Spotlighting our 2023 Outstanding Alumni

Every year, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) honors community college alumni who have gone on to do amazing things. This year, the association will recognize three people who are dedicated to serving their communities – and their country.

AACC will celebrate the 2023 Outstanding Alumni and their colleges at the 2023 AACC Annual in Denver on April 4.

From Wisconsin to Kenya

As a teen, William Campbell’s future was in jeopardy. He’d gotten expelled from three high schools, had been involved in fights, and was charged with burglary and armed robbery.

But with support from his parents, stints in youth detention programs, and guidance from caring instructors, Campbell earned a high school diploma and got a job developing websites.

He also enrolled at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) in Wisconsin where he became an accomplished student and leader. Campbell served as president of the Black Student Union, worked in local elections and became the face of MATC in a branding campaign.

William Campbell and his family pose in 2016 with President Barack Obama, who took departure photos with White House staff. (Photo: Lawrence Jackson/White House)

He earned an associate degree from MATC in 2005, then two bachelor’s degrees from Fisk University and a master’s degree in international relations from Marquette University.

After graduating from Fisk, Campbell was accepted into the Thomas Pickering Foreign Affairs Scholarship program and has served in the U.S. Department of State Foreign Service for the past 13 years.

He was a full-time detailee to the White House National Security Council Staff during the Obama administration and spent seven years in China as a digital economic advisor. He currently works at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.

In February 2022, Campbell was welcomed back to MATC – via Zoom – for an alumni spotlight session. He talked about his time at the college.

“At MATC I learned the lesson of self-advocacy. If you don’t go to bat for yourself, you won’t get to where you want to be or where you need to be,” he told students.

Married and a father, Campbell is a role model to many. He works with Rescue, Release and Restore, a Chicago-based camping experience for Black youth.

“It’s imperative that I pay forward what has been poured into me at MATC, at Fisk, in the city of Milwaukee,” he says. “If I didn’t do that, I would be letting the universe down.”

Affecting change in the public sector

There was a time when Meghan Maury believed higher education was out of reach. At 14, Maury’s mother died. That trauma led to substance use, including heroin addiction and a life of severe instability, living in shelters, in a car and on the streets.

When Maury was 18, an arrest resulted in a term of probation and a requirement to submit to drug screens, which Maury says may have helped usher in their sobriety.

Eventually, that sobriety led to enough stability to consider college. Maury was living in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and had met Holyoke Community College students and graduates.

Meghan Maury (center), senior advisor in the Office of the Director at the U.S. Census Bureau, was among federal officials who spoke last summer at the AACC board of directors’ summer retreat in Washington, D.C. (Photo: AACC)

“I realized maybe I could do it,” Maury said. “It was affordable and right down the street – I had a criminal record, and they didn’t care.”

Maury started out as an accounting major. But an HCC Learning Community (HCC) course changed their direction.

The course examined the history of the LGBTQ movement, social justice, and how social change movements work. That coursework was an awakening for Maury and led them to pursue social justice activism.

Maury went on to law school and landed a job as policy director for the National LGBTQ Task Force. There, they led a campaign to “queer the census,” initiated because the lack of data about the LGBTQ community was a serious problem.

Maury’s work captured the attention of the Biden transition team, which earned them a seat at the table as the administration consulted with advocates for various constituencies.

Now, as senior advisor to the Census Bureau, Maury is a liaison to nonprofits, members of Congress and other stakeholders, providing education about the work of the bureau to make what is complex and technical accessible to everyone.

Maury analyzes data in an effort to improve the lives of people who belong to marginalized groups.

“It feels amazing to be serving this community in this position where I can make real change,” Maury says.

Fighting for justice

Lanessa Owens-Chaplin is doing exactly what she’s meant to be doing in life. 

As a student at Onondaga Community College (OCC), Owens-Chaplin was working full time and living on her own in the Pioneer Homes Public Housing, located directly next to the elevated portion of Interstate 81. During the original build of Pioneer Homes, more than 500 homes and businesses were demolished, destroying a Black community.

Today, Owens-Chaplin is an attorney and the lead counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union, working to make sure the elevated portion of Interstate 81 is replaced with an equitable solution that elevates the voices of the residents who live in the shadows of I-81.

Lanessa Owens-Chapli with her trusty bull horn.

Her desire to pursue a legal career started with a business law class at OCC.

She graduated in 2003 and enrolled at SUNY College at Old Westbury, then earned a law degree at the University of St. Thomas in Miami. After law school, she returned to Syracuse.

In her legal career, she’s served as Legal Counsel to New York State Assemblymember Sam Roberts and then as deputy secretary for the speaker of the assembly. She also founded the William Herbert Johnson Bar Association of Central New York, the only minority bar association in the region.

Her focus has been on criminal justice reform and anti-poverty initiatives.

And the Interstate 81 project has been the main focus of her current professional life as lead counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union. Thanks to her efforts, New York State has ruled that the elevated portion of I-81 will be coming down.

Her work led Sen. Kristen Gillibrand to recommend Owens-Chaplin for the Advisory Committee on Transportation Equity within the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Owens-Chaplin still visits OCC and speaks with students. In 2021, the college named her an “Alumni Face” honoree.

She said the honor is “a reminder to students who walk the very halls I did that their opportunities are limitless.”

About the Author

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