Mary Ellen Edmondson Educator of the Year Award

The Mary Ellen Edmondson Educator of the Year Award honors an individual who has provided exceptional service to teaching and/or outreach.

Through the design or use of creative and innovative programs, they have made a profound impact on, or provided an exceptional service to, our profession and/or AFCPE.

They are a mentor who gives back to students or is committed to educating clients.

The winner of this award receives $500.

2023 Mary Ellen Edmondson Educator of the Year,
Dr. Christopher Sneed

Applications for the 2024 Awards are due July 15, 2024

AFCPE endeavors to make our awards process accessible to any and all users. If you require assistance regarding the accessibility of the application, or if you would like to request an accommodation to participate in the application process, please contact us at

Congratulations to past winners of the Educator of the Year Award!

Dr. Christopher Sneed

Dr. Sneed has offered financial and consumer education through The University of Tennessee (UT) for almost two decades. With his research, program development, trainings, and grant procurement, Dr. Sneed has provided exceptional service and profoundly impacted Cooperative Extension and the field of financial education.

2023 Award Nominees

Dr. Jessica Parks, AFC®
Kate Horrell, AFC®

Dr. Axton Betz-Hamilton, AFC®

Dr. Betz-Hamilton is an Assistant Professor and Undergraduate Program Coordinator of Consumer Affairs in the School of Health and Consumer Sciences at South Dakota State University, where her primary research focus is financial abuse within families, including familial identity theft.

She received a PhD in Human Development and Family Studies from Iowa State University.

Axton is an exemplary educator in the field of financial counseling and planning. Her innovative program and curriculum development in the areas of financial counseling, taxation, communication in financial planning, housing, and familial identity theft has made positive impacts on students in the Consumer Affairs program at South Dakota State University as well as the general public.

2022 Award Nominees

Marcy Reyes, AFC®
Ayeesha Green, AFC®
Ambus Hunter, AFC®

Jennifer Wilson, MS, AFC®

Jennifer Wilson, MS, AFC®, is a faculty instructor and Assistant Director of the Personal Finance program within the School of Personal Financial Planning at Texas Tech University. Before Texas Tech, she served three years in AmeriCorps throughout the country, focusing on financial education, counseling, and resource development. Jennifer has extensive experience working with diverse audiences delivering financial awareness presentations, providing one-on-one financial counseling, and teaching financial counseling at the college level.

From AmeriCorps to teaching, Jennifer loves volunteering in the community and bringing her prior work experience into the classroom. She has worked with 500+ students on service-learning projects that have helped raise financial awareness throughout the city of Lubbock. Jennifer is extremely excited about the direction of the PFI Program as she launches a new personal finance course that focuses on teaching students how to use Excel while learning to get their funds up.

2021 Award Nominees

Axton Betz-Hamilton, AFC®
Peggy Olive
Andi Wrenn, AFC®
Dr. Michael Thomas, AFC®
Cindy Stokes, AFC®
Julie Beckham, AFC®
Blain Pearson
LaTonya Parsons, AFC®

2020: Dr. Katherine (Kate) S. Mielitz

Dr. Katherine (Kate) S. Mielitz is an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC®) with over 18 years’ combined experience in Collections, Bankruptcy, Fraud, and Financial Counseling and Education. Dr. Mielitz has provided financial counseling and education to members of our Armed Forces and their families, recovering substance abusers, men transitioning into work-release from prison, families experiencing homelessness, and credit union members of a medium-sized state credit union.

As an Assistant Professor at Oklahoma State University in the Family Financial Planning program, Dr. Mielitz’s students are the primary reason that she loves her job. Her love for her students is reflected in her work—particularly the way she makes the materials come to life in and out of class—and in her dedication to their success in class and in life. In addition to her teaching, she also labors diligently to bring financial literacy and self-efficacy into her community, giving presentations on personal financial management to diverse audiences.

