• 2021 Excellence and Innovation Award Winners

    AASCU’s Excellence and Innovation Awards recognize the exemplary work undertaken by our campuses in the areas of teacher education, civic learning and community engagement, international education, leadership development, student success, regional and economic development, and sustainability and sustainable development. This year, in a special, one-time recognition award, AASCU also awarded member institutions who performed model work in achieving student success despite challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    We congratulate this year’s winners and are grateful for the opportunity to share their inspiring work, which demonstrates the value of state colleges and universities and can also serve as a model for other campuses.

    I am honored to recognize these Excellence and Innovation Award winners, who demonstrated immense creativity, resilience, and dedication during an incredibly difficult year. These institutions are paving the way in prioritizing equity, student success, and moving their diverse communities and regions forward as Stewards of Place.

    AASCU President Mildred García

    Campus Pandemic Response Award (rural)

    Learning and Success: Northwest Missouri State University’s Philosophy for Managing the Pandemic

    Northwest Missouri State University

    Northwest worked throughout the pandemic to maintain on-ground operations and services while implementing mitigation measures that decreased the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission on campus. Campus leaders and 13 “Green Teams” consisting of employees and students came together to align response actions with a guiding philosophy encompassing four themes—learning and success, health and safety, agility, and viability.

    While Northwest already provides students with a laptop and textbooks as a part of its tuition package, the institution equipped students with additional tools necessary to continue their studies in synchronous and asynchronous learning environments. Additionally, Northwest created a temporary grading policy and paused probation and suspension protocols, providing peace of mind to students that their academic performance would not be penalized by the drastic changes resulting from stay-at-home orders when the pandemic began.

    In combination with increased attention to cleaning campus facilities, all students and employees were provided with hand sanitizer and branded face coverings. Classrooms were equipped with bottles of disinfectant branded as “Bearcat Thunder.” As COVID-19 vaccinations became available to the public this past spring, the university partnered with local health care agencies to host mass vaccination clinics that resulted in the distribution of more than 12,000 vaccinations to students, employees, and local residents. 

    Read Northwest’s press release.

    Northwest Missouri State 2021

    We at Northwest are humbled by the national recognition from AASCU. Our pandemic response was not with an award in mind, but this recognition validates our approach and deployment thereof as well as Northwest’s role model status. The unbelievable hard work, dedication, perseverance, and resilience of our student body and entire faculty and staff are truly the hallmarks of this recognition. We said from the beginning we wanted Northwest to be stronger coming out of the pandemic, and it is clear we are on that path.

    Northwest President John Jasinski

    Campus Pandemic Response Award (suburban)

    A Study in COVID-19 Response and Planning: Pandemics and the Resiliency of CSU Pueblo, the People’s University

    Colorado State University Pueblo

    CSU Pueblo had some key elements to its strategy: ensure continuous employment for all employees, create flexible work policies that could be sustained post-pandemic, and establish cultural competency opportunities for all employees to address deeper systemic inequities. Each initiative was success.

    To ensure a safe year for students and employees, CSU Pueblo engaged Spartan Medical and NTT DATA Services to integrate COVID-19 rapid and PCR testing with a HIPAA-compliant, multi-functional digital platform to continuously guide students, faculty, and staff through a safe return to campus. In the first six weeks, CSU Pueblo’s COVID-19 positivity rate was reduced from 20% to less than 1%.

    Other aspects of the campus COVID-19 response focused on enhancing the student experience, including a partnership with Harvard’s Business School Online, and expanding professional development opportunities around diversity, inclusion, and equity across higher education.

    Read CSU Pueblo’s press release.

    CSU Pueblo 2021

    The past year was life changing. We suffered devastating loss, our personal lives were disrupted, and our professional lives demanded more from us than ever before. But at CSU Pueblo, we never lost focus of what matters most: our students. We are grateful to AASCU for this recognition, and I am honored to receive this award on behalf of the more than 800 CSU Pueblo employees whose commitment to the health and safety of our community was unwavering.

