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Alumni Awards 2022

The College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University is proud to present the 2022 Hall of Fame and Alumni Award recipients chosen by the EHE Alumni Society.

Alumni Awards video

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Speaker 1:
Welcome to the 2022 Hall of Fame and Alumni Award Celebration. These awards not only elevate the contributions that each of our alums have made, but also by direct connection elevates the enterprise of the college. 

Join me in congratulating and celebrating our Hall of Fame and Alumni Award winners for the current academic year. 

This year, the College of Education and Human Ecology and Alumni Society are recognizing five individuals in three different award categories, the Career

Achievement Award, the New Leader Award, and the  Hall of Fame Award. The Career Achievement Award honors  alumni who have made outstanding contributions to  their professions and a difference in the lives of  others. The emphasis of this award is on teaching,  mentoring, and sharing their skills and talents with  others in their profession. 

Three individuals were  selected for the 2022 Career Achievement Award.  The first winner is Ms. Katherine, Kat DePizzo. We will now hear from the individuals who joined forces to  nominate their accomplished colleague.    

 We a collective team came together representing  faculty, co-workers and industry board, to nominate  Kat Depizzo for this prestigious award. When we reviewthe criteria for Career Achievement, there was no doubt that she came top of mind, Kat has been  transformational in our industry, by taking a brand  that was historically a brick-and-mortar and an  E-commerce site and actually implementing it and  integrating it into Walmart's portfolio. When we think  of Kat, not only is she a trailblazer, but she's  passionate in what she does and how she does it is  really what makes Kat DePizzo shine in the area of  achievement. 
 She's a team player, so as she went  through the transformation, she didn't just do it for  herself, she did it for everyone around her. And when you look at Justice, Justice as the brand and what it  stands for internationally on empowering young women,  that's what Kat's done. And that's really what makes  Kat spectacular in all she does. It's how she does it.

She exemplifies excellence, and we could not be more  proud of her career achievement.  Kat, I echo what Kristin has said. When I got the  announcement that they were looking for somebody for  the EHE Alumni Award, you immediately came to mind. I  just have so much admiration for how you always reach  back to lift other people up. 

I think that's one of  the things I admire the most about you. What you have  done in the face of adversity is just amazing. And  you're such a great role model. I really can't think  of anybody that deserves this award more than you do.  So, congratulations, we are so proud of you. And so,  so happy to have you as one of ours.

Kat, I'm here to say how very thrilled I am that  you're receiving this award. Because if there's one  person that embodies the passion for education, and  girls across the world, it's you. You're excited about  what you do. You provide enthusiasm for so many  people. And you give back to everyone that you touch.  Congratulations, Kat, I'm so excited for you.

Kat, my dear friend and mentor, I couldn't be more  excited for you to receive this award. When I think  about the positive impact that you've had on not only  this retail industry, but the lives of so many people  that you've come across in this industry, whether it  be a friend or a mentor, you've had a huge impact on  my life. And I'm so thrilled to be working with you in  this brand that really lives to empower girls and their moms. And you really live all the values that we  that we preach every day. So, congratulations, my friend.   Love you.

The second Career Achievement Award winner is Dr.  Marcia Millet. Please welcome her nominator Dr. Lauren Wilson,  who joins us to explain why she nominated   Dr. Millet for this distinguished award.  Hello, I am Dr. Lauren Hurley Wilson. I am honored to  recognize Dr. Marcia Millet for the Career Achievement  Award. At a young age of 18, I had the privilege of  sitting in many of Dr. Millets classes at Tennessee  State University in the College of Education. From  that first class it confirmed that I was in the right  place because of Dr. Millet, her leadership and her  instruction. 

Furthermore, she showed me that I could  wear multiple hats and be successful. I could be a  woman that is passionate in the field of education. I  could pursue a doctorate degree. I could be a wife, I  could be a mother, I could be an administrator in a  public school setting. I could wear all these hats and 
give my all to everything and do a great job at it.

Dr. Millet is inspirational. She is a role model to so  many people. And what is so inspiring to me is that  this is just the beginning. She is dedicated to  research specifically in STEM. I love the fact that  she builds up pre service teachers, teachers who are  in programs to make sure they have what they need to  be successful. 

