2024 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Phyllis Jones

Distinguished Alumni Award

Phyllis A. Jones (BS ’82, MEd ’87)
Head Girls Basketball Coach and Retired Athletic Director and Teacher, Westinghouse Academy 6-12

Throughout her 39-year career as a scholar, educator, and coach, Phyllis A. Jones has served Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Westinghouse Academy 6-12, the Girls’ Basketball team, and all students with pride and distinction. At Westinghouse, Jones positively impacted over 3,000 students by helping them reach their full potential, choose different life pathways, and write narratives of hope amidst a sea of challenge and tragedy. Under her leadership as head coach, the Westinghouse Girls Basketball team has won nearly 40% of all city league championships in the last 27 years. Many of Jones’ former players were inspired to become coaches, educators, or leaders in their own communities, and more than 60 received athletic or academic scholarships in college. Beyond coaching, Jones has published several academic articles as a scholar-educator, and she uses research to build her classroom and athletic philosophy. Jones has received numerous accolades for her work, including being named National Coach of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation, being inducted into the Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, and receiving a proclamation from Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey in 2022. Jones participates in community and religious service as a deaconess at Rodman Street Baptist Church, former board member of Youth Enrichment Services (YES), Inc., project lead for the YES Fun Fitness Involving Sports and Health program, and leader of a “Summer Study for Success” independent study program for teens interested in careers in health, physical education, and athletic administration. A family-oriented individual who leads with family first, Jones is the wife of D. Floyd Jones and mother of three daughters, Carmin, Denise, and Melinda, and grandmother of Kassidy Jones.

Shannon Finley-Cressler

Distinguished Pre K-12 Educator Award

Shannon Finley-Cressler (BA ‘11, MAT ‘12)
Spanish Educator, Fox Chapel Area High School

Shannon Finley-Cressler is a dynamic educator and leader with over a decade of experience in foreign language education. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Africana studies and a master’s degree in secondary foreign language education from the University of Pittsburgh. As a preK-12 Spanish teacher for various school districts in the Pittsburgh area, including Pittsburgh Public Schools, Franklin Regional School District, and Woodland Hills School District, she has demonstrated her commitment to providing high-quality education and support to her students. Outside of the classroom, Finley-Cressler is deeply involved in her community, serving as a board member of Earthen Vessels Outreach, performing with the Shona Sharif African Dance and Drum Ensemble, and being an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Additionally, she volunteers for the Pitt African American Alumni Council and mentors students through Panthers Forward. Finley-Cressler is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in education with an emphasis on administrative leadership at Point Park University.

Emiola Oriola JrDistinguished Early Career Award

Emiola Oriola Jr. (BS ‘13, EdD ‘22)
Director, Office of Inclusion & Belonging at the University of Pittsburgh

As inaugural Director of the Office of Inclusion & Belonging at the University of Pittsburgh, Emiola Oriola Jr. builds bridges and creates spaces for dialogue and belonging across campus, develops new pathways for addressing inequities for minoritized students, and represents the department and University on DEI/belonging and interfaith matters. His overall objective is to help all students and campus and community members to make Pitt feel like a home away from home for themselves and for one another. Oriola received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Pittsburgh, his master’s degree in theology and ministry from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and his EdD in out-of-school learning from the University of Pittsburgh. His research focuses on experiential learning, global perspectives, belonging, and building significant learning skills in students through intentional exposure, communal dialogue, and creative expression. Oriola sees himself as a scholar-practitioner, storyteller, and lover of people who strives to proactively, creatively, and intentionally meet people where they are and build unity in diversity wherever he goes.

Dawna JonesEducational Foundations, Organizations, and Policy Distinguished Alumni Award

Dawna M. Jones (MEd’ 09)
Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs for Identity Centers and Community Development, Duke University

Dawna Jones is a dedicated educator, student affairs professional, social worker, and community advocate. She has worked in multiple higher education roles including housing and residential life, multicultural and first-generation student support, crisis and case management, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and fixed-term leadership faculty. As a leader who values service to her profession and community, Jones gives back to the higher education field by serving as a faculty member in the Higher Education Case Management Association’s foundations program and is  \an active member in the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. She has served her local community as board chair of the Chapel Hill Housing Advisory Board, president emeritus of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, and NEXT30 board member with the Southern Environmental Law Center. In addition to her master’s degree in higher education management from the University of Pittsburgh, Jones holds a BA in Sociology from Penn State University, a master’s in social work from West Chester University, and PhD in transformative leadership for civic and community engagement from North Carolina A&T State University.

Robyn TedderHealth and Human Development Distinguished Alumni Award

Robyn Tedder (BS ‘09)
Education Consultant and Founder, Candor and Co Consulting

Robyn Tedder is an education consultant who works with early childhood stakeholders to help them strategically develop and implement programming that improves the lives of young children and families. Tedder began her career as a kindergarten teacher with Teach for America in Atlanta. Her work experiences include tenure with Teach For America, Atlanta Public Schools, as well as positions with The Atlanta Speech School’s Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, Danya International Inc., Purpose Built Schools Atlanta, and the YMCA of Metro Atlanta. Tedder has helped her programs to increase family engagement, strengthen community outreach strategies, redesign early childhood workforce development programming and operationalize program frameworks. As the founder of Candor and Co Consulting, she works closely with philanthropists and nonprofit leaders across the U.S. to develop strategies and programming that improves the lives of young children and families. Tedder is a certified Georgia Educator and a Gates Millennium Scholar who holds an MEd in early childhood education from Georgia State University and a BS in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh.

