Alumni Awards: Professional Achievement Awards

Formerly known as the Emerging Artist Awards

2023 Winners

Leah Claiborne (MM ’14, DMA ’18, piano pedagogy & performance)

Leah Claiborne promotes diversity in the arts by championing piano music by Black composers in her performances, research, and teaching.

She has established the first diversity, equity, and inclusion column for the journal American Music Teacher, where she regularly publishes articles providing resources and support to music educators across the country. Claiborne was recently named the inaugural winner of the Stecher and Horowitz Power of Innovation Award through the Music Teacher National Association for her artistic excellence, pedagogical leadership, nurturing spirit, and community service. This prize is given to a teaching artist under the age of 36 who is making a significant impact in the field of music. In 2023, she was named one of Yamaha’s “40 under 40,” a list of the most influential music educators in America.

Claiborne serves as director of diversity, equity, and inclusion for the Frances Clark Center and is the co-chair of the DEI track for the National Conference of Keyboard Pedagogy. She has performed across the United States, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, and Japan. She is a highly sought-after adjudicator and clinician in national piano competitions. During the 2022–23 academic year alone, she has been an invited guest lecturer for master classes, seminars, and recitals in California, Washington, Michigan, Arizona, Minnesota, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and Washington, DC. Claiborne received early promotion with tenure at the University of the District of Columbia, where she serves as coordinator of keyboard studies and teaches history of African American music.

Thomas Laub (BFA ’19, musical theatre)

Thomas Laub is a creative producer committed to entertainment that tells unapologetically authentic stories and pushes the form forward with creativity, transparency, and innovation.

Laub founded Runyonland Productions in 2018 and, since its inception, has produced over 50 new plays and musicals both on Broadway and across the country. He is the co-founder of Standing Room Theatrical Solutions, a live entertainment revenue agency that promotes accessibility in the arts with data-driven solutions. Select Broadway credits include David Byrne’s American Utopia (Special Tony Award); Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play (Tony nomination); Plaza Suite, starring Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker; Selina Fillinger’s POTUS; and Mike Birbiglia’s newest special, Old Man & the Pool.

Off the stage, Thomas leads the production planning team at Apple TV+, where he manages their global infrastructure strategy. He is passionate about creating art that sparks necessary conversations and building spaces for emerging artists to grow and develop their work, while making a living. A former EXCELerator Fellow, Thomas is proud to support the work done by the EXCEL Lab within SMTD, and he looks forward to collaboratively building structures to promote transparency and financial literacy within the arts industry.

Erika “Red” Stowall (BFA ’08, dance)

Erika “Red” Stowall is an educator, dancer, and choreographer residing in Detroit, Michigan. Stowall is a recipient of the Kresge Artist Fellowship, Applebaum’s Emerging Artist Award, and a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad grant, awarded through the University of Detroit Mercy. Stowall uses her classical training, combined with her background in West African dance, as the foundation of her work. She also enjoys adding her love of mythology, anime, and comic books/graphic novels into her dances.

Many of her works explore her real-life experiences navigating being a Black woman in society. Her work is based on positive portrayal of Black stories and advocating for Black women’s voices. Stowall sees dance as a calling and is passionate about creating performance pieces that invite conversation on safe spaces for women of color, restoration, and positive narrative/images of Black communities. She is currently the dance teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Detroit, her alma mater. Stowall is the founder and current artistic director of Big Red Wall Dance Company, which has been active since 2011.

Past Recipients


Michael Avitabile
Gina Rattan
Briana Ashley Stuart


Lizzie Leopold
Ana Maria Otamendi
Adam Wachter


Emily Berman
Amy Petrongelli
Tara Sheena


Leah Ives
Austin Wulliman
Angela Lewis


Lucy Dhegrae
Stephen Siercks
Dee Tomasetta


Darren Criss
Shannon McGinnis
Ali Woerner & Thayer Jonutz


Matthew Ernst
Ricki Mason
Stephen Sposito


Xan Burley & Alex Springer
Celia Keenan-Bolger
Dominique Morisseau


Rodney A. Brown
Rachel Hoffman
James Wolk


Nadine Balbeisi
Zachary Booth
Kelly Hirina


Juliana Athayde
Nicholas Blaemire
Sean Panikkar


Julie Blume
Xiang Gao
Rachel Laritz


Esther Chae
Jeremy Kittell
Michael Spencer Phillips


Sam Davis
Ben Klein
Matthew Rose


Michael Fabiano
Christopher Jamros
Leyya Tawil


Jesse Blumberg
Miriam Shor
Julie Tice


Hunter Foster
Daniel Bernard Roumain


Damon Gupton