November 29, 2023

Meet the Greater Irvine Chamber’s 2023 Distinguished Educators

Educators and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) programs from greater Irvine were honored during the Greater Irvine Chamber’s 2023 Distinguished Educators awards event held at the Hilton Irvine on Nov. 16.

“The Greater Irvine Chamber celebrates Irvine’s world-class education as part of what helps the city live up to its promise as a model master-planned community. The quality of education throughout the greater Irvine area helps to sustain economic vitality in the region by ensuring the continuation of a highly skilled workforce,” said Bryan Starr, president and CEO, Greater Irvine Chamber. “Our world-class schools, colleges, and universities are vital community partners. We commend all our talented and committed educators and the programs they lead.”

Meet the Honorees:


Ben Case - Art Department Chair & Instrumental Music Director, Northwood High School

Recognized as one of only five 2023 California Teachers of the Year, Case has served for 18 years as Instrumental Music Director at Northwood High School. Under his leadership, the school is a seven-time National GRAMMY Signature School, a distinction bestowed to the top U.S. public high schools making an outstanding commitment to music education.  Also, a guest conductor, clinician, and presenter, Case earned his master’s and bachelor’s degrees from California State University, Fullerton.  


Dr. Margaret Moodian - Associate Professor, School of Arts and Sciences, University of Massachusetts Global

Dr. Moodian serves on the Journey School Board of Directors, the Capistrano Unified School District’s Local Control and Accountability Plan committee and Cultural Proficiency task force, and is the Board President of TIAS ARMS, which supports children affected by HIV/AIDS in South Africa. She holds a doctorate in education and a master’s in psychology from Pepperdine University and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Chapman University.


Dr. Susanne Phillips - Senior Associate Dean and Clinical Professor, UCI Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing, University of California, Irvine

A published author of research articles and a national and international presenter, Dr. Phillips has more than 25 years of experience as a nurse practitioner delivering primary care in community and academic practice settings. She has been recognized as a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing for her academic and health policy contributions. She holds a doctorate in nursing practice from Yale University and served as the president of the California Board of Registered Nursing under the Schwarzenegger Administration.


Fadel N. Lawandy, CAIA - Director, C. Larry Hoag Center for Real Estate and Finance; Director, Janes Financial Center; Associate Professor, Finance and Real Estate, Chapman University

A renowned presenter for Chapman University’s A. Gary Anderson Economic Forecast and regularly published author in numerous news outlets, Lawandy is President of the Chartered Financial Analyst Society Orange County, a member of the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst Association, and the incoming Chairman of the investment committee of the Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons of California. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Norwich University and a Bachelor of Science in business from Chapman University.


Dr. Patricia Beckmann-Wells - Professor, School of Fine Arts, Irvine Valley College

Dr. Beckmann-Wells is a consultant for the Epic Games Metahuman project and for Pixar on Informed Identity character design. Her career includes leadership roles at DreamWorks SKG, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and Savannah College of Art and Design, with her films premiering at venues like Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Slamdance. She holds a doctorate in education and a Master of Fine Arts from University of Southern California.


Rob Blaney - University High School

Before joining the faculty at University High School in 2021, Blaney taught at Woodbridge High School, where under his leadership, the vocal music program grew from three choirs to six and in 2016 was named a National GRAMMY Signature School. Previously, he worked as a professional pianist and vocal coach in Los Angeles recording studios and has directed over 300 musicals in southern California. He holds a master’s degree from University of Phoenix and a bachelor’s degree in art from Concordia University Irvine.


University Lab Partners

University Lab Partners empowers economic development and job creation in Orange County by combining a state-of-the-art life science co-working environment with educational opportunities for life science entrepreneurs and students. Since 2019 through its incubation activities, ULP’s resident companies have created over 700 high-paying, sustainable wage jobs and raised over $300M. As these companies are creating jobs, ULP's educational programs serve as a catalyst to develop the next generation of diverse life science talent. ULP has served over 1,400 students through exploratory career days connecting STEM professionals to K-12 Classrooms, field trips to ULP’s state-of-the-art research and development laboratory, and hands-on experiences to acquire in-demand biotechnology laboratory skills. 


National Science Foundation S-STEM Scholarship Program - Irvine Valley College

Since Fall 2019, Irvine Valley College has partnered with UCI to award 74 total scholarships funded by the NSF S-STEM Scholarship Program. The goal of the program is to increase the number of low-income transfer students who can graduate with an bachelor’s degree in engineering and enter the STEM workforce or graduate school.  Activities through this program include a summer bridge program, advising, peer and faculty mentoring, academic and career workshops, and opportunities for industry and research internships.


Portola High School Engineering Department

The Engineering Department at Portola High School, established in 2019, nurtures future engineers, particularly those from underrepresented populations in the field of engineering. The department offers an introduction to engineering design, for students to consider engineering as a profession; principles of engineering, for students to explore different fields in engineering; aerospace engineering, for students who have an interest in planes, rockets, or space, and two robotics clubs that have produced award-winning robotics teams.

Irvine Forward Foundation (IFF) scholarships presented during the program were:

  • Irvine Forward Foundation Community Scholarship recipient: Elizabeth Bank
  • John Colvin Memorial Scholarship recipients: Arjun Adabir and Neil Pal
  • Lt. Col. Thomas U. Wall Memorial scholarship recipient:  Joshua Ochoa

Concordia University Irvine presented the Greater Irvine Chamber 2023 Distinguished Educators event along with Award Sponsor University of California, Irvine and Corporate Sponsor City of Hope Orange County, and hosted tables by Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange CoastChapman UniversityCox CommunicationsFirst BankFivePointGreater Newport PhysiciansIrvine Valley CollegeOffice of Supervisor Katrina Foley, and Parker Aerospace.

In addition to Greater Irvine Chamber President & CEO Bryan Starr and Executive Vice President and IFF Executive Director Jessica Welch, IOM, ACE, presenting on stage were Concordia University Irvine President Michael Thomas, Ph.D., Irvine Unified School District Superintendent Terry Walker, Dean of UCI School of Nursing Mark Lazenby, Team Kids CEO & founder Julie Hudash, and The Webb Group co-founder & advisor Joan Webb.

For more information about Greater Irvine Chamber events and sponsorship opportunities, contact Courtney Nakagawa.

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