Alumni News

UNC School of Education honors five outstanding educators

The School of Education recognized the accomplishments of five exceptional educators at its ninth annual alumni awards ceremony on Sept. 27, 2008, at the George Watts Hill Alumni Center on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Martin Lancaster (A.B. ’65, J.D. ’67) received with the School’s highest honor, the Peabody Award.  Lancaster served as president of the North Carolina Community College System from 1997-2008. As the leader of one of the largest community college systems in the country, he worked to increase state and private funding for facilities, equipment, faculty salaries and instruction.  Lancaster, a native of Goldsboro, N.C., is especially devoted to the preparation of what he calls “home grown teachers” to teach in public schools across North Carolina.

Previously, he served as a member of the North Carolina General Assembly and a member of the U.S. Congress. Internationally, Lancaster has served as an ambassador for the North Carolina Community College System and has traveled to the United Kingdom and Thailand to help education leaders build their programs.

Accepting the award, Lancaster acknowledged the lasting influence of his first-grade teacher, Iantha Mitchell, who was present at the ceremony.  “How you get started in education sets the tone for the rest of your educational career,” he said. “It was in first grade that I learned to love learning, a love that has continued throughout my life.”

Maureen Hartford (A.B. ’65, M.A.C.T. ’72), the first female president of Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., received the Alumni Achievement Award for her excellence in higher education. A native of Charlotte, N.C., Hartford has focused her career in higher education on student health and safety, leadership and community service. Now in her eighth year at Meredith— one of the largest women’s colleges in the country—Hartford has introduced four original initiatives: Science and Mathematics, Undergraduate Research Opportunities, Meredith Technology, and Service Learning and Leadership. 

Recognizing the value of a strong educational foundation in mathematics and science, she has invested $20 million in a new facility that will promote both of these disciplines. Earlier in her career, she served as vice president for student affairs at the University of Michigan, where she was instrumental in establishing the Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning. 

“I do remember, with such great pleasure, being among the first women admitted to the University of North Carolina as a freshman,” remarked Hartford. “I believe that experience kindled my own lifelong interest in furthering women’s education.”

For her 35 years of dedication to the field of education, Barbara Chapman (Ph. D. ’81) was presented with the Distinguished Leadership Award.  During her extensive career in education, she has been an elementary school principal for 18 years, first at Cary Elementary School in Wake County, N.C., and then at New Hope Elementary School in Hillsborough, N.C. In 2004, she was named Wachovia Principal of the Year for Orange County Schools.

Most recently, Chapman was an assistant professor at Elon University’s School of Education. She has also taught at UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State University and Fresno Pacific College.  Currently, Chapman serves as an instructional coach with the North Carolina New Schools Project and a master trainer with the North Carolina School Boards Association. She also is a member of the School of Education’s Alumni Council, where she was past president.  

“The University gave me access to a wonderful life and a chance to help others,” Chapman said. “I hope that by continuing to show up, I can repay the debt that I owe to the state of North Carolina, the University and the School of Education.”

The 2008-2009 North Carolina Teacher of the Year, Cindi Rigsbee (A.B.Ed, ’79, M.Ed. ’03), received the Excellence in Teaching Award.  A reading resource teacher at Gravelly Hill Middle School in Efland, N.C., Rigsbee posts a message in her classroom that reads, “I believe in you.” She treats her students with respect and as equals, and is committed to them both inside and outside of the classroom.

Since becoming a North Carolina public school teacher in 1979, Rigsbee has taught middle school language arts, reading, drama and dance at schools in Durham, Guilford, Orange, Vance and Wake counties. She has received many previous recognitions, including Orange County Schools' Teacher of the Year 2007-2008, Gravelly Hill Middle School Teacher of the Year 2007-08, Durham Public Schools Teacher of the Year in 1996-1997 and Regional Teacher of the Year in 1998. She achieved National Board Certification in 2004.

In her acceptance remarks, Rigsbee offered encouragement to others facing the challenges of classroom teaching. She joked about the fact that she too struggled as a beginning teacher and now, one of her favorite Teacher of the Year presentations is titled “How to Get From Below Standards on Evaluation to Teacher of the Year in 30 Short Years.”

Enrique Murillo (Ph.D. ’99), a tenured associate professor at California State University San Bernardino’s College of Education, was presented with the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award. As a native Spanish speaker and first generation Chicano, Murillo focuses his career on working to assist and advance Spanish-speaking Latino students.

In addition to university teaching and research, he has served in many other capacities, including as a community organizer, a director of community-based projects, an elementary school teacher, a social service worker and the founding editor of the highly successful Journal of Latinos and Education. A native of Los Angeles, Murillo currently serves at the state level on California’s Statewide Pupil Assessment Review Board, which reviews all test items for K-12 standardized tests, and as a commissioner for the California Student Aid Commission, which administers a $4.2 billion budget.  

Murillo remarked that he was especially pleased to see several children at the awards ceremony. “We have a tradition in our Native American culture,” he said. “When we need to make an important decision, we always try and think of how it will affect the next seven generations.”   

Alumni, faculty and friends of the School made nominations for the awards. A nine-member committee selected the winners. Ben Matthews (A.B. ’71, Ph.D. ’84), committee chair and director of the School Support Division of the Public Schools of North Carolina, presided over the awards celebration.

Each year the School of Education honors select alumni and individuals for their outstanding accomplishments and deep commitment to education. Previous award winners have included UNC President Emeritus William C. Friday and Ida H. Friday, former North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton, former Sen. Howard N. Lee, and former N.C. Central University Chancellor Julius Chambers.