    CSU Pueblo President Timothy Mottet

    Campus Pandemic Response Award (urban)

    Learning in the Time of COVID

    University of North Carolina at Charlotte

    In spring 2020, the COVID- 19 pandemic rapidly and radically altered the way UNC Charlotte’s students learn and live and the way faculty and staff deliver courses and services to students. Teaching and daily work life shifted to a virtual environment almost overnight. The campus community came together as Niner Nation to prioritize the health and safety of students and staff and student success.

    Through Wastewater Testing in campus buildings, UNC Charlotte detected cases early and quarantined students, as needed. Daily Niner Health Checks sent via email ensured the university closely monitored the status of all students, faculty, and staff both on and off campus. This helped determine when people needed to quarantine in place and not come to campus and also mitigated the risk for clusters happening in off campus (but very near campus) housing. As a result, the institution saw very few clusters, and those that did appear remained relatively small and contained.

    Student success was prioritized by UNC Charlotte units working at lightning speed, with remarkable agility, to move to emergency remote learning and services within days in spring 2020. UNC Charlotte’s enrollment continued to grow in fall 2020, with a record 30,146 students enrolling. The institution also saw its best ever freshman retention rate at 84.7%, highest four-year graduation rate at 48.1%, and highest six-year graduation rate at 65.1% in the midst of the pandemic. 

    Visit the program’s webpage.

    UNC Charlotte 2021

    UNC Charlotte’s selection as the 2021 AASCU Excellence and Innovation Award for Campus Pandemic Response in the Urban Category is a testament to the talent and dedication of our employees and the support and hard work of our students. Through our collective efforts, we were able to deliver the highest quality education to our students—whether remotely or in person—while achieving record-breaking enrollment and fundraising goals. All of Niner Nation has ownership and pride in this award.

    UNC Charlotte Chancellor Sharon L. Gaber

    Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Teacher Education Award

    4+1 TEACH: An Extended Teacher Preparation Program

    Sam Houston State University (Texas)

    The 4+1 TEACH program allows eligible students interested in pursuing a career in education to earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, as well as the Texas Teacher Certification, in only five years. It aims to recruit a diverse pool of teachers to serve at underprivileged schools in a three-year residency and beyond, ensuring SHSU is sending highly educated and well-prepared teachers into the most-needed areas in a timely manner.

    In its first year, the program partnered with nine independent school districts. Now that has grown to 22 school districts.

    The program also emphasizes intense mentorship, which creates an environment of support as students enter the workforce. Program residents each work with a site-based mentor that is a teacher on their campus and has at least three years of teaching experience. 

    Read SHSU’s press release.

    Sam Houston State University 2021

    The College of Education is thrilled to receive the Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Teacher Education award for our 4+1 TEACH program. Given AASCU’s longstanding commitment to student success, innovation, and service, their recognition of this program validates the work we do with 4+1 TEACH to positively impact the future of teacher education. This program makes a meaningful difference in the lives of our teacher candidates, as well as the schools and students they serve, and we are grateful that AASCU has chosen to acknowledge this impact in such a significant, exciting way.

    College of Education Dean Stacey Edmonson

    Civic Learning and Community Engagement Award

    Embracing Our Redbird Impact: Elevating Civic Education and Political Engagement

    Illinois State University

    Illinois State’s Center for Civic Engagement supports the institution’s core value of civic engagement by encouraging students to be engaged and educated citizens in partnership with the community. The center reports to the Divisions of Student Affairs and Academic Affairs, reflecting the institution’s understanding that civic engagement is not isolated to one part of the student experience.

    The center collaborated with partners across the campus and community to establish a vision for the future. It developed a strategic plan with four priorities for enhancing student civic engagement and advancing the institution’s commitment to its public purpose: embrace our Redbird Impact through shared community problem-solving, transform the student experience, foster faculty/staff engagement, and strengthen infrastructure.

    A key initiative in 2021 was to elevate civic education and political engagement. The center conducted 75 dialogues with nearly 700 students, faculty, staff, and community members. The campus had about 71% voter turnout, with 1,102 students utilizing TurboVote and 1,700 people using campus polling places to vote early. 

