Trailblazing leaders across education, psychology, health and art are among the recipients of this year’s Medals for Distinguished Service — Teachers College’s highest honor awarded at Convocation each year.
“As we celebrate the achievements of our outstanding graduates, our four honorees embody the dedication required to live your life in service of others, and the remarkable possibilities that can come into fruition when you do,” says President Thomas Bailey. “We look forward to hearing their wisdom during these celebrations, which are a special time for our entire community.”
The honorees, who will be recognized and speak at Convocation ceremonies on May 17 and 18 — include:
Dr. Miguel Cardona, United States Secretary of Education
Since his appointment to the Department of Education under President Biden in March 2021, Cardona has led efforts to safely reopen schools for in-person learning. His agenda — informed by his background as a public school teacher and principal — has included efforts to overhaul the American student loan system and equity-driven policy reform. During his time as the commissioner of education in Connecticut, Cardona made the state the first in the U.S. to provide equitable access to learning devices during the Covid-19 pandemic and among the first to safely reopen schools. His emphasis on partnerships, which still informs his leadership today, also informed Connecticut’s collaboration with organizations to provide free social and emotional learning courses for students.
Cardona will receive the TC honor and address graduates, families and guests on Wednesday, May 17 during the College’s ceremony for the departments of Mathematics, Science & Technology, and Organization & Leadership.
Dr. Kevin Nadal (Ph.D. ’08), Psychology Scholar and Queer Activist
Driving research on multicultural issues within psychology, Nadal is a leading scholar in the exploration of microaggressions toward LGBTQ+ people and people of color. He is a distinguished professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the City University of New York’s Graduate Center — the first Filipino American and second youngest person to achieve this title at CUNY. Through his scholarship and activism, Nadal has written 14 books, including Dismantling Everyday Discrimination; Filipino American Psychology; and Queering Law and Order. Nadal’s insight has appeared in the New York Times, NPR, Psychology Today and more. A TC alumnus of the counseling psychology doctoral program, Nadal was a co-founder of the LGBTQ Scholars of Color National Network and is the current president of the Filipino American National Historical Society.
Nadal will receive the TC award and address graduates, families and guests on Thursday, May 18 during the College’s ceremony for the departments of Counseling & Clinical Psychology, and Human Development.
Chef Marcus Samuelsson, Award-Winning Chef and Entrepreneur
A cultural and philanthropic leader in the Harlem community, Samuelsson is the award-winning visionary behind the famous, soul food eatery Red Rooster, located just blocks away from TC. He has over 30 restaurants worldwide, including the recently opened Hav & Mar in Chelsea and Marcus Bar & Grille in Atlanta. His robust culinary career — extending from television to the Obama White House and cookbooks across the world — aligns with his extensive philanthropy dedicated to food access. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Samuelsson leveraged his own businesses to facilitate food access projects with partners in Harlem, Newark and Miami — serving more than 1.7 million meals to individuals in need. Samuelsson’s dedication to community is further evident in his role co-producing the annual Harlem EatUp! Festival, which celebrates the food, art, and culture of the historic neighborhood.
Samuelsson will be honored and address graduates, families and guests on Thursday, May 18 during the College’s ceremony for the departments of Biobehavioral Sciences, Health & Behavior Studies, and International & Transcultural Studies.
Ms. Elly Yae Li Cho (M.A. ’11), Filmmaker and Artist
One of the most interesting and experimental artists practicing today, Cho examines the relationship between ecology and the human condition through her artistic endeavors, which include painting, mixed media, video and performance. Born and residing in South Korea, Cho frequently explores climate change in her award-winning works and films — including her recent acclaimed project, The Eclipse — which have been shown at festivals spanning from Hong Kong and Cannes to New York. Major institutions, including the Seoul Municipal Museum and Switzerland’s Musée Cantonale des Beaux-Arts du Valais, count Cho’s works among their primary collections. Her TC scholarship in art education built upon early experience teaching in Seoul, which Cho would continue to do at Ewha Womans University and Hongik University.
