News Release from AASCU


Contact: Victoria Markovitz 202-478-4668


Washington, D.C.—The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) today announced this year’s Excellence and Innovation Award winners. This awards program, now in its fifth year, honors AASCU member institutions for excellence and innovation in several major areas of campus life and leadership: regional and economic development, student success and college completion, sustainability and sustainable development, teacher education, international education, and leadership development and diversity.

“These institutions demonstrate the commitment of America’s state colleges and universities to Deliver America’s Promise by championing innovation, prioritizing student success, and providing critical contributions to the economic and civic progress of their communities,” said AASCU President Dr. Mildred García. “We are privileged to honor programs that can serve as an inspiration to all of higher education.”

Winning entries needed to show evidence that the initiative had top-level administrative support, connected with an institution’s mission and strategic agenda, contributed to significant institutional improvements or programming, was grounded in research, and incorporated best practices. Multiple awards were given in certain categories. The awards will be presented October 28 at the opening session of AASCU’s Annual Meeting (October 28-30) in Washington, D.C.  The award recipients are as follows:

Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Teacher Education Award:
Northwest Missouri State University

With support and resources from university leadership and PK-12 partners, Northwest Missouri State University faculty completely overhauled its Northwest School of Education. The Education Redesign increased students’ access to diverse clinical practice (now more than 600 total hours) in urban, rural and suburban settings and with all learner ability levels, and has students engage in this practice earlier—by the third week of their freshman year. Additionally, students participate in a Professional Learning Community to learn from their experiences, and the curriculum focuses on improving students’ instructional practice, lesson plans and classroom management strategies.

Civic Learning and Community Engagement Award:
Western Carolina University (N.C.)

The Student Democracy Coalition (SDC) demonstrates Western Carolina University’s (WCU) sustained record of promoting and prioritizing civic activity. Led by students, SDC engages faculty, staff and organizations across campus interested in increasing student civic engagement in a non-partisan capacity. Supported by local government, university leadership (including in WCU’s strategic plan), campus groups and external grants, SDC has registered 3,127 students to vote, organized 60 educational programs and 25 marketing campaigns, established a campus early voting poll that raised WCU’s voter turnout rate by 16 percent, and held an election watch program with nearly 500 attendees.

International Education Award:
Savannah State University (Ga.)

Savannah State University’s (SSU) Making of Global Citizens project advanced curriculum development, fostered international opportunities and creatively integrated international students into the university community. The project added international dimensions into SSU courses and the Chatham County Public School System; revitalized study abroad and exchange programs; diversified the campus community by recruiting international students; developed a Peace Corps Prep program; promoted the Model United Nations and Model African Union programs; and established programs such as the English Language Institute, the Confucius Institute, and the Center for the Study of African Diaspora to enhance the global awareness and knowledge of SSU students.

Leadership Development and Diversity Award:
Buffalo State College, State University of New York (SUNY)

Through its Emerging College Leaders (ECL) program, SUNY Buffalo State College enhances the leadership capacities of high-potential staff and faculty at all levels of the institution. Each cohort is purposefully created to ensure diversity in age, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, as a means of improving equity, inclusion and innovation across campus. Alumni overwhelmingly cite the most significant impact of the program as an increase in their self-awareness, which helped them define the skills they needed to develop to be more effective leaders. From the 2011, 2013 and 2015 cohorts, 52 percent of program alumni have advanced in rank or position after graduating from the program.

Regional and Economic Development Award:
University of Memphis

The University of Memphis (UofM) is based in one of the poorest metropolitan areas in the nation. Many students are financially challenged, which has impacted UofM’s graduation rates. To combat these challenges, UofM founded UMRF (University of Memphis Research Foundation) Ventures, Inc. to provide third-party IT service and support to corporations by hiring full-time undergraduate and graduate students. These student employees earn $15 per hour, which helps them with tuition and living expenses. UofM hopes the program will not only improve its graduation rate, but will also create a talent pool to address employment gaps within Memphis. In 2017, the first year of the program, 40 students were employed. By the end of 2018, over 300 will be employed.

Student Success and College Completion Award:
California State University, Sacramento

Finish in Four, Sacramento State’s plan for student success, is a university-wide strategy to increase graduation rates and eliminate the achievement gap. It prioritizes budgets to allow for more course sections and faculty; integrates students’ cultural, motivational and psychosocial development into advising; enhances support services for low-income or single/multiple ethnic student groups; and encourages collaboration with K-12 schools and community colleges to prepare future students. The program focuses on 2025 graduation outcomes but has already shown results. For the Fall 2009 to 2013 cohorts, the four-year graduation rate for native freshmen rose over 5 percent, and from Fall 2009 to 2011, the achievement gap dropped over 8 percent for African-American students and nearly 7 percent for Hispanic students.

University of Central Oklahoma

The Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR) provides transformative learning experiences for students, including developing students’ workplace readiness and their relationships with themselves, others, the community and the environment. University of Central Oklahoma has implemented STLR in over 567 courses across academic disciplines; funded 393 student/faculty-proposed paid projects and internships; supported 47 student groups; hosted 465 co-curricular campus events aimed at increasing student engagement outside the classroom; and trained 316 full-time faculty, 188 staff and 117 adjuncts. For a target cohort of first-time, first-year students who were low-income, first-generation and/or underrepresented starting in Fall 2015, retention increased 13 percent, and academic achievement (grade point average) increased on average by 0.56 points.

Sustainability and Sustainable Development Award:
Comprehensive Award: SUNY Oneonta

To integrate sustainability within and across its curriculum, SUNY Oneonta designated sustainability-focused courses and sections; began hosting an annual workshop to help instructors infuse sustainability into syllabi; created an interdisciplinary major in Environmental Sustainability to prepare students to develop solutions to pressing environmental challenges; and promoted and encouraged faculty and student participation in sustainability research through the annual Life of the Mind and Student Research & Creative Activity Day. The program fosters environmental sustainability that is useful to graduates regardless of their chosen career path.

Innovative Project Award: 
Grand Valley State University (Mich.)

Founded in 2008, the Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP) is an interdisciplinary, campus-wide living laboratory where students learn academic content, develop intellectual and practical skills and practice community engagement. At its core is a five-acre, student-operated farm site that prioritizes biological soil building, biodiversity, companion and successional plantings, and food safety. Students gain experience with sustainable business practices, and the campus community benefits from SAP, as produce is sold, in part to campus dining, at the on-campus farmers’ market and in farm shares. 


AASCU is a Washington, D.C.-based higher education association of about 400 public colleges, universities and systems whose members share a learning- and teaching-centered culture, a historic commitment to underserved student populations and a dedication to research and creativity that advances their regions’ economic progress and cultural development. These are institutions Delivering America’s Promise of Opportunities for All.