Eight Neag Alumni Honored for Career Achievements

Eight outstanding graduates of the Neag School of Education, including the first recipient of the Promising Young Professional Award, were honored in May by the Neag Alumni Society at its 12th Annual Awards Dinner. Lynne Allen, the Neag alumni coordinator who is retiring, also was honored by alumni and faculty at the May 15 event.

Lisa Landa, already designated Teacher of the Year in Madison, CT, picked up the Neag honor for Outstanding School Educator. Landa, B.S. 1973 and M.A. 1978, teaches English at Daniel Hand High School and was nominated by her assistant superintendent, Anita Rutlin.

Landa, who banks books during the school year to read on her summer break, works hard to pass along her passion for literature to her students. Last year she taught a class of 10 boys with varying learning challenges and turned them on to Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”

“We absolutely loved this class,” she said. “They connected so much with Lenny, this misunderstood person who was certainly not a bright man and couldn’t communicate well, but had a good soul.” The class referred to the book all year, Landa added.

Desi D. Nesmith, principal of America’s Choice SAND Elementary School in Hartford, was nominated by former Dean Richard Schwab and current Dean Thomas DeFranco to receive the first Promising Young Professional Award. From the Neag School, Nesmith earned his bachelor’s in elementary education in 2001, master’s in 2002, and completed the University of Connecticut Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP) in 2009. Former Dean Schwab praised Nesmith as “one of the most talented graduates that we had during my tenure as dean.”

Susan F. Cooper, who holds a 1975 bachelor’s in recreational services and is director of recreation for the City of Newport, Rhode Island, won the Outstanding Professional Award. Cooper was nominated by Carol Ewing Garber.

Jonathan A. Plucker, B.S. 1991 and M.A. 1992 from Neag and Ph.D. 1995 from the University of Virginia, was honored as the Outstanding Higher Education Professional. Plucker, nominated by Marcia Gentry, is professor of educational psychology and cognitive science at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN.

Jeffrey A. Schumann was awarded the Outstanding School Administrator designation for his work as assistant superintendent in the Newington, CT, schools. Schumann, who has a 2005 Ph.D. in education administration from Neag, was nominated by Suzanne D’Annolfo and Barry Scheckley.

Michael J. Frechette, Ph.D. 1987, was honored as Outstanding School Superintendent for his role in the Middletown, CT, public schools. Frechette was nominated by Mark Shibles.

The Outstanding Kinesiology Professional is John W. Castellani, who holds a Ph.D. in exercise science, 1995. Castellani is a research physiologist in the Thermal and Mountain Medicine Division at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, MA.

Nancy D. Ciesla, a physical therapy clinical specialist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, is the 2010 Outstanding Physical Therapy Professional. Ciesla, who has a 1972  B.S. in physical therapy, was nominated by Craig Denegar, Denise Ward and Richard Bohannon.

Lynne Allen, a retired special education teacher in the Mansfield, CT schools, recalls the awards banquet growing from 100 attendees to 350, noting large crowds the years the late A.J. Pappanikou, pioneer in the field of developmental disabilities, and Fran Archambault Jr., alumni trustee, Neag professor emeritus and past chairman of the education psychology department, were honored.

Of the preparations for the eight annual honorees, Allen said, “I often thought it was like planning eight weddings all in the same night. I did it for 11 years, so that was 88 wedding receptions plus my own two kids … that’s 90,” she said, laughing.

“Lynne has been indispensable,” Neag Alumni Society president Sandra Justin said recently. “She makes the job of the president and a board member easy.

“She has taken the lead on every event, from soliciting door prizes for the Game Watch to taking the Polaroid pictures of ‘Jonathan and friends’ at Homecoming. We will miss her organization, her thoughtfulness and the way she makes everyone feel welcome with her warm smile.”

Allen, who earned her master’s degree in special education at the University of Illinois and a B.S. at Skidmore College, is a diehard Husky fan, along with her husband, George J. Allen, professor emeritus in clinical psychology. She proudly recounts her Neag connection – son Michael Allen, earned his Ph.D. in kinesiology from Neag, is now athletic director at Catholic University, Washington D.C.  Allen received a gift and praise from Dean DeFranco and Lisa Lewis, executive director of the UConn Alumni Association, at the banquet.