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Distinguished Alumni Award

2023 Recipients

On Thursday, October 26th, Loyola School of Education held the annual Distinguished Alumni Awards. It was an evening of celebration as we recognize the contributions and success of our distinguished and dedicated alumni. The School of Education has a long tradition of honoring our graduates who are achieving remarkable success in addressing social inequalities in both their local and global communities. 

We are excited to announce the 2023 School of Education Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients. Please join us in congratulating these recipients for their many achievements and contributions to our community and beyond.

The Dean's Distinguished Alumni Award

Ayanna Williams, MEd

Distinguished alumna Ayanna Williams, MEd '17, is a graduate of the Higher Education program. Invested in access, equity, and social justice in post-secondary contexts, the Higher Education program utilizes real-world learning and experienced faculty to lead its students to professional excellence. Since her graduation, Williams has transcended greatness in her field. Williams' love of music has been an inspiration throughout much of her career. She has focused her time on immersing herself in music education in a way that benefits students and their communities. Williams created The Yanna Cello Foundation which aims to heal Chicago through music one note at a time. Through this foundation, she held a benefit concert called, "Tip An Artist, Tip A Cause." The funds raised at this concert sponsored music lessons at the Genesis Music School for eleven single-parent households. After the success and generosity of this concert, Williams went on to receive numerous performance requests that allowed her to share her love for and knowledge of music with even more audiences. With the skills she gained from her time at Loyola, Williams bolstered her ability to be an advocate and activist for quality music education. Like a true Rambler, Williams has shown true professional excellence as she places service to others at the forefront of her career.

Teaching and Learning Distinguished Alumni Award

Anna Lees, EdD

Distinguished alumna Anna Lees, EdD '15, is a graduate of the Teaching and Learning program. As a program dedicated to preparing future teachers to engage with diverse populations and be responsive and adaptive, the Teaching and Learning program provides its students with real-world teaching experiences. With what she learned during her time at Loyola, Lees has flourished as an engaged and adaptive educator. Lees is a true leader in the field of education research and practice. Her work, deeply engaged with Indigenous communities, has been immensely successful. Specializing in early childhood education, Lees has progressed from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor and Program Director of Early Childhood Education at Western Washington University. She, along with various colleagues, has published over a dozen articles pertaining to Indigenous communities, early childhood, and education. Lees has also earned many academic honors including the Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education Distinguished Article of the Year in 2018 and the Carl Grant Multicultural Research Award in 2022. Lees' career and scholarship have been nothing short of inspiring. Since 2015, Lees has truly embodied Loyola's Jesuit values as she engages with students, collaborates with her colleagues, and finds innovative, enduring solutions to the world's challenges. She has gone forth and set the world on fire.

School Psychology Distinguished Alumni Award

Laura Swanlund, PhD

Distinguished alumna Laura Swanlund, PhD '10 and MEd '04, is a graduate of the School Psychology program. The School Psychology program works to enhance the quality of and disrupt inequalities in the education system. With her extensive experience in psychology, Swanlund has led an impressive career in psychological practice. As she earned her PhD, Swanlund served as a graduate school professor at Loyola and a school psychologist at an elementary and high school. From there, she worked her way to her current position as the Director of Comprehensive Mental Health and Related Service at School District #15 in Palatine, IL. In this role, Swanlund leads and supervises the district in all of its mental health endeavors including mental health services, awareness practices, and services for the school's behavioral health team. Along with this, she also serves as an adjunct professor at Loyola, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and National Louis University. Through her work in numerous school psychology endeavors, Swanlund has undeniably been a shining light in her field. In true Rambler spirit, she has committed herself and her career to the service of others as she demonstrates professional excellence.

Administration and Supervision Distinguished Alumni Award

Nicholas Polyak, EdD

Distinguished alumnus Nicholas Polyak, EdD '07, is a graduate of the Administration and Supervision program. The Administration and Supervision program prepares its students to be successful leaders who positively impact the lives of students, teachers, and school communities. Polyak has been nothing short of an incredibly successful leader throughout his career. He has played several important leadership roles including Dean of Students, Assistant Principal, Director of Instruction and Staff Development, and Superintendent of two Illinois school districts. Currently, Polyak serves as Superintendent for Leyden Community High School District, where he has served since 2013. Under his leadership, the district has received many awards and honors. Some of these accomplishments include the district being named the 2014 National Advanced Placement District of the Year by the College Board and both Leyden high schools being named Illinois Democracy Schools. Polyak is passionate about community involvement, and he brings this passion to life through his work. He has served as President of two Chambers of Commerce, participated as a School Board Member, coached youth sports, and played a role in numerous community groups and charitable efforts. Like all Loyola graduates hope to do, Polyak has certainly demonstrated Jesuit values of professional excellence and active engagement through his work.

