Cognella and NCFR Celebrate the Innovative Teaching Practices of Three Outstanding Family Science Instructors

Cognella and NCFR Celebrate the Innovative Teaching Practices of Three Outstanding Family Science Instructors

Dr. Olena Nesteruk, Dr. Maria Carpiac, and Dr. Erica Jordan receive 2023 Cognella Innovation in Teaching Awards for Family Science 

San Diego, CA – December 1, 2023 – Dr. Olena Nesteruk, Dr. Maria Carpiac, and Dr. Erica Jordan were honored with 2023 Cognella Innovation in Teaching Awards for Family Science at the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida, November 8 – 11. In partnership with the NCFR, the award program recognizes outstanding Family Science instructors who develop and apply innovative teaching practices within their courses.

“Since the program’s inception in 2018, the quality of submissions for this award has increased each year,” said Kassie Graves, Cognella Vice President, Editorial, and a member of the judging panel. “This year, we restructured the Innovation in Teaching Awards to recognize two first-place winners and one second-place winner. We couldn’t be prouder to celebrate the winners for 2023, whose innovations have fostered high-impact, global relationships, energized the study of aging, and empowered students and professionals to understand the depth and breadth of career paths available within the discipline.”

The judging panel awarded first-place honors to both Dr. Olena Nesteruk, an associate professor in the Department of Family Science and Human Development at Montclair University, and Dr. Maria Carpiac, a full professor and the director of the gerontology program at California State University, Long Beach.

Dr. Nesteruk created and implemented the Pen Pal Project in February of 2022 in the wake of Russia invading Ukraine. Developed for students taking her Immigrant Families course, the project is a global cross-cultural initiative in partnership with teachers and children in a middle school in Chervonohrad, a small town in the western part of Ukraine. This program not only provides her students a glimpse into the lives of Ukranian children, families, and communities who have been displaced and impacted by war, it also fosters meaningful relationships and greater cultural understanding among participants on both sides of the program.

“It is really a tremendous honor to receive the prestigious Cognella Innovation in Teaching Award,” said Nesteruk. “I would like to thank the judging panel for recognizing the Pen Pal Project and its impact on the communities in both countries. I believe that this award belongs to all of the participants: my students here at Montclair State University and our partners in the Ukrainian school, who made this amazing experience happen despite the challenging circumstances. I plan to share this award with our partners in Ukraine and donate to humanitarian initiatives that support the Ukrainian people in their fight for freedom and peaceful future. Thank you!”

Dr. Carpiac developed a course title Women and Aging: Lessons from the Golden Girls, which has become very popular among students and breathed life into the study of gerontology at the university. In the course, Dr. Carpiac screens episodes of the classic TV show Golden Girls and then leverages its plot points and themes to initiate rich discussions about issues and topics related to aging, including ageism, stereotypes, elder abuse, dementia, end-of-life, and more.

“Recognition as an innovative teacher from Cognella and NCFR is a true honor,” said Carpiac. “I am especially excited to shine a light on the field of gerontology, a discipline that has given me so many opportunities, through this award.”

This year’s second-place honor went to Dr. Erica Jordan, a clinical assistant professor of human development and family studies in the Department of Psychological, Health, and Learning Sciences at the University of Houston. Recognizing the need for career exploration resources to empower family science students, Dr. Jordan redesigned the Careers in Human Development and Family Sciences (HDFS) course and developed a corresponding website and podcast that can be accessed by anyone, ad-free and free of charge. At the time of the award application, the HDFS Careers podcast featured 28 full-length interviews with professionals across the discipline and more than 10,000 show listeners from 19 countries around the world.

“Being a university faculty member is a complex experience,” said Jordan. “You are working to meet the needs of many stakeholders (i.e., large numbers of students, administrators, officials) yet you also spend a great deal of time working independently, absorbed in deep work to make progress on scholarly and creative pursuits. It is always encouraging to meet with colleagues in your field, share what you have been working on, and receive feedback and reassurance that you are on the right track to advance our field just a little bit more. This award is meaningful to me because it, along with feedback from my students and colleagues, is an encouragement to keep making progress to advance the field of family science in creative ways.”

To learn more about the winners’ unique contributions and innovations, read their full profiles at:


About Cognella®

Cognella® is redefining academic publishing by creating teacher-driven, student-centric higher education course materials in print and digital formats under three imprints: Cognella® Academic Publishing, Cognella® Custom, and Cognella® Active Learning. Cognella also publishes engaging nonfiction titles featuring modern perspectives as Cognella® Press. Learn more at 

About the National Council on Family Relations

The National Council on Family Relations (NCFR), founded in 1938, is the oldest nonprofit, nonpartisan, multidisciplinary professional association focused solely on family research, practice, and education. NCFR members are dedicated to understanding and strengthening families. Members come from more than 35 countries and all 50 U.S. states, and include scholars, professionals, and students in Family Science, Family Life Education, human development, marriage and family therapy, sociology, psychology, anthropology, social work, theology, child development, health, and more.

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