Distinguished Alumni Awards

Distinguished Alumni Awards Ceremony

Do you know an alumnus who is doing transformative work in the field of education? We strive to recognize the talent and efforts of our alumni through our annual Pitt Education Distinguished Alumni Awards ceremony.

Our award categories include:

We celebrated our award recipients at a virtual ceremony that was held on March 25, 2021. You can view a recording of the ceremony below.

Meet the 2021 Alumni Award Recipients

Distinguished Alumni Award 

Isabel L. Beck, PhD

As a freshman, Isabel L. Beck began a life-long love affair with everything Pitt, where she received three degrees: bachelor’s (1953), master’s (1963), and doctorate (1973). During the early part of her career, she taught in Pittsburgh, California, and North Carolina. Subsequently, she took a position at Fort Chaffee, an Army base, in Arkansas teaching NCOs, mostly sergeants, to read better. When she returned to Pittsburgh, she got her master’s degree, a job as a research assistant at Pitt’s Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC), and received her PhD. At that time, she was offered a split academic appointment between the School of Education and LRDC, and remained actively involved with both until her retirement in 2007 as professor emerita. Dr. Beck’s research spanned the major areas of reading: decoding, vocabulary, and comprehension, and resulted in authoring and coauthoring about 100 articles and seven books. Six of the books were coauthored with various combinations of three of her former doctoral students: Drs Margaret Mckeown, Linda Kucan, and Cheryl Sandora.The Guardian named "Bringing Words to Life" (2013) coauthored with Drs. McKeown and Kucan, “one of the ten books that every teacher should read.” Dr. Beck’s work has been acknowledged by a number of awards, including the Oscar Causy Award from the Literacy Research Conference for outstanding research, induction into the International Literacy Association’s (ILA) Reading Hall of Fame, as well as The William S. Gray award for life-time contributions to research and practice. The American Federation of Teachers honored her for “bridging the gap between research and practice." In 2008, she was elected to the National Academy of Education. Closer to home Dr. Beck was the recipient of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award in 2003 as well as the Chancellor’s Distinguished Public Service Award in 2006. She is also a professor emerita in the School of Education, in addition to being a senior scientist at the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh. 

Linda Rose Frank, PhD, MSN, FAAN

Linda Rose Frank is a professor in the Department of Infectious Diseases at the Graduate School of Public Health with secondary appointments in School of Nursing and School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. She is currently the Principal Investigator, MidAtlantic AIDS Education & Training Center, funded by DHHS, HIV/AIDS Bureau. She has been on the front lines of the HIV epidemic since 1988, providing training, consultation, and technical assistance to organizations, clinics, and programs with particular focus on HIV clinics, community health centers, prisons, and other health settings in the U.S.. and around the world. Prior to her appointment as faculty, she held clinical leadership positions in psychiatric inpatient and emergency services at WPIC at the University of Pittsburgh. She is currently working on a HRSA-funded COVID-19 education project and an NIH COVID-19 research project in community settings. She directs one of the MPH programs at the Graduate School of Public Health, Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology. She is a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing; member of the Public Policy Committee of AIDS United, and serves as the Chair of the City of Pittsburgh HIV Commission. In 2000, she received the HRSA, HIV/AIDS Bureau Outstanding Performance Award. In 2001, she received the Nursing Alumni Award from the Pennsylvania State University School of Nursing. In 2004, she was named the Distinguished Alumnus, University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing. In 2002, she received the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, Nurse Educator Award and in 2008. She was honored by the University of Pittsburgh with the Chancellor’s Distinguished Public Service Award in 2010. She has served on numerous national, international committees, advisory boards, and has presented her work at national and international conferences.

