Penn GSE’s Celebration of Educators honors 6 alumni, highlights need for expanded access

June 22, 2022
Five attendees at the GSE Celebration

On a day filled with celebration and crucial conversation, Penn GSE honored six alumni and highlighted the importance of college access. Part of Penn’s Alumni Weekend, Penn GSE’s annual Celebration of Educators took place on Saturday, May 14, and offered an afternoon of in-person events.

The program's first panel, “Voices in Education: Addressing College Access," included topics such as how to build and support diverse and inclusive institutions, how to increase access to higher education, and how to meet the evolving needs of educators and learners. The discussion featured Sarita Brown, co-founder and president of the national nonprofit Excelencia in Education, which is dedicated to accelerating Latino student success, as well as two associate professors in higher education, Rachel Baker and Amalia Daché. Professor Matt Hartley, the Board of Advisors Chair of Education, moderated the panel.

Speaking about the level of disruption the nation has experienced over the past two years, Sarita Brown discussed the need for people of common purpose to work together to move learners into and through education. A tireless advocate for educational equity, she has spent 25 years dedicated to Latino student success in higher education. This included starting the network of Presidents for Latino Student Success, which initially had 10 leaders and has grown to 150 college presidents. For her leadership in the field, Brown received the Harold G. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education.

Amalia Daché talked about the educational needs of people in public housing developments. Citing her work in North Philadelphia, she reminded us that college access is only one of several pressing needs, like access to food and transportation. Rachel Baker emphasized the role of advisors in helping students navigate the higher education system, a crucial intermediary to student success and persistence — and one that institutions need resources to make a reality.

Shortly after the panel discussion, the annual Education Alumni Awards recognized Penn GSE alumni community from around the globe. In addition, the Penn GSE Annual Awards recognized outstanding service and commitment by students, faculty, and staff.

Penn GSE Educator of the Year Award
Dr. Ufuoma C. Abiola, GED’12, GRD’17

This award recognizes an outstanding graduate who demonstrates extraordinary involvement in and commitment to identifying and helping to resolve problems and current issues in education. The recipient of this award must be a dedicated educator who is an inspiration, risk-taker, innovator, and role model and who demonstrates a commitment to the betterment of Penn GSE.

Dr. Ufuoma C. Abiola, GED’12, GRD’17, earned a M.S.Ed. and Ed.D. in Higher Education from Penn GSE. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Penn GSE and the inaugural Executive Director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at Columbia Business School (CBS). Dr. Abiola provides strategic vision, leadership, and direction for all DEI initiatives involving students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community at CBS. She also leads a full-time staff of Directors for DEI. With expertise in DEI in higher education, Dr. Abiola has founded and created award-winning, innovative institutional change programs and initiatives to increase underrepresented students’ persistence and success. Dr. Abiola is the Founder, Creator, and 2012-2017 President of the award-winning We Support Diversity of Mind (WSDM) at Penn GSE — which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, 2022, with Dr. Abiola as the WSDM Advisor. She is also Co-Founder and Co-Creator of the award-winning Wharton Successful Transition & Empowerment Program (STEP) at Penn. Dr. Abiola is a thought leader and scholar-practitioner who has created and developed dynamic courses that she teaches at Penn GSE.

Helen C. Bailey Award
Dr. Cecilia Orphan, GR’15

This award recognizes an outstanding graduate who has brought recognition and status to the University and Penn GSE, and who has made a distinctive contribution to the field of education and to the School, including contributions made through research, exceptional professional involvement, or publications.

Dr. Cecilia Orphan, GR’15, is an associate professor of Higher Education at the University of Denver and Director of Partnerships for the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges. Cecilia researches the role of regional public universities (RPUs) in generating upward mobility for marginalized communities and supporting regional wellbeing. She also spends a lot of time thinking about how the way we talk about higher education shapes the funding and policy we design for the system, which in turn shapes student opportunity and democratic life.
She has been quoted by Politico, CBS, The Chronicle for Higher Education, InsideHigherEd, Open Campus, and Newsy, among other media outlets. From 2006 to 2011, she directed the American Democracy Project, a national civic engagement initiative involving 240 RPUs. Cecilia’s research agenda is informed by her experiences as a working class, first-generation college student who grew up on welfare and received maximum Pell grants to attend college.

