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Outstanding Educators Steven Breese ’79,  Renée T. Willis ’89, Rochelle Berndt ’04, John Krich ’58 and BW President Robert Helmer

BW Honors 2014 "Outstanding Educators" Who Teach, Inspire, and Change Lives

In recognition of their significant contributions to the field of education, four Baldwin Wallace University alumni were honored with the 2014 Outstanding Educator Awards, sponsored by the BW Alumni Association and the Division of Education.

The 2014 Celebration of Outstanding Educators formally recognized this year’s honorees on Sunday, April 27. The outstanding educators were lauded not only for teaching and mentoring, but for inspiring changed lives.  

Rochelle Berndt ’04

Berndt received a Master of Arts in Education from BW in 2004 after completing undergraduate studies at Bowling Green State University. Since 2005, she has been coordinator of field/clinical experiences for BW’s Division of Education, matching students with area schools in fulfillment of nearly five hundred placements per school year. The effective partnerships she sustains help to ensure positive capstone experiences for students, ultimately delivering well-prepared, confident teachers to the profession.

Berndt’s career began as a fourth and fifth grade classroom teacher at St. Martin of Tours School in Maple Heights, where she taught while completing her master’s degree at BW. In addition to her current position as BW’s coordinator of field/clinical placements, Rochelle is also a lecturer in education with a special focus on literacy.

BW’s Assistant Provost Lisa Henderson wrote, “Her level of preparation in her teaching is superb. She engages her students in meaningful discourse, helps them to relate content to real world experiences, and models for her students and colleagues a level of professionalism and the positive dispositions for life-long learning.”

Berndt is currently pursuing a doctorate at Kent State University with an expected completion date of 2014. The author of many professional papers, she also is a frequent presenter at education conferences and a member of a number of professional organizations.

Steven Breese ’79

Breese, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Southern Connecticut State University, received a Bachelor of Arts in Speech and Theatre from BW in 1979 before earning his MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 1981.

After launching a successful career in acting and directing, a series of visiting lectureships brought Breese into academia at a variety of schools including University of California/Santa Barbara and his alma mater BW, where he also served as interim producing-artistic director of Berea Summer Theatre.

Later, Breese would serve as director of the acting program and assistant professor at Texas Christian University before joining the faculty of Christopher Newport University (CNU). He went on to become dean of CNU’s College of Arts and Humanities, leading major capital, faculty and curriculum development, accreditation and strategic planning efforts; and winning CNU’s Oxford University Fellowship. He made the move to Southern Connecticut in 2013.

A former colleague at CNU wrote, “Steven’s talents as an educator quickly came to the attention of the administration at CNU and soon after his arrival, he became chair of our growing department... Not only did Steven prove to be a strong teacher in the classroom, he also proved to be one of, if not the, most capable directors I have had the pleasure to work with.”

As an active theater scholar and practicing artist, Steven Breese has acted and/or directed at many of the nation’s finest theaters and holds many professional affiliations.

John Krich ’58

Krich, who helped to build a comprehensive academic theatre program at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, received a Bachelor of Arts in Speech and English from BW in 1958, an MFA from Yale University in 1961, with additional graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh.

After serving as head of drama at Sarasota High School for two years, Krich began a 35 year career at the University of Victoria, B.C., rising to the rank of associate professor of theatre and taking on many leadership roles, including three terms as theatre department chair. The theatre program he helped to develop now grants BFA, MFA, MA and Ph.D. degrees and is recognized as among the finest in Canada. Krich retired in 2002 and is now professor emeritus.

Beyond his academic career, Krich is well known in Canada’s professional and community theatre circles for his skills as an actor, director, workshop presenter, adjudicator, consultant and entrepreneur. He also is an experienced voice-over artist with many television and radio credits. The recipient of many theatre awards and honors, Krich is also a member of the Mayfield (Ohio) High School Hall of Fame, and remains active in the theatre community in retirement.

A former student of Krich’s wrote, “Surely the legacy of any great teacher is that of his former students’ success in life and whatever professional field they have chosen. I know first-hand that John’s students are spread far and wide, nationally and internationally. They are successful in large part due to his influence and generosity of spirit.”

 Renée T. Willis ’89

Willis, who currently serves as visiting assistant professor in the College of Education at Cleveland State University (CSU) and CEO of Responding to Challenges Consulting, LLC., received her Master of Arts in Education from BW in 1989 after completing undergraduate studies at Spelman College. She also holds a Ph.D. in Urban Education from CSU, as well as graduate certification in executive education leadership (Harvard University) and strategic planning (Cornell University).

Willis landed her first job in education at BW, as assistant director of the Upward Bound program, before moving into the public school setting to teach math at Roxboro Middle School in Cleveland Heights. She next took on the roles of principal at Cleveland Heights High School and then Monticello Middle School, which was honored for two consecutive years as a “National School to Watch.”

From Monticello, Willis joined the Cleveland Metropolitan School District where she served as deputy chief of K-12 education. Under her leadership, the district’s K-8 schools secured a competitive “Value-Added” rating from the State of Ohio. Willis was promoted to the district’s first chief transformation officer, a position that enabled her to hire principals and greatly influence K-8 building-level leadership. She also played a key role in securing highly competitive federal “Race to the Top” funds, bringing unprecedented resources for educational innovation to the district and its students.

Her BW nominator applauded the intellect and determination that propelled a young woman from the inner city to earn a Ph.D. and forge a distinguished career. “For more than 20 years Renée has influenced the lives of children, educators and administrators as she has served her community with distinction.”

The Maple Heights resident is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, and a member and officer for several boards of directors and associations.

Posted April 2014

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