Society & Culture

Nine receive honors during annual College of Education alumni awards event

Athens, Ga. – Eight graduates of the University of Georgia College of Education as well as a prominent Athens community member were honored during a ceremony last weekend.

The annual UGA College of Education Donor Appreciation and Alumni Awards event honors past graduates and friends who have achieved a lifetime of success or have a high level of achievement at the midpoint of their careers. The event took place Saturday at the UGA Hotel and Conference Center.

Honorees included:
Outstanding Young Alumni Award
Ryan Akers, an assistant extension professor at Mississippi State University, researches statewide and regional community preparedness and disaster management initiatives for the Mississippi Extension Service. His program, the Mississippi Youth Preparedness Initiative, was named the country’s “most outstanding” youth preparedness program in 2014 and Akers was named a “Champion of Change” by the White House, where he spoke about youth preparedness. He received his doctorate from UGA in 2007.

Timothy Puetz is the operations manager at the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical Center, which is the world’s largest hospital devoted entirely to clinical research. Prior to joining NIH, Puetz served in the U.S. Army in both the Medical Service Corps and the Infantry, which included a tour in Afghanistan. He received his doctorate from UGA in 2006.

Outstanding Educator Award
Kimberly Bearden is the co-founder, executive director and a language arts teacher at the Ron Clark Academy, an innovative middle school and educator training facility in Atlanta. Bearden began her teaching career at Cobb County Schools, and since then has received numerous teaching awards and honors. Her best-selling book, “Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me,” was released in 2014. Bearden graduated from UGA in 1987.

Jessica DeCuir-Gunby has influenced hundreds of teachers, counselors, principals, superintendents and education researchers as an associate professor of educational psychology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. She researches critical race theory, racial identity development and emotions in education. DeCuir-Gunby received her doctorate from UGA in 2003.

Professional Achievement Award
Catherine Bradshaw is a professor and associate dean for research and faculty development at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education. Bradshaw, who received her master’s from UGA in 1999, spent nearly 10 years as a faculty member in the Department of Mental Health at the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence. Her federally funded research focuses on topics such as bullying, school climate, the effects of exposure to violence, peer victimization and environmental stress on children.

Erin Hames recently launched an educational consulting company, ReformEd. A 2002 UGA graduate, Hames spent almost a decade at Georgia’s state Capitol as the senior policy adviser for Govs. Sonny Perdue and Nathan Deal, with a stint in between as chief of staff to the state school superintendent. She also had a part in key pieces of legislation and policy changes, including preserving the HOPE Scholarship and Georgia Pre-K programs, school board governance and creating Georgia’s first needs-based scholarship, REACH.

Outstanding Service Award
Philip Lanoue was named the 2015 National Superintendent of the Year. He has fostered a variety of local, state and national partnerships with the Clarke County School District, including UGA’s Professional Development School District. Under his leadership, the school district has been named a Title I Distinguished District for closing the gap between economically disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students, and moved the graduation rate from 63 percent to 80 percent.

Lifetime Achievement Award
Cindy Darden has made it her mission over the past 36 years to help Georgians live healthier and more meaningful lives through education, therapy, mentorship and leadership. Now a consultant with behavioral health agencies, Darden’s most recent position was clinical director and then CEO of Advantage Behavioral Health Systems, leading the agency through years of budget cuts and finding ways to continue to serve its 12,000 clients. Advantage has now grown to be one of the most respected community service boards in the state. Darden received both a bachelor’s and master’s from UGA in 1977 and a doctorate in 1991.

Alvin Wilbanks was named chief executive officer and superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools in 1996. He was also serving as the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources and continuous improvement, as well as the president of Gwinnett Technical College, which he opened in 1984. An education leader in the state and nation, Wilbanks was elected the inaugural chairman of the Georgia Education Coalition and also helped establish and co-chair the Large Countywide and Suburban District Consortium. He was named the 2005 Georgia Superintendent of the Year and was one of four finalists for the national title. He received a bachelor’s from UGA in 1964 and a master’s in 1968.