From her research, she developed and wrote financial education curriculum for the Georgia Transitional Centers. She has published primary data research in respected journals and has presented her research at annual conferences for the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE), the American Council on Consumer Interests (ACCI), the American Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS), and the Southern Criminal Justice Association (SCJA). She earned her Ph.D. in Personal Financial Planning from Kansas State University in 2018.

She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Family Financial Planning program in the Department of Human Development and Family Science at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where she lives with her husband Slade, children Kaden and Slaeda, and their four dogs.

2019: Kathy Sweedler

Kathryn Sweedler has provided outstanding education and mentorship during her 13 years with the University of Illinois Extension as a Consumer Economics Educator. Sweedler has recently co-authored Financial Planning for Young Adults, as well as All My Money: Change for the Better. Sweedler also created and manages the Financial Wellness for college students program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Center, using the train-the-trainer model. Sweedler also started a Money Mentor program in Champaign and Vermillion Counties in Illinois. She currently oversees approximately 50 volunteers mentoring low to mid-income individuals. When Sweedler isn’t mentoring or working on curriculum development, you can find her leading the charge for social media education. Sweedler co-started one of the first ever research based educational blogs on personal finance education called “Plan Well, Retire Well” which she just reached her 11th year blogging on. Sweedler also enjoys sharing education through Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, Podcasts as well as Twitter where you can find her @morethancoupons.

2018: Holly Chase

Holly Chase serves as a Financial Education Officer with the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. Ms. Chase has been committed to financial education in practice and as a profession for nearly two decades. In that time, she has trained nearly 2,000 financial education and counseling professionals, social workers, and case managers on different curricula, financial capability core competencies, effective delivery of financial education in group and one-on-one settings, building appropriate money communication skills, and program design in order to expand the reach of financial education. Through her outreach efforts, she has strengthened and enhanced the personal financial knowledge and skills of nearly 2000 consumers. Of special note has been her service as the creator of the agency’s flagship financial education program started in 2012 – Building Your Financial House. She also served as lead author of the Capital Region Ex-offender Support Coalition Reentry Financial Toolkit (top ten financial issues that re-entrants face upon reentry and in their journey to financial stability). Holly’s greatest passion is delivering comprehensive financial education to at-risk audiences. She believes that regardless of one’s current financial circumstances, all people possess the ability to take control of their money and move forward to a solid financial future.

2017: Paul Gobel

In Fall 2005, Paul Goebel was hired by the University of North Texas to transform the concept of financial education into a center for student success. Through his leadership as both an educator and practitioner, the UNT Student Money Management Center became a reality in just one short semester. The program model Paul established at the university represents a national best practice and one of the first dedicated financial education programs on a university campus serving all students regardless of their degree or college affiliation. Paul’s direct impact as an educator can be seen in the faces of the 14,607 students who have sought out coaching services and emergency loan support from Paul and his center to identify creative solutions to the financial obstacles endangering their enrollment. Since establishing the center, more than 96,000 students and community members have become empowered through personal financial education workshops and events offered by the center. Each academic year, Paul and his team offer students more than 200 educational programs. Paul believes his role as an educator is not confined to his campus. Rather he serves to provide exceptional service as an educator to his campus, community, and the nation, including AFCPE®.

2016: Andrew Zumwalt

Andrew Zumwalt is often referred to by clients and colleagues as the “tax man.” He doesn’t work the for the IRS, but he is deeply involved with the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. On campus, he is an instructor in the Department of Personal Financial Planning for two upper level courses, Personal Income Taxation required for CFP® certification and an applied tax course. Students enroll in the Personal Income Taxation course in the fall, and then prepare taxes for low income clients in the spring applied tax course. Over the past eleven years, students on campus have prepared more than 16,000 returns. At the beginning of the spring semester, students are often apprehensive about preparing returns for real people. However, through coaching and experience, students gain self-confidence and begin to enjoy preparing tax returns. On anonymous class evaluations, students report that they value helping others, using the knowledge from their degree before graduation, and gaining experience talking with clients about money. Employers that hire former VITA volunteers report increased satisfaction based on MU alumni-client interactions.

