CVPA Celebration

Student and Faculty Excellence Awards

The College of Visual and Performing Arts is happy to announce the following recipients of excellence awards. Information on each recipient will be posted to CVPA social media sites on Thursday, April 15. Follow along on Facebook and Instagram. Congrats to all awardees!

Faculty Excellence Awards

The award recognizes two College of Visual and Performing Arts faculty members whose professional accomplishments are melded with their pedagogy to positively impact the quality of students' experiences at KU. 

Communication Design Professor Ann Lemon Faculty Excellence Award
Leigh Kane


Leigh Kane has been providing mentorship to numerous female Applied Digital Arts students, employing them to work as interns on her video projects in order for them to grow their skills and be supported by the Bierman Scholarship program. This opportunity for our students allows them to see the fine art applications of the Applied Digital Arts, and gives them a new outlook on how to approach their work with creativity, ingenuity, and passion. The students who work with Leigh Kane show tremendous growth, and are given a chance to have a female mentor, which is not always possible or common. I would love to see Leigh Kane acknowledged for her commitment to her art making practice, and her willingness to allow students to learn from her outside of the classroom.

Communication Studies Professor Megan O'Byrne Faculty Excellence Award Winner


Janna began teaching both undergraduate and graduate courses part time at KU in 2002 and since 2017 has been teaching full-time.  Her professionalism and service has been exemplary.  She has served on the Foundations Committee coordinating the annual NYC field trip and Spring Exhibition, the Common Portfolio Committee, the KUAS organization, the Gallery Committee and the Living and Learning Community where she has been invaluable in helping to retain first year students.  Janna is an onsite faculty member for maintenance and staff maintenance for the IDEA Studio and has been a co-advisor for the Universities Ghost Club.  She is an excellent teacher valued by both her students and colleagues, creating a fully online Two Dimensional Design Class and was instrumental in creating a Universal Art Kit for incoming students.  Last spring she co-coordinated Kutztown’s Black Lives Matter March in the borough and continues to volunteer locally at the Kutztown Fire Company.  Professionally she has exhibited her work in three venues in the last year only and served as a panelist for NYC Jewelry Week Panel on Women and continues to serve as a consultant for the Powerhouse Small Metals Studio in Brooklyn.

Janna Gregonis is a highly valued faculty member who’s energy and generosity can always be counted and called upon. We could not accomplish what we do without her. 

Staff Excellence Awards

The award recognizes a College of Visual and Performing Arts staff member whose work ethics, positive attitude, and professionalism impact the administrators, faculty, and students at Kutztown University on a day-to-day basis. 

Communication Design Professor Ann Lemon Faculty Excellence Award
Dorothy Siravo


Dorothy Siravo has been a warm, constant, and steadying presence in the Department of Art in the midst of a turbulent and stressful academic year. She joined us from a very different area a couple of years ago and adjusted quickly to the quirks of the art department, including helping with the logistics for our life drawing models, ordering vast quantities of art supplies, and helping to maintain and organize studio spaces and equipment. This year her work also encompassed helping to get the studio spaces set up for safe social distancing, tracking down PPE, and finding ways to store extraneous furniture. She’s always poised for action, I have literally never seen this woman sit down. Really—I don’t think she even has a chair in her office!

 She always goes above and beyond in her awareness of the needs of our co-workers and the community, whether it’s initiating gifts for our custodians, organizing holiday food boxes and donations, or recognizing department birthdays and holidays with delicious baked goods. Even during especially chaotic weeks, such as registration, she can always be counted on to take things in stride and with good humor. I know maintaining this kind of equilibrium can’t be easy, especially considering the complexities of three different programs, the demands of different types of studios, and the large number of faculty in the department. We have been grateful to have her expertise,  energy, and sense of humor as we have navigated the challenges of this pandemic.