Research Methodology Distinguished Alumni Award

Kelly Zhao, PhD

Distinguished alumna Kelly Zhao, PhD '17, is a graduate of the Research Methodology program. Loyola students in the Research Methodology program learn to use numbers as valuable tools that tell stories of the human experience and create meaningful change. As an incredibly experienced researcher, Zhao has completed rigorous work in her field. Zhao has thrived in her career. During her time at the School of Education, Zhao wrote an impressive dissertation that demonstrated her excellence in research. Since graduation, she has continued on a path of career success. From Senior Research Associate at John G. Shedd Aquarium as a graduate student to PSI Services LLC, Zhao has proved her sincere commitment to her field. At PSI, she has worked her way from Psychometrician to Lead Senior Psychometrician in only five years. Her oversight allows the company to run smoothly and effectively. Despite her busy work life, Zhao still contributes to the field of meta-analysis and Loyola research. School of Education faculty member Meng-Jia Wu, PhD, and Zhao collaborated on an impressive article synthesizing online service response rates in education. With Jesuit ideals instilled in her work, Zhao has firmly committed to her talents and employed curiosity, innovation, and creativity in finding enduring solutions.

Counseling Psychology Distinguished Alumni Award

Kimberly Hook, PhD

Distinguished alumna Kimberly Hook, PhD '18, is a graduate of the Counseling Psychology program. Rooted in its mission for social justice, the Counseling Psychology program aims to break down barriers to equity in health and education. Since her graduation, Hook has led an inspiring, justice-driven career. After nearly five years as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, Hook was recently promoted to Research Scientist at Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Aside from this astounding accomplishment, Hook has earned three million dollars in funding from three federal-level grants that support her work in preventing substance abuse, HIV, and mental illness in Ukraine, Kenya, and Ethiopia. She has also published over 20 manuscripts and articles that relate to her work and her field. Hook has already led an incredibly successful and rewarding career that has enhanced the lives of individuals and communities worldwide. With her countless successes, there is no doubt she will continue to achieve great things. In true Jesuit spirit, Hook has dedicated her career to the pursuit of a more just society through service to others.

2022 School of Education Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Michael Hines, PhD 

The School Psychology Distinguished Alumni Award

Distinguished alumnus Michael Hines, PhD ’17 & MA ’13, is a graduate of the Cultural and Education Policy Studies. The only educational policy program designed specifically to address systematic inequalities in our education system, Loyola's Cultural and Educational Policy Studies program provided educational leaders with the tools needed to create change for the next generation of students. As a historian of education, Dr. Hines has dedicated his time to the study of how our nation has historically thought about, discussed, legislated, defined, contested, challenged, and changed education both at the level of broad school systems, individual communities, and classrooms. Dr. Hines is an assistant professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education where he focuses his research on how African Americans in the early twentieth century created new curricular discourses around race and historical representation. Using history as a tool for advancing social justice, Dr. Hines strives to take the perspective and context history provides and apply it to help point toward potential answers for contemporary debates. Dr. Hines’ work has been published in popular outlets such as ChalkBeat, TIME, and the Washington Post, along with scholarly publications including the Journal of African American History, Review of Educational Research, History of Education Quarterly, and the Journal of the History Childhood and Youth. His first book, A Worthy Piece of Work, from Beacon Press, was released earlier this year. Like a true Rambler, Dr. Hines encounters the world as a contemplative in action, using his exceptional knowledge, wisdom, and lived experiences to guide his work.


Lorenzo Rubio, MA

Teaching and Learning Distinguished Alumni Award

Distinguished alumnus Lorenzo Rubio, ESL Endorsement ’13, is a graduate of the Teaching and Learning program. The Teaching and Learning program prepares and inspires educational leaders to guide young learners to success and make a positive impact on students’ lives. As an incredible advocate and leader for multilingual learners, Lorenzo does just that. Through his leadership, Lorenzo ensured his school and district committed to structural changes, capacity building, and resources dedicated to welcoming and supporting all students, including newcomers and refugees. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lorenzo discovered many of his multilingual learners and families did not have the technology to access online learning. Being a person for others, he lobbied the district to obtain the needed resources for student learning and success. Lorenzo also established the school’s inclusive practices to better structure the community for the multicultural needs of all students. His care and attention to the growth and development of students positioned him to take a leadership role as the department chair of ESL/bilingual education. Now, as the Director of Multilingual Learners in Fenton School District, he is tapping into his own bilingual and bicultural identity to connect with students and teachers, ensuring the sustainability of the cultural and linguistic practice across programs. Lorenzo is a passionate and committed public servant, and his work epitomizes the Jesuit ideal of service to others rooted in justice and love. 