She is the same person if you see her  on the street, or if you see her in a board room  leading the meeting. She captures the room. She is the  epitome of kindness, character and grace.  Congratulations, Dr. Millet. Thank you for being a role model to me.

The third and final 2022 Career Achievement Award  winner is Dr. Tracy Nájera. Tracy, through the work that she's doing, at the  Children's Defense Fund is helping all of us to be  better persons, as members of society, and better  citizens, better to one another because she is helping  to create policies and conditions that protect the  well being of the most vulnerable in our society, our  children. And she recognizes as a leader that we need  to take input not only from those who are normally not  invited to be traditionally at the table, but also  from those whose voices go unheard.

Hello, my name is Maria Sanchez and I was one of the  nominators of Dr. Tracy Nájera. I've had the distinct  honor knowing Dr. Nájera and she is one of the sisters  of Alpha Psi Lambda, the nation's first co-ed Latino  interest fraternity which was founded here at Ohio  State. We are both members of the fraternity and as  such she has served as a mentor for me since I was an  undergrad. Having a mentor like Tracy has been such a  game-changer in my life. When I say that she helped me  start my business and that I would not be here had it  not been for the advice, and the support and continued  guidance of Tracy, I could not be telling the truth  anymore. So Tracy, thank you. This award is so well  deserved. I'm so proud of you. And I'm hoping that  this is just one of many more awards that are coming  your way. So congratulations.

And now for the New Leader Award. This award is  granted to alumni who are aged 36 or younger and have  already made significant professional accomplishments.  Recipients of this award show great promise for  continuing their contributions to their professions,  the college and society. This year's award winner is  Dr. DeLeon Gray. Dr. Gray was nominated by two  individuals, Dr. Eric Anderman and Dr. James Moore.

I am so pleased and honored to announce Dr. DeLeon  Gray as this year's recipient of the New Leader Award.  I had the pleasure of serving as Dr. Gray's  dissertation chair and advisor when he was at Ohio  State. He graduated in 2012, and I have had the grand  pleasure of watching him become truly internationally  recognized as one of the leaders in the world in the  study of motivation in diverse populations,  particularly focusing on adolescents. His  contributions to research theory and practice have  been extraordinary, but I think what's most important  is that his work has positively impacted the lives of  so many youth. So often our research doesn't impact  people directly and his truly does. 

The number of  recognitions besides this one that Dr. Gray has  received throughout his career, in his short career  has been phenomenal, and I've never had somebody whom  I've mentored has been so incredibly successful, and  I'm so proud of him. I can't think of any early career  scholar who's more deserving of this award. It's my  honor to call DeLeon Gray my student, my colleague and  my friend. Congratulations Dr. Gray.  I am delighted to be here today. It's always a  pleasure to be able to celebrate a deserving awardee  such as Dr. Gray. Dr. Gray is one of my most beloved mentees.  I've watched him from a undergraduate student  soar to now a tenured professor. He's certainly one of  the towering leaders In higher education, I believe  that we haven't seen the most of, of his achievements. 

This is just a small sample size of the many awards  that he will receive in the future. On behalf of the  Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and its fabulous  staff, we just want to wish you well. We want to  congratulate you on receiving the New Leader Award in  the College of Education in Human Ecology. I'm quite  confident that you will continue to receive many other  awards so continue to make excellence a priority in  your professional journeys, and as we say at  Ohio State, Go Bucks!

And now, to cap off this celebration of the 2022 award  winners, we turn to the Hall of Fame Award.  Induction into EHEs Hall of Fame is the highest honor bestowed  by the College and Alumni Society. Those who are  chosen for this award must have made significant  contributions to education and human ecology, and  serve as a role model for all others in their fields.

They must be former college faculty members, administrators, or graduates from an education or human ecology program. This year's award winner, Dr. David Magill, is presented by Ms. Judy Magill.  I am Judy Magill and I nominated my husband Dave Magill, for this recognition from the College of Education and Human Ecology at Ohio State University.  Dave began his career in an urban school and ended up at the University of Chicago, one of the largest independent schools. On the journey in between he did a little bit of everything. He was superintendent at 34, the youngest in the state to be a superintendent.

