Meet Our 2016-17 Selection Committee

Click on a photo to learn more about our selection committee members!

Amanda Reyes

Position: Physical Education Teacher
School: Tippit Middle School
School District: Georgetown Independent School District
City, State: Georgetown, Texas
About Amanda: Amanda Reyes exemplifies the meaning of compassion, team work, leadership, tolerance, responsibility and trust through everything she does. As a physical education teacher and sports coach, she instills strong moral values in her students. Although Coach Reyes coaches many sports, basketball is her biggest passion. She gives every student the opportunity to be a part of the team as long as they have a strong work ethic and a willingness to learn. She looks after her students long after they leave Tippit, even going as far as inviting them to return to help coach the middle school students. Coach Reyes is often seen at high school volleyball and basketball games cheering on the kids she once coached. She is truly their biggest fan!
On February 24, 2016, Ms. Reyes was surprised at a school assembly where it was announced that she was a LifeChanger of the Year Top 5 Finalist! Ms. Reyes also attended the National LifeChanger of the Year Awards Ceremony in Los Cabos, Mexico on April 12th, where she received a $2,500 personal cash reward and a $2,500 donation to her school.

Annette Christiansen

Position: English Language Arts 11/12 Teacher
School: Stevenson High School
School District: Utica Community Schools
City, State: Sterling Heights, Michigan
About Annette: Often by their very nature, teachers are LifeChangers in the communities they serve. Annette Christiansen, however, exemplifies what it means to be an exceptional teacher and has been a LifeChanger to her students. She makes her English courses dynamic and interactive by carefully selecting materials of interest to her students. She drives students to excel both academically and personally. Through the use of philosophical questions, thought-provoking material and a safe classroom environment, Ms. Christiansen encourages students to explore their passions and their positions on a variety of socio-political topics. She encourages students to learn from each other and to become more tolerant, understanding and open-minded about those who are different. She is willing to share personal triumphs and tragedies, and has been the source of strength to many students during difficult personal experiences. Many students report through various sounding boards and polls that she is the teacher who has influenced them the most.
On March 30th, we surprised Ms. Christiansen at a staff meeting to let her know that she won a LifeChanger Award for 2015-16! Ms. Christiansen received a $1,500 personal cash award, as well as a $1,500 donation to her school, Stevenson High School.

Beau Menchaca

Position: Higher Education Coordinator
School: Century High School
School District: Santa Ana Unified
City, State: Santa Ana, California
About Beau: Beau Menchaca always finds a way to be a leader in activities at his school. Through the development of several programs throughout his career, he has worked to make every school community he works in a more appreciative, inspiring, and welcoming place to be for faculty and students alike. For example, While working as an office assistant, Mr. Menchaca overheard two girl students talking about what they wanted to be, how there had never been a women president in the US and whether or not women in the world held any positions of influence. This prompted him to organize the “The Gallery of Illustrious Women.” For this display, Mr. Menchaca realized that the students needed some positive women role models to inspire them and he began a letter writing campaign to women leaders all over the world, asking them to send a picture and a letter encouraging everyone, especially girls, to aspire to be the best they could be and work towards making a difference in the world. Each letter and picture he received was displayed at the school.
On March 30th, we surprised Mr. Menchaca at a school open house to let him know that he won a LifeChanger Award for 2015-16. Mr. Menchaca received a $1,500 personal cash award, as well as a $1,500 donation to his school, Century High School.

Coleen Thurber

Position: Assets Teacher
School: Rolling Hills Elementary School
School District: Cherry Creek School District
City, State: Aurora, Colorado
About Coleen: Coleen Thurber makes Rolling Hills Elementary School a better place to learn and work! Her role at Rolling Hills is to teach what is called an Assets program. This originated from curriculum that was based on the 40 Developmental Assets, which are identified as the building blocks of healthy development that help young children grow up to be healthy, caring and responsible. However, Mrs. Thurber has made the program all her own over the years. Students rotate through this program, and it is considered a “special” like Physical Education and Art.
On March 16th, we surprised Mrs. Thurber at a pep rally attended by over 700 students to let her know that she won a LifeChanger Award for 2015-16. Mrs. Thurber received a $1,500 personal cash award, as well as a $1,500 donation to her school, Rolling Hills Elementary.

Dr. Erica Brownstein

Position: Assistant Dean of Educator Preparation
School: Ohio State University
City: Columbus, OH
About Erica: Erica M. Brownstein, Ph.D is Assistant Dean of Educator Preparation at The Ohio State University and worked as an associate professor of science education at Capital University. Erica has a passion for accreditation and has experience at the discipline, program, and university level. Her service at a national level includes data projects with CAEP, AACTE Case Study, and the Teacher Education Data Project funded by the New Venture Fund, Overdeck Family Foundation, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In addition, she chairs the State University Education Deans in Ohio organization. She also leads a 27 institution collaborative research project to develop valid and reliable instruments for use by educator preparation providers (VARI-EPP). Erica has made presentations about accreditations to local, regional, national, and international audiences. Her research and publications are focused on accreditation and assessment.