Distinguished Early Career Award

Seth A. Creasy, PhD

Seth Creasy completed his graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh in the Department of Health and Physical Activity under the mentorship of John Jakicic, PhD. He then completed his postdoctoral fellowship in energy metabolism at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus where he is now an assistant professor in the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism, and Diabetes. His research focuses on identifying and testing novel strategies for treating and preventing obesity. He holds an NIH Career Development Award investigating how patterns and timing of behaviors (physical activity, dietary intake, and sleep) influence body weight regulation. Dr. Creasy is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and The Obesity Society and has traveled both nationally and internationally to present at scientific conferences. His research has been published in well-respected scientific journals and his work has been featured in the New York Times. His current research is focused on identifying the optimal time of day to exercise (The Early Bird vs.The Night Owl). Dr. Creasy is motivated by the direct impact his work has on people’s lives, helping people to transform their life by engaging in behaviors that promote health and wellness. He hopes that one day his findings will influence national recommendations and guidelines on the best practices for promoting health and wellness through lifestyle change.

Jasmine D. Williams, PhD

Jasmine Williams is a senior research scientist at Committee for Children in Seattle, WA. She received her doctorate in applied developmental psychology (ADP) from the University of Pittsburgh School of Education in 2018. Dr. William’s work focuses on leveraging developmental science to create more equitable educational spaces for youth. She has remained true to the heart of ADP in her career pursuits, leading the development, evaluation, and continuous improvement of Second Step® Middle School, an evidence-based social emotional learning program that reaches over 30% of U.S.. students. Dr. Williams continuously seeks ways to make research more accessible and meaningful to educators, parents, and stakeholders through collaborative partnerships. She is also deeply committed to service and advocacy. She has been an active member of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) since 2013, most recently serving on the executive committee of the SEL special interest group. From 2019 - 2020 Dr. Williams also served as the spokeswoman for a national bullying prevention campaign, Captain Compassion®, completing over 40 interviews with national media outlets to raise awareness about the power of bystander intervention and the unique intersections of race, identity, and victimization. She regularly presents at national conferences to advocate for more holistic and equity-focused SEL. Her work has been featured in a variety of academic and non-academic publications including Human Development, District Administration, and ParentMap. One thing Dr. Williams knows for sure is that meaningful change will only result from persistence and a willingness to do what’s unpopular.

Distinguished PreK-12 Educator Award

Virginia R. Hill, EdD

Virginia R. Hill has almost 31 years of experience in Pennsylvania as an educator. Her roles have included: teacher, school administrator, science supervisor, as well as a curriculum and professional development executive director. She is a seasoned workshop facilitator, an equity affiliate for the Pacific Education Group, and framework specialist for the Danielson Group. In her current role as founding principal of Environmental Charter High School, Dr. Hill specializes in positive school climate and culture building, school improvement efforts, student achievement, along with equity, and diversity mindsets in the school setting. She sits on the Board of Directors of the Positivity Project that emphasizes the importance of positive relationships and self-development. She is a graduate of Geneva College, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Education. Although she has gained a great deal of skill and knowledge from these great institutions, she believes that she has learned more from the students and teachers that she has been honored to serve throughout her career.

Janet Marie Sardon, EdD

Dr. Janet Sardon has worked in education for 27 years. She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and a master’s and doctoral degree in educational administration from the University of Pittsburgh. She holds a Superintendent Letter of Eligibility and Principal Certification. During her career, she has held the positions of high school emotional support special education teacher, middle school principal, high school principal, director of technology and assistant superintendent at several Southwestern Pennsylvania school districts within Allegheny County. She is currently the superintendent of the Yough School District in Westmoreland County. Janet earned the Jean E. Winsand Award through the Tri-State Study Council at the University of Pittsburgh in 2018 and earned the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Top Workplace Leadership Award in 2015. As part of her commitment to the communities in which she serves, Dr. Sardon created the Yough Alliance for Academics, Arts and Athletics which supports programming within her school district. She has served as a mentor to other educators pursuing their doctoral degrees and superintendent papers at the University of Pittsburgh and other local universities. She is an executive board member on the Tri-State Study Council and is vice president of the Consortium for Public Education Board of Directors. Dr. Sardon also serves as the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit representative for the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools and Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators Legislative Committee. She is a past president of the West Newton Rotary Club. Dr. Sardon has been married to her husband, Robert Sardon for nearly 29 years, and they have one daughter, Arionna.