Everywhere he went, he found that he needed to improve facilities in order to improve the content of the curriculum. 

He was successful in raising $92 million at the laboratory school for a large overall facilities improvement and the building of an art center which would take care of the new technology, and filming and so many future things ready to go for students. The arts building was named after Gordon Parks, the first building on the campus of the University of Chicago to be named after an African American person. 

All the architecture that was done for the school included students, parents, it was done as a collaborative of all the people who care. He is most proud of all things other than the testimonies of students who tell their stories after they leave the school with the practice that he had in hiring good leaders and then asking of them, "Give me five of your best years. And after that, I'm going to send you out and we're going to make more great educators to help more children." And he did. Dave ended his career at a school founded by John Dewey, the great philosopher and educator who is known as the progressive father of education. And then Dave was called back after being retired for six years to come and lead the school through the pandemic. 

Dave and I met at Ohio State. On our first date, he took out an album of pictures of children who were from Variety Club Camp where he had begun working at 15 years old. He said to me as he told each story, this is my life. And I will end by saying, thank you Dave, because it's my life too now for 52 years and it has been a wonderful, rich, rewarding life and I'm so glad it happened. Go Bucks!

What an amazing group of awardees. 

On behalf of the College of Education and Human Ecology, the more than 100,000 alumni across the globe and the EHE Alumni Society Board of Governors, congratulations to Kat, Maria, Tracy, DeLeon and David. These amazing awardees have made contributions to their communities, to their professions and to society at large. They truly embody the core mission and values of the College of Education and Human Ecology. To those of you who have tuned in, thank you so much for sharing in this special moment with our awardees and with us. And of course, Go Bucks!


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Hall of Fame

David W. Magill

’70 BS Education

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Speaker 1:
I did not know that at the time.  But transferring at the  beginning of my junior year from  a small liberal arts college to  a major university was one of  the best decisions in my life.   I was at The Ohio State University,   where my chosen  profession was introduced,  practiced, and then confirmed.  It was there that I met my life  partner in an elementary school  education class. 

And of course,  it was at Mirror Lake, where I  proposed to her. It was there  where I saw Woody Hayes and the  football team win every home  game for two consecutive years.  And in the spring of 1970, just  before graduating, I was  throwing a Frisbee on the oval,  when tear gas was released by  Columbus city police as they  chase those who were protesting  America's incursion into  Cambodia. 

Because of those  experiences, and many more, I  have remained a loyal Buckeye.  And I'm deeply grateful and  honored to receive this  recognition from Ohio State's  College of Education and Human  Ecology. To the committee making  this possible. Thank you for  getting into the weeds and  recognizing this educational  practitioner who was honored to  serve our young people for over  50 years. 

Deserving of special  thanks are the members of my  family without whose love and  support none of my  accomplishments would have been  possible. I can't adequately  express the pride I have for  being able to hand diplomas to  all three of our daughters, and  more recently to do the same  with our oldest grandson. 

As for  my wife, Judy, who's another  Buckeye, all who know her would  agree with me that she has added  immeasurably to every part of my  life. I don't have to convince  anyone who is watching today  that ensuring educational  quality is a shared  responsibility. 

Any success that  I may have experienced was the  direct result of the care and  work and love of thousands of  women and men who I have been  privileged to call colleagues.  Please know that I pay tribute  to them. As this honor is  bestowed upon me. Yes, Go Bucks! 

David Magill is an experienced educational leader who successfully bridged the differences between public and independent schools. After graduating from Ohio State, he taught elementary and special education students in the School District of Philadelphia before entering the administrative side of education as a principal and director of pupil services.

During this time, he completed an EdM in special education and an EdD in educational leadership and policy studies at Temple University.

These experiences prepared him to become a superintendent of three Pennsylvania school districts, consecutively, for a total of 20 years. At the time of his first position, he was the youngest superintendent in the state.
Magill next was chosen through a nationwide search to direct the acclaimed University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, which serves children from birth through high school. During his 11 years there, he achieved many firsts, including introducing the teaching of Mandarin Chinese, increasing the scholarship endowment by over 128% in five years, increasing student financial aid by over 300%, as well as increasing the enrollment of students of color by 10%.

