CASEL Awards

CASEL presents annual awards in research, practice, and public policy.

To recognize outstanding achievements and encourage high standards in the field of social and emotional learning, CASEL presents annual awards in research, practice, and public policy.

CASEL believes that great movements are built on collaboration with others to produce the richest insights, biggest impacts, and best outcomes in support of children. The awards recognize individuals whose body of work and commitment to SEL have advanced the field and paved the way for others.

The awards honor individuals who played leading roles in the early years of the organization:

  • Joseph E. Zins Awards for Social and Emotional Learning Action Research
  • Mary Utne O’Brien Awards for Excellence in Expanding the Evidence-Based Practice of Social and Emotional Learning
  • Ann S. Nerad Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Advance Policies for Social and Emotional Learning

2023 Social and Emotional Learning Leaders of the Year

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CASEL has announced recipients of the 2022 SELLY Awards, honoring outstanding achievements of seven “Social and Emotional Learning Leaders of the Year” in the categories of research, practice, and public policy.

2023 Recipients

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    • Ann S. Nerad Award For Distinguished Contributions to Advance Policies for Social and Emotional Learning

      Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Springfield, is the 47th U.S. Senator from the State of Illinois, the state’s senior senator, and the convener of Illinois’ bipartisan congressional delegation.

      Durbin also serves as the Senate Majority Whip, the second highest ranking position among the Senate Democrats. Senator Durbin has been elected to this leadership post by his Democratic colleagues every two years since 2005.

      Durbin serves as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and sits on the Appropriations and Agriculture Committees.

      Elected to the U.S. Senate on November 5, 1996, and re-elected in 2002, 2008, 2014, and 2020, Durbin fills the seat left vacant by the retirement of his long-time friend and mentor, U.S. Senator Paul Simon.

      Senator Durbin makes approximately 50 round trips a year between Washington and Illinois. He is married to Loretta Schaefer Durbin. Their family consists of three children–Christine (deceased), Paul, and Jennifer–as well as six grandchildren. They reside in Springfield.

    • Ann S. Nerad Award For Distinguished Contributions to Advance Policies for Social and Emotional Learning

      U.S. Senator Susan Collins serves as the Vice Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, where she wields her influence, seniority, and experience to benefit the people of Maine and America.  She also serves as the Ranking Member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee; the Intelligence Committee; and the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. 

      First elected in 1996, Senator Collins has earned a national reputation as an effective legislator who works across party lines to seek consensus on our nation’s most important issues.  She was reelected in 2002, 2008, 2014, and 2020. In 2020, she made history by becoming the first-ever Republican woman in the nation to win a fifth term. She is also the first popularly elected U.S. Senator from Maine to be elected to a fifth term.  She is the eighth-most senior member of the Senate and the most senior Republican woman. 

      Senator Collins was born and raised in Caribou, Maine, where her family runs a sixth-generation lumber business, founded by her ancestors in 1844.  Known for her Maine work ethic, Senator Collins has not missed a single roll call vote in her more than 25 years in office. That is more than 8,500 votes in a row, the longest perfect voting record in the Senate.

    • Ann S. Nerad Award For Distinguished Contributions to Advance Policies for Social and Emotional Learning

      Linda Dusenbury, Ph.D. has dedicated her career to creating a safe and nurturing world for children.  She has four decades of experience developing, supporting and evaluating evidence-based strategies to promote student social and emotional competence, and to prevent drug use and violence. She spearheaded numerous reviews of evidence-based approaches, and has consulted extensively with state education agencies as well as national nonprofit organizations, including the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). 

      Since 2010 Linda has analyzed state policies and learning standards designed to transform education and champion social and emotional learning (SEL).  From 2010 to 2022 she co-led CASEL’s biannual scan of policies to promote SEL, preschool through high school, in all 50 states. These scans revealed dramatic growth in the last decade in the number of states with learning standards for SEL. 

      In 2016, in collaboration with the late Dr. Roger Weissberg, Linda co-launched and led CASEL’s Collaborating States Initiative (CSI) to facilitate development of policies and guidance that would promote statewide implementation of evidence-based SEL and to create conditions where SEL can thrive at the district, school, community, and family levels. In 2022, more than 40 states (serving more than 30 million K-12 students) had participated in the CSI, and 27 states had developed learning standards for SEL.  

      Prior to her work as a consultant to policy research institutes, Linda served on the faculty of Weill Medical College of Cornell University.  She received her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from the University of Vermont, and completed postdoctoral training at Indiana University as part of their NIMH Clinical Scientist Training Program.

