Honoring the 2021 AACC Leadership Award recipients


The American Association of Community Colleges on Thursday presented its Leadership Award during the AACC Digital conference to seven individuals. An annual tradition since 1982, the award is presented to individuals whose accomplishments and professional contributions to the community college field have been outstanding.

This year’s recipients are:

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Dr. R. Eileen Baccus served as president of Northwestern Connecticut Community College (NWCCC). for 12 years. She is now a consultant to higher education institutions and has been involved with the Achieving the Dream (ATD) initiative since its inception. With ATD, Baccus coaches colleges and universities in their efforts to improve the retention and graduation rates of low-income students and students of color.

Prior to NWCCC, Baccus led the former Thames Valley State Technical College for six years, leading up to the merger of the technical and community colleges in Connecticut. In her leadership roles, she created an associate degree program in nuclear engineering technology, a flexible manufacturing laboratory, transformed a college’s physical facilities with updated buildings and equipment, and diversified the academic and workforce offerings.

Baccus was also a longtime employee of the University of Connecticut, serving in various administrative capacities in the division of finance and administration and the School of Education. Baccus has served on numerous boards, commissions and advisory committees for AACC, the American Council on Education, the College Board, arts organizations and the banking industry.

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Dr. Leonardo de la Garza retired as chancellor emeritus of the Tarrant County College District (Texas) in 2009 after 13 years at the post. He served as a community college educator for more than 39 years and was president of Santa Fe Community College in New Mexico and El Paso Community College in Texas. He also was a visiting professor at the graduate schools of the University of Texas at Austin for 21 years and the University of North Texas at Denton for three years.

De la Garza also has served on numerous boards and commissions at the state, national and international levels, including AACC, the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the College Board, the American Council on Education and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

Just a couple of his many higher education service recognitions include the 2011 Distinguished Leadership in Higher Education Award from the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, the 2011 Special Recognition Award and the 25-year Distinguished Service Award from the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education.

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Dr. Charlene Dukes spent more than 40 years as a leader in higher education. She retired in 2020 from her role as president of Prince George’s Community College (PGCC). Dukes is a staunch advocate for student access and success. During her career, she has worked in policy development and implementation, fundraising, organizational development and grantsmanship.

In 2011, President Barack Obama recognized PGCC as a White House Champion of Change for innovative and transformative programing for the Academy for Health Sciences – the first middle college high school in the state of Maryland. PGCC is also known as the home of the National Cyberwatch Center. Under Dukes’ leadership, PGCC was one of the first six community colleges to be designated a 2010-2015 Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance at the two-year level by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency.

Dukes served as chair of the board of directors of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in 2016. She also was coordinator of the Thomas Lakin Institute for Mentored Leadership, secretary and and convener of the Presidents Round Table of Black Community College CEOs between 2009 and 2020.

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Dr. Kenneth Ender is president emeritus of William Rainey Harper College. He currently is a professor of practice in the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research at North Carolina State University, advising and teaching doctoral students in the community college leadership program and assisting with professional development community college presidents in North Carolina.

Over his decade at the helm at Harper, Ender positioned the Illinois college as a leading 21st-century community college by increasing graduation, transfer and certificate completion rates, aligning Harper’s curriculum with high schools, training students for new economy jobs and implementing new accountability and transparency standards.

In 2014, Ender was invited to the White House Summit focused on Increasing Opportunity for Low-Income Students and appointed to the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP 2.0) Steering Committee, which is a work group of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Over his career, Ender served on the board of trustees for College Board and the board of directors of the American Association of Community Colleges, in additional to many other local, state and national organizations.

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Dr. Robert “Squee” Gordon spent more than 45 years in public education, including seven as president of Dawson College in Montreal and 25 as president of Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Toronto. He has taught graduate courses and lectured at many universities, including the University of Toronto, McGill, University of British Columbia, Harvard and the University of Texas.

Gordon has served in leadership roles in Canada and the United States, including president of the Association of Canadian Community Colleges and president of the American-based League for Innovation in the Community College. Among his accolades and achievements, Gordon received the Commemorative Medal for the Golden and Diamond Jubilees of Queen Elizabeth II and the Order of Ontario.

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Dr. Charlene R. Nunley retired as president of Montgomery College (Maryland) in 2007 after eight years, but continues to be an innovative leader. Nunley has developed and is currently coordinating the mentoring program for the Aspen Rising Presidents Fellowship. She also serves as an adjunct professor in the University of Maryland University College’s Doctor of Management in Community College Policy and Administration program, where she has won several outstanding faculty member awards.

A staunch advocate for preserving the open access mission of community colleges, Nunley co-chaired a statewide task force that examined capacity challenges facing Maryland’s public colleges and universities. Her efforts and views on this topic have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, Community College Times, Community College Journal and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

In fall 2005, Nunley was named to the U.S. Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, formed by then U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. Nunley was the only community college representative on the panel.

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Dr. Joyce S. Tsunoda retired in 2004 from the University of Hawai’i Community Colleges system after 38 years of service and leadership. Her last 20 years with the system were as chancellor (retitled vice president for community colleges). She was the first Asian-American woman to serve as leader of a multi-campus community college system.

Retirement didn’t slow Tsunoda down. She continued to serve as an educational bridge between the East and West, focused between the U.S. and Japan. She developed and led communicative English programs at Haukoh University and Seitoku University in Japan. Tsunoda officially “retired” again in 2019, ending a higher education career spanning over 53 years. She is now finishing her father Yukio Nishimura’s biography, First Generation Giant Killer, a reference to his ability to dominate the Yomiuri Giants as a professional baseball player with the Hanshin Tigers.

Tsunoda has served on numerous organizations, including AACC, ACE, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges’ Accrediting Commission for Two-Year Colleges and the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges, and the Inter-Regional Accrediting Commission for the Western Governors University.

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