Karen Cross

Alumni News

Harmonizing ‘Synergies on Both Sides’ of a School Merger

Karen Cross (MSHE16) has been a respected teacher, scholar, and faculty leader at Chicago’s John Marshall Law School for nearly 25 years. But upon hearing the school would be merging with the University of Illinois at Chicago, she jumped at the chance to assume daunting new responsibilities.

Currently John Marshall’s associate dean for administration, Cross is playing a leading role in the creation of Chicago’s first public law school.

Synergies on both sides make the UIC–John Marshall union a natural fit. Both schools have diverse and inclusive student bodies. Their campuses are geographically close. Still, the John Marshall faculty and staff are facing a big cultural shift, as the school has functioned as its own entity for almost 120 years.

“Becoming part of a larger structure can limit spontaneity and the ability to do things quickly,” Cross says. “But with compliance being paramount, the infrastructure and institutional knowledge that are in place at UIC will help.”

So will Cross’s master’s degree in higher education administration and policy, which came with internship experience in the compliance and provost’s offices at Northwestern.

As cochair of the merger’s academic integration working group, she is working with UIC to get Illinois Board of Higher Education approval for proposed degree program revisions— including some that will incorporate legal education into engineering, social work, and health sciences courses. The reconfigured law school, to be called UIC John Marshall Law School, will be up and running by this fall.

“Karen’s curiosity drew her to SESP to get the big picture of the higher education landscape, which includes law and ethics, history and philosophy, and budget and finance, as well as student development,” says Lois Trautvetter, director of the MSHE program. “We affectionately label her a lifelong learner.”

Budburst PlantingObserve a Plant, Help a Scientist

It has never been easier for nonscientists to help the pros study climate change. Simply find and observe a native plant, wildflower, tree, or other flora in your backyard or neighborhood, and record your notes online.

This nationwide citizen science initiative, called Budburst, generates location-specific data on how changing seasonal temperatures are affecting plants, including when they bud, bloom, or drop their leaves. Jennifer Schwarz Ballard (PhD05) is Budburst’s coprincipal investigator and vice president of learning and engagement at the Chicago Botanic Garden, which runs the program.

“Plants are often the keystone species in an ecosystem—all life depends on them,” says Schwarz Ballard, an expert in both formal and informal science education. “Changes in the life cycle of plants affect pollinators, birds, and small mammals that need nectar, fruits, and seeds to survive.”

At the Chicago Botanic Garden, Schwarz Ballard oversees adult and youth education offerings, horticultural therapy programs, and community outreach that includes Budburst and the Windy City Harvest urban agriculture program; all provide opportunities for collaboration with researchers.

In one partnership, Schwarz Ballard is working with SESP learning sciences professor Megan Bang and graduate student Mario Guerra. Guerra is analyzing data to see how the garden’s summer program for middle and high school students changes their perceptions of STEM education. He plans to propose his own study to build on the data and eventually become his dissertation.

Bang may pursue research that looks at barriers to citizen science and explores how nature-based learning affects teaching practices and children’s development of pre-science skills.

“Our goal is to positively impact people’s lives through our work,” says Schwarz Ballard, whose affiliation with the botanic garden began in the final year of her SESP doctoral work in learning sciences. “Citizen science can engage everyday people in the scientific endeavor, which increases awareness of nature and the environment and familiarity with the scientific process.”

Lan Hoang Nguyen (BS17)Refugee Rights in Focus

Lan Hoang Nguyen (BS17) wrote, directed, and produced Bị Kẹt / Limbo, a short documentary film that profiles the activism of Tung Thanh Nguyen, a formerly incarcerated Vietnamese community organizer who is at risk of being deported from the US. The film premiered in Los Angeles at last October’s Viet Film Fest, the largest international Vietnamese film festival in the world. Since receiving her master’s degree in Asian American studies from UCLA, Nguyen has been working with Vietnamese organizers in Southern California to host community discussions, educational events, and political demonstrations.

Our Alumni


Corey Winchester (BS10), a history and social studies teacher at Evanston Township High School, received a highly prized 2019 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Kelly Ross (MSLOC11), an adjunct lecturer in the MSLOC program, coauthored the book Fearless Feedback: A Guide for Coaching Leaders to See Themselves More Clearly and Galvanize Growth.

Sara Blair Winter-Rosenberg (MS12), an instructor of Spanish for Heritage Learners at Mundelein (Illinois) High School, received a coveted 2019 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Laura Bidireanu (BS13) of Naples, Florida, directs fundraising and events for Collier Child Care Resources, a nonprofit that serves families and early-learning professionals.

Zoe Goodman (BS13) joined LifeLabs Learning, a nonprofit that brings financial coaching to work-force-development nonprofits across the country. The Brooklyn resident is in her second year as copresident of the NU Club of Greater New York.

Eric Johnson (MSLOC13) is an executive director for Open Books, a nonprofit that provides books, supplies, and innovative literacy and reading assistance to Chicago students.

