Meet Our Jury

Norma Claire Moruzzi

Norma Claire Moruzzi received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the Johns Hopkins University. She is Associate Professor of Political Science and Gender and Women’s Studies, with an Affiliation in History, and Director of the International Studies Program and Chair of the Middle East and Muslim Societies Cluster at UIC.


She is also a member and past chair of the editorial committee of the journal Middle East Report.Prof. Moruzzi’s research and teaching address the politics of social identity, with particular emphasis on the intersection of gender, religion, and nationalisms.

Dana Michelle Cook

Co-founder, Freeheart Creative
Dana Michelle Cook is an Emmy and Gracie award-winning producer and documentary filmmaker, dedicated to shining light on issues that bring about social change.


She has worked as a field/story producer and writer for the past 12 years. In addition to creating original content for shows on ABC, NBC, and TLC, she is committed to creating content that features inspiring women through film. Her previous film, The Empowerment Project: Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things has screened globally, encouraging tens of thousands of young women to find their voice and become leaders of their lives. She is the co-founder of Freeheart Creative, an organization dedicated to documenting and sharing brave stories of female trailblazers to inspire the next generation of leaders to make an impact on the world.

Katie Wilkes

Co-founder, Freeheart Creative
Katie Wilkes has spent the past eight years deploying to disaster sites as a national relief agency spokesperson and content specialist.


As both a humanitarian and media professional, she has brought stories and headlines to life with appearances on The Weather Channel and MSNBC, aimed at helping people give and get help during the most difficult times in their lives. She has responded to tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, wildfires and global epidemics. Her time spent both on disaster grounds and at international media agencies have shaped her belief that all it takes is one story to change – or save – a life. She is the co-founder of Freeheart Creative, an organization dedicated to documenting and sharing brave stories of female trailblazers to inspire the next generation of leaders to make an impact on the world.

Mehrnoush Aliaghaei


Mehrnoush Aliaghaei is an Iranian-American filmmaker who lives and works between Tehran and New York.  She received her MFA in film from Columbia University, and her BA from University of California, Berkeley in Film Studies and Comparative Literature.


She has produced 13 short films and associate produced a feature.  Mehrnoush is also the writer of three feature scripts and a TV pilot.  Her directorial debut Scheherazade was awarded Faculty and Jury Selects at Columbia University Film Festival, nominated for Adrienne Shelley Best Female Director, won the Best American Film at Champs-Elysées Film Festival, and Best Director at Unreal Film Festival.  It has been official selection to 17 international film festivals.  Mehrnoush is the co-founder of Ferris Reel Productions, a promotional video production company in Brooklyn.


Dr. Meléndez is an associate clinical professor and director of the Bilingual/ESL Certificate Program at Erikson Institute in Chicago. A former kindergarten teacher and bilingual early childhood teacher, Professor Melendez taught for more than twenty years both in the United States and in her native Dominican Republic.


Her areas of expertise include the education of young children growing up with more than one language; the impact of culture on teaching and learning; and the use of action research as a professional development strategy in educational settings.


B.A. in Psychology, Universidad Nacional Pedro Henriquez Urena, Dominican Republic

M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education-Erikson Institute/Loyola University Chicago

Ph.D. in Child Development- Erikson Institute/Loyola University Chicago.

Recent Publications:

Melendez, L. (2015). Using Children's Books as a Social Studies Curriculum Strategy.

Young Children, 70, 48- 55

Villegas, J., Vargas, M. & Melendez, L. (in press). Evolution of Attitudes and Practices

in Educating Young English Language Learners: An Illinois Perspective- Mid-

Western Educational Research Journal.

Ray, A. & Melendez, L (2011). Creating Multicultural and Linguistically Responsive

Early Childhood Classrooms. In J. P. Roopnarine & J. Johnson (Eds). Approaches

to Early Childhood Education (2011)

Dr. Spreen is an Associate Professor of International Education in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. Her scholarship brings together interdisciplinary and comparative approaches to examining education policy and practice. Her research centers on political and socio-cultural studies of educational change, particularly the influences of globalization and corporate privatization on teaching and learning.


Her current research projects address three areas: (1) teachers lives and work, i.e. understanding how international policies and organizations impact teachers and classroom practice (e.g. teacher migration, curriculum reform, accountability and testing movements); (2) defining educational quality and school achievement beyond standardized tests through a rights-based framework, and; (3) using participatory/action research to study the impact of poverty and inequality on education. She is currently working on two book projects: teachers’ lives and work in rural African schools (South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda) and teachers’ global mobilization and resistance to the privatization of education.

Dr. Spreen’s research has been published in a variety of leading peer-reviewed academic journals (Comparative Education Review, Comparative Education and the International Journal of Education Development, Southern African Review of Education and Perspectives in Education), in peer-reviewed book chapters, and in several monographs or as published proceedings from various consultative groups. She has taught courses with an international and policy studies foci. These courses include Comparative Education, Sociology of Education, Education Policy Analysis, Globalization and Education, Schools and Society, Poverty, Inequality and Human Rights in Education, Education Policy in Developing Countries and Educating for Global Citizenship and Human Rights. Professor Spreen received her Ph.D. in Comparative and International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She also holds an M.Phil. in Educational Policy Studies from Teachers College, an M.Ed. in Instructional Leadership from the University of Illinois, and a B.Ed. in International Education Development from the American University. Professor Spreen is also currently a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) in South Africa, and an affiliated researcher at the Center for Education Rights and Transformation. She has previously been on the faculty at the Universities of Virginia and Maryland and was a Visiting Scholar at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Educational Policy Unit (South Africa) and Stanford University’s Center for International Education. She has won numerous teaching and service awards and has raised over $1 million in grant funding for international research and academic community engagement initiatives. She also serves on various Advisory Boards, Working Groups and as a Critical Friend to several education policy and development organizations (including, Education International, the Brookings Institution, the Right to Education Project, and the World Bank). Over the last two decades she has served as a researcher for several of the US’s leading educational research centers: School Redesign Network (SRN), National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching (NCREST), Center for Research and Evaluation on Standards and Student Testing (CRESST), and North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL). Internationally, she has worked with many educational development and planning organizations and assisted numerous schools, districts, universities and educational ministries with various reform innovations.

Dr. Zeynep I. Ercan is an Associate Professor and the Program Coordinator for Early Childhood Education program. Her research agenda focuses on culturally and linguistically diverse children, teachers, families and communities within the field of early childhood education (ages 0-8). Some of her recent research projects include the educational experiences of children and families from unique immigrant communities such as Turkish and Burmese.


Dr. Ercan examines how innovative pedagogies and practices such as incorporating technology and science/literacy inquiry projects can respond to the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms. She also focuses on professional development of teachers and supporting them in responding to contemporary trends in education including recent educational reform. Her research has appeared in academic journals such as Race, Ethnicity and Education, Childhood Education, International Journal of Science Education, Early Childhood Education Journal, and Diaspora, Indigenous and Minority Education Journal. Dr. Ercan has been actively serving educational and academic communities on the local, national and international levels. She provides professional development and mentoring for early childhood and elementary educators to impact student learning and growth with long-term partnerships. Some of her past services include the advisory board membership of Center for the Excellence in Teaching and Learning, co-liaison for university early childhood lab school initiatives, and research partnership with Fort Wayne Community Schools. Dr. Ercan is the recipient of 2011 CEPP Dean’s Faculty Accomplishment Award, and 2010 Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs: Council of Diversity Award, and 2014 The Indiana Early Care and Education Award by Indiana Association for Education of Young Children for her contributions to the professional development of early childhood practitioners.