2022 Award Winners

Please join AHEAD in congratulating and recognizing the 2022 AHEAD Award winners, JPED Reviewers of the Year, and our colleagues in transition which were announced during the AHEAD Equity and Excellence International Conference in July. 

Ronald E. Blosser Dedicated Service Award

Melanie Thornton

Melanie Thornton, University of Arkansas – Partners for Inclusive Communities

Melanie has served AHEAD and its membership for many years and in a variety of capacities. Over the years, Melanie has served on the Standing Committee for Diversity and Inclusion, the LGBTQIA SIG, and has been an advisor to the staff and board on diversity as well as assistive technology. She is currently Treasurer of the Board of Directors. In this role, she serves as an executive officer and works closely with the Executive Director to understand our budget and advise the Board on appropriate and ethical financial decisions. Melanie also serves as a consultant for AHEAD to ensure digital accessibility of its materials and communication. For several years, Melanie and her esteemed co-conspirators, Sue Kroeger, Carol Funckes and Gladys Loewen, facilitated Project Shift and engaged dozens of DR professionals, and their campus colleagues, in efforts to reframe disability in practice.  Melanie has been committed to supporting AHEAD's members and to advancing our practice. She is a friend and mentor to many. She uses her own social media platforms to educate on disability rights and culture, and often posts to AHEAD's Facebook groups to engage in discussion on disability-related events or opportunities. Melanie is someone we can count on not only to jump in when she is needed, but to initiate, innovate, and respectfully provoke. Melanie is indeed a dedicated servant leader who is deserving of this award, AHEAD's most prestigious honor.


Duraese Hall Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion Award

Karen Andrews

Karen Andrews, Brown University

Karen Andrews is the current Director of the Student Accessibility Services Program at Brown University and former Director at UC Irvine.  Karen has been an ever-present leader within the AHEAD Community. She is a champion for justice and a strong advocate for inclusion.  Karen serves the AHEAD membership as a Board Member at Large. Prior to her board role, she co-lead the Racial and Ethnic Diversity and Disability (REDD) SIG within the AHEAD organization. Karen led numerous informative events including the July 2019 Concurrent Session at AHEAD on intersectionality with disability. She co presented on Honoring Social Justice Values While Maintaining Rigorous and Appropriate Decision Making (a Panel Discussion).  Karen has acted as a mentor and is committed to developing people. During the 2020 pandemic, she acted as an AHEAD mentor in the program's inaugural year. Karen recognizes injustice and speaks up to it. She was a knowledgeable and effective leader within the University of California Disability Service Program managers. Karen has been extremely effective at ensuring a seat at the table for people with disabilities. While at both the University of Alaska and UC Irvine, she accomplished working with administrations to get programs moved to healthier and more accessible and visible locations. By doing this very complex advocacy, she ensured students with disabilities have dignity in the spaces they are served.

AHEAD Honor for Meritorious Contribution Award

Donna Johnson

Donna Johnson, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

As Director of the DRC, Donna oversaw what may be the largest Disability Resource Center in the U.S., serving 6,600+students, faculty, staff, and university guests each year thanks to a staff of 70+. Additionally, she oversaw compliance and DRC missions across all five campuses of the University of Minnesota. No one in a role like Donna's does it by themselves, and Donna would be the first to acknowledge the people around her for their role in advancing the work. In some measure, it is this inclusive and collaborative vision that makes Donna a thought leader in the field. Donna has been a visionary leader for the field for far longer than her tenure in the UMN DRC represents, having developed the research that shapes practice today.  More recently, Donna worked to found the Mental Health Advocates Program, voluntary professional development training for staff and faculty (on the Twin Cities campus) to build skills in mental health promotion and direct student support. Donna has been an active member of AHEAD since the mid-1990's, with consistent presenter participation at AHEAD's annual conference since 2010, for a total of 13 presentations.  She has also developed an AHEAD pre-conference and contributed to two AHEAD management institutes. She served as a member of AHEAD's Board of Directors (2017-2020) and as a review panel member for the Journal of Post-Secondary Education and Disability.

JPED Reviewer of the Year Award

Adam Lalor
Ann Heelan

Adam Lalor, Landmark College and Ann Heelan,  Executive Director Emeritus of AHEAD in Ireland, Universaldesignforlearning.ie

Adam Lalor is Vice President of Neurodiversity Research and Innovation at Landmark College. As his online bio states, he "focuses on raising awareness of postsecondary opportunities for individuals with disabilities and including disability within the discourse of diversity." His expertise as a reviewer includes Universal Design for Learning and Instruction, Disability Identity Development, Learning Disabilities, ADHD, and Autism. His reviews are always rigorous and thoughtful. He engages critically to think about how a piece does or does not contribute to the conversations in the field. He also is purposefully training junior scholars on reviewing for future service to JPED and AHEAD.

Ann Heelanis Executive Director Emeritus of AHEAD Ireland. As a review board member, her areas of expertise are many, and include Inclusive Teaching and Learning; Universal Design for Learning; Transitions into college and workplace; Dyslexia and learning; Improving learning experiences for Blind and visually impaired students; Staff education and Professional development; and Inclusive study abroad experiences for students with disabilities. Her reviews are always constructive and helpful, particularly for the practice brief format, where she encourages the link between research and applied practice.

