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New LEEP Student Nina D'Amato Receives a Distinguished Alumna Award

Nina D'Amato
Thu, March 14, 2013

Recently admitted LEEP student, Nina D’Amato, who is also an alumna of the Principal Leadership Institute, received the California Alumni Association’s 2013 Mark Bingham Award for Excellence in Achievement by a Young Alumnus. The award honors a younger alumnus/a with accomplishments of significant importance at an early stage of his/her career (1-15 years out of school) and pays tribute to Mark Bingham ’93, who died Sept.11, 2001, defending the United States on United Airlines Flight 93.

I am extremely honored. Most of us try to be half the person Mark Bingham was. When I think about what Mark Bingham did on that fateful morning and read more about how he led his life with such integrity and courage, it is as if the Heavens fated him to be in that time and place,” D’Amato said.

“What is distinct from fate is his conscious decision to call his Mom, say goodbye, and give his phenomenal life to the storybooks of heroes. Mark Bingham was larger than life. I am committed to fulfilling his legacy by always leading with integrity and not holding on to fears.”

D’Amato, who grew up in Santa Rosa, just completed a congressional fellowship in the office of U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey, Jr., of Pennsylvania.

D’Amato studied at the University of Washington and later joined the Marine Corps. She taught in East Palo Alto through Teach for America and then served in Iraq in 2003. Upon returning, she worked at A.P. Giannini Middle School in San Francisco, earning her graduate degree at the Principal Leadership Institute.

“The Graduate School of Education at Cal, especially my advisors Fred Brill and Norton Grubb, hammered the idea that data is central to every conversation and the formulation of the right question, not the right answer, is worth its weight in gold,” she said.

"One of the most difficult undertakings in our careers will be to build support and stakeholder buy-in for new ideas or different ways to look at things. When all the representatives present at the table have their own equities involved in a particular issue, it becomes contentious very fast and communication can easily break down. These axioms are true of education, it’s true in Afghanistan in the midst of combat operations, and it’s true of Capitol Hill when supporting Congress and their role as an oversight body. The consequences may be different, but the methods are similar."

D’Amato went to Afghanistan in spring 2010 to help rebuild schools and the educational system for boys and girls, through tent classrooms as well as brick-and-mortar buildings. When she arrived in Southern Helmand province, no children were attending school. By the time she left, 20,000 to 25,000 students were in school, including 1,000 girls. And although security continues to be a pressing concern, school enrollment continues to rise.

She has returned to the Graduate School of Education to undertake a dissertation on how technology can be used to alleviate some of the learning challenges in the United States.

“At the end of my life, I want to think that I made a difference. I know that sounds corny but it’s true,” D’Amato says. “Public education is central to the prosperity to the country. And I want be a part of that.”