2024 Heller Awards Honor and Celebrate Excellence in the Community

April 10, 2024

Heller Award winners Kate Giapponi Schneider, PhD'16 (left) and Alexandra Piñeros-Shields, PhD'07 (right) flank Dolores Acevedo-Garcia at the 2024 Heller Awards ceremony
Left to right: 2024 Early Career Research Investigator Award winner Kate Giapponi Schneider, PhD'16; Dolores Acevedo-Garcia; and 2024 Heller Teaching Award winner Alexandra Piñeros-Shields, PhD’07
Senior Lecturer Joseph Assan accepting his award during the 2024 Heller Awards ceremony
2024 Mentoring Award winner Joseph Assan
Rosella Carrelli, Senior Department Coordinator, with Interim Dean Maria Madison at the 2024 Heller Awards ceremony
2024 Staff Service Award winner Rosella Carrelli with Interim Dean Maria Madison
Ian Moura, PhD candidate, with Interim Dean Maria Madison at the 2024 Heller Awards ceremony
2024 Teaching Assistant Award winner Ian Moura with Interim Dean Maria Madison
Robert Dunigan, PhD'04
2024 Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Award Winner Robert Dunigan, PhD'04
Katherine Nace, MPP'24, with Interim Dean Maria Madison at the 2024 Heller Awards ceremony
2024 Barbara Wakefield Award winner Katherine Nace, MPP'24, with Interim Dean Maria Madison
Jia (Maggie) Shealy, MPP'25
2024 Dean's Award winner Jia (Maggie) Shealy, MPP'25
Members of the Heller Admissions and Communications Teams with Interim Dean Maria Madison at the 2024 Heller Awards ceremony
Members of the Heller Admissions and Communications teams with Interim Dean Maria Madison

Each spring, the Heller community gathers together to celebrate the many accomplishments and milestones over the course of the academic year. The awards recognize individuals for outstanding teaching; mentoring; teaching assistance; staff service; research; and equity, inclusion, and diversity in the 2023 calendar year. Special awards include the Barbara Wakefield Award, presented to a student who has contributed to community-building within and outside of Heller; and the Dean’s Award, presented for the first time last year by Interim Dean Maria Madison. Winners are nominated from within the Heller community and determined by a committee of past awardees, student representatives from each academic program, and alumni. 

Interim Dean Madison commenced this year’s ceremony, noting that the 2024 Heller Awards received over 120 nominations, a testament to the engagement and enthusiasm to recognize excellence and the many individuals whose contributions are appreciated by the community. Before announcing the awardees, she shared a quote from the decision meeting that the committee held a few weeks prior to the ceremony: “We have an embarrassment of riches in a wonderful way.”

Teaching Excellence Award: Alexandra Piñeros-Shields, PhD’07, Director of the MPP Program

Alexandra Pineros-Shields was recognized for her passion, genuineness, and inclusive pedagogy. One nominator said that she has an “exceptional talent for simplifying complex ideas and making them accessible to students. Her teaching style empowers students to tackle challenging subjects with confidence.” Another noted her inclusive way of teaching the Immigration Policy course, particularly, “providing students with voices of those with lived experience within the immigration system and the power dynamics that work at stratified levels of the system.”

Mentoring Award: Joseph Assan, Senior Lecturer and Director of the MA in Sustainable International Development Program

Joseph Assan received this year's honor for mentorship in recognition of his dedication to supporting students by building relationships with them, understanding their interests, and giving advice without judgment. One nominator called Joseph a “guiding light, instilling hope in those who may lack it, assuming the role of a pilot, leading students on an international journey in their classes to ensure a thorough comprehension of concepts. With a perfect blend of personality, humor, and extensive knowledge, he effectively molds students to actively engage in social ju

Early Career Research Investigator Award: Kate Giapponi Schneider, PhD’16, Research Scientist at the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy 

In presenting Kate Giapponi Schneider with the Early Career Research Investigator Award, Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, Director of the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy, shared that they have known each other for 12 years: “I remember how impressed I was to see the clarity that she had about her research goals and her passion.” She noted, “Kate has developed amazing research collaborations at the federal level in the Administration for Children and Families and at the state level with the Department of Early Education and Care. Everyone knows Kate wherever you go because in addition to being a great researcher, she’s also cheerful, positive, and generous.”

Staff Service Award: Rosella Carrelli, Senior Department Coordinator, PhD, MPP, and Online Innovations Programs Operations

Rosella Carrelli received the Staff Service Award for her hard work, dedication to students and the school, and superior relationship-building skills. Her contributions are felt across the Heller community, from faculty and fellow staff, to students—as one nominator put it, “from orientation to graduation.” Another said that Rosella “exemplifies the kind of thoughtfulness and constant behind-the-scenes effort that makes Heller a community.” Committee members also noted Rosella’s outstanding care for her colleagues and that she always brings positivity and an upbeat, motivating presence, all while juggling multiple tasks at once.

Teaching Assistant: Ian Moura, PhD Candidate

This year’s awardee, Ian Moura, was recognized as a model TA, whose ability to seamlessly bring diversity into the course discussion makes him an outstanding leader and advocate at Heller. Ian inspires students to engage with quantitative concepts often seen as unapproachable and intimidating, and emphasizes the importance of diversity and inclusion in data collection and analysis. One nominator shared, “I do not think [Ian’s] positive impact on my confidence and academic development can be understated, and I am confident other students feel the same.”

Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Award: Robert Dunigan, PhD’04, Senior Research Associate at the Schneider Institutes for Health Policy

Robert Dunigan has gone above and beyond his roles as a researcher and teacher to promote the key values of equity, inclusion, and diversity at Heller. He has led the MPP Student of Color Gatherings for many years, helping to foster a sense of belonging for students, and is an  inaugural member of the Anti-Racism Group within the Institute for Behavioral Health. Early work of this group focused on recruiting more students from diverse backgrounds into the NIAAA training program within the PhD program. While EID is a serious subject, at the same time, one nominator wrote, “I appreciate the honesty and sense of humor Robert brings to the work.”

Barbara Wakefield Award: Katherine Nace, MPP’24

Katherine Nace has been an incredible support for her peers this year, with one nominator sharing that she “took the lead on bringing students together and facilitating helpful conversations. Her engagement, leadership, and time was invaluable to making sure students were as informed and included in the process as possible.” The nominator continued to share that Katherine spent many long hours supporting fellow students by writing letters or taking notes. In conclusion, “she sincerely deserves recognition for her contribution to the Heller mission, vision, and core being.”

Dean’s Award: Jia (Maggie) Shealy, MPP’25

This year’s Division I National Collegiate Athletic Association Fencing Champion in the Women’s Sabre Event, Jia (Maggie) Shealy, was presented with the Dean’s Award in recognition of her historic achievement. Dean Madison said, “We are excited to celebrate this immense accomplishment with her and to recognize the level of dedication and excellence with which she pursues fencing and her academic career in Heller’s Master of Public Policy Program.” 

Special Recognition Certificates

To recognize the work of Heller’s small but mighty communications and admissions teams, Dean Madison presented special recognition certificates to Lynn Davis (Assistant Dean of Admissions and Interim Director of Communications), Alexandra Rubington (Web Manager), Jen Susca (Communications Specialist), Hannah Locke (Senior Associate Director of Admissions), Jill Maley (Associate Director of Admissions), and Amanda Miller (Associate Director of Admissions). Dean Madison noted the U.S. News and World Report rankings released the previous day, which ranked Heller #9 for Social Policy and #13 for Health Policy and Management. “Every year, an extraordinary amount of work goes into achieving our high rankings, but this year, it is especially true.”