A special year for the AACC Awards of Excellence

With a focus on student success, diversity, safety, business growth and leadership, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) 2021 Awards of Excellence had a different vibe because of the categories’ direct relation to addressing aspects of the pandemic, social unrest and economic turmoil.

Although AACC this year didn’t hold its traditional gala to honor the award recipients, the energy was still there when William Serrata, AACC board chair and president of El Paso Community College in Texas, announced the winners in a remote presentation on Thursday during the closing day of AACC Digital, the association’s online convention.

Tulsa Community College (Oklahoma) received the top honor in two categories: Student Success and also Community College Safety, Planning and Leadership. President Leigh Goodson touted the work of faculty and staff for their contribution toward student success, particularly during the pandemic. And she gave students special kudos: “We may award the degrees, but they earn them.”

In regards to its efforts on safety, Goodson said it has been a multi-year effort with investments in key safety leadership positions that proved to be “game-changing” in keeping on-campus Covid transmissions at bay.

Amarillo College President Russell Lowery-Hart posts on Twitter a selfie with the Amarillo team after receiving an AACC Award of Excellence.

Joliet Junior College won in the category of Advancing Diversity. President Judy Mitchell briefly outlined the college’s decision to focus more on diversity, from recruiting and hiring, to retention and advocacy, and more. After careful reflection and realizing it was missing “shear vulnerability,” JJC last summer provided more opportunities for students and employees to express and share their experiences, which have served to strengthen the college, Mitchell said.

Amarillo College (Texas) has drawn national attention for its “culture of caring,” especially in serving students during the pandemic. But President Russell Lowery-Hart noted its success comes from leadership support of the efforts. The college received the award in the category of Exemplary Board/CEO Relationship.

Essix Miskel, a process operations technology instructor at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College who received the award for Faculty Innovation, said he strives for continuous improvement, which includes finding ways to make it easier for students to understand material, which can be challenging. The end goal is to ensure students learn the skills needed to work in local industries.

College of DuPage in Illinois received top honors for Outstanding College/Corporate Partnership. Innovation DuPage unites start-ups and small businesses with the necessary people, resources and programs to support growth, said President Brian Caputo. Since its inception in 2019, the business incubator and accelerator has formed nearly 50 partnerships with organizations from industry, government, academia and two U.S. Energy Department nation labs, he said. It also has incubated 70 companies, conducted five accelerator cohorts and creating more than 400 mentorship opportunities for students.

Here are all the finalists for the 2021 AACC Awards of Excellence.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.