Editor’s Note: The following story on alumnus Miguel Cardona was originally published in UConn Magazine’s Spring 2021 Edition.
President Joe Biden tapped Miguel Cardona ’01 MA, ’04 6th Year, ’11 Ed.D., ’12 ELP to be the country’s top education official and, once fully confirmed, Cardona will become the first UConn alum to hold a Cabinet-level position in the White House.
“He will help us address systemic inequities, tackle the mental health crisis in our education system, give educators a well-deserved raise, ease the burden of education debt, and secure high quality, universal pre-K for every three- and four-year-old in the country,” Biden said in a statement announcing his choice. “As a lifelong champion of public education, he understands that our children are the kite strings that keep our national ambitions aloft — and that everything that will be possible for our country tomorrow will be thanks to the investments we make and the care that our educators and our schools deliver today.”
“As a lifelong champion of public education, (Dr. Cardona) understands that our children are the kite strings that keep our national ambitions aloft.”
— President Joe Biden
Cardona and the Neag School
Cardona has a long association with the Neag School of Education, earning four postgraduate degrees and certificates from the School while moving from teaching fourth grade in MerideCin to his appointment by Gov. Ned Lamont as the state’s education commissioner.
And his ties with the Neag School and UConn go beyond earning degrees; he represented Meriden as a partner district on the Neag School Leadership Preparation Advisory Board; was an instructor in the UConn Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP) for several years before becoming education commissioner; and was a guest instructor in an Executive Leadership Program course on school district leadership.
“Dr. Cardona exemplifies the very best of public education in our state, which he has served as a classroom teacher, a principal, and as Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education,” says UConn President Thomas C. Katsouleas. “We are very proud of his ties to UConn, not only as a recipient of multiple degrees, but as an adjunct instructor in the Neag School of Education and an advocate for his students and colleagues. His nomination to serve as the country’s top educational leader is an amazing credit to Dr. Cardona’s talent, commitment, and passion, as well as a tribute to public education in Connecticut. On behalf of our entire University, we wish him the greatest success.”
“Miguel has continued to contribute his time and energy to our students, faculty, and alumni,” says Dean Gladis Kersaint. “On the national stage, he will no doubt shine as an engaged and competent leader at a time when our schools are facing challenges like never before.”
“On the national stage, he will no doubt shine as an engaged and competent leader at a time when our schools are facing challenges like never before.”
— Dean Gladis Kersaint
When asked in a 2017 interview with the Neag School’s Shawn Kornegay what led him to choose the field of education, Cardona said, “Kids. There are few things as gratifying as knowing that your hard work will improve the lives of children. Coming from a family who modeled service to others, I knew I wanted a profession that would give me the opportunity to serve others and help strengthen my community. Teaching did that. Initially, I wanted to become an art teacher. I love the arts and the important role it plays in the development of a person, but I gravitated toward elementary education once in the program. Being an elementary teacher is akin to being an artist, so I got the best of both worlds.”
Asked what makes a great educator, he replied, “Great educators are ones that do not look at their work as a job, [but] as an extension of their God-given gifts. The passion and commitment from great educators comes from within . . . Great educators build relationships with students and set a high bar for their growth. Great educators believe in the potential of their students, even if the students don’t yet. Great educators pay attention to detail and, like any other profession, value the importance of preparation. Whether that is lesson design, or getting to know their students, great teachers invest in their work — and they reap the benefits of their students’ success … The role of teacher is the most important of all. Teachers shape lives.”