Three Members Win NCAN's 2014 Awards of Excellence

September 16, 2014
By Amina Anderson Pringle, Member Services Manager

At its national conference in Phoenix yesterday, NCAN recognized three members with its annual Awards of Excellence in College Access and Success.

The NCAN Board of Directors created the Awards of Excellence to recognize exceptional performance in college access organizations, staff, and executive or board leadership. All nominators and nominees must be NCAN members or board members in good standing. The nominees were reviewed by a committee comprised of NCAN member organizations with final decisions made by the NCAN Board of Directors

This year’s awards are sponsored by USA Funds, whom NCAN thanks for continuing to recognize college access and success leaders in the field. 

College Access Organization Award of Excellence
Robert and Janice McNair Educational Foundation
Forest City, NC

The Robert and Janice McNair Educational Foundation was established in 1989 by Robert and Janice McNair in Rutherford County, North Carolina, Mr. McNair's childhood home. Their goal was to create an organization that worked in collaboration with the local school system to prepare students academically for college, to provide assistance to students with the college-going process, and to find financial aid for college. Over the years, program focus expanded to include additional college readiness activities at all grade levels. Recently the Foundation has expanded programs to include all three traditional public high schools in Rutherford County Schools. The Foundation's programs currently serve all students grades 9-12 in the three high schools as well as select groups of students in three feeder middle schools and three feeder elementary schools, totaling approximately 2,800 students annually.

Now in its 25th year, the partnership between the Robert and Janice McNair Educational Foundation and Rutherford County Schools (RCS) has evolved into a true collaborative effort. The Foundation offices are located in each school in space provided by the school system. RCS and the Foundation have an information-sharing agreement that allows Foundation staff access to student level data, which, in turn, informs Foundation programming. Additionally, Foundation data and evaluation results are shared with RCS to inform district and school level planning and evaluation.

The most significant program provided by the Foundation is the Mentor Program, which currently serves the three traditional high schools. Approximately 190 adults volunteer as academic mentors for our high school students. Every student in each high school is assigned a mentor at the beginning of the freshman year. The mentors meet with students individually throughout their high school career to review the students' grades, course selection, attendance, behavior, and college readiness activities such as SAT-ACT registration, college and scholarship research, and application completion. Mentors encourage the students to take the most rigorous courses, maintain grades and complete the necessary actions to meet college admissions requirements.

The College Access Organization Award of Excellence recognizes the work of a college access/success program that is committed to college access and success so that all students, especially those underrepresented in postsecondary education, can achieve their educational dreams. The winner receives $5,000 toward general operating support, scholarships, and/or professional development, generously sponsored by USA Funds.

Executive Leadership Award of Excellence
Brandy Johnson, Michigan College Access Network
Lansing, MI

Ms. Johnson is the founder and executive director of the Michigan College Access Network, founded in 2010 to increase college readiness, participation, and completion statewide, particularly among low-income students, first-generation college-going students, and students of color. Her leadership has resulted in a state legislative appropriation to support college access and success; the development of almost 50 local college access networks; statewide campaigns for College Application Week, FAFSA completion, and Decision Day; and the growth of the College Advising Corps around Michigan. She has recruited cross-sector partners in these efforts, including philanthropy, government, business, nonprofit, K-12, and higher education. 

Previously, Ms. Johnson served in the administration of Gov. Jennifer Granholm and taught third grade in Las Vegas, NV, as a Tech for America member. She is a graduate of Arizona State University and the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. In 2013, she received the "Champion for Children" award from the Michigan Association of School Administrators.

The Executive Leadership Award of Excellence recognizes the dedication and hard work of an individual serving as a college access program’s Executive Director, President, or as a member of its Board of Trustees or Directors. The winner receives a $1,000 award in support of a new, one-time scholarship made in his or her honor.

Dr. David B. Swedlow Memorial College Access Staff Award of Excellence
David J. Rodriguez, Metropolitan Education Commission
Tucson, AZ

David J. Rodriguez is the Metropolitan Education Commission Regional College Access Center (MEC RCAC) and Wisdom Project program coordinator. Originally from Superior, one of rural Arizona’s “Copper Cities”, he received his B.A. in psychology from the University of Arizona, then an M.Ed. from Northern Arizona University. His background includes program development and evaluation, and he is an expert in college access processes, educational marketing, and recruitment/retention strategies.

Since 2012, Mr. Rodriguez has worked at the MEC to educate the citizens of Pima County and beyond on postsecondary access and planning. He oversees the Regional College Access Center, which involves interacting with high school counselors across Pima County and supervising nine student ambassadors (peer advisors) who serve as paid interns for the program. Mr. Rodriguez trains these students, who are located at four high schools and four Pima County Library sites, to provide higher education information to their peers. Mr. Rodriguez also keeps the RCAC website updated, blogs on college access issues, and provides advising services to teenagers and adults. In 2012-2013, Mr. Rodriguez and the student ambassadors reached out to more than 71,000 area students, parents, and educators helping them to understand and overcome the barriers that push many to give up on their college and career aspirations.

Before coming to MEC, Mr. Rodriguez worked at Pima Community College in their Outreach and Recruitment Department and the University of Arizona’s Area Health Education Center Program Office.

The Dr. David B. Swedlow Memorial College Access Staff Member Award of Excellence recognizes the dedication, hard work, and innovation of an individual working at a college access program. The winner receives $1,000 toward professional development. The College Access Staff Award of Excellence is named for Dr. Swedlow, former NCAN Director of Programs, after his passing and in honor of his commitment to the cause of college access.

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