Focused on our 2024 Outstanding Alumni

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Each 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. (See their profiles, below.)

AACC will celebrate the 2024 Outstanding Alumni and their colleges at AACC 2024 in Louisville, Kentucky, at the closing brunch event on April 9.

Changing his career direction

Dr. Carl Allamby went from a successful mechanic to a medical doctor, all with the help of his local community college.

Allamby started at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) as a teenage entrepreneur, fresh out of high school and already living on his own. He enrolled at the Ohio college to learn about auto repair, taking classes at night and working during the day.

His goal was to open his own auto repair shop — a feat he accomplished when he was only 19 years old.

Dr. Carl Allamby

For 25 years, Allamby operated two shops. Along the way, he enrolled in a night class program at Ursuline College to sharpen his business skills. A required biology course awakened his childhood dream of becoming a doctor.

But before diving into medical school, Allamby returned to Tri-C, taking science courses to be sure he could handle the material. He earned straight A’s.

Allamby enrolled in Cleveland State University, and eventually landed a spot at Northeast Ohio Medical University. He graduated from medical school at the age of 47 and started his emergency medicine residency. He’s now an attending physician at Cleveland Clinic’s Hillcrest Hospital.

In 2019, Allamby was named one of the physicians of the year by Medscape.

A master multitasker, Allamby is also a flight physician for the MetroHealth System and an instructor for Advanced Trauma Life Support. And as a motivational speaker, he shares his story with others across the country.

Never forgetting where he got his start, Allamby has taken on the role of cheerleader for Tri-C. For him, Cuyahoga Community College has been a family affair. Five of his siblings have attended the college. One of his sons graduated from the Tri-C Fire Academy and EMT training programs.

To give back, Allamby records spots to promote the college. He also supports the Citizens for Cuyahoga Community College, which encourages voters to support ballot issues that benefit the college.

The college’s tagline is “Where futures begin.” At Tri-C, Allamby’s future began twice.

Sky-high ambitions

On June 4, 2022, Katya Echazarreta became the first Mexican-born and youngest female astronaut aboard the Blue Origin NS-21 mission. She was 26.

Her seat in a six-person crew was sponsored by Space for Humanity. She was selected
from more than 7,000 applicants in over 100 countries.

That mission advanced her own personal mission to provide representation for women and minorities in STEM fields.

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Echazarreta moved to the United States at the age of seven. She became a breadwinner for her family at 18, working a job at McDonald’s.

Katya Echazarreta

This set the stage for her legend to be launched at San Diego City College, where she was empowered by the learning culture in the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement Program. Echazarreta earned a 2016 Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship and went on to earn her electrical engineering degree from UCLA.

Her passion for space led her to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where she worked on five missions, including the Mars rover. And she’s not done learning. She’s completing a master’s program at Johns Hopkins University.

As a social media influencer, Echazarreta uses her journey as a woman in STEM to help others achieve their goals. Her message is resonating around the world, especially in Mexico. She addressed its congress to advocate for the advancement of a space program for Mexico. The country passed a constitutional reform to make space activities a national priority. Echazarreta also launched a Space Foundation to sponsor space camps for students across Mexico.

Because of her leadership and advocacy, in 2022, she was selected as a Glamour Mexico Woman of the Year and named one of the top 100 most powerful women in Mexico by Forbes Mexico.

She has a fire station named in her honor and has received two honorary doctorates. And an astronaut Barbie was created in her image in celebration of the 2023 International Women’s Day.

Echazarreta’s remarkable achievements are an inspiration for all and an encouragement to students to dream big.

Advocating for herself

Kayla McKeon’s life has mirrored her favorite quote: “She believed she could, so she did.”

McKeon is a fierce advocate for those who are differently abled. It’s what led her to become the first registered lobbyist in United States history with Down Syndrome. She also became a spokesperson and manager of grassroots advocacy for the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) and helped them get vital legislation passed in Congress.

She was named NDSS’s 2016 Self-Advocate of the Year.

Kayla McKeon

And McKeon did these things while enrolled at Onondaga Community College (OCC) in New York. She first came to OCC in 2010 as part of the College for Living program which supports students with intellectual disabilities. McKeon started with sign language classes and decided to stay at the college, earning her associate degree in 2022.

During those 12 years at OCC, McKeon also interned with U.S. Rep. Jared Katko (R-New York). And she completed an MIT Management Executive Education program, focusing on leadership in the digital age.

When she’s not changing laws or in the classroom, McKeon is a Special Olympics New York athlete. She won medals at the games in both Athens, Greece, and Orlando, Florida.

McKeon’s national role led to a high-profile collaboration with toy manufacturer Mattel. And in April 2023, millions watched her appearance on Good Morning America when she unveiled a new Barbie Doll with Down Syndrome.

McKeon is also an inspirational public speaker. She says, “I hope my story encourages current and future students, especially with disabilities, and shows them the sky is the limit if they put in the work and don’t let anyone squash their dreams.”

About the Author

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