Inaugural Alumni Award winners announced 

November 19, 2021

In honor of its centennial, the School of Education established awards that recognize alumni who exemplify its mission in the work they do every day. 

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Earlier this year, the Office of Development and Alumni Relations announced the launch of two new alumni awards in honor of SOE's centennial. 

The Emerging Leader Alumni Award is presented to alumni with fewer than 10 years of professional experience after completing their degree at SOE. This award champions alumni who are early in their careers and demonstrate a commitment to the profession of education, as well as show potential for continued leadership, and a passion for equity and justice in the field of education. 

The Distinguished Alumni Award is presented to School of Education alumni who have made significant contributions to their profession, and whose accomplishments exemplify leadership, innovation, and passion for advancing the field of education. 

Since the initial call for nominations, letters of support written by former and current advisors, students, and colleagues have poured in from across the country, and around the world. After deep consideration, the selection committee, which was composed of four School of Education faculty, three alumni, and one student, is pleased to announce the inaugural School of Education Alumni Award Winners. The committee has also given a special honor this year—the Centennial Scholar Award—to a member of the SOE community whose life's work embodies the school's mission and its highest ideals.

2021 Emerging Leader Alumni Award Winners

Dr. Brian Burt (PhD ’14), Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin, has focused his research on exploring the experiences of underrepresented graduate students of color in the field of engineering. Since graduating from U-M he has published 16 articles in top-tier journals, four book chapters, two research briefs, and presented 19 peer-reviewed conference sessions as well as given 21 invited conference presentations. He received the National Academy of Education-Spencer postdoctoral fellowship and was selected for the Early CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation. Though still early in his career, he has mentored 34 students through research collaborations; 9 out of the 16 articles he has published since 2014 were co-authored by graduate students. “He has proven to be an exceptional mentor,” writes one nominator, “from quick text conversations about decisions, helping me conceptualize research ideas, reminding me that I was indeed worthy of being at Michigan, and allowing me access to his network.” In shepherding his students through the research, publication, and presentation processes, Burt has modeled for them the very act of mentorship. Already, his students are turning to their own to emulate his encouragement and guidance.

Travon Jefferson (ABEd ’16), a seventh grade social studies teacher, is a relentless advocate for his students in Houston, Texas. As a classroom teacher and grade level chair, he introduces students to culturally relevant texts and affirms their identities through his curriculum while pushing them to achieve their academic goals. He has also created an advanced curriculum and a diversity and inclusion affinity group at his school. Outside the classroom, Jefferson has lobbied the Texas legislature for mental health services for students. He helped push Texas House Bill 18 into law, a provision which requires teachers across the state to undergo trauma-informed training. Jefferson is a 2019–2020 Teach Plus Texas Senior Fellow and Ready to Lead Fellow. He has written numerous articles for Teach Plus Texas and Education Post, including an op-ed titled “Train Teachers to Support Students Who Have Experienced Trauma.” “Travon is a leader in the school community here in Houston, TX,” writes a colleague who nominated Jefferson. “He is the reason I became a teacher in Houston.”

2021 Distinguished Alumni Award Winners

Dr. Ann Austin (AM ’82, PhD ’84) is Interim Dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University where she is also a Distinguished Professor. Dr. Austin is a leading higher education scholar whose research has focused on the improvement of undergraduate STEM education. In her letter of recommendation, one nominator noted, “Dr. Austin has also focused on gender equity for women scholars, again identifying institutional policies and practices that can promote the advancement of women faculty.” Her scholarship in this area has been widely published, and she is a sought-after speaker on the topic nationally and internationally. A teacher whose dedication to her students has never wavered, Austin has chaired numerous dissertation committees, and a large number of her students have gone on to have productive careers in academia. As a collaborator, she welcomes cross-disciplinary interaction, the result of which has been scholarly work that continuously pushes the boundaries of her field. In this spirit, she co-created The Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL), a network of prominent universities dedicated to helping science graduate students develop teaching skills they can use to enhance learning. In 1998, as a Fulbright scholar in South Africa, she established what would become a longstanding research, teaching, and professional development collaboration with Nelson Mandela University. Austin’s scholarship is recognized internationally; her work has been published by prestigious journals and university presses as well as influential publications outside of the academy. As a leader, scholar, and teacher, Austin is recognized for her dedication to improving educational practice, and her commitment to advancing equity. 