As an Assistant Extension Professor at University of Missouri Extension, he also supports MU Extension Family Financial Education regional specialists across the state in their VITA work through volunteer training, technical assistance, and tax law support. Over the past eleven years, regional specialists and their volunteers have prepared over 54,000 returns, saving clients millions of dollars in preparation costs and allowing for financial education to reach nontraditional Extension clients. In collaboration with colleagues in Missouri and across the US, Andrew helps build and revise curriculum, introduce new technologies and practices, and support the mission of Extension.

Andrew would be unable to manage all of this without support from his colleagues, encouragement from his wonderful wife, Valerie, and the laughter of his 1-year-old son, James.


2015: Ryan Law

Ryan Law has taught financial counseling and planning at the University of Missouri for the past 5 years. During that time he has taught more than 3000 students to better handle their finances through his courses. While heading up the University of Missouri’s Office for Financial Success, the center reached over 22,000 students through workshops and counseling appointments.

Ryan is first and foremost a teacher. He loves being in the classroom educating students on how to be better stewards of their money. Ryan mentors about 15 students per year, helping students become effective financial counselors. As one of these students said, “Ryan doesn’t just care about us as financial counselors – he invites us to his home and we become part of his family.” Ryan has used his teaching skills to provide guidance and materials to help others start student money management centers nationwide.

2014: Alena Johnson, AFC®

“My goal in teaching is to teach complex financial issues in a manner so that students can apply those concepts in their own lives.”

Teacher, mentor, speaker, inspirer – there are many words to describe Alena Johnson and the impact she has had on her students, fellow educators and the larger community. As a lecturer at Utah State University, Alena has taught over 19,000 students through courses in Family Finance, Financial Counseling and Balancing Work and Family; and she has mentored over 200 students choosing to enter careers in the financial field.

University Impact

Alena is passionate about teaching about financial concepts and her enthusiasm is well received by students, community and professional audiences. Alena took the Family Finance class at Utah State University from 80 students to a class of 500 with a waiting list. In 2007 her class was voted as the second most favorite class across the entire campus of USU. Alena has not only helped students learn about good money management practices, she has also taught them how to apply them in their own lives.

AFCPE® & AFC® Professional Impact

Alena has been actively involved with AFCPE® since first attending and presenting at the annual conference in 1999. Since that time she has given twelve presentations at the annual conference. She has also been the chair of the Certification Task Force and an invited member of the strategic planning committee and the job analysis committee. She regularly donates her time as a reviewer for symposium submissions and as a Symposium presider.

Her impact on AFC® professionals has been incredibly important to the organization. As an instructor of the AFC® Webinar Review sessions, her guidance and expertise has helped individuals prepare for and pass the AFC® examinations. She has aided both traditional enrollees in the program and FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellows. In addition, her experience and understanding of the AFC® competencies has allowed her to play an integral role in examination and study guide development and maintenance for the AFC® certification program.

Wide Spread Impact

Alena has created multiple publications to help individuals and educators improve money management skills in themselves and others. These publications have been used by individuals and educators throughout the world. Some examples include:

  • The Step-Down Principle – A simple, effective way to help individuals reduce their expenses incrementally. After its initial presentation in 1999, Alena Johnson’s Step-Down Principle has been used by financial counselors, educators and extension agents throughout the nation.
  • The Financial Checkup – A booklet that guides individuals through an annual financial self-assessment, offering several worksheets to help a person determine their current financial situation, where they want to go and how to get there.
  • Financial Remedies – A companion booklet to The Financial Checkup booklet that helps individuals cure problems discovered while completing their own financial checkup.
  • Financial First Aid – Designed for non-financial professionals to help individuals improve their money management skills. This booklet can be used by marriage and family therapists, clergy, extension agents, social workers and anyone else who encounters financial situations in their own practices.

Alena’s publications are frequently used in University coursework, by eXtension agents and financial counselors, and by therapists and social workers throughout the country. Her impact as an educator is wide spread, and the advice and knowledge she has imparted in her classroom and through her publications continues to impact individuals nationwide


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