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Adapting to meet the needs of aspiring teachers: 2024 Impact Academy cohort is most programmatically diverse to-date

Deans for Impact

Category: Leadership

Preparing effective novice teachers is as vital – and complex – as ever. Amidst post-pandemic implications for PK-12 student learning and systemic challenges within the teaching profession, educator-preparation programs are adapting to better meet the needs of aspiring teachers to help strengthen, diversify, and revitalize the educator workforce, so that all students access well-prepared teachers.

Over the years, deans and executive leaders of educator-preparation programs have told us that the role can often feel lonely and isolating. Many don’t have a place to convene and collaborate with others who are grappling with similar challenges, albeit in different contexts – a place where they can share in the issues, challenges, and successes that come with the unique role.

That’s been a need that the Impact Academy fellowship has been able to meet. Fellows have found Impact Academy to be a source for mentorship, refuge, community, and emboldenment – and a reminder to stay centered on students and keep good work at the forefront amidst growing responsibilities.

Alumni of Impact Academy on a panel discussing creative solutions in teacher preparation

Today, we’re thrilled to announce the ninth cohort of our Impact Academy fellowship – the most programmatically diverse cohort of leaders in the fellowship’s history.

Headshots of the fellows in the ninth cohort of Impact Academy

From traditional four-year programs to teacher residencies to new teacher initiatives housed in K-12 school systems, our 2024-25 cohort reflects the wide range of present-day programs that prepare aspiring teachers. The 17 leaders in this cohort represent programs that serve 19 U.S. states and a broad diversity of geographic and institutional contexts from coast to coast. Forty-seven percent lead institutions that serve a majority of aspiring teachers of color, and 41 percent are leaders of color themselves. Six are Minority-Serving Institutions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Predominantly Black Institutions, and a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

Despite the diverse range of contexts they represent, all leaders bring a shared commitment to building more accessible, high-quality pathways into teaching so that all aspiring teachers, and the PK-12 students they serve, are set up for success.

Our Impact Academy fellowship will support these leaders through a year-long experience that provides them with the tools and resources to respond to the most pressing issues in teacher preparation and contribute to a stronger and more diverse workforce.

A group of fellows standing together in conversation

“All students, and particularly students of color and students from underserved communities, deserve access to teachers who are well-prepared to engage them in rigorous and affirming learning experiences from day one,” says Valerie Sakimura, Executive Director of DFI. “We are thrilled to welcome a new cohort of leaders to Impact Academy who are committed to making that a reality, by doubling down on the essential role they play in making pathways into teaching more accessible, practice-based, and focused on evidence-based instruction.”

Our 2024-25 Impact Academy fellows are:

  • Aaron Kuntz, Dean of the School of Education, Florida International University
  • Alexis Esslinger, LEAP Director, Cooperative Educational Services (New Mexico)
  • Amy Smith, Dean of the School of Education, University of St. Thomas (Minnesota)
  • Aubrey Schabowsky, Director of Educator Preparation, College Unbound (Rhode Island)
  • Beth Nason Quick, Dean of the College of Education, The University of Alabama in Huntsville
  • Denelle Wallace-Alexander, Dean of the School of Education, Norfolk State University (Virginia)
  • Derrick Smith, Dean of the College of Education, Auburn University at Montgomery (Alabama)
  • Kimberley Davis, Dean of the School of Education, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
  • Laura Dinehart, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, Western Michigan University
  • LaVada Taylor, Dean of the College of Education, Chicago State University (Illinois)
  • Lourdes Sutton, Acting Dean of the College of Education, New Jersey City University
  • Marisa Bier, Senior Director, Seattle Teacher Residency (Alliance for Education) (Washington)
  • Mark McDermott, Associate Dean of Teacher Education and Student Services at the College of Education, University of Iowa
  • Nelly Lejter, Dean of the Graduate School of Education & Associate Provost of the Graduate and Professional Division, Touro University (New York-based; also serves California, Illinois, Montana, Nevada, and New Mexico)
  • Sarah Hunt-Barron, Dean of the College of Education, Lander University (South Carolina)
  • Thomas Owenby, Associate Dean for Teacher Education at the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Tiffany Labrie, Director of New Teacher Development, YES Prep Public Schools (Texas)

These fellows join a growing network of 130+ leaders who have gone through the Impact Academy fellowship and are collectively championing more equitable teaching and learning across the country.


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