Cal State L.A. honors distinguished educational leaders

Five Los Angeles-area residents who have demonstrated an exemplary passion to building a global community of inclusion in which all children can be successful will be honored on Nov. 14 at Cal State L.A. 25th Annual Distinguished Educator Award Dinner.

Susanna Contreras Smith (La Verne resident), Susan Kumar (Hidden Hills-Calabasas resident), Ken Fong and Ei Akiko Fong (Rosemead residents), and Diane Fazzi (La Canada resident) model a commitment to educational leadership and community service.

The event is sponsored by the Friends of the Charter College of Education at Cal State L.A. and will be held at the University’s Golden Eagle Ballroom, beginning with a reception and silent auction at 5 p.m. and dinner at 6 p.m.  For a campus map, click here.

Distinguished Educator Award:

Susanna Contreras Smith is superintendent of education for the Montebello Unified School District. She is a respected educational leader recognized for her visionary work and collaborative approach. Smith’s 40-year career in education includes her appointment as superintendent of education at Montebello Unified School District and roles in administration and teaching from primary school to community college. Smith earned her bachelor’s degree, teaching credential, master’s degree and administrative credential from Cal State L.A. She serves on the executive board of The Whole Child, a non-profit organization that provides counseling and therapeutic treatment to children experiencing developmental, psychological, behavioral, social and family problems. She was raised in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles and graduated from Garfield High School.

Distinguished Community Service Award:

Susan Kumar is the founder and director of the Center for Autism and Related Services and United Children’s Learning Academy, as well as founder of New Horizons Charter Academy. Kumar began her educational career working for the Los Angeles Unified School District. A Cal State L.A. alumna, Kumar has been recognized for her passion for developing educational strategies for students with special needs. She led an effort in Sept. 2013 to launch the New Horizons Charter Academy in North Hollywood.  Kumar’s Center for Autism and Related Services serves more than 100 clients across the Los Angeles area. The United Children’s Learning Academy in North Hollywood opened in 2011.

Distinguished Community Service Award:

Ken Fong and Ei Akiko Fong have been active members of the Japanese-Speaking Parents Association of Children with Challenges for the past 20 years. The association has provided support in Japanese to help parents navigate laws, social services, and cultural differences associated with disabilities in the United States. For the past five years, the association has produced “Miraclecats,” a performance-arts show by special needs children. The couple’s daughter Hikaru, a Cal State L.A. student, has a leading role as a vocalist in the show. Ken volunteers as the stage designer, and Ei volunteers as the make-up and costume designer. Ei is principal face designer at Mattel. Ken co-founded and managed a licensing start-up company called LifeSpace Art. They both majored in illustration at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

Distinguished Service Award:

Diane Fazzi is the associate dean for the Charter College of Education at Cal State L.A. She has been an educator for the past 30 years and was hired at Cal State L.A. in 1992 as a faculty member in the Visual Impairments Program. Fazzi has taught courses to graduate students preparing to serve as teachers of students with visual impairments and as orientation and mobility specialists. Fazzi has been instrumental in raising more than $8 million in federal grants to support these programs. She was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006 and reappointed in 2012 by Gov. Jerry Brown to serve on the California Advisory Commission on Special Education. She was the commission chair in 2013-14. Fazzi is also on the National Program Committee and a Trustee for the American Foundation for the Blind. She completed her Ph.D. in special education from the Cal State L.A.–UCLA Joint Doctoral Program.


The Friends of the Charter College of Education is a group of alumni, educators and community members who support scholarships for students in Cal State L.A.’s teacher-preparation and school administrator programs and other activities.

All proceeds from the awards dinner will support the Friends’ Scholarship Endowment and Faculty Development funds

For additional details on the awards, call the Cal State L.A. Charter College of Education Development Office at (323) 343-4300.

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Cal State L.A. is a university dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good. Founded in 1947, the University is home to over 23,000 active students, and 235,000 distinguished alumni, who are as diverse as the city we serve. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, Cal State L.A. has long been recognized as an engine of economic and social mobility. Led by an award-winning faculty, the University offers nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education and the humanities.


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