The University of Iowa

Alumni Notes

Vintage audience photograph

Alumni Notes by Decade: 1930 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 | In Memoriam


Happy 101st birthday, Gracka! 
Gracka Gerardi in her Hawkeye Teachers shirt

One of the College’s oldest alumna reflects on her career and love of music.

Gracka Gerardi (BA ’36) has seen quite a bit of change over the decades, but consistent through all the years has been her profound love of music and joy of sharing it with others through her work as an educator. 

Gerardi says things were a little different as a student at Iowa in the 1930s. Students didn’t own cars, so she would take two trains to get back to her hometown of Klemme, Iowa, near Clear Lake. She also says there weren’t laundromats. 

“We had to buy this special suitcase,” Gerardi says, “I packed and mailed my dirty clothes back to my mother in Klemme, and she would take care of them and mail the clean clothes back to me.” 

While at the University of Iowa, Gerardi studied piano under teachers she admired — she notes Philip Greeley Clapp, Harry Thatcher, and others — who challenged her abilities and greatly influenced her musical aesthetic. 

“The teachers taught a different way of touching the keys. People say ‘We don’t have to see you playing the piano, we know just by the sound,’” Gerardi says. “That’s something that I can thank Iowa City for.” 

Gracka Gerardi at her graduation in 1936
After graduation, Gerardi went on to teach music at an elementary school. She also gave private piano lessons, and eventually accordion lessons, which led her to meet her husband. Since married women at the time weren’t allowed to work as public school teachers, she began giving private piano lessons. 

With her husband, who also loved music, the two of them taught roughly 135 students each week in their greater northern Iowa community. Gerardi continued teaching until she was 97, and to this day, she still practices piano. With over a century of living, she says music has helped her through many moments in her life. 

“Music is important because it can help us through physical problems,” Gerardi says. “In fact, it has helped me so much in my personal life — I couldn’t have done it without music.” 


Jim Ferguson (MA ’63/PhD ’75) and Iowa Sen. Matt McCoy co-authored McCoy, You’re Going Straight to Hell: Heartfelt Letters to a Gay State Senator on Marriage Equality. The book presents over 350 emails regarding marriage equality that McCoy received at the Iowa Senate. 

Betty Shore (MA ’65) supervised student teachers at the University of Washington before moving to Christchurch, New Zealand, where she worked at Christchurch Poly Technic developing curriculum. She also worked in the Lincoln University Continuing Education Department planning professional development courses for teachers. “The University of Iowa faculty were leaders in their fields and also among the most encouraging and effective at developing student talents of anyone I would ever hope to have as mentors,” says Shore, who is now retired. “They have continued to encourage and inspire me for over 50 years even though I’ve had no contact with them since I left the university.” 

Paul Juhl (BA/SE ’66) and Marlys Dunphy (MA ’79/EdS ’87) wrote Historic Dubuque Up Close and in 3-D, and Scott Romine (BA ’70/MA ’83) designed the book. 

Marian (Mathews) Clark (MA ’68/MFA ’87) is retired and living in Iowa City. In 2013, she published a memoir, Sixty Something and Flying Solo: A Retiree Sorts it Out in Iowa with Culicidae Press. 

Linda Baker and Al Ruffalo awarded University of Iowa Distinguished Alumni

Linda R. Baker (BA ’68) and her husband Dale (BBA ’68) received the Distinguished Alumni Service Award from the University of Iowa Alumni Association for their meritorious service and contributions to the University of Iowa. 


Albert Ruffalo (MA ’75) received the University of Iowa Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, which recognizes his significant accomplishments as the founder of RuffaloCODY, a leading provider of strategic fundraising and enrollment management services and software that works with more than 900 colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations around the world.

William Kritsonis (PhD ’76) is a professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. In May 2015, he participated in the Think Tank on Global Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Mass. 

Thomas Leslie conducting the UNLV Wind Orchestra

Where Do You Work? 

The Entertainment Capitol of the World is renowned for its dynamic theater, acrobatic dance, and spectacular musical performances, and leading the way in teaching the country’s future performers is alumnus Thomas Leslie (’73, Music Education), the Director of Bands at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. For Leslie, one of the highlights of his work is instructing “extraordinary students who always come to performances with their very best, and never disappoint.” 

“For the past 30 years, I have had the honor of working with many of the brightest and most talented student and professional musicians in Las Vegas and the west,” Leslie says. 

“Conducting the wonderful UNLV Wind Orchestra and many other fine groups around the world have been career highlights for me, having had the opportunity to perform numerous times nationally and internationally,” he says. “From Tokyo to Sydney; from London to St. Tropez, I have been given a unique opportunity to see the world as a performer, and to conduct in amazing concert venues, indoors and out.” 