William B. Castetter Alumni Award of Merit
Melissa Calvert, GED’00

This award recognizes a graduate for significant service to the University and Penn GSE that may include, but is not limited to: serving as a volunteer leader, ambassador, or member of the Penn Alumni Leadership Board.

Melissa Calvert, GED’00, currently serves as Associate Vice President for Development, Undergraduate and Individual Giving at the University of Pennsylvania. She partners with the senior vice president for development and alumni relations (DAR) and other leadership to drive progress in and oversee the development programs for Major Gifts, Undergraduate Financial Aid and Penn First Plus, Athletics, The Penn Fund, School and Center Annual Giving, and Parent Outreach and Development. Additionally, Melissa is responsible for the oversight and strategic direction of university fundraising priorities for the Office of the Provost, the Office of University Life, the Office of Wellness, The Netter Center, the Environmental Innovation Initiative, and other emerging institutional priorities. She serves on the University of Pennsylvania Development and Alumni Relations Senior Management Group.

Ethel and Allen “Buddy” Carruth Sustained Leadership in Education Award
Dr. Kristin Clark, GRD’12

This award recognizes significant service to the education community by an esteemed alumnus/a in honor of Ethel Carruth, ED’43, a distinguished alumna, benefactor, and friend. The recipient of this award serves as an inspiration to others, transcending expectations and providing opportunities in service.

Dr. Kristin Clark, GRD’12, serves as the Chancellor of the West Hills Community College District, located in the Central San Joaquin Valley in California. Prior to her appointment as chancellor in 2021, she served as the President of West Hills College Lemoore (WHCL) for almost 6 years, where she established the College's strategic vision, also known as its "North Star," which profoundly commits to student learning and achievement. Under her leadership, the college doubled its endowment, became a global leader in the use of Open Educational Resources, and received recognition as an Aspen Prize for Top 100 Community College recipient twice and the Achieving the Dream's Leader College and Leader College of Distinction awards. Kristin holds a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania, a Master's in Educational Technology, and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.

The Penn GSE Recent Alumni/Early Career Award of Merit
Aizhan Kul-Mukhammed, GED’19

This award recognizes graduates who have shown outstanding service to Penn and Penn GSE prior to their 10th reunion year and are setting an inspirational example for future alumni. This includes significant contributions in their field of endeavor, whether through professional achievement or community service, and the devotion of significant time, energy, and enthusiasm to volunteerism and cultivation.

Aizhan Kul-Mukhammed, GED’19, received her master’s in international educational development from Penn GSE. She runs her own college prep firm, College Tea LLC. Aizhan’s goal is to bring purpose, peace, and fun into the application process, be that to undergraduate, graduate, or fellowship programs.

The Kwame Nkrumah Distinguished Alumni Award
Dr. Robert Asante, GRD’19

This award recognizes a graduate who has made a demonstrative and uncommon impact in education through research, policy, and/or service. Their contribution will have had a global impact on improving circumstances for historically oppressed or marginalized communities. The recipient will reflect the values and aspirations of Penn GSE and its commitment to equity and opportunity and serve as a role model for Penn GSE students and alumni.

Dr. Robert Asante, GRD’19, is the Chief Privacy Officer at ChristianaCare Health System. He is also the President & Chairman of the Board of Directors of OurFoundations, Inc. Dr. Asante was born in Ghana, West Africa, where he worked as a farmer on his family’s cocoa farm until he was 26 years old. Dr. Asante holds a Doctor of Education in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania. He also has a Master of Business Administration in Financial Management and Management Information System and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Technology from Drexel University. He is a member of the International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC)², and he holds Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and Healthcare Information Security and Privacy Practitioner (HCISPP) certifications.

Nominations for the 2023 Education Alumni Awards will open in the fall.

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