Marla Cosner

Position: English, Social Studies and Music Teacher
School: Mesquite Continuation High School
School District: Sierra Sands Unified School District
City, State: Ridgecrest, California
About Marla: Mrs. Cosner is so beloved at Mesquite Continuation High School that many students request to be in her class. While most classes average 15 students; Mrs. Cosner’s classes often have between 19-23 students! Mrs. Cosner shows her students respect and love the minute they enter her classroom. She has a natural ability to recognize students’ strengths and capitalize on them to help students build intrinsic motivation with their studies and grades. In addition to teaching English and history, Mrs. Cosner leads two music classes – guitar and piano. Outside the classroom, Mrs. Cosner supports the community through the non-profit she helped found, the Ridgecrest Musical Enrichment Society. She appears in most of the productions and spends long hours rehearsing and directing. All proceeds from the productions are donated to support music education within the school district.
On February 16, 2016, Mrs. Cosner was surprised by the announcement that she was a LifeChanger of the Year Top 5 Finalist for 2015-16! Mrs. Cosner also attended the National LifeChanger of the Year Awards Ceremony in Los Cabos, Mexico on April 12th, where she received a $2,500 personal cash reward and a $2,500 donation to her school.

Dr. Michael de Miranda

Position: Professor, Head of the Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture
School: Texas A&M University
City, State: College Station, TX
About Michael: Michael A. de Miranda, Ph.D is a Professor, Claude H. Everett, Jr. Endowed Chair, and Head of the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Culture at Texas A&M University. Michael’s current responsibilities are to provide leadership across the department in support of the faculty, staff, and students. The students and their families within the department represent our single most important asset and our award winning faculty are second to none within their respective fields of research and teaching. Professor de Miranda’s research focuses on the development of young STEM educators for the future of our profession, specifically in learning, cognition, and instruction in engineering and technology education. A graduate of the University of California in Educational Psychology, his research is focused on the study of cognitive process and complex classroom interventions associated with achieving scientific and technological literacy through engineering content. The research focus is centered on measuring and understanding how students “connect the STEM dots”. Research awards as PI and Co-PI in excess of $10M funded through the National Science Foundation and most recently the National Institutes of Health have provided the funding to translate core basic research in engineering, big data systems and analysis, and interdisciplinary work in chemistry, environmental health, and engineering into new K-12 STEM contents and research.

Shane Thill

Position: Director/Assistant Principal
School: Second Chance High Alternative School/Mitchell High School
School District: Mitchell School District 17-2
City, State: Mitchell, South Dakota
About Shane: Shane Thill is a life-changer in the community because of his ability to motivate students, his commitment to their growth, and his genuine interest in making the community and the world better places. Mr. Thill has gone above and beyond his role as a teacher and administrator to make sure that students have a safe and nurturing environment that allows them to learn and explore who they are and achieve their full potential. Mr. Thill inspires his students by letting them know that their voices matter and that each individual has the opportunity to share their knowledge with the world. Mr. Thill is more than just an assistant principal – he is a role model for his students, parents, colleagues and the Mitchell community!
On February 17, 2016, Mr. Thill was surprised by the announcement that he was a 2015-16 LifeChanger of the Year Top 5 Finalist! Mr. Thill then attended the National LifeChanger of the Year Awards Ceremony on April 12th in Los Cabos, Mexico, where it was revealed that he was the National Grand Prize Winner! He received a $5,000 personal cash award and a $5,000 donation to his school.

Theresa Barkhimer

Position: School Based Social Worker
School: Shawnee Middle School
School District: Shawnee Public Schools
City, State: Shawnee, Oklahoma
About Theresa: Ms. Barkhimer is a proven leader and advocate for underprivileged students and families within the community. She is known as a community outreach and leadership specialist throughout the district. The programs she has implemented and maintained have touched the lives of many students and families. Ms. Barkhimer works with multiple churches, area businesses and large factory corporations to provide food, clothing and assistance to the students. She also collaborates with other teachers to develop lessons that create a more positive atmosphere for the students.
On February 11, 2016, Ms. Barkhimer attended a pep rally at her school, and was surprised to discover that she was a 2015-16 LifeChanger of the Year Top 5 Finalist! Ms. Barkhimer also attended the National LifeChanger of the Year Awards Ceremony in Los Cabos, Mexico on April 12th, where she received a $2,500 personal cash reward and a $2,500 donation to her school.