COE Awards and Recognition Archive

Parent to Parent honors COE alumnus, program director

Monday, October 12th, 2015

A Miami-Dade-based resource center is set to honor a College of Education alumnus as well as the director of the college’s Panther LIFE program for making significant contributions to the quality of life of people with disabilities.

Angel L. Rodriguez ’88, MS ’90, principal of Ruth Owens Krusé Educational Center, will receive Parent to Parent of Miami’s IMPACT Award.

Diana M. Valle-Riestra, director of the College of Education’s Panther LIFE program, will receive the Excellence in Family Advocacy Award.

“It’s really important for students with disabilities to see that there are people in the community like them who are working and thriving because having a disability doesn’t mean you have no hope or dreams in life – you want to be part of the community,” said Isabel C. Garcia, CEO of Parent to Parent of Miami. “That’s what Angel and Diana are doing – promoting something that needs much more awareness and support.”

Angel-L-Rodriguez_webAngel L. Rodriguez ’88, MS ’90, principal of Ruth Owens Krusé Educational Center, will receive Parent to Parent’s IMPACT Award.


Rodriguez and Valle-Riestra will be honored at Parent to Parent’s 11thAnnual Journey of Dreams Benefit on Nov. 21. Parent to Parent, a key partner in the Panther LIFE program, provides access to information, resources and support to empower the families of more than 35,000 students with disabilities in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

Rodriguez is the principal of one of four Miami-Dade County Public schools catering specifically to children with disabilities and has expanded the school’s offerings to include educational opportunities for students with emotional and intellectual disabilities from Kindergarten to adulthood.

The father of a 21-year-old who is in FIU’s Panther LIFE program, Rodriguez champions efforts to get students with special needs to learn the skills that will help them to live independently and contribute to their community.

At Ruth Owens Krusé, for example, students can learn business and cooking skills that could help them find jobs. Some students sell facial scrubs and similar products, others make jewelry, and a third group works in the school’s ROK Café.

“We’re working in a world of advocacy,” he said. “You need those advocates so people pay attention and do things for people with disabilities who need support. We need to maximize their potential.”

As director of the Panther LIFE program, Valle-Riestra worked throughout her career to include parents and families in the educational process for students with disabilities. This approach is vital, Valle-Riestra said, because families can provide crucial insights into how students behave at home, which might inform a student’s education plan.

She extended that approach to Panther LIFE, and credits the inclusion of families with increasing the chance of Panther LIFE students to successfully complete the post-secondary transition program where students with disabilities hone the skills needed to live independently and to find and keep jobs.

“To me it’s important because parents and families bring a different perspective,” Valle-Riestra said. “The student should have a strong voice in their education, but the parents or the family unit is the one that provides all those missing pieces that sometimes you cannot get from the students.”

Most recently, Valle-Riestra and College of Education Dean Delia C. Garcia, successfully advocated for recurring state funds to support Panther LIFE and to develop a similar post-secondary transition program for people with disabilities who are 22 to 26 years old – an age group that typically has been underserved.

“It goes hand-in-hand,” said Valle-Riestra. “You can’t do your job without advocating for the needs and rights of the population that you’re targeting.”

Garcia, Rosa L. Jones –an assistant professor in the College of Education– and Laverne Pinkney, a visiting clinical assistant professor in the College of Law– are previous Journey of Dreams honorees.

For details about the 11th Annual Journey of Dreams Benefit, click here.


FIU’s CLAVE program recognized among most effective in nation at increasing Latino student success in college

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015


Delia C. Garcia (center), dean of the College of Education and founder of the CLAVE initiative, is pictured with CLAVE student before the Spring 2014 commencement ceremony.

For the third consecutive year, the College of Education’s Creating Latino Access to a Valuable Education (CLAVE) initiative was recognized by elected officials and higher education leaders from across the country as an Examples of Excelencia finalist.

Excelencia in Education, the non-profit that conceived and runs the Examples of Excelencia program, recognized CLAVE from among 265 programs from 30 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia as a national finalist among America’s top programs that increase academic opportunities and increase achievement for Latino students.

“Our CLAVE graduates immediately put to use the skills and knowledge they obtain from our graduate programs to help improve the performance of our local schools,” said Delia C. Garcia, dean of the College of Education and founder of the CLAVE initiative. “In addition, creating access to a graduate education for Latino leaders is critical in order to ensure that our schools system continues to reflect the diverse nature of South Florida.”

