Rising Alumni

CEHD Rising Alumni

The CEHD Rising Alumni Award recognizes graduates from the last 15 years who have achieved early distinction in their career, demonstrated outstanding leadership, and/or shown exceptional volunteer services in their community.

Congratulations to the 2021 Rising Alumni honorees!

  • Karina Elze (Curriculum & Instruction) - founder/owner of Academia Elze
  • Abigail Gadea (Social Work) - Deputy Director, U of M Healthy Youth Development - Prevention Research Center
  • Holli Kelly (Family Social Science) - Director, Marietta Vet Center
  • Amanda Koonjbeharry (Family Social Science) - Director of Public Policy, Citizens League
  • Chelda Smith (Curriculum & Instruction) - Associate Professor, Georgia Southern University

Virtual celebration May 20th

Please join us for a virtual celebration on Thursday, May 20th at 5:30 p.m. (central) to recognize the 2021 Rising Alumni award recipients. Register today through Zoom.

2021 Rising Alumni

Karina Elze

Karina Elze

Karina Elze grew up in Colombia, and is the first in her family to attend college. While working as a paraprofessional at Emerson Spanish Immersion, her commitment to teaching and learning was recognized by school leaders and Karina was selected for the first cohort of CEHD’s “Grow Your Own” program. After graduating and working in the Minneapolis School District for a few years, Karina took a leap of faith and left the district to open her own school, Academia Elze, a Spanish immersion child care center in Minneapolis. Since then, she has focused on growing her center and supporting others from her own community. Karina has become a role model and leader both here and in Colombia, sharing her experience and resources to support others entering the field of early childhood.

Read the full profile for Karina Elze.

Abigail Gadea

Abigail Gadea is co-developer and director of the Whole Learners Program at the University of Minnesota Healthy Youth Development – Prevention Research Center (HYD-PRC). Whole Learners is a successful research-based program to increase connections between teachers and students through tailored training and relational coaching. It has shown promising outcomes in improving teachers’ capacities to apply developmentally tailored, relationship-oriented and culturally responsive approaches to address the needs of all students. Abi arrived in Minnesota 17 years ago knowing very little English, with no sponsorship or connections. Five years later, she had successfully earned two master’s degrees from the University of Minnesota, in public policy and social work. Her passion for justice and her life experiences will continue to fuel her ongoing contributions to improving the wellbeing of youth.

Read the full profile for Abigail Gadea.

Abigail Gadea

Holli Kelly

Holli Kelly

Holli Kelly is a renowned leader in the field of marriage and family therapy (MFT). She is the Director of the Marietta Vet Center in Georgia that helps combat veterans, survivors of military sexual trauma, and military bereavement cases. She also serves as acting director for the Savannah Vet Center, and is an adjunct faculty member at Northcentral University. She presents statewide and nationally on issues impacting families such as incarceration, military sexual trauma, and combat trauma, and speaks out on the marginalization and oppression that some of these groups may experience. She is a devoted mentor to her students and new professionals working towards licensure. Holli’s integrity, dedication and tireless commitment to the field has helped expand opportunities for therapists and has been instrumental in helping individuals and families.

Read the full profile for Holli Kelly.

Amanda Koonjbeharry

Amanda Koonjbeharry is director of public policy for the Citizens League (CL), a nonpartisan nonprofit that empowers Minnesotans to engage in civic life and public policy. She is focused on CL’s long-term goals to better serve aging populations, recruit and retain skilled workers, and partner with all levels of government. She also oversees civic leadership efforts to engage people from different backgrounds, parties, and ideologies. Previously, she led Hennepin County’s No Wrong Door program and co-chaired a statewide committee that supported sexual exploitation victim services, outreach, and enforcement in advance of Super Bowl LII. A second-generation American Guyanese, Amanda grew up in Savage and understands the difficulties individuals may encounter embracing their inner worth. Overcoming domestic violence, racism, and sexism fueled her passion for social justice, equity, and diversity in our communities.

Read the full profile for Amanda Koonjbeharry.

Amanda Koonjbeharry

Chelda Smith

Chelda Smith

Chelda Smith is an Associate Professor of Elementary Education at Georgia Southern University. Her research, service, and activism centers the experiences of historically marginalized communities, particularly people of color. She is the co-founder and director of a Masters of Arts in Teaching program focused on cultures and communities, now one of the most competitive programs in the state. Chelda is also a community leader with extensive off-campus involvement and service, including efforts to enhance the quality of education in Haiti, and a committed mentor and adviser for her students. As a black woman working toward racial justice in teacher preparation in rural Georgia, Chelda frequently encounters adversity. It is her conviction about the necessity of her resistance efforts coupled with realized support from a few co-conspirators that allows her to persevere.

Read the full profile for Chelda Smith.