Danielle Moehrke (BS13) directs partnerships and program innovation for OneGoal-Chicago, a nonprofit that enlists and trains educators to teach underperforming high school students how to apply to and persist through college. She is earning her MBA at Kellogg.

Evan Watkins (BS13) is a career coach for Athletes to Careers, a recruitment company that connects past and present student- athletes to business careers.

Tade Mengesha (BS14) is a healthcare consultant for Navigant Consulting and a member of the Cook County Health Foundation Associate Board, which engages young professionals through volunteering, fundraising, networking, and advocacy opportunities.

Caitlin Burnett (MSHE15), senior academic adviser at SESP, was named to Northwestern’s Associated Student Government Faculty and Administrator Honor Roll.

Jake Hershman (MSHE16) of Philadelphia is assistant director of strategic analytics for Temple University’s Fox School of Business and Management.

Corinne Smith (MSHE16) is senior assistant director of admissions at Yale University, where she coordinates its QuestBridge program, fly-in program, and rural outreach and recruitment initiatives.


Melissa McGonegle (BS03) founded Stellar Collegiate, a K–5 public charter school serving primarily low-income English language learners on Milwaukee’s South Side, in 2016.

Holly Palin (BS06) of Chicago celebrated the five-year anniversary of her business venture CrossFit CE.

Jordan Latham (BS08) of Pearland, Texas, is an attorney/senior consultant at EY (Ernst & Young) who recently launched Soul Sweet Sensations, a home-based baking and catering business, to support fellow breast cancer fighters and survivors.

Andrew Tinajero (BS08) joined Waystar, a Bain Capital portfolio company, as director of strategic initiatives and chief of staff to the CEO.

Emily Machado (BS09) is assistant professor of language, literacy, and culture at the University of Washington’s College of Education. The Seattle resident studies writing pedagogies in linguistically and culturally diverse classrooms and teaches literacy instruction courses for preservice teachers.


Timothy Simonds (BS91, MBA98) became CEO of Merrick Pet Care in 2016. Previously, he was chief marketing and engagement officer for Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. His niece Elise Lamarre enrolls at SESP in the fall.

Mark Loretta (BS93) was named the new Chicago Cubs bench coach. He spent the last nine seasons with the San Diego Padres after retiring as a professional baseball player in 2010, most recently serving as special assistant to baseball operations.

April Peters-Hawkins (BS93) is associate professor and associate chair of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Houston’s College of Education. She received a 2018 service award from the University Council for Educational Administration.

Grace Hong Duffin (BS95) is president and CEO of Kenneth Young Center, a nonprofit provider of personalized behavioral health and older- adult services in Chicago’s northwest suburbs.

Ryan Rockaitis (BS98) of Chicago, a Spanish teacher and mentoring coordinator at Deerfield (Illinois) High School, is president of the Illinois Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.


Drew Miles (BS86) was named vice president of global brand partnerships for Variety Content Studio and now works out of Variety’s New York City office. He has been a sales and marketing executive for several leading media brands, including Advertising Age, the New York Times,, and the Huffington Post.

Kathy Tuan-MacLean (BS87, PhD96) of Baltimore is national faculty ministry director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an interdenominational campus ministry on 700 campuses across the US. Her son Ren is a first-year SESP undergraduate studying social policy.

Rosemary Caruk (MSED88) was appointed to the Berwyn (Illinois) Public Library board of trustees.

Maryellen Spore Krammer (BS88), a member of the Northwestern Alumni Admission Council, is a substitute teacher and aspiring fiction author working on her first novel.


Sandra Mulert Doyle (BS73) spent the last 20 years training and supporting teachers in underserved communities and focusing on inclusion. After moving to Montana to be near her grandchildren, Doyle continued to offer Teaching and Learning in a Diverse World, an online class for early childhood educators, until retiring last June.

Barbara Talbott (BS73), president of the NU Club of Atlanta, retired after a 30-year career with IBM. She interviews high school seniors applying to Northwestern and also volunteers on several boards in Atlanta, including Big Ten Alumni, Alpha Phi Alumni, and the Atlanta International School. In addition to Talbott, the NU Club of Atlanta’s board includes Brianna Castle (BS14) and SESP advisory board member Edith “Edie” Bostic (BS74).


Art Ellison (MSED66) was elected to a seat in the New Hampshire House after retiring as director of adult education for the state’s Department of Education.

Marianne Jirgal Ariyanto (BS68) of Jakarta retired after a 45-year career teaching dance. Ariyanto originally came to Indonesia to study Balinese dance at Bali’s College of Performing Arts on a Fulbright scholarship in 1977 and has lived there since 1985.

Doreen Maxcy (BS68) retired after a 39-year career at Louisiana State University, where most recently she was director of public service. The active volunteer, grant writer, and grandparent traveled to Antarctica earlier this year.