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Heller Awards

Heller Teaching, Mentoring, Staff Service, Teaching Assistant, Early Career Research Investigator, and Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Awards

2021 Heller Awards honor outstanding service during a challenging year

April 14, 2021

The Heller community celebrated this year’s Heller Award winners in a virtual ceremony, recognizing individuals who stepped up during a pandemic year to provide outstanding service in teaching, mentoring, teaching assistance, staff service, research, and equity, inclusion and diversity. The awards, given each spring, are nominated from within the school community and determined by a committee of past awardees, students and recent alumni. 

“This event is a highlight of our academic year because it recognizes members of our community for the amazing work they do,” said Dean David Weil. “It’s an opportunity for all of us to acknowledge the different pieces that come together to achieve our mission as a school and as part of Brandeis.”

The teaching award was given to lecturer Robert Dunigan, PhD’04, a senior research associate in the Schneider Institutes for Health Policy and Research, who motivated and supported students in his course on criminal justice disparities during a year of online teaching. Nominators said, “His no-nonsensical approach to the material, empathy for his students, and humor sets the ideal tone for the course,” and “I’m always sad when the clock hits 4:50 pm and we have to sign off Zoom.” In addition, amid racial justice protests across the nation, his insights into the criminal justice system “inspired a passion in myself and many of my fellow colleagues to fight for reform,” wrote another student.

Sarah LaMorey, MA SID/COEX’19, practicum program manager for global programs, received the mentoring award. Her team describes her as “our rock, a moral compass, courageous and selfless,” and a faculty nominator said “she dedicates 100% of her energy to students as a mentor.” Student nominators described how they turn to LaMorey to help navigate the stresses of graduate school, helping “to strategize a healthy balance between academics, research and career, that focused on quality and not quantity.”

Staff service award winner Amy DiMattia was recognized for her work as associate director of the Executive MBA for Physicians program. DiMattia shared her invaluable expertise in online learning with the rest of Heller as the school pivoted to online instruction during the pandemic—all while balancing the needs of her physician students on the front lines. Nominators called her a “professional force of nature” who “clearly loves what she does.” Another nominator said, “When the pandemic hit, and our cohort was in crisis, I got several phone calls from the EMBA group to check in, to prioritize efforts, and to ensure we were safe.”

Julianna Brill, MA SID/COEX’22, received the teaching assistant award. Every nominator said that Brill goes “above and beyond” in her role, praising her for her weekly digest emails, explanations of course concepts and assignments, and adaptability for last minute changes and logistics. Despite also serving as Heller Student Association co-chair and taking her own classes, Brill was a tireless “advocate, mentor, teacher and ally, helping students make sense of class activities that are both difficult both practically and professionally." In her acceptance remarks, Brill said, “I wanted to be the kind of TA that I was inspired by. Thank you to Heller and Brandeis for providing the first academic setting where I could not only succeed but thrive.”

The Equity, Inclusion and Diversity award was given to Finn Gardiner, MPP’18, communications specialist for the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy. Gardiner was honored for his work combining disability advocacy, policy analysis, and visual and written communication to help advance the rights of people with disabilities and those at the intersections of disability, race, gender, sexuality, and other statuses. “Finn’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is evident through everything he does,” said one nominator. Gardiner was also recently inducted into the Susan M. Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame by the National Disability Mentoring Coalition and Partners for Youth with Disabilities.

Research Scientist Clemens Noelke of the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy received the Early Career Research Investigator Award. “Clemens is simply a super star, a gifted quantitative researcher applying the most rigorous methods, while painstakingly working with groups and organizations on the ground on applications of the research to improve child wellbeing and equity,” wrote ICYFP Director Dolores Acevedo-Garcia in her nomination letter. “At a personal level, Clemens is an outstanding example of professional integrity and collegiality. Every day he inspires everyone on our team to do a better job.” Noelke led the development of the Child Opportunity Index 2.0 and was recently cited in the New York Times for his work with Dean Weil on wage norms.