In addition to expanding the school to over 2,000 students, he led a capital campaign that raised over $92 million against a goal of $40 million. As a result, Magill oversaw the building of a new early childhood education center and expansion of the historic campus to add the state-of-the-art Gordon Parks Hall. The building, designed exclusively for the arts, was the first on the University of Chicago campus named for an African American.

Upon retirement in 2014, Magill became director emeritus of the Laboratory Schools. He then was asked to serve as interim director of Chicago’s Academy for Global Citizenship for more than a year. Following this, the International School of Denver, Colorado, asked him to be interim head for 18 months. Upon completion of that role, the Laboratory Schools asked him to return, and he spent 16 months as its interim director during the pandemic.  

In addition, for 18 years, Magill served on the board of the Educational Records Bureau in New York City, including as board chair for seven years. He appreciated the opportunity to work with a testing service that, rather than measuring learning, is diagnostic and prescriptive to determine instructional programs and curricula to help students learn.

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Career Achievement Award

Kat DePizzo

’03 BS Fashion and Retail Studies

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Speaker 1:
Hi, I'm Kat Depizzo. So I'm President of Justice Design Lab and leading the Justice brand here in Columbus, Ohio Thank you so much for this award, I am truly honored that you would recognize me, thank you 
to the Alumni of Ohio State. 

And thank you to those  who nominated me, it means the world to me. I had  amazing professors at Ohio State that helped prepare  me for my career in retail, and I would not be here  without you. I also would be remiss in not thanking my  team, past, present and future. 

You know, team is  everything to me and I've been very fortunate to work  with incredible people who have helped me become who I  am today, not only as a leader, but as an individual.  And I would be remiss in not thanking my family and my  friends who have always supported me to my parents who  said I could do or be anything I put my mind to, I  truly appreciate you. And most of all, to my  incredible husband, Jerry, and my two beautiful 
daughters, Izzy and Sophia. 

You three always stand  beside me no matter what. And I know working in retail  is hard and it's not easy sometimes with me, but you  will always stand by my side and helped me believe in  myself. So thank you. Thank you all. You know,  empowering girls is what we do here at Justice, it's  actually quite magical to get to work on I find it's  just actually a gift. And a responsibility, when I  don't take lightly. Giving back with that, too, is  been a mission of mine, so I want to bring that to  life not only in the work that we do here at Justice,  but also in my personal life. 

I learned really early  on in the industry that it's tough. It's a tough  industry, and my goal was to create an environment  where people could just feel like they could be their  best self, they could support one another and they can  be authentic. And I've worked really hard to do that  here and will continue to in Columbus, Ohio. Also,  creating opportunity is a very big priority of mine.  And I love this town of Columbus, Ohio, at The Ohio  State University as well. 

You know, we're the number  three largest fashion retail cities in the nation. So  if you didn't know, now you do know. And I'm very  proud of that fact and I shout it all the time. I have  made a commitment to try and continue to support that.  And I will not stop creating jobs, whether it's  through my own means of company or through others and  connecting people giving back mentoring, volunteering  on boards at The Ohio State at the Columbus fashion  Alliance and more. 

My team volunteers we are always  looking for ways to give back and help support the  talent that we have here in this town because it is  truly so special. And I promise to continue to give  back support that foster that in every way that I  possibly can. 

You have my commitment, and I would not  be able to do any of that if I hadn't gotten the  experience and education that I did at Ohio State. 

So, thank you so much, this means the world to me I'm  truly grateful and honored and congrats to all my  constituents tonight and thank you so much and be  well.

Kat DePizzo is the president of Justice Design Lab, where she leads a team of designers, artists and marketing professionals. They create and market all products for the Justice brand that are sold through Walmart and

With an extensive retail background of 20+ years, DePizzo is a dedicated leader, brand creator and product visionary. Her passion for cutting-edge products and innovative design with a customer-focused lens has led brands to new levels of success in retail brick and mortar, ecommerce, franchise and licensing.

DePizzo’s retail career started at a young age with work in sales and visual merchandising for brands such as Levi Strauss & Co. and Max Studio. She earned her degree from Ohio State from the program then called Textiles and Clothing, with emphasis on product development.

