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2021 de Witt Award Winners

May 14, 2021

Lasell University 2021 Thomas E.J. de Witt Awards for Excellence in Educational Leadership

In an announcement to the Lasell Community on Tuesday, May 11, President Michael B. Alexander shared the winners of the 2021 Thomas E.J. de Witt Awards for Excellence in Educational Leadership. The annual awards are presented to members of the full-time faculty and staff who demonstrate extraordinary leadership and innovation in education while supporting the mission of the University. 

"Based on the way the Lasell community responded to the pandemic, I feel as if hundreds of people are deserving of special recognition, including the employees who could not work remotely, such as staff from housekeeping, food service, facilities, and health services and faculty who, when the risks were still unknown, chose to hold their classes on campus," said Alexander.  

Typically, the selection committee has chosen one faculty member and one staff member to honor each year.

"Given that the pandemic prevented us from making any awards in 2020, and that the challenges of the last 15 months have revealed extraordinary examples of leadership, I am delighted to report that we have recognized seven employees this year," said Alexander. 

Below are the 2021 award recipients and the citations they each received:


Richard Arnold, MSN, FNP-BC, Director of Health Services
In a year in which unpredictability has been the name of the game, you have not only kept the health and safety of the Lasell University community ahead of the curve — you have helped flatten it. Since arriving at Lasell, you have provided first-rate medical care to our students. Now, in the face of a global pandemic, you have guided our campus with such efficiency and good judgments that Lasell has proven to be one of the safest places in the country. Whether running vaccination sites at a moment’s notice or regulating the operations of our campus testing system, you have ensured that Lasell has remained on the cutting-edge of care. Through all of that, says a colleague, you have “never lost sight of your primarily role in serving students, nor the personal warmth and humor you bring to every interaction.” As a practitioner, health educator, department manager, and leader in the most unprecedented of modern health crises, you have demonstrated the depth of your compassion and the strength of your resolve. Your contributions will always be remembered as a bright point in our institution’s history.

John Dixon, Ph.D., Director of Education, Lasell Village
You have revolutionized what lifelong education looks like at Lasell Village. In a time of stress and disruption, residents have remarked that you “transformed what could have been a dark chapter in our lives into a joyous sharing experience.” Whether building out closed-circuit cable programming, patiently teaching others how to use Zoom, or sourcing new faculty from around the globe, you helped ensure that Lasell Village — a community that runs on intergenerational, interpersonal connections —remains a rich educational laboratory. “It is through John’s leadership that an extremely challenging year in our history has resulted in education, innovation, hope, and an even more resilient Village community,” says one colleague. “Because of him, the Village didn’t just survive. It thrived.” Another colleague named you a “21st century Renaissance man” imbued with “intelligence and generosity of spirit.” Per one of your nominators, “I think that Tom de Witt would be proud to have John recognized for his innovative leadership and for setting a new high bar for Village educational programming.”

Marisa Hastie, Ed.D., Professor of Exercise Science
Recognizing a leadership need among the faculty, you stood up and took charge, as great leaders do. You opened channels of communication, challenged conventional thinking, and brought people together in a spirit of shared responsibility and common purpose to move the University forward. As Chair of the Faculty Assembly, you played a central role in navigating the academic adaptations necessary to teach during this pandemic. You helped lead the service learning experience to Tanzania; and you developed the M.S. in Nutrition for Human Performance degree and the Fitness minor. You are the co-founder and co-director of the CORE Scholars program for undergraduate students. You are a master teacher at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Your scholarly research further cements the ties between Lasell Village and the University, exploring important issues of health and wellness across the life-span, and adding intellectual weight to intergenerational research and programs. Not to be overlooked, you extend your leadership skills to sports medicine professional organizations from coast to coast. For innovative and exceptional contributions to Lasell, we hereby express our utmost gratitude.  

Neil Hatem, Ed.D., Professor of Mathematics
For more than two decades, you have embraced and embodied the tenets of community and Connected Learning upon which Lasell University is built. Your influence reaches far beyond the classroom, spanning philanthropic efforts, community service projects, social justice initiatives, athletics, local community engagement, and a vested interest in the education of every Lasell student — not just those who gravitate toward your subject matter. You have held faculty leadership positions, become a campus neighbor, and revolutionized the role and delivery of mathematics education. It would be easy to list off the titles you’ve held, or to sum your achievements; it is harder to count the number of lives you have touched. Your enthusiasm and impact are omnipresent. You see our students for who they are — people eager to make connections and expand their knowledge. You engage them and actively seek to learn from their experiences and perspectives. You create curricula to address their needs, develop immersive experiences and trips, and foster an environment of curiosity, compassion, and camaraderie. For everything you have done and all you continue to do, know that our gratitude — much like your legacy on this campus — is immense. 

David Hennessey, Ed. M., Assistant Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs
In the face of adversity, amid a global pandemic, you have demonstrated to the Lasell community what it means to be calm and collected. You are a model of leading by example. As a result, Lasell University has been able to navigate the unknown while keeping its focus on students and their wellbeing. You have been described by your peers as “a rock;” a foundational figure in centering the student experience. “When problems arise, he is all about solutions,” said a colleague. “David emulates a sense of peace that diffuses into the community, putting others at ease regardless of circumstance.” Under a new institutional structure in which Academic and Student Affairs migrated under one roof, you embraced the opportunity to better serve our students as whole people. You understand that students thrive when their entire University experience — from academics to extracurriculars, internships, residential activities and more — is viewed holistically by those serving them. For all you have done to keep the student experience lively and engaging through the pandemic; for your leadership as chair of the COVID-19 task force; and for the ways in which you positively affect Lasell University every single day, we are incredibly grateful. 

Ian Meropol, Director of Communications
Your ability to form networks and build relationships is unlike anything Lasell University has seen in the world of communications. In less than three years, you have thrust the people, stories, and educational philosophy of Lasell into the spotlight, showcasing to the rest of the world who we are and what we do. While you have told your daughters, Anna and Tess, that your job is to help your colleagues tell stories, you do so much more. You demonstrate on a daily basis how higher education can change lives by transforming the smallest of anecdotes into powerful narratives. You have grown Lasell’s reputation as a home to some of the best thought leaders in their industries through radio, TV, podcast, and print coverage, with more than 890 million earned media impressions to your name in a short span of time. Your mantra, “press begets more press” is certainly true; at the same time, we also know that your persistence, networking, and creative thinking is also what begets the New York Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, and WGBH to cover Lasell in the first place. Thanks to your efforts, Lasell’s visibility has blossomed, with positive impacts on enrollment, retention, and institutional pride. 

Karin Raye, J.D., Assistant Professor, Justice Studies
You are renowned among your peers and students alike for your unfaltering dedication to the Lasell community. Colleagues have remarked on the “profound level of trust and openness with students,” and the level of care that you demonstrate in each interaction you have. Regardless of setting — whether it is educational, preventative, or in the midst of a crisis — you empower students to support and learn from one another. The awareness and prevention campaigns on campus — including those with the Clothesline Project, Take Back the Night, White Ribbon Campaign, Denim Day, the Race Card Project, and One Love Foundation — the creation and promotion of the Campus Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey, as well as the student-centered approach to the courses you teach and the trainings you run, are just a few of the ways in which you have transformed Lasell into a place where survivors are heard, compassion runs deep, and activism abounds. Your “sharp wit, keen intellect, limitless energy, and giant heart” are what drive colleagues to look to you as a role model, along with your “boundless energy and out-of-the-box ideas.” You motivate our community to think about impact and intentions, and inspire students to affect societal change. For your innumerable contributions to the Lasell University community, we are grateful and privileged to honor you and your work.