherine Reljac is the assistant superintendent for Franklin Regional School District in Murrysville, Pa. Her primary responsibilities are curriculum, instruction, assessment, professional development, and supervision of the educational leadership team. Prior to joining the Franklin Regional staff, Reljac served as a principal in the Pine-Richland and Gateway school districts in the greater Pittsburgh area.

Reljac also serves as a facilitator for the Pennsylvania Inspired Leadership Program, specifically working with district administrators using the National Institute for School Leadership curriculum.  

Reljac earned a Bachelor of Science in music education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania; a Master of Science in educational leadership from Carlow College; a Letter of Eligibility from California University of Pennsylvania; and a Doctor of Educational Leadership from the University of Pittsburgh in 2016. Her dissertation title is “The Motivations, Relationships, and Decision-Making of Western Pennsylvania Public School Board Members.”

Departmental Alumni Award - Administrative and Policy Studies Donna Imhoff
Donna Imhoff joined Cuyahoga Community College as president of the Western Campus and Brunswick University Center on February 1, 2016. She spent three decades at Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in Pittsburgh, where she served as faculty member for 22 years, a vice president of the faculty union, department chair of social and behavioral sciences, and then joined the administration to become a campus president, over the past eight years.

Imhoff served on the Board of Directors of Crisis Center North (CCN), and is a past board president. CCN is a domestic violence intervention and prevention center serving the North and West Hills of Allegheny County. She currently serves on the Crisis Center North Canine Advisory Board and on the board of the Parma Chamber of Commerce in Parma, Ohio.

Imhoff holds a doctorate in social and comparative analysis in education and a master's certificate in women's studies from the University of Pittsburgh; a master’s degree in school psychology from Duquesne University; a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation education from Penn State University; and is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School’s crisis leadership in higher education program.
Departmental Alumni Award - Health and Physical Activity Enzo Cafarelli (Deceased)
Enzo Cafarelli received his PhD from the University of Pittsburgh School of Education in 1974 in exercise physiology. His Bachelor of Science degree was earned in physical education in 1969, along with a Master of Education degree in physical education in 1970 from East Straudsburgh University. He later was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University School of Medicine from 1974-1977.

Cafarelli was a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Science at York University in Toronto for more than 30 years, where he was published in research publications in internationally recognized peer-reviewed journals. He was recognized across Canada and around the world as an expert in his area of study, which primarily focused on the neural control of skeletal muscle. Cafarelli’s long-term goal was to contribute to the understanding of how the neuromuscular system regulates contraction in the face of various challenges.

A member of York’s Muscle Health Research Centre in the Faculty of Health, Cafarelli received the 2012 Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology Honour Award. Cafarelli has also been the associate editor and a member of the editorial board of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, one of the top journals in the field of exercise science.
Departmental Alumni Award - Instruction and Learning Diane Pomeroy Wormsley
Diane Pomeroy Wormsley began her teaching career at the New York State School for the Blind. She taught in Australia and Papua New Guinea; was assistant professor at Illinois State University; assistant to the dean at the College of Health Sciences University of Wyoming; and educational specialist and regional director at the American Foundation for the Blind. She was also program director and associate professor at Pennsylvania College of Optometry—now Salus University—and the Brenda Brodie endowed chair and professor in special education at North Carolina Central University, retiring in 2015.

In retirement, she served briefly as executive in residence at American Printing House for the Blind. She is former editor-in-chief of the Journal of Visual Impairments and Blindness, now associate editor. Her publications include: Braille Literacy: A Functional Approach, Braille Literacy Curriculum, and I-M-ABLE: The Individualized Meaning-Centered Approach for Braille Literacy Education.  She co-authored Foundations of Braille Literacy, and co-edited Instructional Strategies for Braille Literacy.

Among her past awards are the Alan J. Koenig Research in Literacy Award and the Holbrook-Humphries Award from Getting in Touch with Literacy, and the Mary K. Bauman Award and the C. Warren Bledsoe Award for Instructional Strategies for Braille Literacy, both from the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Departmental Alumni Award - Psychology in Education Michelle Figlar
Michelle Figlar is the vice president for learning at the Heinz Endowments. In this role, she is responsible for the Endowments’ strategy for grant making for children and families, pre-natal through work readiness. Before joining the foundation in August 2016, Figlar served as deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL). While with OCDEL, she was responsible for developing the strategic plan to integrate bureau priorities, better incorporate data in decision making and increasing stakeholder engagement. She also redesigned the Keystone STARS, Pennsylvania’s Quality Rating System and the Early Intervention to mandate inclusions of children with special needs.

Figlar also served as executive director of the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC), a program manager for the Office of Early Childhood in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, a Head Start director in Chicago, Ill., a preschool special education teacher, and a VISTA volunteer in Northern California, working with family child providers. Figlar is a 1991 graduate of the School of Education’s Applied Developmental Psychology Program and has served as adjunct faculty for the program.
Student Leadership Award Jasmine Williams
Jasmine Williams is a doctoral candidate and K. Leroy Irvis Fellow in the Department of Psychology in Education. She has also served as the president of the Council of Graduate Students in Education (CGSE) for the past two years. She received her master’s degree in applied developmental psychology from the School of Education in 2014.

Before coming to Pittsburgh, she volunteered with City Year DC through the AmeriCorps program, in which she worked in a first grade classroom. Jasmine is a native of Virginia Beach, Va., and earned a BS in psychology and a BS in human development from Virginia Tech in 2011.

It was through her experiences at Virginia Tech in both the Ronald E. McNair post-baccalaureate scholars and the Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (IMSD) programs that she developed a passion for research. Her research at Pitt has focused on the developmental and motivational implications of instructional interactions in secondary classrooms. This work has been published in the Journal of Early Adolescence, Teaching and Teacher Education, and Research on Human Development.

Alumni Dissertation Award Laura Northrop
Laura Northrop is an assistant professor of literacy in the Department of Teacher Education at Cleveland State University. Her research interests include struggling readers, literacy instruction, and educational policy.

Her current literacy research focuses on Third Grade Reading Guarantees and instructional intervention for middle school students who are struggling in reading. Her policy research has focused on teacher attrition, instructional practices, and cumulative disadvantage in literacy. Northrop is currently working on research that examines tracking and opportunities to learn in middle school English language arts classes.

Northrop is a former middle school teacher and reading specialist, and is interested in bridging the gap between policy, research, and practice. She frequently works with teachers in the classroom and mentors teachers working on action research projects. Most recently Northrop helped implement a digital literacy program using iPads in a Pre–K-5 elementary school.

Alumni Dissertation Award Anita Schuchardt
Prior to earning a PhD in learning sciences, Anita Schuchardt received a PhD in genetics and development and taught high school science for eight years. As a teacher, Schuchardt was the lead developer of a model-based high school biology curriculum, now used in schools around the nation.

Schuchardt’s experiences as a teacher and biological researcher led her to theorize that students would benefit from developing mathematical equations that reflected scientific processes instead of using the more traditional approach of practicing applying provided equations. Her dissertation, “Learning Biology Through Connecting Mathematics to Scientific Mechanisms,” described the development of a biology curriculum that used this new approach. She showed that students who had developed their own equations displayed better understanding of the modeled biological processes and greater flexibility when solving mathematical problems in biology.

Currently an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, Schuchardt’s work centers on designing, and researching the effect of, incorporating model-based, student-centered learning into undergraduate biology classrooms. Of particular interest is developing explanatory, mechanistic models of the effect on student learning of including cross-disciplinary experiences, such as mathematical and computational modeling.
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