Honoring the Very Best: Recognition for a Stellar Group of TC Alumni | Teachers College Columbia University

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Honoring the Very Best: Recognition for a Stellar Group of TC Alumni

“You represent the very best of Teachers College, President Susan Fuhrman told the recipients of TC’s Distinguished Alumni Award and the College’s Early Career Award winner at a special lunchtime ceremony during Academic Festival.


In a citation read by TC Provost and Dean Tom James, Randy Bennett (Ed.D. ’79), the Norman O. Frederiksen Chair in Assessment Innovation at Educational Testing Service, was hailed for working “tirelessly to harness the potential of digital technology, apply advances in learning and cognitive sciences to testing and keep our eyes on the ultimate prize of better teaching and learning.”

Check out our summary story on Academic Festival, the poster session on student research, and the day's 25 sessions.

Bennett said he came to TC nearly 40 years ago “looking for something meaningful to do with my life” and learned not only “what assessment can do to help kids do better” but also “to question the quality of assessment and how education policy could unintentionally promote destructive uses."

The citation for MaryEllen McGuire (Ph.D. '02), founding President of the Postsecondary National Policy Institute – the leading source of professional development for Congressional staff who work on higher education issues – was read by TC Vice Provost Katie Embree. “You have used the political system to tirelessly advocate for policies that improve education for all students,” Embree said, adding that, in the words of TC early childhood education policy expert Sharon Lynn Kagan, McGuire has had “‘as much, if not more impact on educational policy in American than any other alum of our institution.’”


McGuire thanked Thomas Sobol, the late TC faculty member and New York State Commissioner of Education, who “encouraged me, at the ripe old age of 29, to be a White House intern. He saw an opportunity to show people who I was and who I was going to be.”  McGuire promised her listeners that while “thoughtful decision making may not be what comes to mind when you think of Washington D.C.,” there are nevertheless “thoughtful people on both sides of the aisle working to ensure that children have access to education. But they can't do it alone – they need TC to provide them with data and to prepare the next generation of policymakers."


In a citation read by Caryn Bloch, Associate Professor of Psychology & Education, Lida Orzeck (Ph.D. '72), co-owner of the wildly successful lingerie company Hanky Panky, was praised for not only creating products that are “the stuff of business legend” but also setting the bar “for ethical business standards that promote local sourcing, sustainability, and recyclable packaging” and channeling “a sizable percentage of your earnings into supporting nearly 60 nonprofits, including the International Organization for Women & Development and the Southern Poverty Law Center.” Orzeck saluted her TC mentor, the social scientist and conflict resolution expert Morton Deutsch, whom she called “a national treasure,” and added that “the chief benefit of having a thriving company is in the ways it allows us to give back to support a thriving society.”


Lee Knefelkamp, Professor Emeritus of Psychology & Education, read the citation for retirement guru Nancy K. Schlossberg (Ed.D. '61), the developer of Transition Theory, a systematic framework for understanding adult life changes.

“You have moved the national conversation about retirement beyond mere financial and medical planning,” Knefelkamp told Schlossberg. “Thanks to you, the focus now is on understanding our ‘psychological portfolios’ and rethinking our relationships, our goals, and our sense of purpose. As a result, we are learning to embrace, rather than to fear, the road ahead.

Schlossberg, who studied at TC under the late scholar Esther Lloyd-Jones, a pioneer in the field of college guidance, told of being asked by Lloyd-Jones to rewrite her dissertation a week before graduation and then nearly losing her work on a city bus. It was a harrowing experience, she said, but Lloyd Jones “taught me how to write, set standards for me, gave me support and challenges, and introduced me to the world of the mind and the intellect.” 


Professor of Education Stephen Silverman credited Yupha Udomsakdi (M.A. '60), a public health pioneer who became Thailand’s first female Minister of Education and the first female MP to be appointed as a Minister in the Thai cabinet, with having “blazed a trail for women everywhere and created better lives for millions of people in Thailand and around the world.”

Udomsakdi, who also helped lead creation of the most democratic constitution in Thailand’s history, said how pleased she was to be visiting TC, some 56 years after graduating, in the company of her three daughters and five grandchildren. “From having been here I learned a lot – not just about education, but also about the social aspect of the USA, especially democracy.”


David Johns (M.A. ’06), Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, received the College’s Early Career Award. Aaron Pallas, TC’s Arthur I. Gates Professor of Sociology & Education, said that Johns has “emerged as a national leader with the skill and determination to help close America’s achievement gap.”

Johns drew laughs when he recalled that he “took a pay cut from teaching” to go to Washington and “try my hand at policymaking and the things that Aaron Pallas and Amy Wells and Lynn Kagan taught me.” He thanked his mother, whom he called “the fiercest education advocate I know” and dedicated his award to “the babies and children who look like me and come from neighborhoods like mine.”

“If you take a chance on our babies like you’ve taken a chance on me,” Johns said, “we can solve all our problems.” – Joe Levine

A sixth recipient of the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award, Olivia Hooker, was unable to attend Festival. Watch a videotaped message from Hooker.

Published Tuesday, Apr 12, 2016

Randy Bennett (Ed.D. ’79)
MaryEllen McGuire (Ph.D. '02)
Lida Orzeck (Ph.D. '72)
Nancy K. Schlossberg (Ed.D. '61)
David Johns
David Johns (M.A. ’06)
Yupha Udomsakdi
Yupha Udomsakdi (M.A. '60)