AHEAD Professional Recognition Awards

Julie Loppacher
Morgan Strimel
Krista Miller
Naomi Martinez-Jones
Beth Ann Dickie
Beth Callahan

From Left to Right: Julie Loppacher, University of Southern California, Morgan Strimel, AHEAD in Virginia Executive Committee, Krista Miller, AHEAD in Virginia Executive Committee, Naomi Martinez-Jones, AHEAD in Virginia Executive Committee, Beth Ann Dickie, AHEAD in Virginia Executive Committee, Beth Callahan, AHEAD in Virginia Executive Committee

Julie Loppacher, M. Ed. is the Director of the Kortschak Center for Learning and Creativity (KCLC) at the University of Southern California (USC). She is an advocate for students with disabilities and approaches her work with a diversity, equity, and inclusion mindscape. Throughout her career, but most notably with in the last 12 months, Julie has worked tirelessly to improve the on-campus experience for students with disabilities.   As USC returned to in-person classes in the fall of 2021, Julie noticed that there was a drastic increase in the number of students in need of psychoeducational assessments to diagnosis Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Specific Learning Disability (SLD). Prior to this year, KCLC would receive approximately 20 inquires annually, however for the 2021-2022 academic year they have already received almost 100. While KCLC can conduct a limited number of Psychoeducational assessments each year, they certainly did not have the capacity to meet the growing demands. Julie immediately began working to address the issue which included: convening all the departments on campus that have the capability to conduct these assessments and created a comprehensive list of options where students could access them; developing an additional Supervision structure within KCLC to expand KCLC's capacity to test students; and working with USC's Advancement Office to develop a philanthropic gift option, which has secured $100,000 in gifts for testing alone, and is currently working on a matched gift of $375,000.  In addition to her work on assessments, Julie was an active contributor to the USC Provost's initiative on Inclusive Learning Environments (ILE). This work focused around assessing the current learning climate for students at USC and proposing strategies for addressing disparities. For the ILE initiative, Julie was a huge proponent of: inclusive language; Universal Design for Learning; Trauma Informed Pedagogy; and Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. All these contributions are in addition to the day-to-day work that Julie is responsible for through KCLC.

Starting in July 2018 the executive committee of AHEAD in Virginia began discussing and planning how to address the constant revolving door of people leaving disability services in VA. Under the leadership of then president-elect Christa Miller, the first cohort of the peer mentoring program ran from September 2019 to April 2020. The group met over Zoom monthly and included guest speakers and topic discussions chosen by the group. Feedback from the group indicated that many of them had sought out advice from one another or the mentors outside of the meetings. They further reported that many of them sought advice from the mentors, but would not have felt comfortable doing so before the program. Given the tremendously positive feedback from participants, past president Beth Ann Dickie of Old Dominion University and immediate past president Beth Callahan led the next year's cohort. After two successful years of running the program and continued positive feedback, the executive committee agreed to make it a standing offering. After 3 years, the program has become a much sought after opportunity. Membership has most recently asked us to consider expanding the program to also offer a shortened version during the summer to allow people who have joined more recently to participate.

AHEAD Partner Recognition Award

CARE Management Team of Cleveland State University

CARE Management Team, Cleveland State University

Over the past three years, the CSU CARE Team has made significant strides to move further from risk management and more towards student development. CARE Management specifically worked to development processes which support, empower, and ensure access for students with disabilities. The process changes which have occurred during this time include:  confirmation of permanent involvement in CSU CARE Team from the Office of Disability Services (ODS); creation of a shared CARE / ODS positions, utilizing Social Work Interns and Occupational Therapy Interns to create additional support services for students working with CARE and ODS; commitment to providing equitable spaces in student code of conduct conversations by incorporating CARE and ODS into conduct conversations and behavior management conversations. Indeed, this collaboration led by CARE was featured in a 2021 article (Collaborative and Inclusive Accountability: Infusing Disability Services and CARE into Student Conduct Practice. Association of Student Conduct Administrators Publication: Reflections. 4(1), pp. 34-44.)  The strides CARE Management is making are meant to be systemic and affect change long term. CARE Management is specifically seeking to center voices of students with disabilities and ensure students have more than the minimum of educational access. CARE wants to ensure students feel they belong at CSU and are a necessary and welcomed part of the CSU community.

Student Recognition Award

Amy Van Aartsen

Amy Van Aartsen, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Throughout her career, spanning undergraduate and graduate studies, Amy has been a staunch advocate for disability rights, access, and inclusion for disabled students. Amy carries the unique perspectives of being both a student and teaching assistant, and fully understands the challenges individuals with disabilities face in our community, whether due to the campus physical landscape, lack of awareness of disability rights, or attitudinal barriers.  In 2019, due to her own post-secondary-to-college transition experiences, Amy recognized that UW-Madison students would benefit from additional transition resources and support. Thus, she started Badger START (Student Transition and Resource Team), which provides peer to peer support and guidance on how to communicate with professors, information on implementing accommodations, and how to handle disability flares. Amy worked tirelessly with university administrators to propose, develop, and launch this student organization, which also provides social gathering opportunities along with support email check-ins.  Recognizing that university accessibility also needs to be rooted in policy, Amy also founded a student and professionals policy review group called, "Making Accessible Policies." This work group strives to review pertinent university policies, such as academic leave and parking, through the lens of graduate students with disabilities. This group's work strives to make policies more inclusive through feedback from graduate students with disabilities with the aim of ending systemic ableism.



  • Manju Banerjee, Landmark College
  • Melinda Classen, Metropolitan Community College
  • Teresa Conway, Maysville Community and Technical College
  • Katherine “Kappy” Fahey, University of Chicago
  • Sandi Patton, Texas A&M University Commerce
  • Kim Richards, AHEAD
  • Vicky Thomas, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
  • Eugene (Gene) Heppard, Phoenix College
  • Caleb Sandoval, Michigan State University