Three College of Education alumni earn prestigious $25,000 Milken Educator Awards

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University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa


Communications Coordinator, College of Education


Masaru Uchino (Photo: Milken Family Foundation)

Kelly Sutcliffe (Photo: Milken Family Foundation)

Jessica Villanueva (Photo: Milken Family Foundation)

Three UH Mānoa College of Education (COE) alumni -- Masaru Uchino and Kelly Sutcliffe in Hawaiʻi, and Jessica Villanueva in California -- are 2016-2017 Milken Educator Award winners. In respective school-wide assemblies, Uchino and Sutcliffe were presented with their awards by Governor David Ige, First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige, and Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken. Villanueva was honored by California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, Fairfield-Suisun Unified Superintendent Kris Corey, and Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Jane Foley.

At each of the surprise events, they received a $25,000 cash prize along with the very prestigious national award.  

Uchino, a third grade teacher at Momilani Elementary in Pearl City, earned a Master of Education in educational technology in 2011. Infusing his curricular and extracurricular activities with a variety of tools and methodologies, he leads his students through innovative STEAM experiences. He not only writes, produces, choreographs, scores and directs the school’s annual third-grade drama production, but he also incorporates technology into the journalism club. Under his guidance, student journalists produce video podcasts for the school’s network server and blog. He created a unit on reflection and refraction, resulting in a recommendation by the National Science Teachers Association for inclusion in its Next Generation Science Standards curriculum. A dedicated educator and community member, Uchino tutors after school and during breaks; serves on the school community council, the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) committee, and the Parent Teacher Organization; is the third- and fourth-grade level chair; coordinates numerous races, including the school’s Great Aloha Run; and is the head coach of an after-school fitness group.

"I owe a big portion of who I am as a public school classroom teacher to the College of Education and its educational technology master’s program,” Uchino said. “The faculty and staff were amazing role models and mentors who allowed me to challenge myself in my own personal educational journey and helped me to further develop and improve on the day to day pedagogical practices in my classroom."

Sutcliffe, a fourth grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary in Honolulu, graduated magna cum laude with a Master of Education in math curriculum studies in 2014. Whether solving complex word problems or engineering STEM projects, she uses a vast array of strategies to meet individual learning needs. Through a student-centered approach, she promotes creative teamwork, leadership and critical thinking within a culture of respect as students help teach the class. She has created units based on real-world problems, like rising temperatures and sustainable farming. Forming partnerships with her students and their families, Sutcliffe examines monthly benchmark assessments that identify each student's strengths and opportunities for growth and, together, they set attainable monthly goals. She provides professional development for Jefferson's staff and school community; participates in STEM, leadership and grade-level committees; assists with annual pacing guide development, curriculum mapping, and instructional modeling; serves as the school's STEM lead; and mentors student teachers.

As a COE graduate in the field of curriculum studies mathematics, I feel the college prepared me to incorporate real-world problem-solving into my math and science lessons,” Sutcliffe said. “I continue to find creative and innovative ways to engage and challenge my students through STEM. I also have to say that I had amazing, inspiring professors and mentors, like Neil Pateman, Joe Zilliox, and Tara O'Neill, to name a few.”

Villanueva, a second grade teacher at Suisun Elementary in Suisun City, California, earned a dual Bachelor of Education degree in elementary education and special education from the COE in 2007. She is the first teacher in her district to receive the Milken Educator Award. Integrating technology into her lessons, she helps her students hone their research, communication, collaboration and public speaking skills. Students use Google Slides and iMovie to create projects, presenting their work to their peers, family and community members. With her background in special education, Villanueva creates lessons that are accessible to all learners. She has a record of transforming at-risk students into thriving learners who produce some of the highest scores. A district mentor teacher, she serves on the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) team, leads the teachers in her grade level, is on the Units of Instruction Revising committee, participates in English Language Development, supports the school's transition to a Trauma-Informed School, and has created a network of parents and community members who provide classroom and administrative support.

“UH's College of Education prepared me for the real world of teaching,” Villaneuva said. “I learned how to be a knowledgeable, caring and effective teacher because of their outstanding program.”

Created to attract, retain and motivate outstanding professionals in the field of education, the Milken Educator Award has been the nation’s premier teacher recognition program for 30 years. Uchino, Sutcliffe and Villanueva are among this year’s elite 35 Milken Educator Award honorees.

(Full caption for Masaru Uchino photo) Masaru Uchino, center, is flanked by First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige and Governor David Ige, and Department of Education Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. (Photo: Milken Family Foundation)

(Full caption for Kelly Sutcliffe photo) Kelly Sutcliffe, center, with Governor David Ige and First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige. (Photo: Milken Family Foundation)

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