Mary Utne O’Brien Awards

Mary Utne O’Brien joined CASEL as associate director in 1999. Working closely with Roger Weissberg, then CASEL president and CEO, Mary quickly became a key leader not just for CASEL but for the entire field of social and emotional learning. In 2004 she was appointed as CASEL’s executive director. When CASEL incorporated as a not-for-profit organization in 2007, she became vice president for strategic initiatives, responsible for strategic planning, development of collaborative partnerships, and exploration of new projects.

Mary believed in the importance of highly disciplined experimental and action research, partnerships with schools throughout the country, and effective policymaking related to social and emotional learning at all levels. In her view, these were essential tools to support and demonstrate the impact of social and emotional learning not only on children’s learning and development but also on school functioning and practice.

In April 2010 Mary lost a battle with cancer. To honor Mary’s memory and promote her dedication to high-quality practice in social and emotional learning, the CASEL board of directors established an award focused exclusively on expanding evidence-based SEL practice, including policymaking.

Download the original 2011 brochure for the Mary Utne O’Brien Award for Excellence.



  • Joan Duffell, executive director of Committee for Children.
  • Tom Roderick, executive director of the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility.
  • Michelle Van Allen, principal, Marcus Garvey Elementary School, Chicago (awarded posthumously).

Download the 2018 awards brochure.


  • Ellen Moir, founder and chief executive officer of New Teacher Center.
  • James P. Comer, professor of child psychiatry at the Yale University Child Study Center and founder of the Comer School Development Program.

Download a one-page flyer that describes the 2015 Mary Utne O’Brien awards in more detail.


  • Jillian Ahrens, first-grade teacher in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and first vice president, K-8 schools, of the Cleveland Teachers Union.
  • Linda DePriest, executive officer for instructional support for the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS).
  • Koua Jacklyn Franz, chief of staff to Jonathan Raymond, superintendent of the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD).
  • Ed Graff, superintendent of the Anchorage School District in Alaska.
  • Sherrie Raven, social and emotional learning director in the Austin (Tex.) Independent School District.
  • Trish Shaffer, coordinator for multitiered systems of support, Washoe County (Nev.) School District.
  • Kristina Tank-Crestetto, director of the Family, School, Community Partnerships Department in the Oakland (Calif.) Unified School District (OUSD).
  • Karen VanAusdal, manager for youth development and positive behavior supports (YDPBS) in the Chicago Public Schools.


  • Carol Comeau, superintendent of the Anchorage School District in Alaska.
  • U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), co-sponsor of the Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act of 2009 and its successor, the Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act of 2011.


  • U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), co-sponsor of the Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act of 2009.
  • U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), co-sponsor of the Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act of 2009.