Young Alumni Achievement Award
MILLERSVILLE UNIVERSITY YOUNG ALUMNI ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
The Young Alumni Achievement Award recognizes Millersville University graduates who are outstanding in their profession.
The Young Alumni Achievement Award was created in 2012 to recognize Millersville University baccalaureate graduates identified as being outstanding in their professions and to present such alumni to current Millersville University students as examples of exemplar achievement. All baccalaureate graduates of Millersville University, within the past 5-20 years at time of nomination, who have recorded notable accomplishments in their chosen professions are eligible for this award. The young alumni achievers may be invited to hold seminars, presentations and/or panel discussions on topics related to their professions.
The Nominations & Awards Committee of the Millersville University Alumni Association works in conjunction with the Deans of Millersville University’s three undergraduate schools to nominate, identify and select candidates for the award.
Who Is Eligible
Those who have graduated from Millersville University within the past 5-20 years who have recorded notable accomplishments in their chosen professions are eligible. Each year, one outstanding alumnus/na from each undergraduate school of Millersville University is chosen to receive the award. To nominate an alumnus/na, complete the Young Alumni Achievement Award nomination form.
Please list applicable information in each of the following categories and attach 2-3 letters of recommendation in addition to the nominator's summary. Please follow the nomination format closely. Additional attachments of information other than those requested below will not be considered during the selection process.
- Nominator's summary explaining why this person should be chosen for this award and the professional and community service achievements that qualify the candidate for this award.
- Relevant employment positions held.
- Awards, honors or recognition related to their profession or community service.
- Local, state, national or international activities.
All nominations are kept on file for one year following the year in which they are originally considered. Nominators are encouraged to update nomination materials the following year, if applicable.
How Are Alumni Chosen
All nomination materials should be submitted via the online form. Nomination deadline is January 30.
The recipients of these awards may be asked to speak to classes within their respective undergraduate schools and possibly a “Meet the Young Alumni Achievers Reception” will be open to all members of the University Community who are interested in meeting the accomplished alum.
Formal recognition to take place at the Honors & Awards ceremony.
Questions? Please contact the Office of Alumni Engagement at 717-871-7551 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to see past recipients of the Young Alumni Achievement Award
2018 YOUNG ALUMNI ACHIEVEMENT AWARD RECIPIENT - T. Joseph Dennes III ’04, Ph.D.
Dr. Joseph Dennes graduated with departmental honors from Millersville University in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. During his time at Millersville, he received the American Chemical Society Southeastern PA Section Award, the American Chemical Society Undergraduate Award in Analytical Chemistry, a National Science Foundation Undergraduate Research Fellowship, the Gerald S. Weiss Inorganic Chemistry Scholarship, and the Millersville University Search for Excellence Scholarship.
Dennes earned his Ph.D. in materials chemistry from Princeton University in 2008, where he was recognized with the Hubert Alyea Teaching Award and Miles Pickering Teaching Award for outstanding service as a teaching assistant. He also received the Princeton University Wyeth Seminar Series Award – a fellowship given to the best graduate student seminar to teach attendees about his or her research. Dennes’ Princeton thesis work has been further advanced by two startup companies: Orthobond, Inc. in Princeton, NJ, and Aculon, Inc. in San Diego, CA.
Dr. Ed Rajaseelan, professor and chair of chemistry at Millersville University, said of Dennes, “I always appreciated his exemplary character. He has participated in events organized by the MU Career Services, and I am confident he will be a great asset to the MU Alumni Association.”
Dennes is in his tenth year of service at DuPont Central Research & Development. In 2013, he was appointed manager of the Soft Matter R&D group, where he led more than 40 Ph.D. and bachelor’s-level researchers. In 2016, he was appointed R&D Manager for the DuPontTM Tyvek® business, where he led the R&D, applications development, and technical service teams. Most recently in 2017, Dennes was appointed to lead the Kevlar® and Nomex® Mass Transportation and Composites businesses for DuPont where he is responsible for developing and executing the growth strategy and is responsible for the overall financial performance of the business. In his career at DuPont, he has authored more than 30 patents, and his work has resulted in the commercialization of new products in the fields of energy storage, food pathogen detection, textiles, filtration, consumer products, and medical device packaging.