Ryan HardestyTeaching, Learning, and Leading Distinguished Alumni Award

Ryan D. Hardesty (BA ‘08, MAT ‘09)
Teacher, Highland Middle School

Ryan Hardesty is a seventh-grade ancient world history and eighth-grade United States history teacher at Highland Middle School in the Blackhawk School District located in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Hardesty reassuringly challenges his students to set personal goals and reach their highest potential by providing engaging and rigorous opportunities in the classroom. He works tirelessly to build connections with his students to be able to encourage them on their educational journey. Hardesty was named the 2023-2024 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year and received a 2023 Award for Teaching Excellence from the National Education Association Foundation. Since receiving the award, he now speaks about his teaching experiences at various school districts, colleges and universities, and professional conferences throughout Pennsylvania. Hardesty earned both his Bachelor of Arts in history and political science and his Master of Arts in teaching from the University of Pittsburgh. 

Joanna MitterederOutstanding Alumni EdD Distinguished Dissertation Award

Joanna Mittereder (UPJ BS’ 84, MSW ’86, EdD ’23)
Care Manager, Student Affairs, University of Pittsburgh

In addition to her role as Care Manager in student affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, Joanna Mittereder is a field instructor in the School of Social Work, a First at Pitt mentor to first-generation students, and serves on the Campus Crisis Response Team and Campus Event and Support Response Team. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Pitt-Johnstown where she was a first-generation student. Mittereder is a licensed social worker whose practice settings have included community mental health, employee assistance programs, health and wellness, adoption services, and higher education. Mittereder’s EdD dissertation research focused on supporting adopted students in the college setting. Her work bridges research from adoption practice, social work, and student affairs to celebrate and support adopted students. Mittereder is a member of the School of Social Work Alumni Council and teaches continuing education courses to professional social workers. She serves as an advisory board member for a local nonprofit, Angel’s Place. She is also the very proud mother of three young adult children.

Alberto Guzman AlvarezOutstanding Alumni PhD Distinguished Dissertation Award

Alberto Guzman-Alvarez (MA ’18, PhD ’23)
Research Data Scientist, American Institutes for Research 

Alberto Guzman-Alvarez is a Research Data Scientist at the American Institutes for Research, specializing in quasi-experimental research design and quantitative methodology. Guzman-Alvarez’s applied work focuses on evaluating the effectiveness of education policies and interventions, particularly those related to college access for first-generation and historically marginalized students. He has published work in such leading academic journals as Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis and the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness. His research has also been covered by media outlets, including Forbes, Inside Higher Ed, and Brookings. Guzman-Alvarez has been recognized with the Equity and Inclusion Fellowship by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management. He holds a PhD in learning sciences and policy from the School of Education, where he was a National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellow. Additionally, he earned an MA in research methodology from the University of Pittsburgh and a BS in psychology from the University of California, Davis. 

Jenay WillisOutstanding Alumni PhD Distinguished Dissertation Award

Jenay F.E. Willis (PhD ‘23)
Postdoctoral Fellow, Race & Reconciliation Initiative at Texas Christian University

Jenay F.E. Willis is the Postdoctoral Fellow for the Race & Reconciliation Initiative at Texas Christian University. She holds a dual bachelor’s degree in sociology and criminal justice from Georgia College & State University, an MA in higher and postsecondary education from Teachers College – Columbia University, and a PhD in higher education from the University of Pittsburgh. While at Pitt, Willis was the School of Education’s graduate student representative for the University Council on Graduate Studies. She worked collaboratively with the faculty in the higher education program and worked on numerous research projects with her advisor, Darris Means, to support rural education efforts. Additionally, she was a member of the Pan-African Graduate & Professional Student Union. These commitments were instrumental in shaping her career professionally as a researcher, educator, and servant leader. Her identity as a Southern Black woman from rural Georgia has informed much of her research. Willis is a community-driven researcher who highlights individuals and communities from historically marginalized backgrounds, specifically rural Black students and communities, in which she centers the lives and experiences of these populations through a shared power approach.

Hillary Chelednik Distinguished Student Leadership Award

Hillary Chelednik
PhD in Learning Sciences and Policy, University of Pittsburgh

As a Graduate Student Researcher and PhD student in the Learning Sciences and Policy program in the School of Education, Hillary Chelednik’s research interests include asset-based discipline integration, equitable instruction, relational teaching, and student collaboration. Her dissertation is an education research design study focused on asset-based integrated instruction in K-8 classrooms. At Pitt, Chelednik has served as a co-developer and teaching assistant in a Freedom Seminar on Environmental Justice and STEM Pedagogies and as an instructor of Mathematics Instruction for Young Learners. She is the co-president of the Council of Graduate Students in Education and previously served as co-chair of the organization’s Grants Committee and Conference Committee. A former elementary and middle school teacher, grade-level chair, and professional development facilitator, Chelednik holds a master’s degree in teaching, learning, and advocacy with a concentration in curriculum instruction from the College of Charleston. 

Hannah GoldsteinDistinguished Student Leadership Award

Hannah G. Goldstein
PhD in Education Policy, University of Pittsburgh

Hannah G. Goldstein is a third-year doctoral student in the Education Policy program at the School of Education. She holds a BA in environmental science from University of Colorado at Boulder and an MA in secondary science education, specializing in biology, from Brooklyn College. Prior to her doctoral studies, Hannah spent two years as an English teacher at an elementary school in Suncheon, South Korea, and four years as a biology and environmental science teacher at a large, public high school in Brooklyn, N.Y. She currently works as a graduate student researcher on a project that partners researchers and state leaders with the goal of working toward multilingual learner equity. Goldstein is committed to the transformation of inequitable structures that exist in public education and is motivated to explore the role of researchers, partnership, and cross-system collaboration in the pursuit of democratic change in education. Goldstein is the co-president of the Council of Graduate Students in Education and previously served two years as co-chair of the organization’s Grants Committee.

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.

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.

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