The Cruz-Whitehurst Advocacy Award

Dr. Michael Alessandri is the Executive Director of the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD). Dr. Alessandri has been a professor at UM since 1996 and has worked with individuals with autism and their families since 1981 in various capacities.  He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Rochester and obtained his MS and Ph.D. in Psychology from Rutgers University. At the University of Miami, Dr. Alessandri, in addition to his other roles, also serves as the Department of Psychology’s Assistant Chairman for Community Outreach and Engagement.

Over the past 25 years, Dr. Alessandri has worked tirelessly to grow UM-NSU CARD from an organization with one office, three staff, and several hundred clients to a multi-site, multi-disciplinary network serving over 13,000 clients in South Florida.  Recognizing the fact that his clients were quickly moving into adulthood, Dr. Alessandri and his team expanded UM-NSU CARD services to include unique services and programs for teenagers and adults.  Included among these initiatives is a grant funded project aimed at “awakening the autism entrepreneur” which engages adults with autism, their family members, and the business community in efforts to promote innovative and sustainable business models and work opportunities for adults on the autism spectrum. 

Dr. Alessandri has presented, consulted and published internationally on developing appropriate and effective educational programs for students with autism. In addition, he has received numerous research and service grants (totaling over $32 million) and several notable awards within the field including the Autism Society of America’s Wendy F. Miller Autism Professional of the Year Award and National Autism Program of the Year for UM-NSU CARD.

Dr. Alessandri has also received numerous other community service awards, including the March of Dimes Community Excellence in Health Care Award (2007), the Health Services Coalition Outstanding Community Leader Award (2009), and the Parent to Parent Excellence in Family Advocacy Award (2010). He was also named one of the Ronald McDonald House's 12 Good Men (2008) and the Dewar's 12 Man of Distinction (2007). In 2012, he was selected by the Children's Trust as the David Lawrence Champion for Children, one of South Florida’s highest honors for community service.  In 2016, Dr. Alessandri was named the Visionary Leader of the Year by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce; and in 2017, he was recognized by the Dade County Bar Association with the Fostering Inclusion and Diversity Award.  In 2019, Our Pride Academy presented him with the Alesia Cruchley Mogul Community Advocate Award.