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Chosa, Thomas to Receive 2023 Alumni Council Awards

Alums will be honored for their contribution to education and our greater society at HGSE Convocation on May 24
Carnell Chosa and Nancy Thomas
L-r: Carnell Chosa and Nancy Thomas

The Harvard Graduate School of Education will honor two alumni — Carnell Chosa, Ed.M.’96 and Nancy Thomas, Ed.D.’96 — for their significant contributions to the field of education. 

Chosa will receive the HGSE Alumni Council Award for Excellence in Education. He is the cofounder and codirector of the Leadership Institute (LI) based at the Santa Fe Indian School, where he has dedicated his career to improving the lives of Indigenous people through program and policy development in education.

Thomas is the recipient of the inaugural HGSE Alumni Council Award for Impact in Education for her impactful and visionary leadership in education for democracy. She has served as director of the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education based at Tufts University since 2012. 

They will be presented with the awards at the HGSE Convocation ceremony on May 24.

“Each year the Alumni Council receives nominations for the Alumni awards and it is exciting to read about the incredible work our alumni do after leaving HGSE. It is a difficult decision to make, and this year was no different,” says Russell Willis,  Ed.M.’96, Ed.M.’02, co-chair of the HGSE Alumni Council. “We celebrate the work of Nancy Thomas whose work is crucial durig this time when our country needs it most and Carnell Chosa who has been a conduit bringing elders and younger generations of Pueblo People together to support each other and preserve their traditions. I am honored to award these deserving alumni for their contribution to education and our greater society.”

Chosa, a Jemez Pueblo tribal member, returned to his native community in New Mexico after graduation and began LI — a community-based convener think tank that cultivates solution-oriented individuals through creative cultural-based program opportunities to address critical policy issues that impact New Mexico Native tribes.

“I am humbled by this award and accept it on behalf of the young people and tribal communities I serve,” says Chosa. “It is truly incredible to now be working alongside some of the students who are inspired by this work, just like I was inspired by the mentorship of my undergraduate adviser, Professor Andrew Garrod, [Ed.M.’76, Ed.D.’82],  a HGSE alumnus, and my HGSE classmates who have become colleagues and close friends.” 

As codirector of LI for the past 25 years, Chosa and his team have created programs that support youth leadership development through initiatives such as the Summer Policy Academy, Pueblo Art Academy, and Brave Girls. He also co-created the Pueblo Doctoral Cohort Program at Arizona State University’s School of Social Transformation, which in seven years has graduated two cohorts, resulting in 19 doctoral-level individuals from Pueblos in New Mexico.

Currently, in an effort to address long-standing educational disparities that impact Native people throughout New Mexico, Chosa is collaborating with other Native professionals to modify and develop policies and secure resources to support tribal education departments, libraries, early childhood initiatives, and language programs. 

Four years ago, Chosa started the Attach Your Heart Foundation, which provides scholarships and forms of financial assistance to Pueblo Indian students pursuing higher education. The foundation aims to support creative ideas that strengthen education and art in tribal communities.

“My grandparents were my first teachers and I feel fortunate to incorporate their teachings and values in my education and my work. With them in mind and heart, my projects have been about capacity-building through convening and incorporating my people’s voices and knowledge that have kept our Indigenous communities strong. My grandfather always said that everyone is born with a special gift to contribute to strengthen our community. I saw this collective community strength while at HGSE,” Chosa says. “Thank you to HGSE’s Alumni Council and the school for your generosity and for recognizing the work I have the privilege and honor of organizing on behalf of community members.”

Thomas is the first recipient of the HGSE Alumni Council Award for Impact in Education — a new award that recognizes long-term impact of alumni work on the field of education.

“Thank you for giving me this opportunity to pause and consider how I got here. I am being recognized for educational innovations that, but for HGSE, I would never have been able to realize,” Thomas says. “The people I met here — my professors and classmates — inspired me. Innovation reflects the accumulation of good ideas that come from study, discussions, observation, hard work, passion, and thinking. Thank you for recognizing collective contributions of the innovators who inspired me.”

She was drawn to the field of education shortly after practicing as an attorney when she noticed more of a need to educate over regulate. She became passionate about colleges and universities as an ideal place to educate about democracy, inclusion, participation, equity, justice, truth, decency, compassion, collaboration, and trust.

Throughout her career, Thomas has led dialogue about advocacy for college student political learning and engagement in democracy and the role of higher education in building a strong, inclusive democracy. “It's time to double-down on the agenda of democracy-building through education," she says. "This includes identifying specific threats to democracy and being laser-focused on engaging students across disciplines. Fortunately, a lot of educators share these concerns.” 

One part of this work includes her founding the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education at Tufts University and creating the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE). which offers colleges and universities an opportunity to be informed of  their student registration and voting rates for free, as well as ways to examine their campus climate for political learning and engagement and correlations between specific student learning experiences and voting. Through NSLVE, she’s developed the nation’s only objective measure of student civic engagement. In just six years, the number of participating campuses has grown to more than 1300 campuses and serves more than 11 million students per year.

Prior to Tufts, she was the cofounder and director of The Democracy Imperative — a national association of high-level college administrators and faculty working together with practitioners such as The Kettering Foundation and Everyday Democracy — to advance deliberative democracy on college campuses. She also led the Democracy Project of the Society for Values in Higher Education, focused on organizing conferences, working groups, and publications on democracy and higher education. 

For the past 37 years, HGSE has highlighted the dedication and achievements of alumni with Alumni Council Awards to honor candidates from across education sectors. This year, the Alumni Council introduced an additional award to specifically recognize impact in the field of education. The work must have improved educational success, at the local, systems, or policy levels, in significant ways while representing the mission and values of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. All HGSE alumni as well as current HGSE faculty and staff are able to submit nominations.


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