    • Mary Utne O’Brien Awards for Excellence in Expanding the Evidence-Based Practice of Social and Emotional Learning

      Eric Gordon is a steadfast and remarkable champion of SEL, youth voice, and equity and excellence for all students.  In July, Eric was appointed Senior Vice-President of Student Development and Education Pipeline at Cuyahoga Community College. Prior to that role, Eric served as the Chief Executive officer of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), a role he held from 2011 through 2023. During his tenure CMSD saw dramatic improvement in academic performance, including a 29 percentage point gain in graduation rates to a record 80.9%.    

      As an early and powerful leader within the Collaborating Districts Initiative, Eric has embedded SEL into his own leadership and strategic planning, building up a Humanware department in CMSD, embedding SEL measures into continuous improvement, adopting evidence-based SEL curricula and practices, and ensuring that adults experienced and modeled SEL.  Eric forged strong partnerships with the union in Cleveland to support SEL implementation and was able to center authentic partnership with youth through his student advisory committee, becoming a national model for this work.   

      Among his many awards, CEO Gordon received the Green-Garner Award of the Council of the Great City Schools in 2016, distinguishing him as the top Urban Educator of the Year, the highest national honor for an urban school superintendent.   In addition to being named one of Cleveland Magazine’s “Most Interesting People” early in his tenure as superintendent, Mr. Gordon’s active engagement in the Cleveland community has been noted with a number of community awards, including the Diversity Center of Cleveland’s Humanitarian Award, Inside Business Magazine’s Power 100 Award, Smart Business Magazine’s Top 50 Award, and most recently the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation’s Outstanding Ohio Superintendent Performance Award. We are so pleased to honor him as a true SEL pioneer today.

    • Mary Utne O’Brien Awards for Excellence in Expanding the Evidence-Based Practice of Social and Emotional Learning

      Kamilah Drummond-Forrester, is the founder and principal consultant at KDRUMM Consulting. In this role she leverages her expertise in transformative social and emotional learning (tSEL) and equity to partner with school districts, out of school time organizations, higher education institutions and NGOs to support strategic thinking, program development and implementation. She is nationally recognized as a thought leader, speaker, consultant and workshop presenter on social and emotional learning (SEL) and social justice. 

      Kamilah is a board member of the state social and emotional learning advocacy organization, SEL4MA and newly appointed board member of the Boston Arts Academy High School. Kamilah also served as the first board chair for the national organization, SEL Providers Association. Drummond-Forrester is currently supporting the Sacramento County Office of Education on the design of SEL professional learning modules for the state and with CASEL on the design of an adult sel learning series. In all of her roles, Kamilah is committed to educating others about the inextricable connections between social and emotional learning (SEL) and social justice. We at CASEL are fortunate to partner with her and are thrilled to honor her today.

    • Joseph E. Zins Distinguished Scientist Award For Outstanding Contributions to Action Research in Social and Emotional Learning

      Susanne Denham is an applied developmental psychologist and University Professor Emerita of psychology at George Mason University, with an M.A. from The Johns Hopkins University and Ph.D. from University of Maryland, Baltimore County.  Her research on emotional competence in children’s social and academic functioning has been funded by NIMH, NICHD, IES, WT Grant Foundation, John Templeton Foundation, and CASEL. 

      Dr. Denham was a long-time collaborator and friend of our late CASEL co-founder Roger Weissberg. She played a leading role in the CASEL Assessment Work Group, which produced a number of briefs and a guide for the SEL field.   She is author of three books and numerous scholarly articles. Along with participation on several editorial boards over time, Denham is exiting editor – after 21 years – of the journal Early Education and Development. She has served on APA’s Division 7 Executive Committee and Working Group on Children’s Mental Health, and consulted regarding children’s social-emotional learning with numerous groups, especially focusing on developmental trajectories and assessment. She strongly espouses a philosophical stance that has informed her work: Development and application of scientific psychology to enhance young children’s social-emotional learning through research-based practice and practice-informed research.

    • Joseph E. Zins Early Career Contributions Award For Outstanding Contributions to Action Research in Social and Emotional Learning

      Julia Mahfouz, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Leadership for Educational Organizations program, School of Education and Human Development at the University of Colorado Denver. She is the director of the Prosocial Leader Lab and a member of the inaugural cohort of CASEL’s  Weissberg Scholars. Her research explores the social, emotional, and cultural dynamics of educational settings placing specific emphasis on adult social and emotional competencies (SECs), specifically school administrators and the integration of systemic SEL into principal preparation programs. Thus, she has implemented mindfulness-based and social emotional learning (SEL)-based professional development programs to understand how such programs can improve principal wellbeing and leadership. She has also investigated how preparation programs and certification standards can be strengthened to enhance effective leadership by supporting principals to deepen their social and emotional competencies. Her overall research work has three basic strands: 1) SEL-based and mindfulness-based implementation and evaluation; 2) prosocial school leadership, and 3) social and emotional dynamics of school improvement– all nested in research practice partnerships. 

