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The Gift of Giving: CAEL 2022 Conference Annual Awards

As the year comes to an end, it’s important for us to recognize those who have exemplified the principles in action that give power to our purpose.

Last month, we held our annual conference. It was our most attended ever. Every day of the conference, which fell the week before Thanksgiving, I was reminded of how much we have to be thankful for — not only during the traditional season of gratitude but all year long. Because throughout the conference, we witnessed examples of the daily work the CAEL community does on behalf of adult learners. And today, as we enter the winter holiday season and the traditional season of giving, I am reminded of why the presentation of our annual awards is always a highlight of the conference. Our recipients exemplify the principles in action that give power to our purpose.

Morris T. Keeton Award

The tradition of the Morris T. Keeton Award dates back to 1989, when it was commissioned to honor CAEL’s founding president. Through their work, commitment, and ideals, recipients of this award exemplify and foster the values that Dr. Keeton championed. He dedicated his life’s work to furthering innovation and improvement in education. He was a firm believer that the time and place to pursue learning is anytime and anyplace.

For years, the CAEL community has worked hard to raise awareness that valuable, college-worthy learning doesn’t just occur inside a classroom. Credit for prior learning has profound implications for student equity, workforce coordination, and institutional success. So it was fitting that the 2022 Morris T. Keeton Award went to a true CPL champion, Tracy Costello. As assistant director of credit for prior learning at National Louis University, Tracy goes above and beyond to connect students to CPL opportunities. These tireless efforts include teaching portfolio courses, handling individual student questions about CPL, collecting and using CPL data to inform program improvements, and even marketing CPL.

Tracy also trains university staff in CPL practices and acts as a liaison between students and faculty essay reviewers and portfolio evaluators. Generous with her time and expertise, Tracy volunteers on several university committees and still finds time to be a CAEL Ambassador and an engaged presenter and participant at CAEL conferences each year. We are thankful for her many contributions to adult learner success and for being a committed champion of CPL.

Pamela Tate Rise Award

Like the Morris T. Keeton Award, the Pamela Tate Rise Award is distinguished by a namesake who has enriched CAEL’s legacy. In this case, that is Pamela Tate. Pamela served as CAEL’s president and CEO from 1990 until her retirement in 2018. Since then, the award that bears her name has evoked her steadfast commitment to linking learning and work in ways that enhance the wellbeing of adult learners and the nation’s workforce. This year, the Rise Award presentation was made even more poignant by the presence of Pamela herself, who, in a conference first, was on hand to personally hand the award to our 2022 winner, Jane Oates.

Jane has dedicated her career to public service and advocacy for the American workforce. Her efforts to support productive connections between education and workforce development have always centered adult learners.

Jane, who began her career as a public school teacher, is the president of WorkingNation, a nonprofit media and journalism organization that focuses on not just the labor crisis but also realistic solutions for addressing it. Jane’s prior roles include assistant secretary for the Employment and Training Administration and executive director of the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education. She also was a senior advisor to New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine and a senior policy advisor for Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

Learner of the Year Award

The Learner of the Year award presentation is always a special conference moment. It showcases the values the CAEL community stands for through the lived experience of adult learners themselves. The 2022 presentation of this award marked another conference first: a tandem of winners. Considering that Joyce Brandon and Loyce Shelley share not only an educational journey but family and business ties, the twin presentation was quite fitting.

In fact, Loyce and Joyce are identical twins. When they enrolled in college, their educational aspirations were overshadowed by the need to leave a difficult home environment. Although they were unable to finance a second semester at the University of Memphis, Loyce and Joyce determined not to return home. They took jobs at FedEx and began families. But Loyce’s oldest child suffered a traumatic brain injury, and her family moved to Houston to receive the critical and specialized medical care he needed.

