Honoring the ability to change lives

Community colleges provide a pathway to educational and career success for millions of students. This year, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) is honoring three outstanding community college alumni who have made a positive impact on their communities, the nation and the world.

They will be recognized for their achievements at the AACC 99th Annual Convention on April 16 in Orlando, Florida. 

“Community colleges shape the lives of millions of students, no matter their background, helping them reach their educational and career goals. The AACC Outstanding Alumni Awards honor just a few of those students who left our institutions and went on to make an impact on the world,” said AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus. “This year’s Outstanding Alumni are as diverse as community colleges. From a successful businessman, to a selfless health care worker, to an immigrant sharing his culture with the Midwest, these alumni are truly deserving of the term ‘outstanding.’”

Sharing a culture

Hubert “Charles” Ahovissi grew up in the African nation of Benin where he was one of 23 children. Due to a lack of financial resources, Ahovissi only attended school until he was 15. Ahovissi joined a dance school on scholarship and began touring the world in 1986 as a member of the Ballet National of Benin, performing and teaching traditional African dance and drumming. 

During a 1999 visit to Omaha, Ahovissi met the woman who would become his wife. He moved to Omaha permanently in 2000. He soon began to recognize that his passions and skills filled a unique niche in Omaha. No one was providing performance and instruction focused on authentic, traditional African drumming, dance, arts and storytelling in Omaha. Ahovissi became an approved teaching and performing artist with Nebraska and Iowa Arts Councils and began sharing his cultural arts throughout the community.

Ahovissi sought opportunities to complete his formal education to improve his knowledge and turned to Metropolitan Community College in 2002. He started taking English as a second language classes, which led to his completion of an associate degree. In 2006, he founded the nonprofit African Culture Connection, which blends a cultural arts curriculum with the expertise of teaching and performing arts, taking African dance, drumming and culture to performance venues, schools and other organizations throughout Omaha and across the state. 

Ahovissi inspires the students he works with, bringing his passion for African cultural arts and serving as a positive presence in the lives of these students.

Hubert “Charles” Ahovissi with former first lady Michelle Obama.

From Disney busboy to resort president

George A. Kalogridis was hired as a busboy at Disney’s Contemporary Resort in 1971. His busboy position allowed him to pay for courses at Polk State College, where he earned an associate degree. He became part of the original team of Cast Members, which opened Walt Disney World. Today, this 46-year veteran of the company serves as president of Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. 

Through Kalogridis’ visionary leadership, Walt Disney World Resort has embarked on an unprecedented expansion of both attractions, sporting events and philanthropy. In 2017, Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened Pandora — The World of Avatar, which is the largest expansion project since this park opened in 1998. Disney’s Hollywood Studios Theme Park also has two new areas under construction that take guests into the worlds of two of the most successful franchises in the movie industry: Star Wars and Disney-Pixar’s Toy Story. 

Additionally, Kalogridis and his team oversaw the completion and reimagination of Walt Disney World’s retail, dining and entertainment district known as Disney Springs, a four-neighborhood, completely themed area, reminiscent of rustic Florida waterfront towns. 

Register now for the AACC annual convention April 13-16 in Orlando, Florida.

Among the company’s many philanthropy efforts, Disney donated $1 million to the One Orlando Foundation in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub tragedy and provided support for first responders and survivors. Kalogridis serves on the board of trustees of onePULSE Foundation, the nonprofit that works to create a memorial for the tragedy and honor first responders, as well as grants for survivors and victims’ families, and scholarships in the names of the 49 lives lost in the tragedy. 

Kalogridis has never forgotten the education he received at Polk State. He is a member of the Polk State College Foundation President’s Circle, and in 2017 presented Eileen Holden, president emerita, with the Mousecar, Disney’s version of the Academy of Motion Picture’s Oscar.

George A. Kalogridis remains very involved with his alma mater, Polk State College.

On the front lines of emergencies

Kelly Suter is a 2008 graduate of the North Central Michigan College nursing program — one of 15 nurses in her immediate family to have attended the college. She continued her education, earning a master’s degree in 2017. She’s also earned considerable experience as an emergency department nurse and has worked as an emergency response nurse for the International Medical Corps and a medical coordinator and clinical director for Samaritan’s Purse.   

Suter functioned as a nurse team leader and emergency staff nurse in a field hospital during the 2010 earthquake response in Haiti and a regional cholera treatment site manager in Northern Haiti during the 2011 cholera response. In 2014, she was the primary health care coordinator and clinical staff educator in the Malakal refugee camp at the height of the civil war in south Sudan. Most recently, she was a medical coordinator in Ethiopia and an Ebola treatment unit clinical director in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Suter also worked as an emergency health manager of mobile medical units following the earthquake in Nepal and as the program manager of the Ebola preparedness program in Guinea Bissau. 

Closer to home, Suter worked at the International Medical Corps’ corporate office in Washington, D.C., as the senior nurse for the medical planning and preparedness unit and has volunteered with other humanitarian organizations in the Amazon, Mexico, East Timor and Haiti, as well as providing hurricane relief for flooding in Louisiana, Texas and Florida.

Suter has garnered significant national attention. She was featured in a 60 Minutes report in 2014 and in a 2015 issue of Vogue.

Kelly Suter (right) with Ebola survivors.

About the Author

Tabitha Whissemore
is a contributor to Community College Daily and managing editor of AACC's Community College Journal.