After graduation, she worked for Abercrombie & Fitch for five years, during which she played key roles in the successful launch of Rhuel No. 925 and a booming business in Abercrombie Women’s design.  After working with several independent brands, she eventually planted her feet with Limited Too Brands in the early 2000s.

Fast forward 14 years and DePizzo successfully developed, built and expanded the Justice brand to its peak as the No. 1 tween brand in the United States.

DePizzo has always been a leader who feels the most successful when her team thrives.
Witnessing an individual find their purpose is her mission, and she constantly works to build up those around her.

Beyond work, DePizzo volunteers in her community with schools and organizations focused on diversity, inclusion and mentorship, investing her time to generate more for future generations.

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Marcia J. Millet, EdD

’90 MA, Educational Theory and Practice

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Speaker 1:
Hello, I am Dr. Marcia Millet. And I want to thank The  Ohio State University, College of Education and Human Ecology  for recognizing me for the Career Achievement Award.  What makes this award even more special is that  I was nominated by my former student   Dr. Lauren Wilson. I had the privilege of serving as her major  professor during my early years as an assistant 
professor at Tennessee State University. 

My first job after graduating from Ohio State was a second grade  classroom teacher in Columbus, Ohio. Even though I was  new in the field, I felt that I was exceptionally well  prepared to provide my students with an outstanding  educational experience. A number of years later, I  transitioned to teaching and serving as an  administrator at the university level. 

The training I  received in the College of Education and Human Ecology  had equipped me to think critically, work passionately  and lead strategically. The very unique and positive  opportunities I had at The Ohio State University  placed me on a stellar educational journey, but which  I am forever grateful and thankful. A science and math  course that I took as a student at Ohio State helped  me establish and mold my STEM career. 

I adapted the  ways in which the courses were taught, the manner in  which the professor's captivated my attention, and the  ways in which the information was presented in an  exciting manner into a style that worked for me.  Throughout my life, the training I received at The  Ohio State University has been at the core of my  professional success. Over the years, my talents have  been recognized in numerous ways. 

I was voted Teacher  of the Year in Nashville, Tennessee, was awarded an $8  million grant and STEM and recognized by the National  Science Foundation, identified by Penn State  University as an impactful woman of color in STEM, and  most recently was selected to serve as a plenary  speaker at The Ohio State University. With the  unwavering support of my husband, Dr. Peter Millet,  and alum of The Ohio State University, and my daughter  Mackenzie, a graduate student at Oakland University,  along with many family, friends and mentors, I have  been able to reach my educational goals. 

I want to  thank the professors and administrators in the College  of Education and Human Ecology, for giving me the  tools I needed to have a meaningful career in  education for 32 years. Thank you once again, this  award will be proudly displayed and cherished. Today,  I can truly say, my steps have been ordered, and I am  forever thankful and grateful to The Ohio State  University

Marcia Millet is a seasoned educator and administrator with more than 30 years of experience. A native of High Point, NC, her work experience ranges from teaching elementary school to university administration. She currently serves as assistant dean of the Graduate School at Tennessee State University. Prior to that, she was the department head and professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning.

After studying at Ohio State, Millet received her EdD from Tennessee State University. She completed postdoctoral work at Harvard University through their Women in Education Leadership Program, as well as received administrative training through the Emerging Leaders Institute sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Millet has received numerous accolades for her accomplishments: these include being recognized as a National Science Foundation Finalist for the President’s Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics for the State of Tennessee.

She continues to make significant contributions to her chosen field. She currently serves as a math consultant for the Educational Testing Service, a site visitor for the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Preparation and a grant reviewer for both the National Science Foundation and Tennessee Department of Education.

Millet was recently appointed to the inaugural editorial board for the Journal of Trauma Studies in Education and serves on the editorial review board for the Caribbean Educational Research Journal. She serves on the board for the Tennessee Higher Education in Prison Initiative and was invited to participate in the 2020/2021 NCURA Region III Research Administration Mentoring Program. She also coordinates a STEAM academy for girls for the Parthenon (TN) Chapter of the Links, Incorporated.

