College of Education and Human Development

Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development

Two OLPD alumni honored with 2023 CEHD Distinguished Alumni Awards

Two Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development (OLPD) alumni were recognized by the College of Education and Human Development at the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Awards ceremony on November 9. The awards honor alumni who have brought distinction to their professions and communities, with recipients spanning a diverse range of academic disciplines and career paths. Yet, all are community builders and leaders who make a positive difference in the lives of children, youth, families, schools, and organizations whose achievements bring honor to the college.

Congratulations to the OLPD recipients Eric Decker and Ronald Salazar Sojo, as well as the rest of the 2023 distinguished alumni.

About the OLPD recipients of the 2023 CEHD Distinguished Alumni Award:

Nicola Alexander, Eric Decker, and Dean Michael Rodriguez

Eric Decker
Eric Decker is a former professional football wide receiver who played in the National Football League for eight seasons. While at the U of M, Eric set a record for single season receptions with 67, a record he broke the next year with 84 receptions, while earning a bachelor’s in business & marketing education and a certificate in human resource development. He was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft. After four seasons with the Broncos, Decker played for the New York Jets for three years, then the Tennessee Titans for one season, retiring in 2018. Eric also played college baseball, and was selected in the Major League Baseball draft by the Milwaukee Brewers and the Minnesota Twins. Today, Eric is co-owner and president of Kittenish, a clothing and accessories company founded by his wife. He has many community involvements, especially with HopeKids, which supports children with cancer and other life-threatening medical conditions, and Fund Recovery, which works in the mental health field.


Nicola Alexander, Ronald Salazar Sojo, and Dean Michael Rodriguez

Ronald Salazar Sojo
Ronald Salazar Sojo is principal of Birch Grove Elementary School for the Arts in the Osseo Area Schools district, with an EdD in educational policy and administration. He started out as a high school science teacher and loved the job, but decided to move into administration to have an impact on a wider range of families, students, staff and community members. Ronald was recently named 2023 Magnet Schools of America’s region IV Principal of the Year, and was a finalist for National Principal of the Year. Salazar is in his fifth year as Birch Grove’s principal, though he has been in school administration for 17 years around Minnesota and the world. Some markers of his success over the last few years include 60% of high risk students making significant growth, 100% of special education students meeting their learning goals, and a new Robotics Saturday Academy for students not making academic progress. Ronald’s international experience includes district-level leadership positions in Kazakhstan, Venezuela, and Mexico. He has an interest in the arts, serving as chair of the Metropolitan Arts Council and dedicating many hours to the Birch Grove school musical. Ronald is a state parks fan, and likes to be involved in politics.

Photo credits: Jairus Davis