Begun in 2009, CLAVE’s goal is to increase the number of graduate educational opportunities for Hispanic students. In five years, the initiative provided tuition scholarships to four cohorts of Miami-Dade County Public Schools teachers and administrators.

One cohort of students pursued a doctorate in Educational Administration and Supervision, and three cohorts pursued a master’s degree in Urban Education.

In addition, more than 50 travel awards have been granted to students and faculty in order to present manuscripts at numerous professional conferences.

“As one of this year’s finalists, FIU’s CLAVE initiative is at the forefront improving higher educational achievement for Latino students and we congratulate them for their current and continued efforts,” said Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education. “By increasing awareness of top programs like this, informing program strategies, and reinforcing investment in what works, Examples of Excelencia is creating new energy and inspiring a network of action-oriented leaders to discover and implement innovations that are effective with Latino and other post-traditional students.”

The Sept. 22 announcement event, Celebración de Excelencia, coincided with the release of the 2015 edition of “What Works for Latino Student Success in Higher Education,” a compendium of all 20 recognized programs including CLAVE and evidence of their success.

To download “What Works for Latino Student Success in Higher Education,” visit


Art Education alumnae win top awards

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015


Patricia Cummins, ’79, was named Florida’s Elementary Art Educator of the year by the Florida Art Education Association. Here she is pictured with her oil on canvas painting, “Everglades Dream,” part of the permanent collection of the Tropical Audubon Society.

College of Education alumnae took home three major awards issued recently by the Florida Art Education Association (FAEA).

Patricia Cummins ’79 was named Elementary Art Educator of the Year; Lourdes Fuller ’98 was named Middle School Art Educator of the Year; and Beth Goldstein ’99 was named Florida Art Educator of the Year.

“It was very unexpected,” said Fuller, who teaches art at Miami’s Shenandoah Middle School. “I really did not expect it at all. I am amazed and humbled that I was recognized.”

Each year, FAEA recognizes members who have reached the highest level of professionalism and who have made significant achievements in the classroom, who conduct research or who have their work shown in exhibitions, to name a few.

“They recognize that you’re not just sitting in a classroom,” said Goldstein, an art educator at Miami Springs Senior High School. “They want to see that you’re pushing kids above and beyond or how are you making changes in the arts education community.”


2015 marks the second straight year FAEA recognized Goldstein for her efforts inside and outside the classroom. In 2014, she was named Outstanding Secondary Art Educator.

“Art ties into every other subject area – it’s nothing but the practical application of science,” she said. “It’s easy for me to stretch outside my comfort zone but I push my students to enter contests where they have to make diagrams or make a piece of art and write about its connection to science.”

One such contest where Cummins, Fuller and Goldstein encouraged their students to participate is The Fairchild Challenge; run by Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens, it is open to students from pre-kindergarten to high school and calls on them to create environmentally-themed projects.

“I think that made an impact on my students,” said Cummins, who until last year taught children at Palmetto Elementary School in Pinecrest. “When they noticed that a corkystem passion flower vine at the school was damaged, they saw something happened to the butterflies – they weren’t there and they made that connection.

“They learn science, they learn math, what’s important with art and music,” she added. “It’s something that stays with them for their entire lives.”

Goldstein credits the Fairchild Challenge with motivating students where she used to teach at Miami Central High to excel. In a school where less than 12 percent of students were proficient in science at the time, she said, her students took third place overall in the science-based challenge.

In all, the alumnae credit their time at FIU for helping them become successful art educators who can summon their creativity and connect with their students.

“One of the things our professors pushed for was for us to practice our own art,” Fuller said. “It’s hard because there’s no tired like teacher tired but it’s important because once I start and I reach a hard step, it helps me think maybe this is what’s happening to my students and I think of ways I can help them.”


Dean’s Speaker Series : Dr. Etta R. Hollins

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015


COE, MDCPS partner to create teaching academy

Thursday, August 27th, 2015


FIU’s College of Education and Miami-Dade County Public Schools on Aug. 25 launched the first of its kind teaching academy at Ronald Reagan/Doral Senior High School.

So far, 22 high school freshmen have signed up for the academy, which is the first in Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) to feature a partnership with a state university.

“I know you can all remember your best teachers and I know that you understand how transformational a great teacher can be,” President Mark B. Rosenberg said to the students who attended the academy’s first class. “Let me assure you that working together, we aspire to nothing less for you so that when you graduate from the academy and then you go to FIU and graduate, you will be ready to be not just a good teacher but a great teacher.”

As they progress throughout their four years in high school, students will learn the basics of managing a classroom and how to teach children who come from diverse backgrounds.