2018 YOUNG ALUMNI ACHIEVEMENT AWARD RECIPIENT - Leslie Gates ’03, Ph.D.
Dr. Leslie Gates graduated from Millersville University in 2003 with a BSE in Art Education. Following graduation, Gates taught art in the York City and Greencastle-Antrim School Districts. She earned her MA in Curriculum and Instruction from Shepherd University (Shepherdstown, WV) and her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Maryland College Park.
In 2012, Gates returned to Millersville as a faculty member in the Department of Art & Design, where she currently serves as an Associate Professor of Art Education. Gates coordinates the undergraduate and graduate programs in art education and finds deep joy in mentoring and supporting students as they enact their new visions for art education.
Kelly Davis ’95 nominated Gates for this award because, “Dr. Gates is a wonderful example of what makes Millersville University an outstanding learning institution. She is a much-respected voice on campus and a well-known collaborator whose work benefits her students, colleagues, department, the community and University as a whole.”
Gates was named Pennsylvania Art Education Association’s Art Educator of the Year in 2017-18, PAEA’s highest honor. As a result of her commitment and work, Millersville University has partnered with the PAEA to offer many workshops for local educators. Focused on expanding arts education in the community, last year Gates re-launched Saturday Art School, in which K-8th grade students from the community take art courses from undergraduate art education majors at the University. In 2018, the National Art Education Foundation awarded Gates the Mary McMullan Grant for her work with Saturday Art School.
Her commitment extends to educators state-wide; Gates has served on PAEA’s Board of Directors from 2009-2017 and has been involved in planning PAEA’s annual Conference since 2010. Gates initiated the Legacy Breakfast series, which annually honors one art educator whose career has had significant impact on art education in the state of Pennsylvania, and she was honored by PAEA as the Elementary Art Educator of the Year in 2007.
Gates actively engages in art education at the national level, having presented many times at the National Art Education Association’s (NAEA) annual conference. She is in her second term of service on the editorial review board for the NAEA’s Art Education journal. Gates lives in Lancaster, PA with her husband Sam (’01) and their two daughters.
2018 YOUNG ALUMNI ACHIEVEMENT AWARD RECIPIENT - Michelle Kaufman ’03, Ph.D.
Dr. Michelle R. Kaufman is an assistant professor in the Department of Health, Behavior & Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. As a social psychologist, she studies how interpersonal relationships and social factors contribute to health disparities, and how behavior change interventions can mitigate these factors. Her work focuses primarily on how gender roles, sexuality and social status put individuals at risk for poor health outcomes. She uses mixed methodologies to design, implement and evaluate health interventions.
While at Millersville, Kaufman’s aptitude for research shined. MU professor emeritus, Dr. G. Alfred Forsyth and wife, Peggy (retired MU professor) nominated Kaufman for this award to recognize both her achievements and her personhood. “She applied her outstanding critical thinking abilities to multiple research problems and carried each project through to conference presentations. She has blended together perfectly her scholarly research interests and her caring human behavior social action interests into a single powerhouse career,” remarked Alfred Forsyth.
Kaufman has authored more than 30 peer-reviewed publications tackling difficult issues such as sexual violence and sex trafficking. She has four manuscripts under review focusing on sexual violence and has presented at more than 60 scientific meetings. Beyond the classroom, Kaufman sits on an advisory panel for the National Mentoring Research Board and is an executive board member of the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative. She has also invested her time and talent supporting New Choices and New Beginnings programs for at-risk females in Lancaster, PA.
Kaufman’s immense influence spans several continents, with current and past projects in the U.S., Nepal, South Africa, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire and Indonesia. Her most recent work focuses on how mentoring can contribute to better health outcomes for urban adolescents, a project that was granted nearly $900,000. Peggy Forsyth noted that Kaufman’s “domestic research will have a similar impact to that of her global research. Her ability to integrate two views promises to make major breakthroughs in addressing the health and social behavior issues of at-risk youth, just as she has blended biological and social psychology fields to improve the lives of women.”
