Each year, the Educators Advisory Board (EAB) selects the Top 3 Voya Unsung Heroes winners out of a group of 100 finalists. Read below to find out more about these renowned educators and administrators from across the country.

Back row, L to R: William Robinson, Shawn DeNight, Randy James, 
On bench, L to R: Aline Yee Grossman, Sarah Pratt, Debrah Fordice

Shawn Eric DeNight, Ph. D

Dr. Shawn Eric DeNight is an English and journalism teacher at Miami High School in Miami, FL, and is a National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent/Young Adult English and Language Arts. Winner of the College Board's Costas Writing Award for Effective Teaching of Writing in 2012 and the Nike/Jordan Fundamentals Teacher Grant in 2002, a member of the USA Today’s All-American Teacher team in 2000, and the Florida Department of Education’s State Teacher of the Year in 1995, DeNight has also served on advisory panels for Prentice Hall Publishers, Holt McDougal Publishers, and the Educational Testing Service.

As an educational consultant, Mr. DeNight facilitates at the University of Miami Glazer-Lorton Summer Writing Institute and has served as an assessor as well as a teacher candidate mentor for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. 

Dr. DeNight’s educational background includes a B.A. in Liberal Studies from Florida International University (1985), and an M.S. and Ph.D. in English Education from the University of Miami (1990 and 1994).

Dr. DeNight has added the reading endorsement to his professional teaching certificate and in 2015 was selected to participate in the American Society of Newspaper Editors Reynolds Institute for high school journalism teachers.

Debrah Jean Fordice

Dr. Fordice was the 1st Place Winner of the very first Unsung Heroes awards, earning top honors for her innovative language arts program that paired 6th graders with local nursing home residents. She presently is the Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor of Education at Clarke University in Dubuque, IA.

Prior to her current teaching position, Ms. Fordice was the Chair of the Education Department at Luther College in Decorah, IA. Before working in higher education, Ms. Fordice taught K-12 vocal music as well as second, fourth, and sixth grade for the Dubuque Community School District. She was an Expeditionary Learning School designer and instructional guide for Midwest Region elementary, middle, and high schools, and also a facilitator of the Service Learning Summit for Expeditionary Learning Outbound, U.S.A.

In addition to her Unsung Heroes Award, Ms. Fordice earned the Leadership Award for Phi Delta Kappa in 1996 and was a Gold Star Teaching Finalist in 1998.

Ms. Fordice’s educational background includes a B.A. in Elementary Education and Music from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa (1982), an M.A.E. in Educational Leadership from the University of Northern Iowa (2001), and a Doctor of Education Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Northern Iowa (2008).

Aline Yee Grossman

Ms. Grossman is currently retired but volunteering in the educational community of Ventura, California. Prior to retiring she was a Spanish and Italian teacher at Ventura High School.  In June, 2012 Ms. Grossman was awarded the Outstanding Educator Award for the Ventura Unified Education Association and she was also inducted into the Hall of Fame for Ventura High School educators. In addition, Ms. Grossman was named Ventura County Teacher of the Year and California State Teacher of the Year in 1994. She also was listed in ‘Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers’ in 1996.

Her previous teaching experience includes 5th grade bilingual teaching at Will Rogers Elementary School in Ventura. She also taught preschool and kindergarten.

Ms. Grossman has extensive international work experience, having taught dance in England, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Finland. She also served as an Italian interpreter for Sitmar cruises and worked as a Montessori school aide in Mexico. She was Program Coordinator with Sugar Ray Robinson’s Youth Foundation in Los Angeles.

As one of her volunteer projects this year, Ms. Grossman judged short stories written by Indigenous women in Guatemala for the group Xela-Aid.  These wonderful women are also in the process of learning Spanish.  In addition, Ms. Grossman has graciously provided comments in Spanish for the writers, synopses in English for the Board, and prizes.

Ms. Grossman’s educational background includes a B.A. in English and Italian literature from U.C.L.A. (1974), study abroad at the Universita di Padova, Italy (1972-1973) and Universite d’Aix en Provence, France (1976), and a Teaching Credential from California State College of Northridge in 1990.

Randy C. James

The Voya Unsung Heroes awards program is the brainchild of Mr. James, who has held prominent positions in both the education and corporate fields. A former high school and college instructor, former Chairman and CEO of Bank of America, Oregon James worked with Voya  to develop the awards program in 1995.

Mr. James’s extensive resume includes:

Founding director of the University of Washington Executive MBA program

Instructor at the University of Washington Business School and Seattle Pacific University

President and instructor at Pacific Coast Banking School

Worldwide Director of Marketing for Bank of America

Vice Chairman of Seafirst Bank

Mr. James was asked by the FDIC to take over a troubled community bank in Seattle, Washington named Regal Financial Bank.  He became a principle shareholder of the bank along with the title of Chairman and CEO.  Over seven years he turned the business bank into a profitable bank, grew the portfolio and developed an outstanding team of bankers.  At the end of 2014 he successfully negotiated the sale of the bank after removing all regulatory orders and demonstrating the viability of the bank.  Mr. James now works with other bankers and directors developing sound banking strategies for their success.

Mr. James has been an active fundraiser for the arts, leading several campaign drives for major arts and community organizations, including the Seattle Repertory Theater and the San Francisco United Way.

Mr. James obtained his degree in communications and a teaching certificate from the University of Washington (1969). 

Sarah Pratt

Ms. Pratt is Volunteer Coach for the North Carolina New Schools Project. Among her many accomplishments, she has been selected for ‘Who’s Who in America’ (2004), the National Teachers’ Hall of Fame (1996), and was North Carolina State Teacher of the Year (1993-1994). She became a Fellow of the Federal Institute of Educational Leadership in 1995. She is currently a member of the North Carolina Educators’ Association. In addition, she served as chair of the Governor’s Advisory Board for North Carolina Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. and also served on North Carolina Governor Easley’s Governor’s Education First Task Force.

Prior to her current position, Ms. Pratt was the Personnel Director for McDowell County Schools and Director of the Accelerated Learning Center in Marion. She also worked for the North Carolina State Department of Education as a consultant with the Educator-on-Loan Program. She taught High School English, drama and speech at McDowell High School, Durham County Schools, and Pasadena Independent Schools.

Ms. Pratt received her B.A. in Theater Arts from Catawba College (1977) and her M.A.T. with a concentration in English Education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1983).

William P. Robinson

Dr. Robinson is currently the President Emeritus of Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, where he served as president for 17 years. Previously he served as president of Manchester College in Indiana.

Throughout his career, Dr. Robinson has been a teacher, speaker, and community leader focusing on organizational, cross-cultural, and interpersonal communication. He is a past chair of the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce and a founding co-chair of the Higher Education Leadership Group of Spokane. Dr. Robinson serves on a variety of boards including Princeton Theological Seminary where he serves as board chair.

Dr. Robinson received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa, his master’s degree from Wheaton College, and his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh. He also studied at Princeton Theological Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute.

In 2002 he published a book entitled Leading People from the Middle: The Universal Mission of Mind and Heart (Executive Excellence) and in 2009 he published Incarnate Leadership (Zondervan).