Skip to main content

A last-minute school assembly called to discuss the results of a recent student survey caught Claire Reintgen Smullen ’08 a bit off guard. Nonetheless, the middle school art teacher at Stuart-Hobson Middle School sat in the auditorium surrounded by some of her students who have special education needs as they listened to State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang and Washington, D.C., Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee talk about quality teaching.

“I kind of figured something was up about 10 seconds before Mr. (Michael) Milken went onto the stage, and then everything just became surreal at that moment,” Smullen says. Milken, who is the President and Co-Founder of the Milken Family Foundation, announced to the audience of educators and students that Smullen was a 2019 recipient of a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for her outstanding dedication to quality teaching. She was one of only 40 teachers nationwide to receive recognition for the 2019-20 academic year, and the only one in Washington, D.C.

“I was a graphic designer for a few years and worked at a giant firm. I loved the art, but I didn’t like being so disconnected from people. I came to a point in my life where I reflected on what I enjoyed, and I kept coming back to the camps that I used to work during the summers and working with children.”

Smullen returned to school to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching from the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at The George Washington University. She has been a teacher at Stuart-Hobson for four years. “Teaching — even with the long hours and overloaded schedule — is so rewarding for me. It was definitely the right decision for me.”

She credits Marietta College faculty Jolene Powell and Beth Nash for giving her the confidence she needed to follow her passion for art and pursue an education in it.

“I am not surprised at Claire receiving the Milken Educator Award because she remains one of the best people I’ve had the pleasure of teaching in my 20-year career,” Powell says. “Although she was a skilled graphic designer, she always held true to her studio art roots. Arts education is critical in contemporary curriculum for many social and academic reasons, and I’m so pleased Claire followed her curiosity and became such an important educator — one that I am proud to call an alum.”