Teaching Academy members will also have the opportunity to earn college credit through a dual enrollment program at FIU, and if they successfully complete the academy, earn guaranteed admission to the College of Education.

“This kind of program is an excellent idea because it’s a path for students to follow. It’s a way to get students interested in education as a career,” said Maria Tsalikis, leader of the elementary education program at the College of Education and a liaison to the Reagan High teachers. “It’s a way to harness their motivation and commit to a lifelong career.”

Students cheered during the ceremonial ribbon cutting where Rosenberg, College of Education Dean Delia C. Garcia, MDCPS Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, MDCPS School Board Member Susie V. Castillo, Reagan Sr. High Principal Juan Carlos Silva, and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen welcomed them to the classroom.

For Penelope Botticelli, 14, the academy brings her at least one step closer to fulfilling a childhood dream of following in her grandmother’s footsteps.

“My grandmother was a great teacher,” said Botticelli, who as a 10-year-old paid a visit to her grandmother’s law class in Colombia. “Her passion helped her connect with her students. She was their favorite teacher.”

Several of her classmates fondly remembered other educators who helped make learning complex subjects easier by making lessons fun.

“It’s very important for kids to be able to learn,” said Vanessa Beyra, 14. “Education benefits all kids. It opens more doors for them.”

MDCPS leaders also hope some of those doors open up for students at schools that serve South Florida.

“It’s very important to see students in our school system that want to go into teaching have the ability and opportunity to see what teaching is like and experience it and go on to a local university and come back to MDCPS,” said Castillo, the school board member who worked with the College of Education’s dean to develop the academy.

“I think it’s very important that our local teachers stay here because you understand our community and give back so much more,” Castillo added.


Before starting careers, Panther LIFE graduates master school, independent living

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

Panther Life graduation 2015-700x450

When William Perry saw his older sister move away to Michigan for college, it was something he knew would also be in his future.

It wouldn’t be easy for Perry, because there are few postsecondary transition programs for persons with intellectual disabilities in Florida. When his family learned of the College of Education’s Project Panther LIFE, however, they knew it would be the perfect fit for him.

“From the time he stepped on campus, he has been a diehard Panther,” said Dynise Perry, William’s mother. “He’s grown leaps and bounds. The journey has been amazing.”

On Aug. 5, William Perry and three other members of Panther LIFE, Limarkis Cail, Michael Deschapell and Vanessa Suazo, showed how much they grew and learned during a graduation ceremony of their own.

Leaders from the College of Education, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and the non-profit group Parent to Parent of Miami, which supports Panther LIFE, acknowledged the foursome for their dedication to academics and their perseverance in balancing school, work and family life.

“Today ends a chapter in their college experience and we hope they’ll find employment that is meaningful and inclusive,” said Diana Valle-Riestra, director of the Panther LIFE program. “I hope they dream big and they are able to move on to independent living, continue their education and come back to be a role model for other Panther LIFE students.”

Valle-Riestra marveled at how Suazo was able to accomplish so much during her three years in the program: becoming the first Panther LIFE student to have a published article, taking part in conferences and holding two internships, one with Parent to Parent of Miami and another in the Miami office of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

“I found that I really liked talking to people and when I was at Parent to Parent, I would help set up workshops that helped parents if their child had learning problems,” Suazo said. “I would help develop a plan on how to approach a teacher or school to ask for help with their child. I was being a comfort for the parents who had children with special needs.

“I was really blessed with this opportunity,” she added.

Her classmate, Deschappell, wasn’t shy either. While in the PantherLIFE program, he found a job as a weight room attendant at the FIU Wellness and Recreation Center.

“I had to make sure all the students and faculty have the correct attire,” he said. “My favorite part was having conversations with students because they started recognizing me all the time. It was cool. It was like I’m famous.”

But that job helped Deschapell grow in other ways, helping him learn about responsibility, managing his schedule, and helping others, said Associate Dean Thomas G. Reio. Jr., his faculty advisor.

“What I admire about him is that he’s willing to try,” Reio said. “He has a can-do spirit that I love. He didn’t want to be isolated from other students.”

Through Panther LIFE, Deschappell did have some time in the limelight, testifying before Florida’s State Board of Education on the impact that programs like PantherLIFE have on people with intellectual disabilities.

“I remember how confident and calm he was and how nervous I was,” Valle-Riestra said.

Cail, meanwhile, also found success as a Special Olympics athlete, balancing the commitments of school and work, and delivering a presentation at a Hartwick symposium.