Jody Regan (BA ’81/MA ’83) has worked in the field of managed behavioral health care for the past 25 years. She currently serves as the behavioral health subject matter expert in Blue Shield of California’s quality assurance department. 

Alfred Thompson (BA ’81/MA ’85) received the 2015 Albert B. Hood Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Education. Thompson is the vice chancellor for student affairs and chief diversity officer at University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. 

Alice Atkinson (PhD ’82), professor emerita, received the Child at Heart Award — presented by the Johnson County Empowerment/ Early Childhood Iowa Area and the Celebration of the Young Child Committee — in recognition of her role as an outstanding champion for children in Iowa. 

Wei-Cheng Mau (MA ’85/ PhD ’90) is professor and chairman of the Counselor Education Program at Wichita State University. He was named a 2015-16 Fulbright Scholar and will conduct research and seminars at Taiwan’s Tunghai University in spring 2016. 

George Iber (MAT ’87/PhD ’92) completed a U.S. State Department-sponsored English-language fellowship in Malaysia. Currently, he is an associate professor at the University of Evansville’s College of Education, “returning to his roots,” he says, “to work with aspiring teachers and English-as-a-New-Language students.” 

Patrick Haggerson (BA ’88) has worked at the Betty Ford Center in California for 18 years. 

Lyle White (PhD ’88) was named interim dean of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s College of Education and Human Services. 


Chris Richardson (PhD ’90), a superintendent for Northfield (Minn.) Public Schools received the MASA Polaris Leadership Award from the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. At a statewide recognition ceremony, Richardson was honored for his exemplary school leadership and a lifetime of achievement inside and outside of education. 

Laurie (Weitzel) Nash (BS ’91/ MA ’95) is an early-childhood specialist at Johnson County Empowerment/Early Childhood Iowa. 

Yohlunda Mosley (BA ’92/MA ’95) became the director of undergraduate admissions at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. In her new position she will implement enrollment initiatives to bring in well-prepared and diverse students. 

Thomas Messinger (BA ’93) was named superintendent of Iowa’s Red Oak School District. Previously, he served as principal at Burlington High School for 11 years. 

Jolie (Cain) Pelds (BA ’93/MAT ’95) is an education specialist at the Science Center of Iowa in Des Moines, where she works with learners of all ages. Recently, she has been involved in two large projects: Making STEM Connections and Pint Size Science. 

Triena Cichocki Bodart (MA ’94) is assistant director of financial aid at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. 

Joy (Cornelius) Linquist (BA ’95/ MA ’97) is principal at Warren G. Harding Middle School, one of the Des Moines Public School District’s newest Turnaround Arts schools. Previously, she was an associate principal at Prairie Ridge Middle School in Ankeny, a career and technical consultant at Central Campus in Des Moines, a school improvement leader at Lincoln High School, a teacher and coach with Clear Creek Amana Community Schools, and an adjunct instructor at DMACC. 

Jeff Corbett (Certification ’96), a middle school math teacher at Lynnville-Sully, was named Professional Educators of Iowa’s Educator of the Year. 

Douglas Penno (PhD ’97) is Iowa’s Keystone Area Education Agency special education director. 

Lisa Martin-Hansen (MA ’98/PhD ’01), an associate professor of science education at Georgia State University, is president of the Association for Science Teacher Education. 

Brian Hemphill (PhD ’98) will leave his position as president of West Virginia State University to become Radford University’s seventh president in July. 

Lori (Hennen) Ihrig (BS ’98/MS ’03), administrator of curriculum and instruction at the Belin-Blank Center, received her Ph.D. from Iowa State University in 2014. The National Association for Research Science in Science Teaching selected research from her dissertation to receive its 2015 Outstanding Paper Award. 

Sara (Hawk) Simonson (PhD ’98) is interim chair for Western Illinois University’s (WIU) Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Simonson joined the faculty in 1990, and WIU has recognized her excellence in teaching with several awards, including the Student Education Association’s Most Inspirational Teacher Award and the College of Education’s Outstanding Teacher Award. She was also honored as WIU’s first recipient of the Faculty Excellence in Multicultural Programming Award. 

Erin (Tatel) Stein (BA ’98) is principal at East Prairie School in Skokie, Ill.’s District 73. “East Prairie School is extremely diverse in every aspect one can possibly consider, and it is a pleasure to work in a community and with a staff that has such pride in their neighborhood school,” says Stein. 

Michael Ayers (BA ’99/MAT ’01/PhD ’11) teaches English and language arts at John F. Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids. At their Smart Lunches forum, Ayers invites University of Iowa graduate scholars to deliver short, powerful presentations to his high school students in a format similar to TED talks. 

Eytan Cohen (PhD ’99) is head of the Special Education Department at Ohalo College of Education in Qatzrin, a teacher training college in the Israeli settlement and town of Katzrin in the Golan Heights. 

