Published: Oct. 27, 2020


As one of CU Boulder’s longest standing traditions, the 91st annual Alumni Awards Ceremony took on a different virtual format but familiar celebratory character on Oct. 22 to honor just six CU Boulder alumni and leaders, including School of Education alumna Kris D. Gutiérrez and Professor Rubén Donato. 

Donato is a 2020 recipient of the Robert Stearns Award, which honors faculty and staff for extraordinary achievement in teaching, service, work with students and research, and Gutiérrez (PhDEd’87) received the George Norlin Award, one of the university’s highest honors acknowledging the excellence in the awardee’s field and a devotion to the betterment of society.

Donato studies the history of Mexican Americans in public schools, and his work examines the often-overlooked fight for school desegregation in Mexican-American communities. Donato published a comprehensive study of a landmark school desegregation case led by Mexican Americans in Colorado. He joined the School of Education faculty in 1993, and today, he is the chair of the Educational Foundations, Policy and Practice program, faculty chair, and faculty director for one of the school’s most widely enrolled undergraduate courses, School and Society, EDUC 3013, which challenges students to think critically pressing issues surrounding the education system including the role of race.

“Issues of race, class and gender … must be confronted if future teachers are going to be able to respond to the needs, and recognize the talents, of an increasingly diverse K-12 student population,” said Joseph Polman, School of Education associate dean for research. 

“Students in Professor Donato’s classes praise his abilities to lead respectful discussions, while challenging students who believe that racism and white privilege are located in the past.”

School of Education alumna Gutiérrez is an internationally recognized researcher, advisor, educator and mentor. She has long championed equity in schools, and she has helped transform education for marginalized groups, including immigrant and migrant communities. 

In developing the concept of “third space,” Gutiérrez recognized that both teachers and students can bring expertise to the classroom based on their unique experiences. She has also studied how learning environments can be better organized to reflect and respond to non-Western cultures.

Now professor at the University of California Berkeley, Gutiérrez was formerly on the faculty in the CU Boulder School of Education, and in many ways, she is still at home at CU Boulder. Two of her mentees, Arturo Cortez and José Ramón Lizárraga, are both CU Boulder assistant professors of education and in their nomination letter for Gutiérrez, they explained her courses are “legendary for their rigor, playfulness and innovation.”

Earning the Norlin Award brings her work full circle, as during her doctoral studies at CU Boulder, she developed student support programs students and was Director of the Academic Learning Center, then housed in the basement of Norlin Library.

“CU was the crucible for my lifelong research, teaching, and commitment to use my work for the social good,” she said in in her acceptance speech. “This award is a coming home of sorts. Several programs I developed are still in existence, including the Graduate Teacher Program and the afterschool program in Lafayette, El Pueblo Mágico, now known as EPIC, and Chancellor DiStefano was one of my professors and early mentors. 

“I am indebted to CU for all the opportunities it afforded me.”