Departmental Award - Administrative and Policy Studies

Mary Catherine Reljac, EdD

Mary Catherine Reljac serves as the superintendent of the Fox Chapel Area School District in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the Fox Chapel Area family, Dr. Reljac served as the assistant superintendent of the Franklin Regional School District in Murrysville, Pennsylvania. She also worked in the Pine-Richland, Gateway, and Hempfield Area school districts in Western Pennsylvania. Dr. Reljac graduated from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor of science degree in music education. She earned her masters of science in educational leadership from Carlow College and received her superintendent letter of eligibility from California University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Reljac completed her doctor of education degree in administrative and policy studies from the University of Pittsburgh in 2016. Dr. Reljac serves as facilitator for the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Pennsylvania Inspired Leadership Program, working with administrators from across the state. She is also regularly asked to serve as presenter at workshops and programs.

Departmental Award - Health and Physical Activity

Niall M. Moyna, PhD, FACSM, FFPHMI

Dr. Moyna is a professor of clinical exercise physiology in the School of Health and Human Performance at Dublin City University (DCU), Ireland. He completed his PhD in exercise physiology and a 3-year NIH Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship in immunology at the University of Pittsburgh. He was Director of the Clinical Exercise Research Laboratory in the Division of Cardiology at UPMC and later worked as a research scientist in Nuclear and Preventive Cardiology at Hartford Hospital, CT. He was department chair in the School of Health and Human Performance DCU from 2002-2010 and 2015-2018. Dr. Moyna's research interests are focused on the role of exercise in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease and in understanding how gene polymorphisms help to explain inter-individual variability in biological responses to exercise. To date, he has supervised 25 PhD, 4 MD and 11 MSc students to completion, and is currently supervising 8 PhD students. Dr. Moyna is a Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and an Honorary Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine, Ireland. He has been a strong national advocate for the therapeutic role of physical activity in the prevention of chronic diseases and for the promotion of science and science education. He has featured regularly in print media and on local and national radio and TV. Dr. Moyna has a keen interest in sports. He was instrumental in establishing the DCU sports academy in 2006 and coached the university Gaelic football team to four national division-1 collegiate titles. In 2017, he was the recipient of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) President’s Award for his contribution to education. He was coach of the Irish U-17 International Rules team that toured Australia in 2006. Dr. Moyna received his undergraduate degree from the University of Limerick and his master’s degree from Purdue University.

Departmental Award - Instruction and Learning

Rebecca S. Pringle

Becky Pringle is a fierce racial and social justice warrior, defender of educator rights, an advocate for all students and communities of color, and a respected voice in education. A 31-year middle school science teacher, Pringle is focused on using her intellect, passion, and purpose to unite the members of the largest labor union with the nation, and using that collective power to transform public education into a racially and socially just and equitable system that is designed to prepare every student to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world. Before becoming president, Pringle was (National Education Association (NEA) vice president, and NEA secretary-treasurer before that. She co-chaired NEA’s Task Force on School Discipline and the School-to-Prison Pipeline, guiding the creation of a policy statement compelling NEA’s 3 million members to address the inequitable and unfair policies and practices that push many students from public schools and into the criminal justice system. Pringle also led NEA’s work to transform the education professions and improve student learning. She directed the creation of NEA’s groundbreaking “Policy Statement on Teacher Evaluation and Accountability,”—the organization’s first broad endorsement of the need to develop a compelling vision of a system of accountability that relies on quality, capacity, and trust, and embraces inspiration, innovation, shared responsibility, investment, authentic assessment, and continuous improvement. She also led NEA’s development of a policy statement on Community Schools to guide NEA’s work to create an educational system worthy of our students, their families, and NEA members. Pringle’s leadership success is grounded in the training, inspiration, and opportunity to hone her educator voice as an advocate for students and educators, which she received while attending the University of Pittsburgh School of Education.