Darren Hanna (MA ’99) is director of elementary education for the Waterloo Community Schools. Hanna was previously the Mount Pleasant Community School District’s director of instruction and technology. 


Ann (Magner) Johnson (BA ’00) was named a finalist in the Iowa Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science, the nation’s highest honors for K-12 math and science teachers. 

Courtney (Gilkison) Nordstrom (BA/BS ’00) is principal of Ravinia Elementary School in Illinois’ North Shore School District 112. 

Stephanie (Bruster) Van Housen (MA ’00/MSW ’10) received the Iowa City Human Rights Commission’s Rick Graf Award for her long-term commitment to her work in human rights. Van Housen currently serves as the family and child advocate at Iowa City’s Grant Wood School and the homeless children’s coordinator for the Iowa City Community School District. 

Dale Whitacre (BA ’00) was awarded Teacher of the Year for Northeast Missouri by the Missouri State Teacher’s Association. He is a social studies teacher and baseball coach at Green City R-I High School in Green City, Mo. 

Surachman Dimyati (PhD ’01) decided to take early retirement from Universitas Terbuka in Indonesia in order to continue to write more about education. 

Lucia Osa-Melero (MA ’01/MAT ’02) is an assistant professor at Duquesne University’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. Osa-Melero recently published En Acción: Español, comunidad y aprendizaje, a Spanish-language university textbook that incorporates community engagement with Spanish-language learning. 

Julie Adams (MA ’02) was appointed secretary of the U.S. Senate by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in January 2015. Adams has worked in McConnell’s Senate office since 2003, except for a three-year stretch when she served as First Lady Laura Bush’s spokeswoman. In her new role, she is the chamber’s chief legislative and financial officer, responsible for its logistical and administrative operations. She will also oversee a new technological initiative underway in the Senate. 

Susan Hildebrandt (MA ’02, PhD ’06) received the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages’ Global Engagement Initiative Award through her work with Illinois State University (ISU) World Language Teachers at Unity. She also received the ISU College of Arts and Sciences’ 2015-16 College Outstanding Service Award. 

Maggie (Gibbs) Bixby (BA ’04) teaches ESL to kindergarten through fifth grade at Montclair School of Academics and Enrichment in Denver, Colo. 

Susan (Riniker) O’Dell (BA ’04) is a special education literacy consultant at Iowa’s Grant Wood Area Education Agency and was a leader in developing the Specially Designed Instruction literacy initiative. 

Kimberly Trocchio (BA ’04) is chair of the mathematics department and teaches grades 6-8 math at Mary, Seat of Wisdom, in Park Ridge, Ill. 

Julianne Kirgis (PhD ’05) is the dean of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at North Seattle College in Seattle, Wash. 

Jeffrey Parsons (PhD ’05), director of Teaching and Technology Effectiveness at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky., was named chairman-elect for the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. 

Francisco Sanchez (PhD ’05) is an assistant professor in Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology at the University of Missouri. He received the APA Division 17’s 2015 Fritz and Linn Kuder Family Early-Career Scientist/Practitioner Award in recognition of his excellence in research on the effects of masculine norms on gay men. 

Christine (Walker) Urish (PhD ’05) is a professor of occupational therapy at St. Ambrose University. Urish takes students to Brazil for one month every other year as a part of an educational exchange with a university in Ilheus, Bahia, Brazil. She also serves as secretary on the Allen Cognitive Network Executive Board and teaches ethics in counseling and human relations at the University of Iowa each fall semester. 

David Dude (MA ’06/MA ’10/PhD ’12) is superintendent of the of Decatur (Ga.) City School District. 

Alumni awarded for service 

Michael Clark (BA ’89), an AP economics and government teacher at Bellaire High School in Houston, has seen many wins for his teaching and leadership over the past two years. 

In 2014, Clark’s students won the Council on Economic Education’s Economics Challenge, earning them the opportunity to participate in closing bell ceremonies at the New York Stock Exchange as part of their prize. 

In early May 2015, Clark received the H-E-B’s 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award for secondary teachers in Texas. For the award, he was given $25,000 individually and $25,000 for his school. 

Later that month, Clark led a team of students to win the National Personal Finance Competition by defeating 22 other state champions. Then in mid-June, he received the Teacher of the Year award from the Texas Council on Economic Education. 

Laura Gallo (MA ’05) received the college’s Yager Educational Accomplishment Honor for her innovative approach to incorporating multicultural awareness into the K-12 educational setting. 

Gallo has worked as a high school counselor while also studying for her Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision. Through her doctoral work, she spent a semester leading professional development training about diversity issues for all educators in her school. 

In addition to fostering multicultural understanding, Gallo is dedicated to advancing mental health issues and suicide prevention. She says her personal goal is to eradicate the stigma related to mental health and to foster dialogue around these issues. 

