Pair of Ashland alumnae win Milken Educator Awards

ASHLAND, Ohio – Two Ashland University alumnae—Kristen Maurer (pictured right) and Jamie Karaffa (left)—received Milken Educators Awards, dubbed as the “Oscars of Teaching,” this spring. Maurer graduated from AU with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education in 2014, while Karaffa earned a master’s degree in American history and government in 2021.

An initiative of the Milken Family Foundation, Milken Educator Awards provide recognition and a one-time, unrestricted financial reward of $25,000 to individual elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists from around the United States who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish.

Maurer, this year’s lone Milken Educator Award recipient who teaches in Ohio, is a kindergarten teacher at Midvale Elementary, part of Indian Valley Local Schools in Tuscarawas County, where she was once a student herself. Described as expressive, caring and genuine by her colleagues, Maurer makes learning interactive and fun by prioritizing differentiated instruction to fit student needs. Whether in-person, remote or hybrid learning, she balances science-backed literacy instruction with character-building to prepare students for success in school and life.

“Kristen Maurer represents the kind of educator students need now more than ever,” stated Greg Gallagher, senior program director of the Milken Educator Awards. “No matter their level of preparation, all of Kirsten’s students are motivated to learn thanks to the care and dedication she models. We look forward to the continued contributions Kristen will bring to the Midvale community and our national network by mentoring other teachers and driving teaching practices that advance the whole child.”

Maurer, who leads Midvale’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports team, represents the school for the Indian Valley Foundation and serves on the building leadership team, was very surprised upon learning the news of her Milken Educator Award at a school assembly. “There are not enough words to describe how honored I am to win such a prestigious award. I was completely shocked and … seeing how happy my family and friends and even my students were for me to win this award made my entire world,” she said. “It has only been a few short weeks, and because of this award I have grown even more as an educator and a leader towards others. I hope this brings other educators hope for a future in education and to know that they are making a difference in not only children, but other educators as well.”

Maurer credits her education and experience at Ashland for playing a formative role in her development. “One of the reasons I went to Ashland University was because it was known for (its) education program. From the moment I stepped onto campus I knew it was the college for me. The professors really had an impact in my educational journey. I was never scared to have a classroom of my own because Ashland prepared me and gave me all the fundamental skills that have made me the teacher I am today,” she said.

Karaffa has been an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Whittier Middle School in Poland, Maine, since 2014. She is lauded for her ability to help students understand the connections between history and their own lives and for preparing them for long-term research projects that they present at the school’s National History Day. Students learn the essentials of research, including locating sources and evaluating their reliability, forming thesis statements, finding evidence to support their ideas and structuring their arguments in a clear, compelling way, and many have been recognized for their work, including one project that was displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Shortly after starting at Whittier, Karaffa applied for and received a James Madison Graduate Fellowship, then enrolled at AU’s Ashbrook Center. She incorporates some of the studies she mastered there into today, specifically “how to analyze and how to have great conversations around historical documents.” She continued, “Practicing that at such a high level with experts in the field and top professors … showed a high level how to do that and showed me how to implement that into my classroom.”

As for the Milken Educator Award, Karaffa’s reaction was a mix of gratefulness and surprise, as well as a feeling of validation. “My gosh, that’s a huge honor to be considered one of the top educators. I’ve worked really hard in the history realm, doing the MAHG program, which (through) my understanding and my experience is one of the hardest master’s programs,” she remarked. “Doing that hard program and earning the James Madison Fellowship, I think that made me feel good in my place as a (historian), but now I can feel like I’m being recognized for the teacher I am and not just the subject I teach.”

Ashland University is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students.