Our Alumni

Neag School Hosts Annual Educational Leadership Forum in Hartford

Written by: Shawn Kornegay

Neag School of Education alumni, faculty, and administrators, along with educators from across the state, gathered at the Hartford Public Library’s Center for Contemporary Culture earlier this month for an evening of networking and insights from two dynamic Neag School alumni.

Miguel Cardona ’00 MA, ’04 6th Year, ’11 Ed.D., ’12 ELP, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning for Meriden (Conn.) Public Schools, and Bridget Heston Carnemolla ’13 Ed.D, ’14 ELP, superintendent for Watertown (Conn.) Public Schools, each shared insights into their experiences in the Neag School’s educational leadership program and personal revelations on leadership as the featured speakers for the Neag School’s third annual Educational Leadership Alumni Forum.

Neag School Dean Gladis Kersaint kicked the event off with welcome remarks, while Richard Gonzales, faculty event co-host and director of the Neag School’s educational leadership preparation programs, spoke on the strength and national prominence of the University of Connecticut Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP). Gonzales also touched on UCAPP’s involvement in a Wallace Foundation-funded national initiative known as the University Principal Preparatoin Initiative (UPPI), which is focused on improving principal preparation programs across the country.

At a recent national meeting on UPPI, Gonzales said, he listened as the event’s keynote speaker, Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond, recognized UCAPP by name in her address as a principal preparation program dedicated to continuous improvement.

“We have a reputation from the past, and we are continuing that reputation,” said Gonzales. “One of the questions I often get is around the UPPI initiative: ‘Why redesign? Why fix what’s not broken?’ The simple answer is because we’ve learned along the way that we can do better — and why shouldn’t we get better?”

“Stay humble. Titles don’t make you a good leader. Action makes you a good leader.”

— Miguel Cardona, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, Meriden (Conn.) Public Schools

Leadership Lessons
As the first featured alumni speaker of the evening, four-time Neag School alum Cardona spoke about how much he has learned from Neag School’s educational leadership programs and from his family. “I’m really pleased that I have both my UConn family here and my home family,” he said.

Miguel Cardona speaks at Educational Leadership Forum
Four-time Neag School alum Miguel Cardona served as one of the 2017 Educational Leadership Forum’s featured speakers. (Photo Credit: Shawn Kornegay/Neag School)

In his address, Cardona went on to share personal stories on leadership, including one anecdote starring members from the UConn men’s basketball team. Spending time one evening on the Storrs campus with his son — a big basketball fan — Cardona and his family happened upon a group of UConn men’s basketball players.

This was, Cardona said, “about the same time the UConn men’s basketball team was on their way to winning a championship, and my son and I watched basketball all the time.”

The players took pictures with his son, gave him a T-shirt, and shook his son’s hand. To Cardona, “That was a leadership lesson: Stay humble. Titles don’t make you a good leader. Action makes you a good leader. Be remembered by testimony, not titles,” he said. “That’s something I learned … from my experiences with UCAPP and the other UConn programs, and a life full of leadership experiences at Meriden.”

Cardona also spoke about his experience co-chairing a statewide commission focused on closing the achievement gap. The group had listened to testimony from stakeholder groups and experts, including faculty and administrators from the University of Connecticut and Neag School, Cardona said.

“If you are going to close any gap, leadership matters,” Cardona said, reflecting on the leadership role Neag School faculty played in the effort. “They were trendsetters for reshaping leadership programming.”

“You can’t simultaneously be all things to all people. It’s a necessary limitation, but requires us to be present at the moment — and to consider the role and the impact of that role at that moment.”

— Bridget Heston Carnemolla,
superintendent, Watertown (Conn.) Public Schools

Balancing Personal Life With Professional Life
Superintendent Carnemolla also served as a featured speaker at the event, sharing how her Neag School journey as part of the doctoral program in educational leadership and the Executive Leadership Program (ELP) helped develop her as a leader.

Bridget Heston Carnemolla speaks at Educational Leadership Forum
Alum Bridget Heston Carnemolla serves as a featured speaker at the third annual Educational Leadership Alumni Forum. (Photo Credit: Shawn Kornegay/Neag School)

Carnemolla spoke in part about juggling her family life and her position as a school principal while attending the Neag School’s Ed.D. program. Recalling classes led by instructor Robert Villanova, she shared what she learned from him on leadership: “You can’t simultaneously be all things to all people,” Carnemolla said. “It’s a necessary limitation, but requires us to be present at the moment — and to consider the role and the impact of that role at that moment. You also have to know your role as a leader.”

In having shifted from a role as principal to one as superintendent, Carnemolla also says she saw how each of her Neag School educational leadership program experiences served her. “Both the doctoral and executive leadership programs [at the Neag School] prepared me to think of these roles differently and how I could impact positive change,” she said.

Carnemolla reflected on the impact of gender in leadership as well.

“Clearly I’m a female role model, and I have a very specific obligation,” she said. “It is often very different for girls and women who want to be leaders. We face different challenges from our male counterparts.

“We, as strong, competent women who take these positions of power, it’s our moral obligation to teach young people to value everyone and to value everyone’s perspectives,” she added.

Carnemolla credited educators with inspiring her and giving her a tangible goal for who she could be. She was taught, she told the audience, “to find her own voice and to use it for good and challenge things that are unjust.”