In grant awards, Millet and her team collaborated with the Educational Testing Service and received an $8 million grant for a STEM project with a goal of increasing the math proficiency of pre-service and in-service teachers in Tennessee. She received a 2020 Noyce Capacity Building grant entitled “Exploring Partnerships to Build Trajectories into STEM Teaching Professions” from the National Science Foundation.

Millet is a recurring plenary speaker at Ohio State’s Newark Regional Campus, where she shares information on diversifying curricula and BIPOC communities.

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Tracy Nájera

’17 PhD, Educational Policy and Leadership

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Hello, my name is Tracy Nájer, and I'm a 2017  graduate of the College of Education and Human Ecology.  And I want to thank the Alumni Society for  the Career Achievement recognition. I want to thank my  nominators, Yolanda Sabetha, Joel Diaz, Maria Sanchez,  and Jack Jackson. 

Thank you. Thank you so much for  nominating me for this honor. I'm just so humbled by  it. Well, I want to start off by saying that I am a  three time graduate of The Ohio State University. And  my career, I think, you know, it really starts with my  undergraduate career. So I have my bachelor's in  International Studies. But outside the classroom, I  think what I was doing was just as important. I was  very involved in student leadership, student advocacy,  Presidents of Epsilon lamda, a co-ed Latino interest  fraternity. I was involved with the workgroup that was  standing up a Latino Studies Certificate, I think,  which later became a program. So there were lots of  opportunities there for me to see that my voice had  power, and that I also could make a difference, which  led me to the College of Public Policy Management. 

So, while I was in my master's program earning my MPA, I  had the opportunity to take electives in a lot of  different fields. And I really fell in love with  Education Policy, I took all my electives in that  college and met some amazing adjuncts and professors  like Dr. Brad Mitchell and Mark Real, and through  those connections, I was able to get internships with  Columbus City Schools, the Eisenhower National  Clearinghouse for Science and Education. And then  also, most importantly, get my first job with the  Children's Defense Fund of Ohio as a Research Fellow.

This experience truly set the trajectory for me and my  career, I was able to work on issues like education  equity, especially around school facilities, creating  schools and centers of community. And the network that  I was able to build while I was there was just  invaluable. From CDF, I went to work for the Office of  Budget Management, which I have to be honest, I did  not want to do at first, but I knew it would be good  for me in terms of learning about state government,  learning about budget and policy decisions. And seeing  how all of these made a difference in people's lives.

These were not abstract concepts. It was probably the  best career decision that I had made. It was also the  most unexpected experience and that I didn't think  that I would like it as much as I did. And I worked  with some of the smartest people I've ever met, and  also had amazing support of individuals. So the  directors at OBM, who were really encouraging for me,  Tim Keane, and Perry Savety. And then my colleagues,  Rebecca Vasquez skillings and Susan Ackerman, without  them I don't think I wouldn't have had the opportunity  to make the decision to pursue a a doctorate in  education. And I'm so thankful for their encouragement 
and giving me the flexibility to do that. 

So during  this time, when I was working on issues of school  funding and need based financial aid, having that  opportunity to study more deeply was really, really  important. I wanted to be able to do the best job that  I could and the roles and responsibilities that I had,  and felt that the doctoral studies were the way to go.

You know, and I am so thankful that my dissertation  advisor, Dr. Scott Sweetland, that he took a real  chance with me and he encouraged me and supported me  along the way, even when I switched my dissertation  topics. So very thankful for his support and that of  my committee, Dr. Anne Allen and Dorinda Gallant. They  knew it was difficult for me. I had been out of  graduate school for some time out of academia, and  returning as a parent as a full time worker. You know,  it was challenging, but they absolutely made it so  doable, and also encouraged me, you know, that this is  the right path. So I'm very thankful for their  partnership and their leadership. And back to career  wise, I had the good fortune of working for Battelle  for Kids, which is a national nonprofit organization  focused on school improvements. And they had hired me  to manage a Teacher Incentive Fund project focused on  23 school districts and Ohio's Appalachian region with  a focus on college and career readiness using data  professional development, compensation accountability  systems, it was a tremendous experience. And one where  I was able to go from the 10,000 foot state policy  level, where things they do tend to get a little bit  abstract, to basically the two inches off the ground  level, right where the rubber truly hits the road. 