      Her research has been published in journals such as Journal of Educational Administration, Educational Management Administration and Leadership, International Journal of Leadership in Education, Education and Urban Society, Mindfulness, College Student Affairs Journal, and in practitioner outlets such as The Learning Professional and Education Canada.

      She is currently (2023-2024) the program chair of International Studies Special Interest Group (SIG) under American Educational Research Association (AERA).

2022 Recipients

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    • Joseph E. Zins Awards for Social and Emotional Learning Action Research

      Dr. Karen Bierman’s research focuses on the design and evaluation of school- and community-based prevention programs that promote social-emotional learning and school readiness. She has directed several longitudinal studies evaluating the long-term impact of early school-based and family-focused social-emotional learning programs designed to reduce aggression (Fast Track) and enhance school success (Head Start REDI). She has also developed and evaluated small-group (Tier 2) social-emotional skill training interventions for peer-rejected children (Friendship Group) designed to complement universal (Tier 1) programming. Her current research focuses on the longitudinal follow-up of the REDI classroom and parent prevention programs that featured social-emotional learning (funded by the National Institutes of Health) and the evaluation of two new parent-focused guided play interventions to support preschool STEM and social-emotional skills (funded by the National Science Foundation and the Institute of Education Sciences, respectively).

      Dr. Bierman has authored more than 230 peer-reviewed journal articles and chapters that have appeared in publications such as Child Development, JAMA Pediatrics, Journal of Developmental Psychology, and Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. She has published five books as author or co-editor. Some of her honors and awards include:

      • Fellow, American Psychological Association (2019)
      • Fellow, Society for Prevention Research (2019)
      • Service to SPR Award, Society for Prevention Research (2017)
      • Evan Pugh University Professor (2016)
      • Fellow, Association of Psychological Science (2016)
      • Senior Scientist and Mentor Award, Missouri Prevention Center (2015)
      • Prevention Science Award, Society for Prevention Research (2013)

      In the future, Dr. Bierman hopes to work with ongoing studies in the area of school readiness, linking school-based with family-focused social-emotional learning supports, and scaling up evidence-based interventions.

    • Joseph E. Zins Awards for Social and Emotional Learning Action Research

      Christina Cipriano, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor at the Yale Child Study Center and Director of Research at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, housed in the Yale School of Medicine. An applied developmental and educational psychologist, Dr. Cipriano’s research focus is the systematic examination of social and emotional learning (SEL) assessment and intervention with marginalized populations. A national expert in SEL, Dr. Cipriano is the PI and Director of numerous major federal and foundation grants supporting the development and validation of novel SEL assessments, classroom observation practices, and SEL evaluation and efficacy trials. She has published more than 65 papers, commentaries, and reports on topics of SEL, equity, inclusion, and assessment, spanning top tier peer-reviewed journals, and media outlets including The Washington Post, Education Week, PBS, The Greater Good Science Center, and Edsurge. Dr. Cipriano received her Ph.D. in Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology from Boston College, her Ed.M. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and undergraduate degree from Hofstra University, and currently serves on the Professional Advisory Board of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, Teachstone, and Transforming Education. Chris is a Jack Kent Cooke Scholar and the mother of four beautiful children who inspire her every day to take the moon and make it shine for everyone. Learn more @drchriscip

    • Ann S. Nerad Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Advance Policies for Social and Emotional Learning

      Teri (Brown) Lawler, EdD leads the work in Trauma-Informed Practices and SEL at Delaware Dept. of Education. In her work she has been committed to translating research to practice assuring the highest quality learnings inform daily school practices. She has worked closely with CASEL on both the CASEL State Initiative and the Career and Workforce Initiative. She is a Founding Member of the American Psychological Association, Board of Educational Advancement and 2014 Awardee of the Golden Psi for her work on integrating SEL with academic achievement. She was recognized as the Delaware School Psychologist of the Year for her service to children and for being the Curriculum Architect of the Delaware Compassionate Schools Learning Collaborative. Dr. Lawler received her BA from Hampton University, her MA from the University of Delaware and her EdD from Willington University.

    • Mary Utne O’Brien Awards for Excellence in Expanding the Evidence-Based Practice of Social and Emotional Learning

      Dr. Rose Prejean-Harris is Director of SEL, Atlanta Public Schools, is an SEL leader that has spearheaded the expansion of the CDI across the country, modeled SEL leadership, supported the documentation of systemic SEL practices, shared her learnings via tools, webinars and conference presentations and been a mentor for new SEL leaders across the country. Her commitment to creating equitable learning environments for every Atlanta Public School student is evident in every project that she leads. Dr. Prejean-Harris is constantly invited to sit at the table where important decisions —impacting the lives of children—are made every day. She is that passionate, hardworking, and caring team member that you always want on your team.

