Scanlan Center for School Mental Health
Two awardees

Shining Stars: Meet the 2023 Iowa School Mental Health Awardees


Today, the Scanlan Center for School Mental Health, the state’s hub for school-based mental health research, training, professional development, and clinical services, announced the 2023 Iowa School Mental Health Awardees at the Iowa BEST (Behavioral, Equitable, Social-Emotional, Trauma-Informed Health in Schools) Summit in Des Moines, Iowa.

The awards program recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to cultivating a positive mental health culture within an Iowa PreK-12 school, district, or Area Education Agency (AEA).

“As we aim to spotlight what success and progress look like, it is imperative that we tell these powerful school mental health stories and lift up leaders who are truly making a difference,” said Allison Bruhn, executive director for the Scanlan Center for School Mental Health. “Our two honorees are models of courage and innovation, setting the bar for mental health and well-being in Iowa’s K-12 schools.”

The Iowa School Mental Health Hero Award honors an educator or practitioner for their defining contribution to school mental health in Iowa. This individual has demonstrated exemplary leadership and commitment to expanding, promoting, and strengthening mental health and wellness supports within their school, district, or organization resulting in positive outcomes. The recipient of this award has been instrumental in helping students, educators, and/or school staff reach a heightened level of well-being (e.g., physical, mental, spiritual, and behavioral).

The Mental Health Influencer of the Year Student Award tributes a visionary youth leader who lends their voice and talents to advancing mental health awareness and initiatives. This student’s efforts have influenced decision-makers or policymakers to expand mental health supports within their school, district, region, or state. To qualify for this award, a nominee had to be enrolled in one of Iowa’s PreK-12 schools during the 2022-23 school year.

This year’s awardees are:

2023 Iowa School Mental Health Hero

Michelle Edwards, Secondary School Counselor, Cardinal Community School District (Eldon, Iowa)

For the past nine years, Michelle Edwards has been a Secondary School Counselor at Cardinal Community School District in Eldon, Iowa. Cardinal Community School District serves 1,000+ students in PreK-12.

Per her nominator and colleagues, Michelle exemplifies what it means to be an advocate for students. She is a school mental health “go-getter” and is always pushing for more and better supports, including on-site therapy, mental health screening for 7th-11th graders, the launch of a student recharge room, Mental Health Awareness Week activities and community outreach, family education nights, and the addition of Mo, a 2-year Goldador therapy dog currently in training.

Edwards also leads and, in many cases created, mental health-focused teams at Cardinal to fully engage school/district staff, AEA, community partners, and students including the Student Assistance Teams in the middle and high school, the Building Mental Health Leadership Team, and is currently facilitating a Stronger Community grant aimed at engaging and educating the community about local resources. 

Edwards earned a Master of Science in Education in School and Mental Health Counseling from Buena Vista University and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Columbia College. She currently holds a temporary Mental Health Counseling license and is working towards a full licensure status. 

A group of four people

2023 Mental Health Influencer of the Year Student Award

Rylee Lueken, Prairie High School (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

Rylee Lueken, former president of her high school’s Green Bandana Project club, is the 2023 Mental Health Influencer of the Year Student Award honoree.

Lueken, nominated by school counselor Angela Amunson, served on the Green Bandana Project leadership team for three years, helping elevate Prairie High School’s mental health supports to new heights. A few initiatives Lueken helped steward included the creation of mental health toolkits to help students manage school-related emotions as well as mental health awareness posters and window stickers displaying positive affirmations and crisis support resources.

Additionally, Lueken was passionate about training others in suicide prevention. Hoping to catalyze a ripple effect across the community and inspire others to get trained, she organized and partnered with a local non-profit to offer QPR training for staff, students, and community members. As a result of this training, the district is now considering continuing to offer QPR training to high school staff this year.

Lueken’s leadership also extended into the community. She was instrumental in planning Strike Out the Stigma, an outreach initiative focused on bringing important conversations about mental health to the forefront. On May 7-8, more than 2,000 people attended Strike Out the Stigma which featured guest speakers, a high school baseball/softball tournament, and a resource area. Lueken assembled more than 30 local community resources and services to set up booths and activities.

Lueken currently attends the University of Iowa, majoring in Sociology with a Pre-Law focus.

Person receiving award