    Read Illinois State's press release.

    Illinois State University 2021

    As a core value of Illinois State University, civic engagement is an integral part of our curriculum and our overall campus ethos. This award from AASCU recognizes that students, faculty, and staff live out that core value in their involvement and work on campus; in the local community; and at the state, national, and international levels. That emphasis on civic engagement is helping to develop the leaders of today and tomorrow.

    Illinois State President Terri Goss Kinzy

    International Education Award

    Collaborative Online International Education: Sustaining Global Engagement During a Pandemic

    Salem State University (Mass.)

    The COIVD-19 pandemic hurt international education. However, Salem State University initiated a program in Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) to support international learning and communities and encourage collaboration among faculty and student engagement.

    As all travel had been suspended, the Center for International Education, with the support of the provost and office of Academic Affairs, created a Faculty Learning Community, where 12 faculty from 11 departments developed a partnership with an international university colleague. They collaborated on a COIL component in fall 2020 for courses to be taught in spring 2021.

    Salem State implemented COIL in 10 courses during the spring 2021 semester. These reached 200 SSU students and 300 partner students. Students appreciated the opportunity, with 88% of SSU students indicating the exchange was meaningful. 

    Visit the institution’s webpage.


    Leadership Development and Diversity Award

    Do More: Leadership Development Program

    Lewis-Clark State College (Idaho)

    College officials renamed the Student Union Building as the Student Union Building/Center for Student Leadership in 2018 and began offering a variety of leadership opportunities to students. The goal was to prepare students to become successful leaders, engaged citizens, and lifelong learners by promoting diverse learning, exploration, and campus involvement to supplement their academic experiences.

    One opportunity is through the LC Leadership Spotlight, a monthly event that features speakers from the campus and community focusing on different areas of leadership. Another monthly opportunity, the Skills Builder Series highlights campus personnel presenting on a transferable skill, such as communication, and help students hone these skills through open discussion and practical application.

    In 2020, LC State began to offer a digital micro credential through Idaho SkillStack. To receive the credential’s digital badge, students complete requirements that include participating in the Center for Student Leadership programs, becoming a student leader—either through holding an officer role in one of the many student organizations or serving as a peer mentor or resident assistant, and participating in various campus activities and workshops. Student progress is tracked through the Do More App, where they reflect on these experiences. 

    Read LC State’s press release.

    LC State 2021

    We are incredibly honored to receive this award recognition and could not be prouder of Holly Daugherty for her leadership in bringing this concept to life. LC State is a school that lives its mission—helping students develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be successful leaders, engaged citizens, and lifelong learners—and this is just one more example of how LC authentically and comprehensively connects learning to life!

    LC State President Cynthia Pemberton

    Regional and Economic Development Award

    Stockton University, Atlantic City Campus: Anchor Institute in Action

    Stockton University (N.J.)

    The mission of Stockton University’s Atlantic City campus is to expand opportunities for Stockton students in Atlantic City and to serve as a catalyst for community engagement, diversity, and development. The campus opened Phase I in fall 2018 with an academic center and a residential complex that houses 533 students. A second residence hall with 416 beds is scheduled to open in fall 2023.

    The campus includes a shuttle between the A.C. and Galloway campuses, allowing all students to take advantage of academic, social, internship, and work opportunities on campus and in the city’s tourism and hospitality industry. Stockton also expanded its Educational Opportunity Fund to add a cohort of students based at the A.C. campus and operates three after-school homework programs for city children. Additionally, Stockton is a founding member of the Chelsea Economic Development Corporation, which is working to bring new business and residents to the neighborhood.

    The success of the campus has also inspired philanthropic support through such programs as the Engelberg Leadership Scholarship Program, established by Atlantic City High School graduate Al Engelberg, which covers all costs for selected students from the Atlantic City area to attend Stockton. Several other scholarships have also been established to specifically assist Stockton students from the city. 

    Read Stockton’s press release.