And  working with teachers working with principals, you  know, seeing how things were operating in classrooms.  It was truly an honor and a privilege to do this. And  also my colleagues, who I worked with Dr. Jim Mahoney,  Dr. Brad Mitchell, Dr. Barb Hansen, they were all  amazing people that I was so thankful to learn from  every single day, and, you know, really get a firmer  handle on, you know, where policy and practice meet.

Which leads me back to Children's Defense Fund, where  I've been the Executive Director now for four years.  Since my first professional experience with the  organization, I knew that public policy and advocacy  on behalf of Ohio's children was something that I  wanted to do, and I would always do in some way. And  it was an absolute honor, for me that Mrs. Marian  Wright Edelman hired me into this role, and also that  I had the support of my predecessor Renuka Mayadev  another individual who I just respect so deeply. And I  have the privilege of working on behalf of Ohio's  children every single day, and looking at whole child  well being. So education, equity, children's health,  child nutrition, child welfare, anti poverty issues,  you know, these are all things that our organization  works on. 

And through policy through collaboration,  through, you know, advocacy, our goal is that we're  going to make a difference, we're going to eliminate  poverty in our lifetime, and that every child in the  state of Ohio can thrive and flourish into adulthood,  with the support and care of loving adults in their  lives. So thank you College of Education and Human  Ecology, for helping me on this journey, and for  equipping me with the tools and the networks to be  successful, and to be effective. And I think I just  want to close by saying that my husband, Israel, who  I've been married to for 23 years, who I met as a  freshman at Ohio State and our children, Riley and  Tatiana. They are my purpose. 

They are my why, they  keep me grounded, they keep me inspired and laughing.  And also, I think without their love and  encouragement, you know, things would be very  different. And they really give me you know, that joy  every single day. So, thank you, College of Education,  Human Ecology for this Career recognition. And, you  know, I can't pay back all the mentorship and all the  support that I've received over the years from so  many, but I can pay it forward. And that is what I  intend to do.


Triple Buckeye Tracy Nájera dedicates herself to improving the lives of children and families and serving as a tireless advocate for education equity. She believes that one’s race, zip code, ability status or gender should not dictate opportunity and access to an outstanding education.

Having grown up in a small town with under-resourced schools, she recognizes the power of quality teaching and supportive adults who partner with parents to create thriving educational communities.

Upon enrolling at Ohio State, Nájera threw herself into community service and student leadership. As a result, she earned the Presidential Leadership Citation from the university.

After completing her undergraduate degree in international studies and her MPA from the Glenn College of Public Affairs, Nájera turned her passion for service and advocacy into her professional journey as a research fellow with the Children’s Defense Fund  ̶  Ohio. She also spent time as a senior director for Battelle for Kids.

While working at Ohio’s Office of Budget and Management, Nájera decided to pursue a PhD in the college. Today, she serves as executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund – Ohio. She leads the work of the nonprofit child advocacy and civil rights organization, which has focused relentlessly for more than 40 years on health, education equity, child welfare and nutrition with the goal of ending child poverty in Ohio and in the United States.

Nájera’s continued passion for service to Ohio includes appointments to the State Library Board and the state’s 2020 Census Complete Count Commission. She also serves on the board for Mt. Carmel College of Nursing, Columbus Rotary Club, Policy Matters Ohio, the Human Services Chamber and the Glenn College Alumni Society.

In recognition of her professional work and community service, Nájera was named a Columbus 40 under 40 in 2014 by Business First. She was inducted to the Noble Order by Alpha Psi Lambda, Inc., in 2015, and recognized by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Ohio State in 2017 with the Distinguished Latinx Service Award.

Section Items

New Leader Award

DeLeon Gray

’09 MA, Quantitative Research, Evaluation and Measurement; ’12 PhD, Educational Psychology

Video URL

Speaker 1:
Greetings. Good afternoon. Hello, and thank you.   Thank you Buckeye family for this prestigious honor. I  sincerely appreciate it. Thank you Dr. Eric Anderman,  and Dr. James L. Moore III for independently putting  my name forth for this honor, and nominating me. So  because this New Leader Award means so much to me  right now in my career as somebody who's now elevating  their research on belonging to a leadership philosophy  at the center of community engagement, motivation and  equity focus, quantitative methods, I just want to  share a few receipts to my Buckeye family around how  we got here. 

