College of Human Sciences 2023 Award Winners

Alumni News

Congratulations to this year’s College of Human Sciences’ alumni award winners! ISU Alumni Awards are conferred at the Honors & Awards Ceremony at Homecoming each fall. This year’s event is Nov. 3, at 1:30 p.m. in C.Y. Stephens Auditorium.

Alumni Achievement Award

Jeffrey W. Johnson
’14 Higher Education Administration, PhD
Ames, Iowa

Jeffrey Johnson’s meritorious service to Iowa State University as the ISU Alumni Association Lora and Russ Talbot Endowed President and CEO highlights the type of person prepared by College of Human Sciences degree programs in the School of Education.

Johnson is a widely known ambassador for Iowa State who has secured more than $13 million to support the building, furnishing, and endowing of the ISU Alumni Center. Meticulously created to share a piece of Iowa State history at every turn, Johnson led the charge of creating a campus home for Cyclones everywhere with the building of the facility.

He holds the nation’s first endowed alumni-relations position and the first non-academic endowed position at Iowa State. Johnson’s ability to genuinely connect with and inspire the people around him has led Iowa State’s alumni association to new heights over the course of his nearly 25 years in leading the organization.

Johnson extends his work to the local community and has served as the president of the Ames Chamber of Commerce, the Mary Greeley Medical Center Foundation Board, and the Story County Boys and Girls Club as well as been a member of various other boards and commissions. In 2017, Jeff and his wife, Peggy, were named Ames Philanthropists of the Year.

The Johnsons are ISU Alumni Association Life Members and Sustaining Donors, members of the Cyclone Club and part of the ISU Foundation’s Order of the Knoll, President’s Circle.

Alumni Achievement Award

David A. Walker
’96 History, MA, ’98 Education, PhD
DeKalb, Illinois

An accomplished researcher, he has been involved in the procurement of over $8.5 million in research funding; has 124 referred publications; his research textbook is in its tenth edition; he has authored 33 technical and program reports; he has 189 refereed conference presentations; 46 invited presentations/lectures; and he’s created 217 statistical computer programs.

It’s Walker’s connection to students, combined with his dedication to the field, that has made him a leader in higher education. As the associate dean for academic affairs and a professor of educational technology, research, and assessment, Walker is responsible for launching two adult-completion degrees and spearheaded efforts to develop 25 new agreements with community colleges that ensure a seamless transition for students. He has also mentored countless students and faculty.

Virgil S. Lagomarcino Laureate Award

Curtis A. Cain
’99 Educational Administration, MS ’01 PhD
Eureka, Missouri

Curtis Cain is a regionally and nationally recognized leader in education with a student-centric approach that has successfully developed programs, led districts through change, and advocated for the equity of all students.

He currently serves as the superintendent of Missouri’s Rookwood School District that comprises over 20,000 students and a team of more than 3600 staff members.

In 2022, Cain was named National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators, the first to ever be selected from Missouri. He was also honored as the Missouri Superintendent of the Year.

Cain led the fastest-growing school district in Missouri from 2013 to 2022. During his distinguished tenure, the district went from 14,000 students to over 17,000. He facilitated efforts for over $280 million to increase the physical space of the district by 1.2 million-square feet to accommodate growth. All projects came in on time and under budget. He also advocated for and passed a .49 cent operating levy to increase staffing and salaries.

Coupled with managing the physical space expansions to serve students, his district maintained a position near the top 10 to 12% of standardized test scores in Missouri. Cain’s focus on curriculum development, instruction, student progress, program evaluation and educational standards, combined with his infectious leadership style, has led to Cain being recognized as a national leading voice in education.

Among his nearly 40 different roles on various boards and committees, he has been involved in leadership roles with Phi Delta Kappa’s International Executive and Foundation Boards as well as served on boards related to community colleges, workforce development and building strong communities. Cain also has nearly 30 publications related to the field of education.

Outstanding Young Professional Award

Yu April Chen
’14 Higher Education, PhD
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Since graduating from Iowa State in 2014, Yu April Chen has done nothing but lead an extraordinary career in academia. She is an associate professor with tenure in Louisiana State University’s Lutrill & Pearl Payne School of Education and received the Judith Walker Gibbs endowed professorship.

Chen focused on timely research centered around community college students, the emerging trends and unique experiences of international students, and structures that support the success of community college transfer students in STEM majors.

She has published an impressive 17 referred journal articles with several more under review. She’s also published a book chapter and three book reviews as well as given 42 conference presentations on her research.

She is quickly becoming recognized for her ability to secure external grant funding and has been part of securing approximately $6 million from federal agencies like the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Education.

Chen’s exceptional work is recognized by her peers. She is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards such as the LSU Rainmaker Award and the Emerging Scholar Award from the Council for the Study of Community College (CSCC). Chen is also routinely sought after by students to serve as a dissertation chair, committee member and major professor.

Outstanding Young Professional Award

Courtney M. Reyes
’08 Child, Adult, and Family Services, BS
West Des Moines, Iowa

Courtney Reyes is changing lives and re-defining what it means to work in the non-profit industry. In less than three years, she moved from executive assistant to executive director of One Iowa, the state’s largest and leading non-profit organization focused on improving the lives of LGBTQ Iowans.

One Iowa is now a national model for LGBTQ advocacy organizations and Reyes has been invited to the White House five times in recognition of her work. One Iowa was one of 19 recipients of Ariana Grande’s $3 million pledge to organizations supporting LGBTQ+ youth.

When it comes to culturally relevant, competent, and intersectional training programs, One Iowa leads the way. Reyes’ approach to gaining and maintaining partnerships with LGBTQ community members, non-profit partners, business leaders, and corporations through open communication has created change for Iowans. One Iowa has led the charge in defending the rights of LGBTQ Iowans against the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ bills over the past four years.

Reyes has interrupted the typical nonprofit operations of long hours and low pay. She’s implemented culture changes, leading to the organization’s highest employee retention in history. She’s done this while increasing fundraising, decreasing expenses, and achieving substantial fiscal stability for One Iowa.

She was one of ten women chosen for a spotlight in the “Ballet Des Moines presents: SHE: in collaboration with Fearless; named to the Business Record’s 40 under 40; was Capital City Pride’s Person of the Year; and part of The Des Moines Register’s 15 People to Watch list.

Reyes is a member of the College of Human Sciences Dean’s Advisory Council, a life member of the Iowa State Alumni Association, and a member of Order of the Knoll.