    Stockton 2021

    It is a tremendous honor for Stockton to be recognized for its work in Atlantic City. We promised our students and the residents of Atlantic City that the campus would become a part of the community. This award recognizes that we are keeping that promise.

    Stockton President Harvey Kesselman

    Student Success Award

    Student Success Coaching

    California State University San Marcos

    The creation of a campuswide student success initiative has been a priority of CSUSM as it moves toward the goal of becoming a student-ready college. Success Coaching is an innovative, scalable campuswide initiative focused on connecting students at the beginning of the student life cycle with recruitment, onboarding and student engagement, retention, and applied learning, ultimately leading to student success.

    During the summer of 2020, campus thought leaders organized to create a work group focused on designing a student Success Coaching project and office. The work group also created a comprehensive model for the campus that aligned coaching and mentoring efforts. The Office of Success Coaching is focused on providing equitable and personalized student support services, assisting students in fitting school into life and life into school, while building up the skills they will need to be successful.

    Success Coaches worked to create a crosswalk for students to connect to the university during their first year. Success coaches act as personal advisors (not academic advisors) and part cheerleaders. Success coaches are focused on supporting CSUSM students in achieving their goals in a timely manner and believe that every newly admitted college student can benefit from coaching. 

    Visit the program’s webpage.


    Sustainability and Sustainable Development Award (comprehensive project)

    University of Guam Center for Island Sustainability Guam Green Growth (G3) Initiative

    University of Guam

    The Guam Green Growth (G3) Initiative is the most comprehensive plan ever created to achieve a sustainable future for Guam. Through an executive order, the governor of Guam assigned the University of Guam Center for Island Sustainability to facilitate G3, bringing together 99 working group members representing all sectors of society to create the G3 Action Framework and implement sustainability projects.

    Formally adopted in September 2020, the framework is now guiding implementation in Guam of the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals in locally and culturally effective ways while placing Guam at the forefront of leadership in island sustainability.

    With grants from the governor’s office, the National Science Foundation, and the Guam Economic Development Authority, G3 has sourced more than $1.5 million to implement sustainable development projects and programs to maximize deliverables, interest, and long- term sustainability. The working group members developed a plan representing 82 organizations and agencies that includes 122 goals, 225 objectives, 414 action items, and 263 metrics to track progress. 

    Visit the program’s webpage.

    University of Guam 2021

    For over a decade, the University of Guam Center for Island Sustainability has been a leader on sustainability in the Western Pacific. It has engaged with academic, social, business, and government leaders across the region to cultivate sustainable research, programs, and practices through the unique, innovative spirit found in small island communities. The Guam Green Growth (G3) Initiative being recognized for excellence and innovation by AASCU is an honor—not just for the university and its partners in this work—but for all of Guam.

    University of Guam President Thomas W. Krise

    Sustainability and Sustainable Development Award (innovative project)

    University Printing Services Sustainability Initiative

    Northern Arizona University

    Because all departments are required to use the University Printing Services, it has the opportunity to make decisions on the university’s behalf with sustainability in mind. University Printing Services is helping Norther Arizona University meet its strategic goal to “Reduce the impact of the university through environmentally sustainable practices.”

    Beginning in 2019, University Printing Services has planned, developed, and executed multiple programs/projects to encourage environmental sustainability at the university.

    For example, the CURB (Collect, Upcycle, and Repurpose Banners) Program aims to divert up to 30% of short-term PVC-based materials from landfills, and the department also has a goal of providing 100% post-consumer waste alternatives for 75% of its available products. Additionally, by using a direct print production method, the services will be able to eliminate approximately 1,500 sq/ft per year of PVC-based adhesive vinyl usage. 

    Visit the program’s webpage.

    Northern Arizona University 2021

    From LEED-certified buildings, universitywide composting, and Green NAU efforts, Northern Arizona University prides itself on sustainability. Sara LaRosa’s work to increase environmentally-friendly printing processes is a prime example of the green innovation of our campus community. This award, for which she is so deserving, recognizes the continued efforts to create a greener and brighter future.

    Northern Arizona University President José Luis Cruz Rivera