12 advisers honored with 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award

12 advisers honored with 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award

By Erinn Harris, MJE, awards chair

Twelve individuals who have contributed significantly throughout their scholastic journalism careers have been named Journalism Education Association Lifetime Achievement Award recipients. They will be honored April 9 at the Spring JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention in Los Angeles.

The award recipients are

  • Martha Akers, Purcellville, Virginia
  • Judy Allen, Las Vegas
  • Susan Benedict, MJE, Washington, Missouri
  • Ava Butzu, Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Elizabeth Cyr, Stockbridge, Michigan
  • Mary Kay Downes, MJE, Centreville, Virginia
  • Laurie Hansen, MJE, Stillwater, Minnesota
  • Derius Mammen, Salina, Kansas
  • Sharon Martin, CJE, Wichita, Kansas
  • Carol Medcalf, Las Vegas
  • Leslie Shipp, MJE, Grimes, Iowa
  • Mitch Ziegler, CJE, Torrence, California

Martha Akers

Martha Akers is a 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

Martha Akers taught journalism for 41 years at Loudoun Valley High School. She has influenced the work and careers of countless students and advisers through her time as a workshop instructor and adviser. Named H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year in 2005, Akers has continued to share her expertise to inspire students and advisers to do more and learn more every year.

“I’ve often heard her say that Crowns and Pacemakers were the icing on the cake,” Margaret Sorrows, CJE, said. “But what was really important was teaching solid journalism to her students who would then take that knowledge to create the best yearbook for the school community. That’s the Martha magic.”

This magic was rooted in Akers’s ability to foster a sense of ownership in her students.

“Martha reminded me often how important it was for the students to be making the decisions, learning from their successes and failures, growing by trying new things,” Shari Adwers, MJE, said. “In her daily interactions, Martha made sure the students’ voices were heard, that they learned real life skills far beyond photojournalism and yearbook.”

Judy Allen

Judy Allen is a 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

Judy Allen began her advising career at Western Oaks Middle School in Oklahoma, where she taught for seven years, moved to Highland Park High School in University Park, Texas, and then moved to Ohio, where she became a yearbook representative. Thirty-four years later, Allen has coached more than 100 advisers into creating beautiful yearbooks and scholastic journalism programs.

“I am proud to call Judy friend,” Casey Nichols, MJE, said. “She might be the straightest shooter I know, among the brightest journalism minds, and someone who developed brilliant business acumen. She’s not just a rock star — she’s a rock legend.”

This legendary status is evident in her dedication to both her students and the advisers with whom she worked. Her energy and enthusiasm motivated students and their advisers, prompting them to achieve even in the most dire of situations.

“One Christmas vacation when the entire staff bailed on the production, she flew into town and helped flow portraits,” Judi Coolidge said. “She was full of fun and told the kids, ‘You can sleep the last three years of your life.’ Tired was not an excuse. Judy is an instigator, motivator, arbitrator, celebrator, advocator, but most importantly, Judy is an educator.”

Susan Benedict, MJE

Susan Benedict, MJE, is a 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

Susan Benedict, MJE, taught for 31 years before retiring in 2021. Benedict served as a local convention committee chair, and she was a member of the JEA National PLC Committee and the JEA curriculum committee. She also wrote for Communication: Journalism Education Today: JEA’s quarterly magazine.

“Susan’s top concern was making sure her students are empowered and equipped to create a publication that connects with the student body at Pacific High School,” Dan Mueller, CJE, said. “Susan set the standard high and would not settle for anything but the best from her students. She encouraged her students to revise again and again until they had covered every detail in their work.”

This attention to detail was apparent not only in her students’ work, but also in her dedication to the craft.

“[Benedict] advised publications for over 20 plus years,” Michelle Dunaway, MJE, said. “Her commitment to journalism never wavered, despite the principal of PHS stripping her from what she loved because she had her students do ‘real journalism.’. But journalism remains in her blood, and she remained involved, including coaching me on many occasions for how to teach video production.”

Ava Butzu

Ava Butzu is a 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

Following seven years at Flint Central High School, Ava Butzu, a 2019 Distinguished Yearbook Adviser, moved to Grand Blanc High School in 1999. Butzu creates an atmosphere of inclusion and excitement, no matter who she works with, whether she is in her own school, or at one of the more than 10 journalism workshops she regularly teaches. 

“I’ve watched her captivate a roomful of high school students during her sessions at fall Michigan Interscholastic Press Association conferences,” Pam Bunka said. “Picture it: a beautiful spring day in Michigan and rather than trying to escape the convention center for an early lunch or a walk outside, they remain seated and hang on every piece of information and advice she delivers and leave buzzing about how they plan to implement change in their publications.”

Students aren’t the only ones who benefit from Butzu’s energy and expertise. She has a profound effect on anyone that comes in contact with her.