Communication Design Professor Ann Lemon Faculty Excellence Award



Melissa was presented with and happily accepted the challenge of taking on two departments three weeks into the semester when circumstances required staffing changes. She went from six faculty members to 21, 270 majors to 570, and one chair to two. Further, she did it all virtually. During this past year, she has taken on new tasks, adjusted old tasks, and initiated solutions with thought and commitment to successfully completing the work efficiently. Her response to any request has been a positive, “of course.” Often the task is completed before we need it done. We especially appreciate Melissa’s willingness to take initiative to make the work easier for faculty and helpful for students. She can be counted on to make sure nothing “falls through the cracks” in these busy and hectic times.

As two new chairs this year, we counted on Melissa to help us navigate the system. She has done so with clarity and taught us a lot about how to be successful. We can give her instructions once on a project and know that she will consistently complete her work accurately.

Faculty count on her to have the correct form, appropriate information and accurate answers they need. She is responsive to their emails and always interacts with encouraging words. Students can count on her to guide them in the right direction and help them navigate their major, schedules, and other requests.

 We all miss seeing her smile and interacting with her on a daily basis face-to-face. We look forward to the fall when our interactions will be less virtual and more interpersonal.

Melissa’s exceptional work ethic, commitment to the CTM and Communication Studies departments, pleasant and personal personality, and willingness to accept and adapt to change make her an exceptional employee within VPA in particular. She is an asset to the KU community and we are delighted to work with her every day. She is deserving of this special award to recognize those qualities.

ALUMNI Excellence Awards

The award recognizes alumni of the College of Visual and Performing Arts whose professional accomplishments and continued interactions with KU positively impact the quality of students’ experiences. 

Communication Design Professor Ann Lemon Faculty Excellence Award



Mike Miller is an alumnus who has centered his work on creating murals in the Berks County Area. He is also an art educator at Wyomissing High School in West Reading. He has worked with our ARU 132 Art in Alternative settings course, demonstrating the connections and collaborations that form through community centered projects focused on the arts.

This semester, he has attended the ARU 132 course via zoom to highlight his community art projects while also facilitating the creation of a mural at the Bagel Bar Café in Kutztown. Mr. Miller has included students in every part of the process, from ideation to drawing designs, to the final drawing. Mr. Miller then presented the concept to the Kutztown Borough. Students will participate in the painting component during the month of April.

Mr. Miller became interested in the murals when to took a tour of the murals in Philadelphia. Mr. Miller has created numerous murals in Downtown Reading and Wyomissing, along with providing art outreach to the Opportunity House in Reading. He is also currently teaching both elementary and high school students for the district and has mentored our field and art education students over the years serving as an important mentor during our student’s journey to becoming art educators. He has been an art educator for over 20 years, dedicating time and energy to advocating for the visual arts through teaching and service. Proud to call him a Golden Bear!

Student Excellence Awards

This award recognizes one student from each of the six departments in the College of Visual and Performing Arts: Art, Art Education, Cinema, Television and Media Production, Communication Design, Communication Studies, and Music.

Hadley Wiktor, Art Department Student Excellence Award Winner

Rebecca is an exceptional art historian in training. Her honors capstone project studies Walt Disney animated feature films and discusses them in an art historical context, asserting that the Disney Corporation has taken part in cultural appropriation in films such as The Three Caballeros and Pocahontas. Rebecca asserts that this issue is important to consider because many people encounter other cultures first through Disney films, and Disney's influence can continue throughout their life. Likewise, Rebecca's work is important because it makes the case for considering Disney animated films as an important addition to art history, which has the potential to enrich the discipline. Rebecca is presenting this project at several conferences, including the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, the Higher Education Council of Berks County Conference, and KU Inspires. In addition to her scholarship, Rebecca has been a valuable and insightful addition to the classes she has taken and shows great promise as a future scholar.


Hadley Wiktor, Art Department Student Excellence Award Winner

Dorie Penny has distinguished herself in the studio through her thoughtful, nuanced exploration of her ideas. She has demonstrated a willingness to take risks and an ability to delve into highly personal topics with work that is both vulnerable and visually powerful. Although she is a technically skilled draftsperson, she consistently challenges herself to make work that is messier, more complex, and goes beyond mere technical mastery. She is also a committed and involved member of the KU community and is currently serving as the president of the Allies support group for the LGBTQ+ community on campus.



