Education student shows real character, promise

Carole Basile (left), dean of the College of Education, presents doctoral student Alena Tunprasert with the annual Victor A. Battistich Memorial Graduate Award. Also pictured are Marvin W. Berkowitz (left) and Wolfgang Althof, directors of the Center for Character and Citizenship, and Martha Battistich, widow of Victor Battistich. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Fusing the relationship between the arts and social-emotional growth has been a passion of Alena Tunprasert for many years.

“My work is primarily focused on how youth develop, and demonstrate creativity and critical thinking through the performance and media arts,” said Tunprasert, an education doctoral student at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

It’s that same passion that has earned her the fourth annual Victor A. Battistich Memorial Graduate Award from the Center for Character Education and Citizenship in the College of Education at UMSL.

“I was excited and honored to accept an award that was created in remembrance of a phenomenal scholar, Victor Battistich who worked closely with my advisor to further the field of character education,” she said. “I chose UMSL because the College of Education has a fantastic training program for graduates interested in working in education and the positive support I receive from the department and my adviser, Marvin W. Berkowitz. I see myself finishing in two to three years, and doing a combination of research and teaching in the fields of character education and well-being. In five years I will be at a point to where I can evaluate and design character education programs for K-12 students.”

Tunprasert, who was a torchbearer for the 2002 Olympics, has already accomplished so much. She has been working alongside Natalie Bolton, assistant professor of educational psychology at UMSL, to evaluate the Socratic method of teaching history. From that research she will be submitting two articles for scholarly publication. She’s conducting program evaluations for national health initiatives at Transtria, a small public health research and consulting company in St. Louis. She chronicles her research through her blog.

Marvin Berkowitz, co-director for the Center for Character and Citizenship and the Sanford N. McDonnell Endowed Professor of Character Education at UMSL, said the Victor A. Battistich Memorial Graduate Award is presented annually to a graduate student who “shares Vic’s vision.”

“Vic was an amazing colleague of ours,” he said. “Vic was one of the most stellar scholars we knew. When he passed, we wanted to memorial his relevance, his expertise, his mind, heart and soul. And to do that by giving an award to a graduate student who shared his passion for character education, for program evaluation and for research.”

The Victor A. Battistich Memorial Graduate Award was created in honor of a former UMSL professor who passed away in June 2008. Recipients of the award receive a plaque and a $500 award.

Before joining UMSL in 2003, Battistich, an expert is character education, was an assistant professor at Cleveland State University and the core part of a research team at the Developmental Studies Center in Oakland, Calif.

Berkowitz said the college and the Center for Character Education and Citizenship were lucky to “lure” him and his family away from California.

Battistich is survived by his wife Martha and two daughters, Sarah and Caitlin. During the award presentation last month, Martha congratulated Tunprasert.

“Vic had an outstanding character and was amazing,” she said. “I don’t know you well, but from what Marvin and everyone tells me, you fit that mold.”

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