“If you are in a current leadership position, I congratulate you and I applaud you,” she says. “If you are just starting, I encourage you to continue. You can, and you will, make a difference.”

Interested in taking your education career to the next level? Find further information about Neag School’s Executive Leadership Program (ELP) or UConn Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP) today.

View photos from this year’s Educational Leadership Forum, or check out video coverage of the event.


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Cohort’s Collaborative Effort Stands Out as Members Recently Complete Ed.D. Program

Members of the 2013 cohort, Meg Smith, Lara White, Roszena Haskins, Tayarisha Stone, Regina Hopkins and Ann Traynor, have all recently earned their Doctorate of Education through the Ed.D. Program from the Neag School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership. Achieving a doctorate while working as a high level professional is a difficult task, however, the women of the 2013 cohort were able to accomplish this feat through collaboration and continual support of one another. Their ability to balance work, personal life, and academia, and the way they tackled critical issues in the field of education was inspiring and set a model for future cohorts. Dr. Sarah Woulfin noted that “this cohort’s efforts provides a stellar example of how Ed.D. cohorts can collaborate to attain their goals as scholars and educational leaders.”

Members of the 2013 cohort worked well inside and outside of the classroom
Members of the 2013 cohort worked well together, both inside and outside of the classroom

There was always a strong presence and communication which set the tone for their cohort success. Meg Smith, described the cohort as academically and emotionally supportive and that members, “...were always attuned to what was happening with people professionally.” Ann Traynor echoed this as she said her fellow cohort members served as, “‘Critical friends’ during courses, the development of our problem of practice and proposal, and during the research, analysis and writing of our dissertations.” They were a cohesive unit, who bonded not only as professionals and peers, but as friends. The cohort often had dinner together, and socialized outside of the program, which strengthened their dynamic and built lasting friendships.

Cohort member, Roszena Haskins commented that,

“The diverse educational and professional make-up of our cohort was invaluable throughout the program. We shared our individual expertise, resources and strengths with each other. When we experienced challenges, we united as a problem-solving body and support system. Our cohort was collaborative. Our interactions in the classroom evolved into a special network of educators and developed lasting relationships outside of the academic setting.”

Despite their inspiring work ethic, their commitment included some challenges. Each member was growing in their respective full-time careers, and taking on new challenges as school leaders. Lara White explained, “We have all had to manage our careers, graduate school, and family, and it wasn't always easy but we understood each other in a way that others couldn't.”

Other members reiterated this sentiment saying that they felt they did not always have “full access” as most of the cohort members were off-campus. They credited cohort member, Ann Traynor, who works as the Director of Academic Advising and Certification Officer at the Neag School of Education for assisting the cohort with many on-campus responsibilities and giving them an inside perspective about the university. Each member had to be disciplined with how they split their time, but as a team they complemented each other's obligations and responsibilities to tackle the workload, together.

While they came from different backgrounds, and had different research interests the cohort was able to share research while building each other’s confidence. Their research included:

  • Improving cultural competence through professional development
  • Teachers’ emotional responses to coaching
  • Culturally responsive instruction and the recruitment and retention of teachers of color
  • College readiness, persistence and success through the lens of equity and policy
  • How educational policy and policy implementation can create or perpetuate inequities, especially for students of color and first-generation college students

Across the board, cohort members brought passion and dedication while engaging in quality research and creating meaningful work around these critical issues. They identified overlapping themes and helped each other whenever they could. This type of support is critical in framing the cohort's culture while maintaining a work-life balance.

This unique group unanimously agreed their success was a result of Ed.D’s faculty. Meg Smith stressed the value of how each professor challenged the cohort members academically, while concurrently building their confidence.  She also stated the “professors of the Ed.D. program universally are absolute experts in their field selected because they understand challenges of working, and they have the absolute keenest sense of what you need to know in each sub field to enhance practice and scholarship.”

Meg Stone with Dr. Sarah Woulfin
Meg Smith standing outside of the Gentry building with Ed.D. faculty, Dr. Sarah Woulfin

Smith explained that faculty, specifically Dr. Sarah Woulfin, went out of her way to make sure she was creating meaningful work, while also ensuring that she knew her work was of the caliber to present at conferences such as the AERA Annual Meeting. Lara White also emphasized how meaningful it was to have the faculty's support,

“I loved the level of care and intelligence of our department. Dr. Woulfin ensured that we never felt alone and always provided help and assurance of our endeavors.”

2013 Cohort graduates with Drs. Jennie Weiner and Sarah Woulfin
2013 Cohort graduates with Drs. Jennie Weiner and Sarah Woulfin

Support from the entire faculty illustrated a passion for educational leadership that members were able to feed off of and inspired their work. Roszena Haskins described how the program and its faculty “established an engaging learning community where I especially enjoyed the dissertation research process for which I had three strong advisors who understood my strengths and responded to my academic needs.”

The community of support among faculty and within the cohort itself drove motivation for members to create meaningful work and stay disciplined to finishing the program in a timely manner. Teamwork and passion drove their success which led them to finishing their degree in four years while tackling critical issues surrounding education within Connecticut.

The Department of Educational Leadership and Ed.D. program extends deep congratulations to the women of the 2013 cohort on their completion of the Ed.D. program and thanks them for their hard work, dedication and, commitment to their degree, the program and each other.