See the full list of past winners here

Committee to Determine Teaching, Mentoring, Staff Service, Teaching Assistant, and Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Awards

A selection committee composed of faculty, students, staff and alumni will review nominations. The committee will primarily be guided by the content of the nominations and secondly by the number of nominations.  In the case of nominees for the Teaching Award and Teaching Assistant Award, the committee will also look at teaching evaluations. For the 2019-2020 academic year, the committee was as follows:

Teaching Award Past Winners:

  • Laura Beals
  • Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld

Mentoring Award Past Winners:

  • Monika Mitra
  • Ravi Laksmikanthan

Staff Service Award Past Winners:

  • Sandra Jones
  • Marc Kiredjian

Representatives of Heller's 7 degree-granting programs and alumni:

  • Representative from the COEX program
  • Representative from the MPP program
  • Representative from the MBA program
  • Representative from the MS GHPM program
  • Representative from the SID program
  • Representative from the EMBA program
  • Representative from the PhD. Program
  • Alumni Representative

Other Members

  • Deborah Garnick, Co-Chair
  • Darren Zinner, Co-Chair

Current committee members are ineligible to win.

Committee to Determine Early Career Research Investigator Award

The winner of this award will be determined by a subcommittee of the Research Steering Committee.

Teaching Award Criteria

Excellent teachers can help students to be excited about learning, understand complex issues and events, or master a subject area. Your nomination for an excellence in teaching award should describe how the faculty member has been an outstanding teacher, incorporating criteria listed below. Please provide some specific examples and stories.  Any Heller faculty or research/program staff member is eligible to receive the Award if they have taught any Heller graduate course in calendar year.

Excellence in teaching manifests itself in many different modes, styles, and voices, but some criteria include the ability to:

  • Communicate subject matter accurately, clearly, and with enthusiasm.
  • Be sensitive to racism, ageism, sexism, genderism, ableism, inclusivity, and other diversity issues.
  • Present, invite, and test multiple and balanced points of view.
  • Expand students’ ways of thinking by offering intellectual approaches that apply beyond the specific subject matter of the class.
  • Challenge and inspire students to become engaged citizens of the world who aspire not only to achieve understanding, but also to advance the cause of social justice.
  • Create communities of learners in which students can and do take intellectual risks and experiment creatively.
  • Treat all students with respect and consideration, responding appropriately to the individual needs of each student.
  • Stimulate students’ intellectual curiosity, fostering critical and creative thinking and problem solving.
  • Inspire and support students to do their best work.

Mentoring Award Criteria

The mentoring relationships students form with faculty and researchers at Heller can enhance their graduate education and lead to the achievement of professional and career development goals. Your nomination for an excellence in mentoring award should describe how the faculty, staff, or researcher who has mentored you academically during the calendar year has been outstanding in supporting and encouraging your research, education, professional, and personal development. Please provide some specific examples and stories. Some of the activities carried out by excellent mentors are:

  • Inspiring students to develop a vision of their personal and professional future, encouraging them to see what is possible, believe they can achieve it, and act on it.
  • Sensitivity to racism, ageism, sexism, genderism, ableism, inclusivity, and other diversity issues.
  • Advising and guiding research and field work.
  • Organizing an effective environment for research and scholarship.
  • Developing talents such as research skills, management expertise, teaching ability, presentations, writing, and preparation of grant and fellowship applications.
  • Challenging and inspiring students to become engaged citizens of the world who aspire not only to achieve understanding, but also to advance the cause of social justice.
  • Sponsoring students in the academic/professional community.
  • Advocacy and guidance in organizational and professional matters.
  • Serving as a successful role model.
  • Showing concern for students as individuals and supporting their personal development.
  • Demonstrating a long-term commitment to mentoring (including changing their roles as each student develops during graduate school).

Staff Service Award Criteria

Non-academic staff (not teachers or researchers) organize an effective environment for learning, teaching, and research and foster excellence in these areas.  Your nomination for an award for excellence in staff service should describe how the staff member has made an outstanding contribution to the community and its shared mission of using knowledge to advance social justice during the calendar year.  Please provide some specific examples and stories.