“I’ll be honest,” Sharon Kubicek said. “I don’t think this letter even comes close to demonstrating how amazing Ava is. I wish I could really do her justice, but unless you’ve spent time with her, you probably aren’t going to ever really understand. If you’re lucky, you’ve met her. If you are really lucky, you’ve worked with her professionally. If you are blessed, she’s worked with your kids.”

Elizabeth Cyr

Elizabeth Cyr is a 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

Elizabeth Cyr has found the secret to a happy life: helping young people unlock their potential. She has been doing so at Stockbridge High School for about two decades. Nothing makes her happier than helping students unleash their ideas through contemporary graphic design tools and strong journalism conventions. 

“Every single student who walked into Room 207 was greeted with respect and the belief that they could conquer anything,” Jenna Chapman, former student, said. “I saw Elizabeth help students discover their own niche interests and nurture them. I distinctly remember feeling a little more ‘grown up’ when I was in her classroom; she treated us with a freedom that allowed us to improve and struggle on our own.”

It’s clear from Cyr’s work with her students that she values the voices and opinions of others. She also sees those she works with as equals and partners.

“When we were paired to judge yearbook together,” Cody Terrence Hall said, “I walked in thinking that I would defer all of my opinions to her expertise. When I sat down, she smiled. And for the next six hours, she asked for my opinion on every single piece that crossed our monitors. She just listened — she trusted me. It was then that I learned that the kind of adviser Elizabeth was didn’t stop at her classroom door. It was just who she was. Who we all should strive to be.”

Mary Kay Downes, MJE

Mary Kay Downes, MJE, is a 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

“They called her the yearbook queen or simply MKD,” JEA Vice President Valerie Kibler, MJE, said. “She’s a mom. She’s a grandmother. And she’s one of the best advisers who has ever taught in the journalism classroom. Never before have I met someone so passionate about what she believes in: journalism and kids.”

Armed with a master’s degree in English from Duquesne University, Downes began her career in Montgomery Public Schools in 1965. By 1987, she made her way to Chantilly High School, where she taught English and advised the yearbook for 34 years. Over the course of those 34 years, she has worn many hats — adviser, department chair, field trip organizer, storyteller, committee member, mentor. Downes has done it all.

“That’s the thing about Mary Kay,” Bretton Zinger, MJE, said. “She’s a little bit of everything. If you were to ask two dozen of the top yearbook advisers around the country what Mary Kay’s greatest strength as an adviser is, you’d get two dozen different answers. And what that means is that her greatest strength as an adviser — and teacher, let’s not forget — is that she has no weaknesses. She can do it all and does.”

Laurie Hansen, MJE

Laurie Hansen, MJE, is a 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

Laurie Hansen, MJE, advised the Kabekonian yearbook and Stylus creative arts magazine at Stillwater Area High School for 33 years. She also advised the Pony Express newspaper for 10 years. She has been through censorship and lived to tell the tale. 

“Two years ago, when a significant question related to free speech was posed to our school community, Laurie was the first person I sought out to advise me,” Principal Robert C. Bach said. “Not only did Laurie provide salient counsel, but she took a leadership position with her classroom to ensure that students had the requisite understanding to constructively process our school situation.”

Hansen’s dedication to the First Amendment is admirable, but even more so is her dedication to scholastic journalism. 

“The real magic that is Laurie Hansen is in the one-to-one interactions with everyone she comes in contact with in our journalism world,” Kathryn Campbell, CJE, said. “She treats everyone like an old friend. Laurie never measures anyone by their accomplishments. She fosters a curiosity to know more: first by listening and validating teacher, student or administrator experiences and then offering examples including her own yearbook.”

Derius Mammen

Derius Mammen is a 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

Derius Mammen started working for Jostens in 1981. During this time, Mammen worked with close to 100 schools. Despite his hectic schedule, he was never more than a phone call away. While the phone calls were always helpful, it was Mammen’s visits that left an indelible impact.

“Rural living and small opportunities are always made special by the incredible humans who tend to stay and share their love with the youth,” former student Corinne (Blender) Patterson said. “I always looked forward to [Mammen’s] visits to our classroom and how [he] helped prepare us to create and dream big on all our projects.”

Those visits and his commitment to scholastic journalism helped thousands of students learn about technology, ethics and their rights as journalists.

“He knew how to instill knowledge, desire and motivation in the students he had the opportunity to work with,” Linda Drake, MJE, said, “allowing them to develop strong student-driven publications. He encouraged them to try new ideas and explore all possibilities.

“Derius strongly believed in student journalists’ First Amendment rights. I know that he has gone so far as to help students finish their publications when their advisers have been either in a car accident, had a serious illness or even passed away during the school year. There was nothing Derius would not do to help one of his schools.”

