Award Categories

Recognizes exceptional professional achievement, public service to the advancement of the educational field, and a commitment to the continued success of the Pitt School of Education and the University of Pittsburgh. All Pitt Education alumni with more than 15 years of experience are eligible for the award.

Honors a recent alumnus or alumna for outstanding accomplishments in the classroom, administration, support services, and/or extracurricular activities and programs. All Pitt School of Education alumni with less than 10 years of professional experience after completing their degree from the school are eligible for the award. 

Recognizes a PreK-12 educator for their outstanding accomplishments in the classroom, administration, support services, and/or extracurricular activities of programs. All Pitt Education alumni with more than 10 years of professional experience within the PreK-12 education setting are eligible for the award.

Honors outstanding alumni across Pitt Education’s three academic departments: Educational Foundations, Organizations, and Policy; Health and Human Development; and Teaching, Learning, and Leading. All alumni with at least 10 years of professional experience are eligible to receive the award. Alumni can be nominated by fellow alumni or by faculty within the department.

Recognizes a student for his or her accomplishments, contributions, and/or service to Pitt Education and the University of Pittsburgh. Students are recognized for, among other things, their research, presentations at conferences and seminars, and service on the Council of Graduate Students in Education (CSGE), the School Council, and other school or university committees. All current students or recent graduates (previous academic year) are eligible for the award. 

Honors students for their outstanding dissertations that make contributions to the field of education. The award is offered to students in the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Doctor of Education (EdD) programs.

2023 Distinguished Alumni Award Ceremony

On March 29, 2023, the Pitt School of Education celebrated an impressive group of alumni who are leading the way in their fields.

2023 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Distinguished Alumni Award

Randal Lutz (BS ‘90, MEd ‘96, EdD ‘04) is in his eleventh year as the superintendent of the Baldwin-Whitehall School District in suburban Pittsburgh. Before assuming his current role, Lutz served in several other leadership roles in the district as middle school vice principal, principal, supervisor of curriculum and instruction, and assistant superintendent. Prior to joining Baldwin-Whitehall, Lutz began his career in the Bethel Park School District as a teacher of students in third and fifth grades. He received his bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Pittsburgh, where he also earned his MEd and EdD in educational administration. Lutz serves on several boards and committees at the local, state and national level, including the Board of Directors for The Brentwood Baldwin Whitehall Chamber of Commerce; PASA Board of Governors; AASA Governing Board; Past President for SHASDA; and Superintendent of Record for Area V School Districts. He is also active professionally through his membership in the Forum for Western Pennsylvania Superintendents; Digital Promise/League of Innovative Schools; and AASA Learning 2025. Always looking to support the next generation of principals and superintendents in the region, Lutz is an adjunct professor at PennWest University and Point Park University.

Distinguished Alumni Award

Silver Francis Oonyu (MEd ‘12/Certificate UCIS ‘12), a native of Uganda, lost his sight as a young boy after contracting measles. While he lacked access to special education services growing up, he found refuge as a teenager at St. Francis Primary School for the Blind. His experience inspired him to pursue his dream of opening an inclusive school for children with disabilities in his native country. Oonyu earned a master’s degree in special education and a graduate certificate in African studies from the University of Pittsburgh. After graduation, he returned home to found the Silver Memorial Inclusive Learning Center, or SMILE School. Serving about 200 children, the school provides an education that students are unlikely to find anywhere else in the region and includes instruction on how to use adaptive tools, including braille, mobility equipment, and assistive information technology. Oonyu also works as an educational consultant for special education, an assistant lecturer at Kampala International University School of Education, and program manager for Advocacy for Vulnerable Children’s Rights Uganda.

Distinguished Pre K-12 Educator Award

Marlon J. Mussington, Sr. (EdD ‘22) has worked with at-risk or disadvantaged youth for more than 26 years. Prior to joining Paul Cuffee School in Providence, Rhode Island, in 2003, he served as a volunteer football coach, National Football Foundation academic coach, and teen director for the YMCA of Greater Providence. While at Paul Cuffee School, Mussington has consistently sought professional development opportunities that have stretched and challenged him, including anti-bullying conferences at Harvard University; certification in restraint training, which he uses to train school faculty and staff members; involvement in Origins Responsive Classroom work, which is the basis for the Paul Cuffee Lower Schools‘ classroom management system; sponsoring a Biggest Loser Competition to encourage faculty and staff to make healthy life choices; and implementing a weekend backpack program to address the issue of food insecurity experienced by many of his students. Mussington received a national teaching award from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, earned his MEd from the University of Missouri, and his EdD in health and physical activity from the University of Pittsburgh.

Distinguished Early Career Award

Nikki Cristobal (PhD ‘22) is committed to using the knowledge she gained at the University of Pittsburgh to give back to her home community of Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi. She is the co-founder and executive director of the grassroots nonprofit Kamāwaelualani, which is dedicated to perpetuating Kānaka ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiian) culture through public-arts and place-based learning. Cristobal is also the principal investigator of the Missing & Murdered Native Hawaiian Women’s and Girls Report, a report mandated by the Hawaiʻi State Legislature and a part of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples international movement. Additionally, she serves as the institutional effectiveness researcher at Kauaʻi Community College and serves on four nonprofit boards that deliver educational and social services to populations that experience systemic inequities. Nikki is proudly a K-PhD public school graduate, a first-generation and Pell Grant college student, and a descendant of the first peoples and forced arrivant plantation workers of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi.