“I was secretly thrilled that he was selected for the Panther LIFE program because I remembered what it would mean to his whole family that he would come to college and be a role model for his younger brothers and sisters,” Valle-Riestra said. “When Limarkis transitioned to an internship at Sluggers Batting Cages, he put in 23 hours a week. He went above the requirement of 20 hours – not an easy task while going to school and meeting all your program responsibilities.”

What’s next for these students? Starting careers.

Deschapell plans to work at the Wellness and Recreation Center for at least another semester and Suazo is hoping to eventually become a counselor offering help to people with special needs.

William Perry knows his next step will be making sure his parents have an empty nest. Like his fellow classmates, he went through Panther LIFE’s residential program, where he learned to cook, budget his money, live with a roommate and manage his own schedule while living on campus.

“I’m going to look for work,” he said. “I’m ready to move out of my parents’ home and live in my own apartment.”


Graduates earn first online education master’s degrees

Friday, August 7th, 2015

MSSE-MSCI-online-cohort-700x450When Naomi Samole-Prager learned of the fully online master’s degree programs offered by the College of Education, she knew it was the key to achieving a lifelong dream.

“I wanted to get a teaching degree with an autism endorsement,” said Samole-Prager, a 42-year-old single mother of two who could not have worked toward her master’s degree if it wasn’t available online. “My brother has autism so I’ve been around it all my life. It’s my passion. It’s my love.”

While commencement marked a special day for Samole-Prager and her classmates, it was also a milestone for the college, which graduated its first fully online student cohorts in the master’s of science in curriculum and instruction and special education programs.

In all, 22 students graduated from the fully online curriculum and instruction program and 13 graduated from special education program on Aug. 3.

Students in these programs are on an accelerated 12-month schedule, taking four courses per semester in lock step with the other members of their graduating class.

“Doing a yearlong master’s program is not easy,” said Samole-Prager, who earned a master of science in special education. “Not having a life was difficult, but it’s worth it because I want to teach students in Pre-K to make sure they get a good start on their education.”

Angela Ramirez, who graduated from the online curriculum and instruction program, was motivated to join the program because of a desire to help her colleagues.

“When I started teaching middle school science, I asked for curriculum guides and my school said they didn’t have any. Start at chapter one,” said Ramirez, also a mother of two. “I needed to develop some form of curriculum for myself and I found I really like doing this.”

Now that she’s finished her master’s program, Ramirez is armed with strategies and best practices that will allow her to help develop curricula for a variety of subjects.

“It’s very scientific,” Ramirez, 43, said of the approach to curriculum development she learned. “You have to listen to your children when you’re developing a curriculum. If they’re not responding, you have to try something new.”

For Dianelly Mouradian, earning her degree online was not just a matter of convenience, it was a way to create more opportunities in the future.

“I love that I’m able to teach students that everyone else has trouble teaching,” said Mouradian, 31, who currently teaches ESE students at Imagine Charter School in Weston. “I plan to be a teacher for a while, but I would like to become a school administrator and teach at the college level some day.”

After taking some time off, Joseph Luc, who graduated from the curriculum and instruction program, plans to return to the university and earn a Ph.D.

Luc, 36, was moved by courses that prepared him and his fellow classmates to better integrate technology into the classroom and to meet the needs of diverse students.

“We have to evolve and adapt to further our students,” Luc said. “I’ve been teaching for 12 years and what ends up happening in the classroom is that we think what worked last year is going to work this year.

“Not true,” he added. “Students are different each year, they come from different backgrounds. So to streamline education so it’s one size fits all doesn’t work.”

With the 12-month program now behind them, the graduates reveled during commencement.

“I had this feeling of euphoria,” Ramirez said of walking across the commencement stage. “All the hard work, the sleepless nights, my children who sacrificed a lot – we didn’t go on vacation. This is what I did this for.”


Worlds Ahead Graduate Breny DaParre Garcia

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Breny-DaParre-Garcia-195x300When Breny DaParre Garcia was 21 years old and working toward earning her bachelor’s degree from FIU, the unthinkable happened. Carbon monoxide poisoning claimed the life of her sorority sister and close friend, Jessica Bertot, and Bertot’s boyfriend, Anthony Perez, as they sat in a parked car in a Weston shopping center.

It was a moment that changed Breny, now 32, forever. As president of the sorority, it fell on her shoulders to provide comfort to so many others who were grieving, while seeing firsthand the challenges that a university faces in helping its students cope with unexpected loss.