2017 Award Recipients
Erin L. Baker '03
Since graduating from Millersville University, Erin Baker has risen through the ranks to be named the vice president and director of PNC’s Line of Business Development Programs and Campus Recruiting. After earning a bachelor’s degree in speech communication from MU, Baker went on to earn her master’s degree in corporate communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
A rising star as a mentor and civic engagement figure in the industry, Baker received Pittsburgh Magazine’s 40 under 40 award in 2009. She strives to ensure that young people find a balance between being successful in their professional and civic lives. She has also devoted time to advisory boards such as Millvale Franciscan Volunteer Program, National Student Partnerships, City Theatre Greenroom Advisory Board, Connect Greenfield, Pitt’s CPLE Mentoring Program, New Pittsburgh Collaborative and serves as board secretary of the Get Involved, Inc.
Baker regularly speaks with groups of young leaders throughout the region. She also oversees programs and opportunities for all of PNC’s young talent and manages a team of more than 30 people.
“Erin positively influences hundreds of lives for young professionals at PNC. She empowers and inspires college students to get involved and give back in the region through PNC and as an active volunteer,” says John Held ’02, who nominated Baker and was a 2015 recipient of the award.
Prior to joining PNC in September 2007, Baker held several positions within the Coro Center for Civic Leadership, Pittsburgh’s branch of the national leadership training organization. She was the Director of Recruitment and Outreach, and previously held the position of University Relations Associate for the Regional Internship Center.
In her free time, Baker is a mentor with the Mentor 2.0 program for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh. In her past roles, she has served on employer advisory boards at regional colleges and universities as well as planning commissions for local career services sponsored events. She was also previously active on advisory or fiduciary boards for Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project and Junior League of Pittsburgh. Baker has been honored with the Pittsburgh Business Times Fast Tracker award and a Pittsburgh Circle of Courage award.
Ashlea Rineer-Hershey ’03, Ph.D.
Dr. Rineer-Hershey received a bachelor’s degree from Millersville University in 2003 with a dual certificate in special and elementary education and went on to earn her master’s in Special Education with a teaching certificate in English as a Second Language from Eastern Mennonite University in 2006. She has dedicated her life to teaching.
Early in her career, she joined the faculty at Slippery Rock University while she completed her doctoral degree in Educational Leadership & Instructional Management at Robert Morris University. Rineer-Hershey took on numerous leadership roles and volunteered her time to Slippery Rock sponsored events such as “Care Break,” a community service program to help those across the country.
She went on to work at California University of Pennsylvania as an assistant professor in the Early, Middle and Special Education Department. She also worked for the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN), where she worked on various state initiatives such as Autism & Inclusive Practices. In this position, she trained many teachers and administrators across the state on effective instructional strategies and approaches.
Rineer-Hershey returned to Slippery Rock in 2013 as a full-time tenured faculty member of the Special Education Department. She has assisted with the implementation of the university’s new Education Doctorate in Special Education, been involved in grants writing that has brought in more than $365,000, serves on many committees and volunteers her time with student activities. She also serves as the acting Special Education Director for the Plum Borough School District in Pittsburgh in which she is responsible for the education programs and placements for over 500 students.
Rineer-Hershey has authored a textbook which focuses on her research in the areas of transition services, inclusive practices, co-teaching and Autism Spectrum Disorder. She presents at conferences across the state and country and has written numerous articles for peer-reviewed journals.
A wife and mother of three, she is active in her community and church and shares her time and expertise with numerous organizations including Best Buddies, Embrace Grace, and the Pennsylvania Council for Exceptional Children where she serves as a regional director.
Michael Zdilla ’00, Ph.D.
Dr. Michael Zdilla graduated magna cum laude from Millersville University in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry with a biochemistry option. He is making his mark in the field of chemistry by focusing on the use of multi-metal systems for various applications including green catalysis, materials precursors, solid electrolytes, energetic materials and biological model systems.