    • Mary Utne O’Brien Awards for Excellence in Expanding the Evidence-Based Practice of Social and Emotional Learning

      Dr. Eric Schaps. For over 40 years, Eric Schaps was a leader in the SEL space. As founder and president for 30 years at the Developmental Studies Center (DSC), now known as the Center for the Collaborative Classroom, Eric conceptualized and led its mission to create, evaluate, and disseminate school-based programs designed to help children develop academically, socially, emotionally, and ethically in safe and caring classroom communities. Eric devoted his career to supporting educators and their access to effective and practical instructional tools, developing the first comprehensive, systemwide social-emotional learning program, documenting the gains children make when schools address academics hand-in-hand with social and emotional development. In the last decade of his life, Eric was a key thought partner and collaborator with CASEL and our partner districts in their mission to systemically implement social and emotional learning. His ground-breaking research, along with his development and support of innovative programs, provided the foundation for the growth and expansion of mental health, social-emotional, and character education programs across the country.

    • Ann S. Nerad Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Advance Policies for Social and Emotional Learning

      Gene Wilhoit is the CEO of the Center for Innovation in Education at the University of Kentucky. Gene served as executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) from 2006 until 2013. At CCSSO, Gene spearheaded the states’ collective action to adopt the Common Core State Standards. From 1994 to 2006, Gene led two state education agencies: Arkansas Dept of Ed and Kentucky Dept of Ed. He began his career as a social studies teacher in Ohio and Indiana. Gene holds degrees from Georgetown College and Indiana University. Wilhoit has also studied education administration at the West Virginia College of Graduate Studies. He is a member of numerous education organizations, serves on several boards, has served on national and state commissions (including the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development) and has written and spoken on a variety of education issues. He has been a longtime advisor to the CASEL States Initiative and friend of CASEL.

Joseph E. Zins Awards for Social and Emotional Learning Action Research

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Joseph E. Zins - A light-skinned, male-presenting person with a mustache wearing a tie

The Zins Award was established in 2007 to honor the memory of collaborator Joseph E. Zins, a research pioneer in SEL and former director of the University of Cincinnati’s doctoral program. We present the awards to two investigators and researchers per year that are at distinct phases in their careers: an early-career researcher and an established scholar.

The early-career researcher is limited to researchers at the research scientist, assistant, or associate professor level. The established scholar is a senior investigator or full professor who has advanced the field in important and meaningful ways, across the span of a distinguished career.

These contributions could include applied research, theoretical contributions, or research on curriculum, policies, or practices.

      • Early Career Recipients: Sara Rimm-Kaufman (2007), Marc Brackett (2009), Celene Domitrovich (2011), Angela Lee Duckworth (2012), Stephanie Jones (2013), David Yeager (2015) Camille A. Farrington (2018), Anne Gregory (2018), Clark McKown (2020), Tia Barnes (2021)
      • Distinguished Scholar Recipients: Maurice Elias (2011), Edward Zigler (2011), J. David Hawkins (2012), Joseph Durlak (2013), Kimberly Schonert-Reichl (2015), David Osher (2018), and Laura Hamilton (2020), Edmund Gordon (2021)

Mary Utne O’Brien Awards for Excellence in Expanding the Evidence-Based Practice of SEL

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The Utne O’Brien Award was established in 2011 to honor the memory and dedication to high-quality practice of Mary Utne O’Brien, former CASEL executive director and key leader in the SEL field. We present the awards to two district or school leaders per year who have provided the vision, inspiration, and practical strategies for developing the infrastructure and support for high-quality SEL at the district or school level.

      • District or School Leaders: Carol Comeau (2012), Jillian Ahrens (2013), Linda DePriest (2013), Koua Jacklyn Franz (2013), Ed Graff (2013), Sherrie Raven (2013), Trish Shaffer (2013), Kristina Tank-Crestetto(2013), Karen VanAusdal (2013), and Michelle Van Allen (2018), Sheldon Berman (2020), Byron Sanders (2020), Eric Moore (2021)
      • Federal or State Policymaking: Congresswoman Judy Biggert (2011), Congressman Dale Kildee (2011), Congressman Tim Ryan (2012), Ellen Moir (2015), James Comer (2015), Joan Duffell (2018), Tom Roderick (2018), R. Keeth Matheny (2021)

Ann S. Nerad Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Advance Policies for Social and Emotional Learning

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Ann Nerad

The Ann S. Nerad Award for Distinguished Contributions to Advance Policies for Social and Emotional Learning was established in 2021 and will be presented this year for the first time to two recipients that are leading SEL public policy.

    • Linda Darling-Hammond (2021), Rosa DeLauro (2021)

Hear from Past Recipients

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