Excellence in staff service is demonstrated in many different ways, but some ways include:

  • Promoting cooperative and effective organizational operations.
  • Sensitivity to racism, ageism, sexism, genderism, ableism, inclusivity, and other diversity issues and to the diversity of life experiences of community members.
  • Interacting with all community members as individuals and supporting their personal development.
  • Guiding students in adjusting to and navigating the challenges of graduate school.
  • Assisting community members in pursuing excellence in scholarship and research.
  • Facilitating contributions to social policy.
  • Fostering a sense of community with a shared mission within and across programs.
  • Modeling excellence in communication skills.

Teaching Assistant Award Criteria

Like the lead instructors they assist, excellent teaching assistants can help students to be excited about learning, understand complex issues and events, or master a subject area. Your nomination for a teaching assistant award should describe how they have been an outstanding teaching assistant, incorporating criteria listed below. Please provide some specific examples and stories.  Any Heller graduate student is eligible to receive the Award if they have been an official teaching assistant in any HSSP undergraduate or Heller graduate course in calendar year

Excellence in the role of teaching assistant manifests itself in multiple ways, but some criteria include the ability to:

  • Assist the lead instructor and students to create a community of learners in which students, both as a group and individually, can and do take intellectual risks and experiment creatively.
  • Be sensitive to racism, ageism, sexism, genderism, ableism inclusivity, and other diversity issues.
  • Contribute to the smooth functioning of the course and the depth of students’ learning.
  • Treat all students with respect and consideration, responding appropriately to the individual needs of each student.
  • Communicate subject matter accurately, clearly, and with enthusiasm.
  • Make difficult concepts and information accessible and understandable.
  • Stimulate students’ intellectual curiosity, fostering critical and creative thinking and problem solving.
  • Inspire and support students to do their best work.
  • Challenge and inspire students to become engaged citizens of the world who aspire not only to achieve understanding, but also to advance the cause of social justice.

Heller Early Career Research Investigator Award

The purpose of this award is to honor the work of an early career Heller School researcher who has made an exceptional contribution to the science or whose work has had an impact on the public or community.  The contribution can be in the form of a publication, a research or program evaluation, research grant or contract, or other recognition by the research, scientific or funding community.  Eligibility for this award is limited to Heller faculty and staff who are approximately ten years or less from graduation with a research degree.

Nominations will include a 1-2 page summary describing how the researcher has met each of the criteria, and the nominee's CV.  The following criteria will be used to select a winning researcher:

  • Contribution of the research on science or current literature
  • Importance of the issue in terms of social policy
  • Innovation / creativity
  • Impact or potential impact of the work on diverse or underserved populations
  • Contribution to Heller social impact mission

Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Award Criteria

This award is given to members of the Heller community who go above and beyond their roles and responsibilities to make noteworthy contributions that help advance inclusive excellence. These individuals have demonstrated recognizable efforts related to diversity, inclusion, equity and/or social justice to help enrich experiences for our faculty, researchers, staff, and students and contribute to the overall success and climate of the school. Any Heller Community member is eligible to receive the EID Award if they have made a significant contribution to equity, inclusion and diversity in calendar year.

The nomination should explain the particular distinction that makes the nominee exceptionally qualified for this honor using one or more of the following criteria:

  • Developing a climate supportive of all students, staff, faculty & researchers, including fostering an environment that encourages collaboration, trust, and respect.
  • Engaging or leading public and/or academically-oriented endeavors that demonstrate intellectual excellence and commitment to diversity including: all protected classes, geographic origins, languages, ability, religion, political perspectives, socioeconomic class.
  • Welcoming new ideas and input from others and valuing diverse perspectives and opinions
  • Leading or sustaining efforts to use scholarly, co-curricular, and/or creative work to enhance the success of students and faculty of diverse backgrounds
  • Raising awareness and actively participating in diversity and inclusion efforts within the school
  • Committing to sustained effort and demonstrated outcomes to bring about equity in our community or society as whole.