Somewhere along the line Joyce and Loyce found time to help a friend rescue her wedding from the failures of an incompetent wedding planner. They were inspired by their mother, who had donated her talents to help people who couldn’t afford a wedding planner. But it wasn’t until years after that when the sisters decided that they could make a business out of event planning. They formed Elegant Creations Weddings & Events, which has thrived ever since – as have Joyce and Loyce.

Loyce has since returned to Memphis, where her oldest son enrolled at the University of Memphis. Impressed by the resources available to support his success there, she became involved in helping other parents access them to help their own children. As she championed her son’s academic journey, she realized it was time to resume her own. Her advisor encouraged her to apply to the program and begin a portfolio. It delivered the maximum of 30 credits for her prior learning. Meanwhile, inspired by Loyce’s success, Joyce decided to resume her academic journey as well. As Loyce began her final semester in January 2022, Joyce rejoined her at the University of Memphis, undertaking her own CPL portfolio.

Thanks to their perseverance and the valuable knowledge born of it, Loyce and Joyce were able to return to college without starting over. The CPL experience helped each see herself as a college graduate, a vision that has already come to fruition for Loyce, who graduated with a bachelor of professional studies degree in May. Joyce is well on her way to doing the same.

Adult Learner Impact Award

Every year, the Adult Learner Impact Award spotlights a CAEL member institution or other organization that has excelled at meeting the needs of adult learners with next-level programs and services. The 2022 award went to Capella University, a pioneer in competency-based, direct assessment education models. Drawing on best practices in CPL, including standards pioneered by CAEL, Capella ensures that demonstrated competencies aren’t overshadowed by credit hours and seat time. The university’s self-paced learning options offer a creative approach to meeting adult learners where they are. They are tailored to accommodate students’ financial, educational, and career needs.

For example, aided by credit received from relevant, college-level knowledge sourced from formal and informal work training, continuing education, self-instruction, professional certifications, and other educational experiences, more than 17,000 students have graduated from the university’s FlexPath learning format. Capella is expanding the FlexPath model to accommodate the evolving needs of employers and workers. The university has forged new partnerships with health care organizations to provide the professional training and skills development needed to maintain a strong nursing workforce. It partners with more than 400 health care employers, including leading hospital systems and insurance providers. The university even shares its outcome data with other institutions to help them develop and optimize competency-based programs.

Special Recognition

In yet another conference first, CAEL President Earl Buford bestowed a “bonus award” upon someone for delivering outstanding and passionate leadership and commitment to advancing transformative improvements to workforce development around the country. Larry Good, president, CEO, and cofounder of Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, was recognized for his longstanding strategic leadership in collaborating with national, state, and local policy and practice leaders to advance workforce development. Here are just a few initiatives that Larry has led:

Credential as You Go is an initiative to embrace and align the growing array of incremental credentials, including certificates, certifications, badges, microcredentials, and degrees.

Connecting Credentials is a five-year partnership with Lumina Foundation to engage more than 100 stakeholder groups around building competency-based connections among degree and nondegree credentials.

Detroit workforce strategy was designed to support the city and many partners in transforming their services and strategic investments to increase skills and employment of city residents.

No Worker Left Behind was launched to help the State of Michigan craft and operate a pioneering strategy to support 160,000 at-risk adult workers in engaging in postsecondary education to help gain skills for reemployment.

Our award winners are highlights of the conference. But they aren’t the only thing that shone. So I’d like to close by returning to the theme of gratitude. On behalf of everyone at CAEL, I thank our members. Their support throughout the year and during our conference made it the most successful ever. Today, they represent more states than ever before, and they are growing in diversity, too. As more employers, industry groups, workforce developers, government agencies, and mission-aligned organizations join the CAEL community, they complement our longstanding community of practice and help us reimagine where collaboration can take us. I’m sure the pathways we are creating today will lead to many success stories told in the presentation of future CAEL awards.

CAEL is always looking to celebrate our members’ success stories — whether through our annual award program or through the content we publish. To share yours or a colleague’s, email us at

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