With the $2,500 Gallo received as part of the Yager honor, she plans to establish a grant for schools in rural Iowa to purchase suicide prevention programs. 

Quincy Smiling (PhD ’04) was honored with the college’s 2015 Rehabilitation Counseling Alumni of the Year Award for his exceptional work in the field and his dedication to creating better lives for those whom he serves. 

After completing his dissertation, Smiling became an assistant professor in the Rehabilitation Studies Program at Winston Salem State University in North Carolina. In 2007, Smiling decided to shift to the world of private rehabilitation and began his own mental health agency, Triad Therapy, with the goal of empowering individuals through therapeutic interventions and exceptional care. 

In 2015, while continuing to direct Triad Therapy, Smiling returned to the college as a visiting assistant professor in Rehabilitation Counseling. Through all aspects of his work, he continues to empower his students by advocating on their behalf and challenging them to excel in all that they wish to accomplish. 


Robert Benesh (BA ’11/MAT ’15) received the 2015 Teacher of Promise award from the Iowa World Language Association, with teaching endorsements in ESL and Japanese. 

Lucas Benson (BA ’06/MAT ’11) was recently awarded an international grant through his work as a proposal writer at Pearson to develop “I-Belong,” an electronic portfolio project and six-year curriculum designed to provide comprehensive social, emotional, and academic supports for minority and at-risk youth in the Iowa City community. Benson does grant writing and program development for The Dream Center, a local nonprofit, and he recently founded the Iowa Music Project, which is committed to supporting and promoting live music throughout the state of Iowa. 

Cassandra Storlie (PhD ’13) is an assistant professor in the School of Lifespan Development and Educational Sciences at Kent State University. Storlie received a 2014- 15 North Central Association of Counselor Education and Supervision Professional Research Grant to further the field’s best practices. Storlie was also named Kent State’s Scholar of the Month for her research focusing on diversity issues and examining predictors of academic risk and mental health disparities among Latino youth in schools to decrease social and cultural barriers in career development. 

Lin Brookshire (MA ’14) is working part-time as a therapist at Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault and as a care coordinator at MetroCARE of Greater Kansas City. She is training as a yoga instructor; MOCSA has provided the opportunity to lead a trauma-sensitive yoga group. The group began as a pilot project and may be expanded to help more individuals on their path to healing. 

Rodney Maiden (PhD ’14) directs the criminal justice and rehabilitation program at the University of Wisconsin–Stout, which prepares students pursuing careers as police officers. 

Tawanda Owens (PhD ’15) is the associate director of the University of Colorado Boulder’s Cultural Unity and Engagement Center. In this central role, she is responsible for creating core strategies for a team of assistants charged with developing educational experiences, resources, and involvement opportunities to improve the campus climate for international, first-generation, and students of color. 

Counseling with Leader Dogs for the Blind

Kathryn Roberts (MA ’12) is an apprentice guide dog mobility instructor at Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester Hills, Mich. Through her program, she says she learns to be part dog trainer, part counselor, and part teacher. 

“This apprenticeship is a three-year program that teaches me the skills I need to train guide dogs and train visually impaired clients to work with these dogs,” Roberts says. “I work for four months to train guide dogs with all of the skills they need to safely guide individuals with visual impairments through their environment safely. After training the dogs, I spend a month with a group of up to four clients teaching them the skills they need to work effectively with their dogs.” 

While training clients and the dogs, Roberts says she gets to use a variety of skills that she gained in the College’s Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling Program as well as through her own life experiences. 

“I like incorporating all of these skills to help create independence for people with visual impairments,” Roberts says. “When I see my clients walk down the sidewalk with their best friend, mobility device, and sense of security, I am reminded of why I love this job so much.”

Alex Hanna helping a student at a computer

The Way I Teach

Alex Hanna (BA ‘13) teaches 5th grade at Garner Elementary School in North Liberty, Iowa. He was among the college’s first class of undergraduate students to receive iPads as part of the Linda Baker iPad Project, and he says the integration of technology into course curriculum set his education apart and today informs his teaching.

“My training at the University of Iowa definitely prepared me in the sense that it exposed me to so much technology that’s out there and what to expect in the coming years,” Hanna says. Soon after he started teaching, he says veteran instructors would come to him to learn about the ways he uses technology while teaching. 

In his classroom today, Hanna infuses a variety of technologies and application platforms — Smart Seat, Classroom Dojo, Google Docs, Kahoot! — into lesson plans ranging from math to vocabulary. Hanna says he constantly asks himself what he can do to enhance the educational experience by using the great technologies that he has. 

By becoming more innovative with technology and bringing technology into his classroom, Hanna says he is “making learning more fun for the students, while still very, very effective.” 





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Vintage audience photograph