Departmental Award - Psychology in Education

Cynthia J. Popovich, EdD

Dr. Cindy J. Popovich received her B.S. from the Pennsylvania State University in speech pathology and audiology, her M.S.. from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Health-Related Professions in Child Development/Child Care, and her EdD from the School of Education in school leadership. Before her retirement in July of 2000, she was an assistant professor of practice in the School of Education’s applied developmental psychology program where in addition to teaching, she served as the coordinator of the baccalaureate Program. Dr. Popovich has served as the past president of the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (Trying Together)and has been a board member of many professional associations and community groups including the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC)–Early Education and Early Childhood steering committee and the Association for Child and Youth Care Practice. Before her full-time position at Pitt, she also taught many child development courses at CCAC-South Campus and Carlow University. She currently serves as the editor of the Journal of Child and Youth Care Work. She has taught at every age level from being a preschool teacher to a university instructor. Her career in child development began when she entered what was then the School of Health-Related Professions when it was located “up on cardiac hill." She was fortunate to be mentored by excellent professors who were colleagues of Fred Rogers, Eric Erickson, and Bernard Spock. The Child Development/Child Care program eventually became the applied developmental psychology program in the School of Education. Cindy continued to teach and share her knowledge and love of child development with many university students who went on to work with children, youth, and families in many different programs, schools, and organizations locally and all over the country. Retirement has given Cindy the opportunity to continue her education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a focus on child play therapy. She is honored to receive this award.

Student Leadership Award

Sarah E. Kurz

Sarah Kurz is a third year PhD student in the higher education program at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education. She is the 2020-2021 president of the Council of Graduate Students in Education and is overjoyed to have the opportunity to work alongside her peers to develop comradery and provide out-of-classroom learning opportunities to fellow graduate students. Kurz has also spent the last three years working as a graduate research assistant on projects related to undergraduate STEM women’s self-efficacy, sense of belonging, and career aspirations, along with Pitt’s Pathways for Civic Growth project. She also researches and writes about graduate student mental health and is passionate about understanding and improving the graduate student experience. Prior to coming to Pitt, Kurz received her M.A.. in higher education student affairs from Eastern Michigan University and her B.A.. in public relations from Penn State. In her free time, Kurz enjoys spending quality time at home with her fiancé, Andrew and doting on their dog, Nellie, and two cats, Olive and Katniss.

Outstanding Alumni Dissertation Award

Rachel Anne Schles, PhD

Rachel Schles is an assistant professor of the practice and coordinator of the visual disabilities program at Peabody College Vanderbilt University. A teacher of students with visual impairments by training, her doctoral work focused on how students with visual impairments are identified for special education services. Her dissertation titled, “Understanding the Prevalence of Students with Visual Impairments Receiving Special Education Services and State-Level Factors” explored the variations in eligibility criteria across states in the U.S.. and a critical issue in the field: understanding the actual number of students with visual impairments receiving special education services in the U.S... Her mixed methods dissertation quantified that, on average, states are supporting more than 3.5 times the number of students with visual impairments reported and outlined specific considerations and recommendations for states to take on the mantel of collecting accurate total population data collection. She is a 2020 graduate of the special education PhD program in the School of Education and was also scholar with the National Leadership Consortium in Sensory Disabilities during her time at the University of Pittsburgh. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history at Vassar College and her master’s degree in visual disabilities special education at Peabody College Vanderbilt University.

Julia Adele Cavallo, EdD

Dr. Cavallo is currently the director of assessment and institutional research and a lecturer in liberal arts at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA. Since 2006, Dr. Cavallo has held multiple positions at Saint Vincent in public relations and academic affairs. Dr. Cavallo has been instrumental in building a systematic and sustainable student learning outcome assessment process. She serves on several institutional committees including leading strategic planning, retention, core curriculum, presidential ad hoc committees, and has served as Middle States self-study co-chair. Dr. Cavallo is an enthusiastic mentor to students, promotes institutional advocacy, and stands in solidarity with underrepresented groups in the pursuit of social justice. She also serves as the executive director of the association of Benedictine Colleges and Universities (ABCU). Additionally, she holds a position on the Higher Education Data Sharing (HEDS) Consortium’s board of directors. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and a Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction from Saint Vincent College. She completed her EdD in higher education management at Pitt in 2020.