Dr. Alycia Meriweather (ABEd ’95, TeachCert ’95) returned to her hometown of Detroit 20 years ago to change lives through K-12 teaching and leadership. Originally a middle school science teacher, she has gone on to serve the Detroit Public Schools Community District as a lead teacher, curriculum writer, professional development facilitator, and supervisor for middle school science. She is currently the Deputy Superintendent of External Partnerships, Enrollment, and Specialty Programming, and manages the Detroit Children’s Museum and Camp Burt Shurly (both owned and operated by DPSCD), making education opportunities available to Detroit children and youth outside the classroom. As an administrator, she has gained the respect of colleagues and the families she serves by implementing meaningful reform with particular emphasis on early literacy, college and career readiness, and wraparound services for Detroiters. Meriweather tirelessly advocates for children and families through her interactions with Michigan's legislature, embodying the School of Education's mission to advance just and equitable education opportunity for all children. Meriweather’s nomination states that she “purposefully represents our values through her work. I am proud of her contributions to the field of education, to the people of Detroit, and to the School of Education.”

Dr. Laura Perna (MPP ’92, PhD ’97) is the Vice Provost for Faculty at the University of Pennsylvania where she is also the GSE Centennial Presidential Professor of Education and Executive Director of Penn AHEAD. One of the nation's leading experts on educational equity at the post-secondary level, she “has changed scholarship and practice to improve college access for low-income students, first-generation students, and students of color,” writes one nominator, who recommended Perna for the Distinguished Alumni Award. She has led both of the two major scholarly associations affiliated with the study of higher education: ASHE (Association for the Study of Higher Education) and AERA (American Education Research Association) Division J, Postsecondary Education. According to Google Scholar, she has three articles that are cited over 1,200 times each. One nominator writes, “All three of those articles are seminal pieces to understand how students of color choose and matriculate to college.” They add, “Many faculty with Dr. Perna's expertise and experience contribute just to scholarly spaces and audiences with very little connection to practice or the actual improvement of the human condition. That is not the case for Dr. Perna.” As an expert, she has advocated for federal and state policies that would expand access to students who have been most excluded from higher education policy. She has also testified to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. In 2019, she was elected to the National Academy of Education. In addition to her many accomplishments as a scholar and as a leader, Dr. Perna is recognized for the kind and meaningful mentorship she provides to graduate students and new scholars.

Centennial Scholar Award

Dr. Lin Chu Wong (AM ’80, PhD ’90) grew up during the Depression in New York City, where she worked after school in her family’s laundromat. The oldest of seven, she became the first in her family to graduate from college. “Lin was always made aware of being an impoverished child and the only student of color in the Queens schools she attended through high school, experiences that later made her determined to dedicate her teaching career to the education of minority and underserved students and to the development of multicultural curriculum studies,” writes her nominator. 

After relocating to Ann Arbor, she began her teaching career in 1968 when she answered the SOE's call for temporary teachers. In the midst of the Civil Rights movement, she drove with her own supplies to teach art to students in Inkster, Michigan. A year later, she began teaching in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. She was a founding teacher at Ann Arbor's first Open School, Bryant Elementary School, and she went on to become the principal of Bader Elementary School. In 1985, she was selected to serve on the National Endowment for the Arts’ Curriculum Committee in Washington, D.C., where she helped to create a national multicultural curriculum. 

In 1990, Wong earned her PhD from the SOE. Her dissertation, titled “An Ethnographic Study of Literacy Behaviors in Chinese Families in an Urban School Community,” examines recent Chinese immigrant students in Detroit, and considers the clash between their traditional valuation of education and the reality of their school experiences. The dissertation focuses on how the students’ non-English speaking parents invent teaching strategies and motivate them, and how a more supportive public school system can affect success in an overlooked minority community. 

Subsequently, Wong was elected to serve three three-year terms on the SOE Alumni Board of Governors. Over the course of her tenure, she worked on issues that included recruitment and retention of minority students, and building relationships with Detroit public schools. Her passion as a lifelong learner and educator has inspired generations of students throughout the arc of her career.