Cho will be honored and address graduates, families and guests on Thursday, May 18 during the College’s ceremony for the departments of Arts & Humanities, Curriculum & Teaching, and Education Policy & Social Analysis.
Meet the Student Speakers
In addition to the above honored speakers, four incredible TC students will speak at Convocation ceremonies on May 17 and May 18. The student speakers include:
Ruohao Chen (Ed.D ‘23 Adult Learning and Leadership)
After leaving his teaching job of six years in Guangzhou, China, Chen came to TC looking for a new adventure in life and left a lasting impact on the College community. Throughout his time at TC, he served as a graduate assistant for seven faculty members, the President of the TC China Society, and a research associate for the Center on Chinese Education. Chen also founded Education for Growth, which facilitated more than 400 events over the past three years to promote discourse between scholars from the U.S. and China.
During the height of COVID-19, Chen worked with Trustee Edith Shih (M.Ed. ’78, M.A. ’77) to collect and distribute personal protective equipment (PPE), and ran a fundraising campaign that generated more than $24,000 for PPE provided to the Columbia Medical Center — which was part of broader efforts from Columbia alumni to raise funds for PPE. Chen also organized two concerts to bring a bit of joy to the TC community during a challenging time.
Chen will address graduates, families and guests on Wednesday, May 17 during the College’s ceremony for the departments of Mathematics, Science & Technology and Organization & Leadership.
Srishti Sardana (Ph.D ‘23 Clinical Psychology, M.A. ‘16)
As one of the few South Asian Global Mental Health clinical scientists in the world, Sardana is a barrier-breaking scholar committed to a compassionate approach to mental health care. Sardana spent most of her life in India, where she worked across the country as a clinical psychologist, entrepreneur, and corrections officer providing support to a variety of groups before ultimately traveling to TC with support from her community.
While at TC she continued her work with underserved communities, including sex workers and survivors of torture, that have limited access to quality mental health care. She was a fellow at Duke University School of Medicine and currently works at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Sardana will address graduates, families and guests on Thursday, May 18 during the College’s ceremony for the departments of Counseling & Clinical Psychology and Human Development.
Kella Merlain-Moffatt (M.A. ‘23, International Education Development)
Merlain-Moffatt, a Ghanaian and Haitian American, is a scholar committed to pursuing opportunities that uplift others. She was a Zankel Fellow working with the International Community High School in the Bronx, co-chair for the African Studies Working Group, a research assistant for Associate Professor S. Garnett Russell, supporting students in the Intercultural Center at Marymount Manhattan College, an intern with BRAC USA, and a Career Peer with TC Next, where she not only provided professional development guidance to students and alumni, but also helped people understand themselves better. Her academic work centered on the intersection of language policy and civic engagement for the Ga ethnic group in Ghana, a community that Merlain-Moffatt is a part of and that is overlooked in academia. Her work, presented at two different conferences, explored the tension between language, identity and the education systems people are a part of and denied space to.
Merlain-Moffatt will address graduates, families and guests on Thursday, May 18 during the College’s ceremony for the departments of Biobehavioral Sciences, Health & Behavior Studies and International & Transcultural Studies.
Malack Al-Haraizeh (M.A. ’23, Politics and Education)
Al-Haraizeh came to TC with one desire: to make a change in the world to some degree. Throughout her time at the college, she was inspired by the tangible impact TC students and faculty have on their communities and emboldened to explore her academic passions. Al-Haraizeh’s identity as a Muslim Jordanian person informed her scholarship which focused on international gender relations in the Middle Eastern context. Al-Haraizeh is also passionate about emphasizing diversity in curricula and among teachers due in part to her experiences of bigotry in school due to her background. She had a life-changing experience with the Federal Policy Institute, where she and her peers traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak with policy makers. In addition to her academic work, Al-Haraizeh was a work study student in the office of Music & Education where she explored her passion for music while interacting with students and instructors.
Al-Haraizeh will address graduates, families and guests on Thursday, May 18 during the College’s ceremony for the departments of Arts & Humanities, Curriculum & Teaching and Education Policy & Social Analysis.