More than 250 students, faculty, and alumni recently celebrated the 15th anniversary of the naming of the Neag School of Education. The name honors Ray and Carole Neag, who in 1999 generously donated $21 million to the school–the largest gift ever given to a U.S. school of education at that time. Since then, the Neag School has grown to become a nationally ranked school, with additional recognition for teacher preparation, educational research, and educational leadership.
The event began with remarks from Dean Richard L. Schwab, who noted he has witnessed “tremendous growth” at the school and expects to watch much more be achieved in the years ahead.
Since becoming the Neag School of Education, the school has awarded more than $1.5 million in scholarships, expanded its teacher education program by 60 percent, risen from an unranked public school of education to a highly ranked school of education in the U.S., expanded and renovated the Gentry building, grown its faculty from 50 to over 80 professors, increased the number of endowed professorships from one to seven, and expanded both its donor base and endowment fund. Schwab estimates that during the last 15 years, Neag graduates have gone on to teach as many as 266,000 schoolchildren.
“This number only represents our teacher preparation program. It does not include those who’ve graduated from our doctoral, psychology, school counseling, principal or superintendent programs,” Schwab continued. “Add those graduates into the mix, and that 266,000 increases exponentially. The Neag School is significantly shaping the way teachers teach and students learn. It’s a job we tackle with enthusiasm, excellence and expertise.”
Among other notable graduates, he cited Neag Scholars–those who received scholarships to attend the school–who have gone on to receive recognition for accomplishments in their fields. Among them are 22 teachers of the year, three assistant principals of the year, two superintendents of the year, two counselors of the year, and 58 others who have received a variety of similar education awards, Schwab said.
Just last month, Neag alumnus Desi Nesmith, principal of Metacomet Elementary School in Bloomfield, was presented with a 2014 Milken Educator Award, which is nicknamed the “Oscars of Teaching.” He was the only Connecticut educator to receive the honor.
Schwab said the $21 million given by the Neags–which was matched with $3 million in state funds–has provided countless opportunities for students, as well as has allowed the Neag School to become one of the top research institutions in the nation and the world.
“Our faculty consists of a healthy blend of new talent, and established scholars, who are all distinguished in their areas of expertise,” Schwab said. “I believe a great faculty is like a great symphony. You can’t have all who play the same instrument. Our school cannot prosper without people who make partnerships work, provide service to a broad range of committees, carefully advise and support students, and who excel in the classroom.”
Among other faculty members, he cited educational pioneers Don Leu, the John and Maria Neag Endowed Chair of Literacy and Technology; George Sugai, the Carole J. Neag Endowed Chair in Special Education; Joseph Renzulli, the Ray and Lynn Neag Chair of Gifted Education and Talent Development; and Sally Reis, the Letitia Neag Morgan Chair in Educational Psychology. The hiring of these four faculty members alone has resulted in more than $150 million in grant support for the Neag School, UConn and the state overall, Schwab said.
After Dean Schwab’s opening remarks, 2006 Neag alumna Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis gave the keynote presentation, which addressed the “incredible impact” teachers have on the world.
“I was recently asked, ‘What would the world be like without teachers?’ I replied, ‘It wouldn’t work.’ Everyone starts with school,” Roig-DeBellis said.
A first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School when the tragic December 2012 shooting occurred, Roig-DeBellis is the founder of the non-profit Classes 4 Classes, an organization that uses engaging projects to connect students from different classes across the country. Through these projects, young people discover ways to learn from, and care for, each other.
“It was something that grew out of the Sandy Hook shooting, when students from not just throughout our nation, but from throughout the world, were sending things to our school. Teddy bears, cupcakes–so many things were sent to us,” Roig-DeBellis said. “And I said, ‘I need to take this moment to teach my students that when you get, you have to give.’ Because that’s what ultimately makes our world a better place.”
The work led to her being named one of Glamour Magazine‘s 2013 Women of the Year and sitting next to first lady Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address. During the Neag School’s celebratory weekend, she received the UConn Alumni Association’s Humanitarian of the Year Award.
“Being surrounded by this group of educators, and listening to the speakers, reminded me even more of how much I want to be a teacher,” said current fourth-year elementary education student Krista Hespeler. “The message from Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis was one of so much power because, as teachers, we do more than what people think we do. I’m so lucky to be part of the Neag School of Education, and I’m so excited to continue my teaching journey.”
The evening prior to the Oct. 25 celebration event, Dean Richard Schwab and Provost Mun Choi hosted an Investiture and Medals Ceremony recognizing Preston Green III as the John and Carla Klein Professor of Urban Education, and Jonathan Plucker and Suzanne Wilson as Neag Endowed Professors. Scott Brown was also recognized as a new Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor, the highest recognition UConn bestows.
“Our students get to work on some of the most critical issues facing our nation, with some of the most accomplished faculty in the world,” Schwab said. “Faculty get the support they need to conduct groundbreaking research. It’s a win-win situation with incredible benefits.”
Among other activities during the celebratory event, breakout sessions were held for students, faculty, alumni and friends. Sessions led by Neag faculty members Preston Green, Suzanne Wilson, Sally Reis, Joseph Renzulli, George Sugai, Scott Brown and Jonathan Plucker addressed issues as varied as charter school funding, the achievement gap, student behavior and educational creativity.
“The anniversary celebration was a great event in which I was able to personally connect with professors and leading researchers one to one,” said past scholarship recipient, Justis Lopez. “It was also heartwarming to meet Mr. and Mrs. Neag, and thank them for all they have done, through a meaningful conversation.”
To view videos from the Keynote and Faculty talks, click here.