By RUTH MARTINEZ, Page Editor
Amarillo College was recognized as one of the top 5 community colleges in the nation, winning the 2021 Aspen Rising Star Award as well as a $100,000 prize during a virtual ceremony May 18. Earlier this year, the college was named a Top 10 finalist for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The Rising Star Award recognizes colleges with improving student outcomes.
AC faculty and staff gathered in the Oeschger Mall on the Washington Street Campus to watch the virtual ceremony together. AC President Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart celebrated the victory, saying, “My greatest honor is to work alongside you, to love our students to success and to tell your story which is inspirational and aspirational to schools all over the country, and they were inspired by you before we had an Aspen award, they’ll be inspired by you when the Aspen award goes away.”
The Aspen Institute recognizes more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide and only 150 get invited to apply for the Aspen Prize of $1 million every two years. The winner of the 2021 Aspen Prize was San Antonio College. West Kentucky Community and Technical College and Broward College were recognized as finalists. The Aspen Prize awards are funded by Ascendium Education Group, Joyce Foundation and Siemens Foundation.
The Aspen College Excellence Program makes its selections based on the strength of the applications, the college’s performance across five domains and campus visits. The five domains are teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfers and bachelor’s attainment, workforce success and equity with all students.
During the virtual ceremony, Ruth Williams-Brinkley, president of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States and one of the jurors for the Aspen Prize, explained how faculty and staff impact students. “Understand that their job is not just to make sure students graduate, though that’s important, but that graduates succeed and contribute after they leave.”
Dr. Jill Biden, the United States first lady, took part in the ceremony and shared her thoughts as a 30-year community college professor. “The best institutions don’t just teach, they empower. They meet students where they are and help them get to where they want to go. That’s what the Aspen Prize is all about,” she said. Biden also added that one goal is to make community college affordable for all students.
Amarillo community members in attendance included Mayor Ginger Nelson and Howard Smith, city council member place four, as well as two of the newly-elected board of regents members, Peggy Carter and John Betancourt.
Lowery-Hart took his traditional selfie with the entire crowd after his speech and closed campus for the rest of the day in celebration of the win.