As an undergraduate, he was the recipient of numerous awards including the Freshman Chemistry award, Gerald Weiss Inorganic prize, Polymer Education award and the American Institute of Chemist award. Zdilla was the first chemistry graduate to receive the Breidenstine Scholarship for his outstanding honors thesis which focused on synthesis of biologically inspired molybdenum complexes. He was also the first chemistry student from Millersville to get admitted to Princeton University where he earned his Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry, performing inorganic synthesis of iron-nitrogen cluster mimics of the nitrogenase iron-molybdenum cofactor.
As a postdoctoral fellow, Zdilla studied catalysis and mechanistic bioinorganic chemistry on the chlorite dismutase enzyme and on synthetic models of metalloporphyrin redox enzymes. He is currently a Robert L. Smith Early Career Professor and associate professor of chemistry at Temple University in Philadelphia.
During his time at Temple, Zdilla has truly excelled and is the recipient of the prestigious Camille Dreyfus Teacher Scholar award, a program that supports the research and teaching careers of talented young faculty in the chemical sciences. He has also been the recipient of the National Science Foundation Career award and the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator award.
Zdilla has published 48 papers in prestigious journals on the topics of synthetic and mechanistic inorganic chemistry, catalysis, materials science, nanoscience, energy science and crystallography. He has also given more than 50 invited talks and presentations at regional, national, and international meetings and major universities. Currently, there are three Millersville chemistry graduates doing their Ph.D.’s under his direction.
2016 Award Recipients
Dr. Thomas Bernhardt '96
Less than 20 years since graduating from Millersville University with a B.S. degree in chemistry with biochemistry option, Dr. Thomas Bernhardt has made his mark as one the world’s leading microbiologists, focusing his expertise on the urgent threat of antibiotic resistance.
Dr. Bernhardt’s four years at Millersville hinted at what he would achieve later in life. As an undergraduate student, he was honored with the Freshman Chemistry Award, Organic Chemistry Award, Richard Sasin Endowed Scholarship in Chemistry, and Southeastern Pennsylvania Section of the American Chemical Society Award. He received his doctorate in biochemistry and biophysics at Texas A&M University, where he was mentored by Dr. Ryland Young in researching how simple bacteria viruses destroy bacterial cells when they replicate. For his work at A&M, Dr. Bernhardt received the prestigious Nat Sternberg Thesis Prize, administered by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, for the most outstanding Ph.D. thesis in bacterial molecular biology. At Case Western Reserve University, he was awarded the Krampitz Award for excellence in Postdoctoral Research for his work in the molecular mechanisms underlying bacterial cell division.
A rising star at Harvard Medical School’s internationally acclaimed Microbiology and Immunobiology Department, Dr. Bernhardt was promoted to full professor with tenure in just nine years. His research laboratory’s groundbreaking work on bacterial cell wall assembly is funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health. The process of cell wall assembly is the target of many of our most effective antibiotics, including penicillin and related drugs. However, resistance to these drugs is on the rise. “Antibiotic resistance is a major threat to our healthcare system, jeopardizing medical advancements such as chemotherapy, organ transplants and joint replacement surgery,” says Dr. Bernhardt. He is the recipient of many fellowships and awards at the Harvard Medical School, including the Mentoring Award from the Harvard Biological and Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program.
To help combat antibiotic resistance, Dr. Bernhardt collaborates with researchers in Harvard’s Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology, as well as the Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department, to understand the fundamental mechanisms by which bacteria build their cell wall. The insights gained from these studies promise to facilitate the development of antibiotics that can save lives throughout the world.
Dr. Kristin Albright Waters '05
In less than a dozen years since graduating from Millersville University in 2005, Kristin Waters has unwaveringly strived to reach her goals.
With a bachelor of arts in psychology from Millersville, she went on to earn her master of arts in education, educational leadership and policy studies at Virginia Tech in 2007, then her master of business administration at Capitol College in 2011. Earlier this year, she received her doctor of educational leadership from Frostburg State University in Maryland.
