ACE logo

Pressley Awards Go to Distinguished ACE Alumni Serving Catholic Education

Written by William Schmitt on Monday, 08 July 2013.

The ACE Commencement exercises scheduled for Saturday, July 13, 2013, will confer master’s degrees upon participants in ACE Teaching Fellows and the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, but the event also honors graduates of those programs who have continued their careers with excellence in the spirit of the ACE pillars of education, community, and spirituality.

Awards this year will go to three leaders who have played influential roles that support Catholic schooling.

The annual Michael Pressley Award for Excellence in Catholic Education will be presented to two past graduates of ACE formation programs: Jessica Gray Werner, Ph.D., who graduated in 2003 in the eighth cohort of ACE Teaching Fellows; and Michael Zelenka, who also was in “ACE 8” and also in the sixth cohort of the Remick Leadership Program, graduating in 2007.

David Yeager, Ph.D., who graduated from ACE Teaching Fellows in 2006 and is now assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, will receive the Michael Pressley Award for a Promising Scholar in the Education Field.

The three Pressley Awards are named for the prodigious and world-renowned scholar Michael Pressley who served as the inaugural academic director of ACE’s teacher preparation program.

Here is more information about the recipients:


Jessica served students in Jackson, Miss., as a teacher for three years during and after ACE. Then she began working with the Daughters of Charity, supporting their efforts to strengthen Catholic educational ministry in Ethiopia and Kenya, and later became director of the Vincentian Lay Missionaries. This work entails providing spiritual formation for the current volunteers in the Daughters of Charity programs in Africa.

Meanwhile, Jessica has also earned a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, with a dissertation focused on principal and teacher training in Uganda, and she teaches education as an adjunct professor at the College of Saint Scholastica. A nominator calls her “a stellar example of an ACE graduate whose life has been transformed by Catholic education and social justice.” Jessica demonstrates a passionate belief in “the power of education” to change lives and “the unique gifts that the Catholic Church can offer” to transform structures and reform education.


Michael has continued to pursue his vocation in Catholic education as an educator in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he was assigned in the ACE 8 cohort. He now serves as principal at Incarnation Catholic School, which is also an ACE Teaching Fellows site. One of his nominators states, “We need more principals like him helping to form our teachers,” and he adds that Michael has “distinguished himself as a young and vibrant leader of Catholic schools, committed to excellence in every respect.”

In addition to his outstanding work as principal, Michael plays a variety of diocesan leadership roles and stays engaged with other Alliance for Catholic Education initiatives. He has implemented several projects at the school and diocesan level, published some of his work, and presented at national conferences. “He is an excellent example of the next generation of leaders we are aiming to prepare, support, and celebrate,” nominators affirm.


David’s nationally respected research in the fields of adolescent development and social psychology led him recently to the role of co-organizer and program chair for a special White House conference titled “Excellence in Education: The Importance of Academic Mindsets.” As reported recently for ACE by Andrew Hoyt, scholars from around the country gathered at the May conference to discuss new insights emerging from the work of David and collaborators at Stanford University. New findings suggest that students’ mindsets—how schools look and feel to these students—can affect whether they sustain motivation in the face of adversity. David and others have designed activities that redirect students’ mindsets and can dramatically reduce achievement gaps in some cases.

With a Ph.D. in developmental and psychological science from Stanford University, David has pursued studies yielding numerous journal publications, research grants, conference presentations, and other honors. During his studies in the ACE Teaching Fellows program, he taught language arts and computers--and coached basketball--at a Catholic school in Tulsa, Okla.

Share this story. . .

Search News