For Katrina Nehmeh, art has played a huge role in her life and has led her to where she is now, here at Kutztown University, enrolled in the Art Education Certification Program.

Previously, Katrina earned a Bachelor of Arts with a concentration in Studio Art from Cedar Crest College. At this moment, she is student teaching at Boyertown Area Senior High School after successful student teaching virtually at Northwest Middle School in the Reading School District.

Her teaching philosophy is heavily centered on creating a safe environment for self-expression and creativity. She wants her students to use art as a vehicle to express themselves and feel comfortable doing so and focuses on allowing her students to have voice and choice in the art room.​​​​​​​ 

Katrina designs engaging curriculum that is personally relevant and encourages her learners to continuously do their best work while at the same time instilling in them a passion for making art. Dr. Hovanec, her student teaching supervisor adds that she appreciates the fact that Katrina is a gifted and talented artist, who is incredibly passionate about teaching art. It shows in all she does…from her impeccably designed lessons to her classroom management skills to her natural and genuine teacher demeanor and to her stellar professionalism.

One final note, Dr. Hovanec notes that Katrina is a highly reflective practitioner…which is a fantastic attribute…one which will carry her far in the field of Art Education. 

Katrina Nehmeh, Art Education Student Excellence Award Winner
Jordan Velez
DEPARTMENT OF Cinema, Television, & Media Production

Jordan Velez is an exceptional student and a leader among her peers. Jordan’s GPA evidences her dedication and commitment to her education. Her tireless work ethic has earned her the highest respect from the CTM faculty and her peers. Jordan commits herself to every project and every film production. Jordan’s desire to learn and develop her filmmaking craft is reflected in her ability to process a success and a setback equally. Everyone trusts Jordan and relies on her to guide their project toward success – this includes both faculty and her current intern location, Make/Films in Lancaster. In addition, Jordan manages the CTM student workers and our social media pages. Jordan is a problem-solver; she is intelligent and self-motivated. Jordan is, without a doubt, a movie producer. 


Jordan Velez, CTM Student Excellence Award Winner
Megan Laird, Communication Design Student Excellence Award Winner

No one student is perfect but every now and then one comes pretty darn close. Megan Laird has been the go-to student for many of the professors in the Communication Design department this academic year. In the world of design, one must be resilient and learn to roll with the punches. Megan takes whatever is thrown her way, from advanced class assignments, to helping on a Saturday Design Day Camp and does so with a smile. When a student exceeds expectations especially under less-than-ideal circumstances–we notice. We notice!  

Megan helps KUCD get noticed! She has been our social media guru for 2020–2021. She works with Professor MacIlwraith to create and post content to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Professor Kate Clair stated “Megan has been an exemplary student whose work is of the highest quality. Her work ethic raises the bar for students around her.” Megan is also the head lab monitor in the KUCD Print Lab. Even though the print lab might not be as busy as it usual this year, she makes sure all is in order. Professor Kresge stated “Meg has served faithfully as our AIGA Vice President and Social Media person. She has been engaged in every event, helping to plan and facilitate speakers, workshops, social events and even yoga for our KUCD students. Her work has helped to hold together our KUCD family even through the distance that the pandemic has caused.” 

We feel it is important to acknowledge when one goes above and beyond to help their community. Megan Laird is an important part of the KUCD family, and we thank her for all she does. 

Paige Balshy, Comm Studies Student Excellence Award Winner


The Communication Studies faculty recognizes Paige Balshy for the VPA Celebration Excellence Award. Paige joined the department as a transfer student in 2019 from Harrisburg Area Community College. Dr. Urszula Pruchniewska writes,” I’ve had her for four classes now, and she has consistently been the top student in all of them. She always goes above and beyond and her projects are used as exemplars in other classes. Her Social Media Strategy project that she created in SMS101, in her FIRST semester here, has been the project used to inspire students in all SMS101 classes. She's impressively both very adept at understanding and critiquing theoretical concepts and in producing creative and research work. Her work is genuinely better than some professionals. In her User Experience class, she created this ingenious plan for fixing the user experience of Zoom, based on her own frustrations with the app.” 