Dr. Waters has been associate director of operations for undergraduate admissions for the University of Maryland in Baltimore County for three years and previously served at UMBC’s office of the registrar. To say she is accomplished is an understatement.
“Kristin is a true leader in her community and within the institutions she serves,” says John Held ’02, who nominated Waters and was the recipient of the 2015 Young Alumni Achievement Award. “It has been a joy to watch her learn and grow in her career. She embodies all that makes Millersville University and its alumni the best in the world.”
Among Kristin Waters’ achievements are serving on the MUAA Board of Directors for seven years and as secretary for two years. She is a member of the formation group for the regional association for collegiate registrars and admissions officers, serving as vice president and secretary. She has presented three times at the Middle States Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, published articles on higher education in the national journal C&U (College & University), been selected as featured speaker for Baker Leadership and served on the Professional Staff Senate at UMBC.
Her energy is impressive, especially when she uses it for charity. An avid marathon runner, Kristin has raised more than $2,000 for the charity First Descents. To date, she has already completed 48 marathons, but she’s not done yet. “My goal is to complete 100 marathons before my 40th birthday,” she says. We’ll be cheering her on.
Greg Pizzoli '05
Greg Pizzoli graduated from Millersville University in 2005 with a B.A. in English and a minor in studio art. Pizzoli used his talents as a writer and an artist to become a popular children’s author and illustrator.
His whimsical picture books capture a world of imagination, where a cute lime green croc with not very sharp teeth becomes alarmed after he accidentally swallows a watermelon seed in the aptly titled “The Watermelon Seed.” The delightfully rendered tale was published by Disney Hyperion Books and won the 2014 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award (aka Dr. Seuss).
In just three years, Pizzoli has created and/or illustrated more than a dozen children’s picture books. They include “Tricky Vic,” the true story of the con man who sold the Eiffel Tower; “Number One Sam,” the daring race car dog who must be #1; “Templeton Gets His Wish,” about a ginger cat who dreams of a life on his own; “Good Night, Owl” for his art school mentor; “Just Itzy,” the not terribly frightening spider of nursery rhyme fame; and “Dragon was Terrible,” the badly behaved dragon no one could tame.
Pizzoli grew up in York and after graduating from Millersville, he served in AmeriCORPS for two years, working with children, which influenced his interest in writing and illustrating books for kids. He went on to earn his Master of Fine Arts in book arts and printmaking at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Pizzoli is now a senior lector at University of the Arts.
“In my books I look at themes that are common to children, like anxiety about things in life, the powerlessness of being a kid and, of course, exciting adventure,” says Pizzoli, adding that his upcoming book is a true story about an intrepid explorer in the Amazon.
This versatile alumnus is an author, illustrator and screen printmaker. He has a gift for color, creating bold vibrant images that charm kids and grown-ups alike. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Communication Arts and 3X3 Magazine. He has also garnered two Portfolio Honor Awards from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
2015 Award Recipients
John Held '02
John Held is director of communications for the ABIM (Advancing Medical Professionalism to Improve Health Care) Foundation where he develops strategic communications initiatives to advance the Foundation’s organizational goals. This includes leading the Choosing Wisely campaign aimed at reducing unnecessary medical interventions and improving health care. Prior to joining ABIM, Held was Director of Communications for the American Cancer Society, where he implemented communications strategies to support the organization’s fundraising, mission delivery and advocacy. While there, he earned the Pepperpot for Excellence in Communication award numerous times from the Philadelphia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).
The Millersville Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) named Held the Alumnus of the Year in 2009 and he received recognition from the Children’s Oncology Camping Association International for Video of the Year in 2009. He has been an active community volunteer as a mentor with the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization and currently serves on the Millersville University Alumni Association Board of Directors where he chairs the Technology Committee.