There are a few key lessons that I  learned from my mentors outside of the classroom at  OSU. And my team continues to be grateful for these  lessons, because it guides the way we think about  things. But I'm going to take it to the practicals  today. So let's go for Eric Anderman first. He taught  us that nobody cares about motivation. They care about  the thing that they want you to be motivated to do.

Dr. Lynley Anderman, she taught us what ground game  really looks like. What she would do is she would take  us or me to AERA, put me in a room with other  scholars, ask me who I wanted to meet, grabbed me by  the hand and walk me over to the scholars introduced  me and walked away. I can't tell you how much that  means to me. It really did a lot for my trajectory.

Dr. Anne O'Connell, you taught me the importance of  holding true to my values, but you really taught me  that it will require some gumption. People sometimes  will test you. But it's important to stand true to  your values. You taught me that if I let somebody  knock me off course, at the very beginning of my  career, they would be trying to do that for the rest  of my career and my time in the academy. And so I  sincerely appreciate you for reminding me to remain  planted and rooted in what I knew what was right. 

Dr.  Anita Wolfe McCoy, you told me that it's so important  to exist within a translational space, because people  on both sides need you. And so my language, the way I  speak about my research, how I bring new terminology  to bear and how I broker relationships across academia  and outside of academia is doing large part to you  elevating the importance of translation to me. 

And Dr.  James Moore, you told me that nothing could replace  the value of a black scholar and mentor in my career  trajectory. As a Bell Doctoral Fellow, you put me in  front of top notch scholars like Louis Castenell,   Fred Bonner, Lamont Flowers. And you know, you helped me  understand what modeling and ethos of excellence look  like in the flesh. For a black scholar, I can tell you  how much that meant to me. You showed me so many real  things, have real conversations with me and affirm me  by telling me not only would I have seen in academia,  but you know, I will be able to support my family in  the future. And I cannot tell you how much I  appreciate that. So, from the bottom of my heart, I  love you Buckeye family and thank you for continuing  to be pouring into me texting me and calling me in the  middle of the pandemic. Thank you for never letting me  go and I'll never let you go either.

DeLeon Gray is CEO of Black and Belonging and an associate professor of educational psychology and equity at North Carolina State University, where he has developed three new doctoral courses on School Belonging, Equity-Focused Quantitative Methods and Community-Engaged Approaches to Educational Research. He is enthusiastic about working jointly with education stakeholders to disrupt structural aspects of schooling environments that leave historically marginalized student groups vulnerable to anxieties about belonging.

His research is recognized by prestigious honors, including the Research on Socially and Economically Underrepresented Populations Award (RISE-UP) from the Association for Psychological Science and a 2018 Best Article Award for his collaborative publication, "Black and Belonging at School: A Case for Interpersonal, Instructional, and Institutional Opportunity Structures," in Educational Psychologist. 

Gray has been establishing a national presence for his research, mentoring and outreach activities. To date he has secured more than $2.5 million in federally funded research grants as principal investigator or co-principal investigator. The overarching aim of his grant-funded community work is to amplify the voices of young people and support their motivation to achieve for the sake of racial progress and social uplift.

For Gray and his team, centering community engagement has resulted in several (intended and unintended) impacts for both his partnering schools in Durham, NC, including:

  1. Developing new equity-focused methodological approaches for assessing belonging-centered instructional practices
  2. Developing a graduate recruitment pipeline of equity-focused graduate students who were attracted to our community-engaged activities and who have chosen to support their same school district as community-engaged scholars while pursuing doctoral degrees

Black Enterprise featured Gray as one of 100 men of color who are "living up to a standard of excellence and using their talents and influence in their respective industries to shift the perception of men of color to create and encourage a positive narrative."

Most recently, he received the Change Agent Award of Appreciation from St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, NC, for his community-engaged scholarship in predominantly Black K-12 schools. He recently served as a Scholar in Residence in the College of Education, Michigan State University. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.