Paige is completing her capstone project with a real company (a nonprofit organization) that was looking for some help figuring out their social media. The founders of the organization are blown away by her initiative, dedication, and creativity over the past few months. They are offering her an internship over the summer to continue her great work there.

Paige is majoring in Social Media Theory and Strategy and has made the Dean’s list every semester she has attended Kutztown University with a 4.0 GPA. She also is pursuing a minor in Communication Studies. In addition to her academic excellence, Paige is completing an internship at Nurturepa, a charitable non-profit organization that provides moms with information and resources for support following the birth of their baby. 

Paige is an exceptional student and demonstrates motivation and dedication for success. It is with pride that we recognize her for the VPA Student Excellence Award. 

Nicolás Gómez Amín


Nicolás Gómez Amín was born in April 1998 in Santiago, Chile He first began playing the violin at the age of 7 under the guidance of Professor Nadia Salinas. Nicolás has also studied under professors Ruben Sierra, Elena Batrakova, and Oriana Silva. Nicolás has been extremely active over the years as he has been part of several orchestras as a concertmaster. Notably, Santiago’s Municipal Theatre Chamber Orchestra.

He has performed in some of the most important concert halls in Chile as both a chamber musician and soloist accompanied by orchestra in Santiago, Concepción, Iquique, Coquimbo, La Serena, Valdivia, Frutillar, Coyhaique, and Puerto Montt.

In 2018, Nicolás was accepted at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania as a scholar of the President’s International Piano and String Quartet Scholarship to study under Professor Kurt Nikkanen, concertmaster of the New York City Ballet Orchestra. During his time at Kutztown, Nicolás has continued to perform as a soloist, chamber musician, and as concertmaster of both the Kutztown University Orchestra and KU Chamber Players. With this later organization, in which he also serves as president and musical director, Nicolás performed pieces by Greek composer Dinos Constantinides at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City, featuring soloists Kurt Nikkanen, Maria Asteriadou, and Johanna Cox Pennington.

He also performs regularly with other local organizations such as Berks Sinfonietta and Reading Pops Orchestra. Back in Chile, he is the first violinist and arranger for 4cuerdas String Quartet and the musical director for Pánico Essccénico Theater Company. Future projects include a violin and piano recital, collaborations with several chamber ensembles, and performances directing KU chamber players, KU Orchestra, and KU Choir.

Nicolas Gomez Amin, Music Student Excellence Award Winner

Gomez's performances can be heard in the following YouTube link:

J.S. Bach: Partita No. 3 in E major III. Gavotte en Rondeau



Meghan Wald is a soon to be graduate of Kutztown University with a Major in Music Education and a minor in Autism Spectrum Disorders. 

Meghan primarily studied alto saxophone with Dr. Jeremy Justeson. During her time at Kutztown she also studied flute with Dr.Susanna Loewy, bassoon with Dr. Valerie Trollinger, and organ with Dr. Ina Grapenthin. Additionally, Meghan performed with many of the ensembles at KU including the Kutztown University Wind Ensemble, Jazz Ensemble II, Rock Ensemble II, Kutztown University Orchestra (and studio orchestra), Saxophone Ensemble, Choir, Flute Choir and KUMU. ​

For her minor in Autism Spectrum Disorders, Meghan completed a Field Experience which consisted of creating and implementing a Behavior Intervention Plan. Meghan hopes to continue her studies in the future by getting a masters pertaining to music education in the special education field. 

Meghan is currently completing her student teaching practicum. Her first placement was at Fleetwood Middle School with Mr. Kristian Nygard. She is currently finishing her student teaching at Catasauqua High School with Mr. Robert Arnold. 

MEGHAN WALD, Music Student Excellence Award Winner

Thank you for joining us our virtual celebration of the College of Visual & Performing Arts!