Michael Boyle, PhD

School Psychology Distinguished Alumni Award

Distinguished alumnus Michael Boyle, PhD ’92 & MEd ‘86,is a graduate of the School Psychology program. Through deep collaboration and a commitment to justice, Dr. Boyle helps to bring about transformative educational experiences for all students. His work in the field of school psychology, Catholic education, leadership, equity, and system change is exemplary. With the use and implementation of new educational research, such as Multi-Tiered System of Support, Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support, and evidence-based interventions, Dr. Boyle has been thoughtful in advocating the importance of all children getting an education that maximizes their strengths. As the superintendent of Joliet Archdiocese, Dr. Boyle brings together his expertise, resourcefulness, and dedication to utilizing new approaches to reorganize and execute innovative practices such as PBIS, Trauma Informed Practices, prevention, school improvement, and equity. In spirit of the Jesuit value of discernment, he has prepared the educational community he serves for the possible traumas that can beset schools across the country. Through his passion and devotion to his work and the communities he serves, he truly believes in contributing to the greater good.He cares deeply about hearing all perspectives, respects others’ point of view, challenges students to aim for excellence, and interacts with kindness, respect, and empathy. 


Erika Mickelburgh, EdD

Administration and Supervision Distinguished Alumni Award

Distinguished alumna Erika Mickelburgh, EdD ‘16, is a graduate of the Administration and Supervision program. Loyola’s students within the Administration and Supervision program share a deep passion for addressing pervasive social justice and equity issues in school systems. As a school leader, Dr. Mickelburgh strives to provide her students with an inclusive, collaborative community, where each learner’s needs are equitably met through a differentiated curriculum and by receiving a strong faith foundation. As the Principal of St. Paul of the Cross School in Park Ridge, Dr. Mickelburgh leads grade-level unit teams in collaborative efforts to implement a rigorous and inclusive vertically aligned curriculum. Additionally, she ensures the school stays on the cutting edge by encouraging interdisciplinary learning at each grade level in Spanish, physical education, art, music, and STEM, through the curricular alignment of core and practical fine arts teachers. Under Dr. Mickelburgh’s leadership, the school earned the National Blue Ribbon of Excellence Award in 2020. This honor validated the school’s academic excellence in Catholic education which equips faith-filled leaders with 21st century skills. Dr. Mickelburgh truly embodies the cura personalis value by leading her school’s comprehensive approach to advancing students’ social, emotional, physical, and spiritual growth. As a new adjunct faculty member at Loyola, she will be an excellent instructor for the Mission Driven Leadership for Principals program, where other school professionals can gain insights into becoming a leader within their field.


Dian Squire, PhD

The Terry E. Williams Higher Education Distinguished Alumni Award

Distinguished alumnus Dian Squire, PhD ’15, a graduate of the Higher Education program, has lived into the program’s ideals and practices by being a scholar-practitioner and an agent of change. Dr. Squire has led multiple initiatives to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout his professional career. He has incorporated his extensive knowledge of equity and social justice to advance the student experience within higher education. Dr. Squire has established himself as a leader in higher education with over 28 peer-reviewed manuscripts published in top-tier journals, more than 50 curricula developed on DEI, leadership development, human development, organizational theory and change, and many other topics focused on breaking down barriers to equity in health and education. By taking a holistic approach to student admissions, within his past role at the University of Maryland College Park, the program improved their structural diversity from 14% students of color, when he arrived, to over 57% after two years. Now, as an Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Inclusive Excellence in the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, Dr. Squire is dedicated to pursuing interdisciplinary anti-oppressive scholarship for socially just institutional transformation. He strives to create an inclusive community where higher education can serve its purpose as a place for democratic education, social change, personal development, and radical thinking to solve the world’s problems.


Samantha Nieto, MEd

Counseling Psychology Distinguished Alumni Award

Distinguished alumna Samantha Nieto, MEd ‘18, is a graduate of the Counseling Psychology program. Loyola's Counseling Psychology program focuses on breaking down barriers to equity in health and education, and Samantha does just that through her involvement in significant school reform projects that focus on the mental health needs of students. Her care for others is seen in her initiatives to support and mentor students at a critical, formative time in their lives. Samantha ensures students, notably her students of color, receive mentoring and role modeling through career days with professionals of color, delivered both in person and virtually, ensuring all students can participate. In addition to her role with Chicago Public Schools, Samantha teaches and supervises new school counselor graduate interns at Loyola Chicago. She has been an instructor for the School Counseling practicum for several years. Students within her course love the real-world experience and expertise she brings to the classroom. Her commitment to training the next generation of professionals is very admirable. In true Magis spirit, she modeled personal excellence and high expectations of achievement when she engaged in subsequent professional development, earning a Certificate in School Discipline Reform, a School of Education and Law School collaboration. Samantha’s remarkable expertise in trauma-informed counseling was featured for a national audience on PBS News Hour for the story "Invisible Scars." Samantha is committed to using her field of study as a tool for advancing social justice.