In an ordinary year, the presentation of Lesley’s annual Alumni Awards is a powerful part of Alumni Weekend — a showcase of graduates’ diverse achievements, resilience, and public-spiritedness. But even in this unusual year when reunion celebrations took place over Zoom, the stories behind Lesley’s five 2021 award winners made a powerful impact on attendees.
The award winners were introduced by members of the Alumni Award Committee, led by committee chair Shana Goldwyn ’00 and ’01.
Maia Monteagudo, who received her master’s degree in Expressive Therapies in 2017, received the Myrtle Peirce Aulenback Alumni Achievement Award honoring a loyal alum for volunteer service to Lesley University. A clinician at the Italian Home for Children, she has stayed connected to the Lesley community, serving as a guest lecturer in our Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences and mentoring and supporting students through their thesis projects. Monteagudo, who was unable to attend the award ceremony, has also served as a Lesley Alumni Ambassador since 2019, helping to provide outreach to future graduate and undergraduate students.
The Sally K. Lenhardt Professional Leadership Award was presented to Karen Favazza Spencer. A 1993 graduate through our Center for the Adult Learner, Spencer founded Agile Kindergarten, a consulting organization that works to support business people and software developers, using her knowledge of organizational theory and the psychology of learning to create a unique coaching experience to help her clients succeed. Beyond her work at Agile Kindergarten, Spencer has also shown initiative and passion in her work around fluoridation in drinking water.
“Getting my master’s degree through the independent study option at Lesley College was the best thing I ever did for myself,” said Spencer. “At that time, I was a struggling single mother with chronic health problems and a deadbeat ex-husband. But that didn't matter then and it doesn’t matter now because studying what I wanted to study in depth with the expert guidance of my advisory team was about me and what I wanted to learn, and what I could do with my life.”
The Joseph Moore Award was awarded to Dr. Jacquelynne Boivin ’19 who earned her PhD in Educational Leadership and is currently a tenure track faculty member at Bridgewater State University. Her dissertation on expanding multicultural understandings in predominantly white rural middle schools set the foundation for her continued scholarly work on cultural relevancy, creating anti-racist classrooms, and multicultural understanding.
“Lesley University is and has been a place that emphasizes the importance of racial equity, and to represent the Lesley name means so much to me,” said Boivin. “It really gave me the tools to strengthen my voice and continuously seek out learning opportunities.
“I know that ‘lifelong learner’ really is something that we use as a buzz phrase nowadays. But Lesley walks the walk when it comes to that. I can remember from the first day I started my PhD at Lesley, I was really happily surprised by the action-oriented perspective that was threaded throughout my coursework and qualifying papers. Never did we have research-oriented or theoretical work that left me thinking ‘how could I apply this?’ It was right there — it was in our discussions, it was in the assignments. It was part of what my program at Lesley was. ‘Educational Leadership’ wasn't just the title, it was within everything we did.”
Deborah Kneeland Keegan received the Margaret A. McKenna Alumni Community Service Award. Keegan received her master’s degree in Educational Management in 1982 and went on to become the co-founder and executive director of For Kids Only, a nonprofit after-school program dedicated to providing safe enriching and educational programs for school-age students.
Keegan recalled her time at Lesley with fondness and clarity, noting the welcoming classroom environment and the thoughtful conversations her professors encouraged. “I loved being there. It was a calm, meditative and reflective time for me… Lesley always valued my work-day life as a meaningful experience connected to my formal education program. I always felt inspired, valued, and supported.”
The Recent Alumni Award was given to Tia Luker-Putra ’18 who earned her master’s in Science Education while she was teaching science and engineering at an international school in Shanghai, China. Since then she has redesigned curriculum to incorporate science, created clubs to get more girls to learn coding and robotics, and created a web site to share resources with teachers on STEM and diversity. She has also continued to work with an organization, SolarBuddy, which provides solar lights to energy-poor communities.
Speaking from her home in Shanghai, Luker-Putra expressed gratitude for her time at Lesley and recalled flying with her wife to Boston from China for less than 48 hours just so that she could walk at Commencement.
“I’ve never been more proud of any achievement in my life until this moment and I’m so honored to be chosen among such inspirational people,” said Luker-Putra. “The classes and most importantly the professors helped me find a passion that I didn’t even know I had and I’m just so grateful for that every day.”
Despite the almost 40-year span between their graduation dates, the award recipients echoed many common themes.
“I’ve been afforded so many amazing opportunities,” Luker-Putra said, “and Lesley was the catalyst for all of that.”
Spencer described finding a new personal truth and inspiration in the Lesley motto, “I would have perished, had I not persisted.”
Reflecting on the lessons of the past year, Keegan described the ongoing struggle for racial justice in the communities she serves and partnering with other organizations to provide food for challenged families and childcare for first responders.
“The pandemic taught me one thing: that even in the worst times, by leaning on each other as support and opening our hearts to one another, we can be strong and resilient and we will prevail.”