Breny further explored the topic of crisis management at the university level during a graduate level course taught by FIU Dean of Students Cathy Akens, which ultimately inspired her doctoral dissertation.

Mentored by FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg and Akens, Breny investigated how presidents and crisis managers at each of Florida’s 12 State University System schools responded to and managed crises as they arose.

Breny found that in order to properly manage these challenges, university presidents must work closely with their emergency management leaders to improve communication. University presidents, she found, also must strike a balance between being too hands-on and too hands-off.

After commencement, Breny a longtime FIU employee, will continue working at the university as the assistant vice president for institutional relations, leading select institutional and presidential initiatives involving key university donors, community partners, academic organizations and student initiatives.

Worlds Ahead Graduate Elizabeth Willis

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Elizabeth Willis
Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction
College of Education

Elizabeth Willis

Elizabeth Willis, 38, was always interested in finding out why some children were successful in school and why others seemed to need more help.

According to research Elizabeth conducted while earning her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction, the key to helping children succeed lies in helping them develop their ability to ward off distractions and to control their emotions and impulses.

The biggest challenge, she found, was that while teachers spent a significant amount of classroom time coaching their students on how to behave, they didn’t use every tool in the arsenal.

One of the ways that teachers can help children to “self-regulate” is by taking a step back and letting students take the lead on learning positive behaviors. Dedicating 10 minutes or less a day to meditation or mindfulness techniques that help children focus on simple tasks while helping them to ignore their impulses could make a significant impact, according to Elizabeth’s research.

In addition, she found that collegiate teacher preparation programs might consider updating their curriculum to include dedicated courses on classroom management techniques.

The journals “Early Childhood Development and Care” and “Early Childhood Teacher Education” have published Elizabeth’s research.

After commencement, Elizabeth plans to continue her work in the field of early childhood education in Miami-Dade County.


Monday, July 27th, 2015

Trotting the globe for education

Kingston students-700x450

Medjy Pierre-Louis’ parents didn’t receive the best education in Haiti, she says, but it provided enough opportunity for them to move to South Florida, eventually buy a home and start a family.

“Education is everything,” Pierre-Louis recalled her father telling her from a young age. “You can go much farther than me. Imagine how much farther you can make it with everything.”

Now 19, Pierre-Louis is testing the limits of how far around the world education can take her. She’s recently finished research trips to Haiti and Jamaica where she worked to determine how developing countries were preparing their future generations for the 21st century.

“There is a big issue of brain drain in both countries,” Pierre-Louis said. “Resources are scarce and domestic industries are limited, which forces students to leave their countries in search of better opportunities. Each country has social constructs such as class and gender roles, which make climbing the social mobility ladder through education even more difficult.”

To overcome these challenges, Pierre-Louis sought to leverage a curriculum for middle and high school students designed by the Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce that would improve a child’s ability to develop critical thinking and leadership skills, as well as being able to use new or emerging technologies through a civic education model.

It differed greatly from how students in Haiti are taught. Pierre-Louis said a government official described Haiti’s education system as being stuck in the 19th century, that lessons there focus too much on rote memorization.

“In Haiti, most students never had the experience of working with computers, particularly kids in the rural part of the country,” she said. “Their eagerness to learn propelled them to succeed. They figured it out.“

Along the way, Pierre-Louis received support from FIU’s McNair grant program, an FIU Global Learning fellowship, and a Purdue University research grant.

She also consulted with College of Education assistant professors Meg Gardinier and Sarah Matthews.

“From the very beginning she set her sights really high as far as the contributions she wants to make to society,” said Gardinier, who teaches in the college’s International and Intercultural Education MS program. “In that way she’s one of those one in a million people who are inspiring.”

Gardinier worked with Pierre-Louis to sharpen her focus on research methodology and to prepare her for difficulties that might present themselves while working in the field.

She also encouraged Pierre-Louis to present the initial findings of the research trip to Haiti this February at a conference at the University of Central Florida and they’re working on a paper they hope to present at the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference in 2016.

Pierre-Louis still hasn’t quenched her thirst for knowledge. For most of August, she will intern with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in the West African nation of Burkina-Faso, where the agency is developing water and sanitation systems.

She’ll then travel to China for a semester abroad studying Mandarin at the Beijing Language and Culture University where she also hopes to teach English in schools there. After earning her undergraduate degree in international relations and political science with social science education, Pierre-Louis will travel back to Haiti to continue her research and apply for graduate school.

Scroll down below for a journey through Pierre-Louis’s journey around the world. We’ll keep it updated as she posts photos from Burkina-Faso and China.