Aaron ThomasDistinguished Early Career Award

As superintendent of Cornell School District in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, for the last 10 years, Aaron Thomas is proud of the work done within the district to expand academic, artistic, and athletic opportunities for students. Under his leadership, Cornell was named the #1 Overachieving School District of the Decade by the Pittsburgh Business Times. He has authored and received several grants for the district, including three 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants totaling over $5 million to offer extended after-school learning opportunities for students. Thomas was a social studies teacher at Cornell High School from 2005-2009, and later served as the school’s principal from 2009-2013. He earned his Superintendent Letter of Eligibility and EdD in School Leadership from the University of Pittsburgh School of Education. He also earned a BA in secondary education and MS in instructional leadership from Robert Morris University, and his K-12 Principal Certification from Westminster College.  

Educational Foundations, Organizations, and Policy Distinguished Alumni Award

Roberta L. Schomburg (PhD ‘89) is a professor emerita at Carlow University, where she taught for 35 years. During that time, she was program director for graduate studies in early childhood education, director of the School of Education, associate dean in the College of Professional Studies, and co-principal investigator for numerous educational projects and grants. Schomburg has presented, published, and consulted widely on topics and issues in early childhood development and educational practice. She has been a child development consultant for Family Communications, Inc., since 1982, and worked closely with Fred Rogers to develop children’s activities for the Mister Rogers’ Plan & Play Book. Schomburg is a senior fellow at the Fred Rogers Institute at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.  She also is a child development  consultant for Fred Rogers Productions, where she advises on the children’s PBS television programs Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,  Donkey HodieAlma’s Way, and other selected educational materials.

Health and Human Development Distinguished Alumni Award

Dennis Floyd Jones (PhD ‘88) is the founder and executive director of Youth Enrichment Services (YES), a nonprofit organization founded in 1994 that designs and implements educational opportunities for minority and underserved children living in public housing and economically disadvantaged communities in Pittsburgh. Under Jones’ leadership, YES has evolved into a nationally recognized organization that addresses urban blight, academic underachievement, and drop-out rates. Jones recently retired from West Virginia University after serving for 32 years as an associate professor in the College of Physical Activity and Sports Sciences. Jones earned his PhD in health, physical and recreation education from the University of Pittsburgh in 1988. He also holds an MS in sport behavior from West Virginia University and BS in education from Concord College.

Teaching, Learning, and Leading Distinguished Alumni Award

Chantee L. Earl (BA ‘00, MAT ‘01, PhD ‘10) is a passionate university professor and a former high school social studies teacher with over a decade of K-12 classroom teaching experience. As a clinical associate professor at Georgia State University in the College of Education and Human Development’s Department of Middle and Secondary Education, Earl instructs emerging and seasoned classroom teachers on how to serve as educational leaders committed to justice and equity within their classroom, schools, and communities. Additionally, Earl possesses an enduring reputation for distinguished service throughout the greater Atlanta metropolitan community and internationally, and she serves as co-director for the Center of Equity and Justice in Teacher Education. She leads an annual service-learning study abroad experience to the Dominican Republic, which is a nationally recognized example of how to align educators with community organizations to advance student learning and achievement. Through teaching, mentoring, and community service, Earl advances  innovative instructional strategies, research, and teaching techniques that foster a spirit of inquiry, sharpen critical thinking skills, and emphasize the practice of citizen participation for both students and teachers.

Distinguished Student Leadership Award

Yuan Gao is a third-year doctoral student in the social and comparative analysis in education program in the School of Education. Her academic interests include shadow education, parental education and involvement, and educational policy. She is a program coordinator for the Institute for International Studies in Education, a graduate student assistant in the School of Education’s Office of Student and Career Services, and the vice president of the Council of Graduate Students in Education. Additionally, Gao is co-founder and current president of the International Student Peer Network (ISPN), a student organization in the School of Education. Under Gao’s leadership, ISPN has become a student-governed network that bridges students from different cultures, the School of Education, Pitt, and the Pittsburgh community. ISPN creates inclusiveness, fosters belongingness, and strengthens international diversity by serving about 300 participants through informative materials, short videos, and more than 20 events.

Outstanding Alumni EdD Distinguished Dissertation Award

As program director for STEP and Strategic Student Initiatives at The Ohio State University, Julie Schultz (EdD ‘22) provides leadership for student success programs in the Office of Student Life that are focused on mentorship, high-impact practices, student development, and student retention. Prior to this role, she served as an associate dean of student affairs and the director of first-year orientation and family engagement at Carnegie Mellon University. Throughout her higher education career, Schultz has focused on student transition and success, student learning and development, family engagement, and retention initiatives. Schultz earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology and master’s degree in higher education and student affairs from The Ohio State University and her EdD from the University of Pittsburgh. Her dissertation in practice, titled Family is Forever: The Impact of Family Engagement in Higher Education on Black, Latinx and Low-Income Students, was a mixed-methods study about engaging family members of low-income students and the impact on family members’ sense of connection to the university and knowledge of campus resources.

Outstanding Alumni PhD Distinguished Dissertation Award

Emily Rose Korn Koren (PhD ‘22) is a disability justice and educational equity scholar, professional question asker, and educator. She is a multiply dis/abled scholar who uses critical quantitative methods to study postsecondary and community education. Koren earned her PhD in social and comparative analysis in education from the University of Pittsburgh with a minor in quantitative research methods and a certificate in Latin American social and public policy.  As a critical dis/ability scholar, her current research examines the intersection between ethnoracial and dis/ability identities, particularly in the context of Hispanic Serving Institutions. Koren is interested in disrupting normative understandings of mental health and learning dis/abilities. Her work is guided by the following question: How can work around race and racism in education be made more critical by thinking about ableism and disablism? In her current role as a postdoctoral research associate in the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California, Koren works on the NSF-funded Faculty Academic Careers and Environments in Service of Equity (FACE) project.

Back to Top