Sharon Martin, CJE

Sharon Martin, CJE, is a 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

Sharon Martin, CJE, of Wichita, Kansas, advised high school journalism for over three decades. Even after an illustrious career of helping thousands of student journalists, Martin continues to assist in judging local and state journalism contests, mentor journalism advisers and is willing to advise coach students on best practices in journalism and storytelling.

“Possibly the biggest compliment I can give came from a student that went through Sharon’s program,” Jeffrey Welch, CJE, said. “She told me that Sharon did so much work with her and opened her eyes to so many different possibilities in the world of journalism — she was convinced that she wanted to look at those programs in college. She looked forward to an amazing career and being able to one day come back and thank Sharon for giving her the guidance and encouragement that she needed.”

Part of what makes Martin so inspirational is the fact that she draws people to her, making friends every step of the way. 

“The best part about Sharon is the way she would light up the room with her personality and friendliness,” Spencer O’Daniel, MJE, said. “The effect she’s had on her 10,000-plus students who have gone through her program — she has truly made a difference on thousands and seen dozens enter the professional journalism industry as writers, reporters, photographers and other journalistic-media positions.”

Carol Medcalf

Carol Medcalf is a 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

“When I think of Carol Medcalf,” Tina Cleavelin, CJE, said, “I think pure joy” 

Carol Medcalf taught journalism for 27 years at Las Vegas Academy but has taught and advised publications for 47 years in total. In that time, she has influenced countless students. A tireless supporter of scholastic journalism, Medcalf has coordinated trips for multiple organizations to JEA and NSPA conventions, volunteered at local workshops, all the while creating a culture of belonging.

“There is no greater person who is the embodiment of a caring human being. Carol Medcalf met every person where they were — as they were — and helped guide them on their journey to discover what was/is within,” Judy Allen said. 

Medcalf’s focus on belonging and care gives students at the Las Vegas Academy for the Performing Arts every opportunity to participate in the journalism program, despite being locked into visual or performance conservatories. 

“Carol accommodated students who wanted to be a part of the journalism program that involved the entire school,” Susan Thornton, AP Office of Achievement and Communication, said. “Her philosophy with kids is, ‘If you want it, you have to work for it.’ She engaged students in their lives through journalism and in those life skills we don’t see often enough; be kind, be honest, give to others and pay it forward. 

Leslie Shipp, MJE

Leslie Shipp, MJE, is a 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

Leslie Shipp, MJE, is an institution. In 2016, Shipp was named both a Special Recognition Yearbook Adviser and a Dow Jones Distinguished Adviser. She retired from Johnston High School in 2021. But awards and accolades are not what motivates Shipp. Instead, her passion is fueled by her students and mentoring both new and experienced advisers.

“I am lucky to call Leslie a mentor and a friend,” Natalie Niemeyer Lorenz, MJE said. “Leslie became someone that I could talk to about anything going on in my classroom. No matter what her official role, no matter what the circumstance, Leslie is always there to support other advisers and continue to promote the important work being done at the state level with the Iowa High School Press Association and the Journalism Education Association.”

In addition to giving advisers across Iowa and the nation a safe space to learn and grow, Shipp’s classroom served the same purpose for her students.

“Though much changed through the decades,” Herff Jones sales representative Marc P. Havnen said, “even more remained the same. The room was obviously a working pressroom. Inspirational examples, critiqued work, ad goal posters, plaques and certificates lauding successes, organizational flow charts and assignment lists competed for wall space. The computers are newer and the darkroom no longer operational, but the presence of laughter, food and music, the couch and the fridge represented the balance of progress and tradition.”

Mitch Ziegler, CJE

Mitch Ziegler, CJE, is a 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

Mitch Ziegler, CJE, advised The Pilot yearbook and The High Tide newspaper at Redondo Union High School. Both Ziegler and his staffs have received success locally and nationwide, but perhaps most impressive is the fact that somehow — year after year after year — Ziegler’s students manage to set trends for the yearbook across the nation. 

How did he do it? By focusing on supporting his students every step of the way.

“He expected good work from the legions who told the stories of the year at Redondo Union High School — and he got it, not by hovering over them, not by nagging at them and certainly not by doing it for them,” 1997 H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year Paul Ender said. “The culture he fostered at Redondo was based on student ownership of the publications and mutual respect.”

Accolades and ownership aside, the success of the entire Redondo Union High School is not just about recognition. It’s just as much, if not more so, about a community of caring.

“He also genuinely cares about his students’ well-being while simultaneously pushing them to produce one of the top yearbooks in the country,” Tamra McCarthy, CJE. “It’s a fine line to walk; Mitch scales that tight rope with expertise and caution. He is a mentor without knowing it.”

Founded in 1924, JEA supports free and responsible scholastic journalism by providing resources and educational opportunities, promoting professionalism, encouraging and rewarding student excellence and teacher achievement, and an atmosphere which encompasses diversity yet builds unity. It is headquartered at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas.

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