Matthew Stoltzfus '02
Dr. Matthew Stoltzfus, or “Dr. Fus” as he is known to his students, is an accomplished chemistry lecturer and Digital First Faculty Fellow at The Ohio State University, where he has taught general and advanced inorganic chemistry. He is experimenting with the “flipping the classroom” lecture approach, which has recently been featured on ESPN and NPR mainly due to his iTunes U General Chemistry course, which has an enrollment of more than 162,000 students.
In addition, he is currently a contributing author on the 13th edition of Chemistry the Central Science, a popular and widely used general chemistry textbook, co-authors the Chemistry the Central Science lab manual, serves on the advisory board for the Team Buckeye Peloton, and has served as a faculty facilitator for LeaderShape and the Council of Student Affairs.
He is a recent recipient of The Ohio State University Provost’s Award for Distinguished Teaching by a Lecturer and was announced as an Apple Distinguished Educator.
2014 Award Recipients
Tom Baker '02
County Councilman Tom Baker was elected on November 5, 2013 to represent District 1 in Allegheny County. He previously served as a School Director in the North Hills School District. Councilman Baker is the Chief Community Affairs Officer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh and President of the BBBS Pennsylvania State Association. He is the President of Baker Leadership, the author of three books: Get Involved! Making the Most of Your 20s and 30s (released 2008) Give Our Passion (released 2010), and Empowered in Pittsburgh (released 2012), and is the Founder and Chief Program Officer of Get Involved!, Inc., a 501c3 public charity non-profit organization that educates and empowers young leaders.
Since February 2008, Councilman Baker has spoken with over 40,000 students, young professionals, and community leaders at over 350 colleges, corporations, professional associations, and civic groups across the country. Councilman Baker completed two terms as President of the Pittsburgh East Rotary Club and served as Assistant District Governor for Rotary District 7300. He is also Past President of the National Speakers Association Pittsburgh, Past President of the Coro Pittsburgh Alumni Council, Past President of the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project, Co-Chair of the United States Army Advisory Board and currently serves on the boards of North Hills Community Outreach, the Baierl Family YMCA, and Special Olympics of PA. Councilman Baker was Student Body President while earning his Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Millersville University and served as President of the Associates for Student Development during his graduate studies in Student Affairs in Higher Education at Indiana University of PA.
He has received several honors for his service and leadership. In 2009, he received the Distinguished Civic Leadership Award from Millersville University and the Monroeville Area Chamber of Commerce selected him as the 2011 Young Business Leader of the Year at their Monroeville ROCs event. Tom was named a 2010 Jefferson Award for Public Service honoree by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, received the Public Sector Leader Award at the 2011 RISE Changemaker Awards, was one of the 2011 “Faces” of Gilda’s Club, and was recognized as a 2013 Fast Tracker honoree by the Pittsburgh Business Times. Councilman Baker and his wife, Erin, live in Ross Township and were selected as one of the "Couples for a Cure" in 2012 by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Patrick Leahy '97
Patrick Leahy, is an advocator and creator of documentary, “Blind Lifter.” While attending Millersville University, Patrick wrestled for the school’s nationally recognized Division I program and served as President of Student Senate. He graduated with honors from Millersville University with majors in Political Science and History. Professionally, Patrick’s career encompasses service under Members of Congress, a Cabinet Secretary, and currently the U.S. federal government. His drive to impact the lives of people with disabilities led him to his current position as Senior Advisor at the United States Election Assistance Commission. There he helps state and local governments improve election conditions for all people.
Patrick began to focus on his body and become a competitive body builder and created a documentary called “Blind Lifter.” He uses bodybuilding to inspire people. Patrick has been featured in the Washington Post and was a guest on NBC’s Today Show. Patrick currently serves as a board of director for the Millersville University Alumni Association. During his free time, Patrick enjoys helping our nation’s wounded warriors, amateur bodybuilding, swimming, reading and being an avid baseball fan. Often asked about the impact that blindness has had on his life, Patrick responds “As a social guy, I love engaging people, answering their questions and discussing all topics – including my own challenges. Life presents all of us with challenges, but I strongly believe there is always a way to overcome them.”
Past Young Alumni Achievement Award Winners
2013 Dr. Keith Mellinger '96