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MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) honored college access champions from across the state last night at its 11th annual conference. The 2022 College Access Impact Awards recognized 13 people and organizations who are making a positive impact on college access and success in Michigan. This year’s conference, held at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mount Pleasant, is themed Doubling Down on Sixty by 30, reaffirming MCAN’s commitment to helping Michigan reach 60 percent college attainment by 2030.

“The College Access Impact Awards honor the individuals and organizations who have made extraordinary efforts to improve postsecondary attainment in Michigan, especially among low-income students, first-generation college-going students and students of color,” said Ryan Fewins-Bliss, MCAN executive director. “The award winners play a crucial role in helping us reach Sixty by 30 through their dedicated efforts to improve college readiness, participation and completion within their communities and across the state. By working to build inclusive college-going cultures, these award winners are helping to create a brighter economic future for Michigan’s students.”

Since these awards began in 2015, 90 people and organizations have been recognized by MCAN. The 2022 College Access Impact Award honorees are:

The Compass Award
Recipients of this award have launched and/or championed bold proposals that focus on increasing Michigan’s postsecondary attainment rate. This year, MCAN awarded the Compass Award to two individuals.

MCAN presented a 2022 Compass Award to Doug Ross, who has spent the last four decades working in economic development and education. Doug has challenged institutions to be progressive and student-centered, launched The Diploma Equity Project and Degree Forward to better serve adult learners through completion; helped to initiate Michigan Reconnect and Futures for Frontliners, and has continuously worked across the aisle to make significant investments in postsecondary attainment.

MCAN also presented a Compass Award to Sen. Kim LaSata from Michigan’s 21st Senate District, which includes all of Berrien, Cass, and St. Joseph counties. LaSata currently chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Universities and Community Colleges, sponsored the game-changing Michigan Achievement Scholarship legislation, and is currently serving her final term.

The Ombudsman Award
Michigan College Access Network values the leadership and service of AmeriCorps members serving college advisers and coaches serving across the state. This award honors a member from each Michigan corps —AdviseMI, Michigan State University College Advising Corps, Michigan College Advising Corps and College Completion Corps — to recognize their on-the-ground efforts to reach Sixty by 30. The recipients of this award have a passion for college access and success, have persevered over challenges while engaged in their year(s) of service, and have proudly represented AmeriCorps to students, families, and the public.

  • The Michigan College Advising Corps honoree is Danyale Dockery, a second-year adviser who completed her first term of service with Sexton High School in Lansing and is now currently serving at Southfield High School for the Arts & Technology. Dockery was selected for her dedication to equity and access for marginalized populations and for thinking outside of the box to make learning about postsecondary opportunities accessible, relevant, and fun for the students she serves. Among her advising peers, she has helped to create a deeper sense of community and been a resource for sharing and learning.
  • The Michigan State University College Advising Corps honoree is Cion Swoope. Swoope served for two terms at Oakridge High School in Muskegon, where he demonstrated a deep commitment to equity and student success. He helped guide his school to being ranked 9th in the state for FAFSA completion rates in 2021-22, at almost 90%, and he supported 97% of seniors to complete a college application, with 54% completing three or more college applications.
  • The AdviseMI honoree is Brandon Wardlow, who served as an adviser for two terms at Port Huron High School. During that time, he became a leader and advocate for systemic change in his community and throughout the county. In just his first year, Wardlow’s school had a FAFSA completion rate near 68%, compared to the previous year’s rate of 38%.
  • The College Completion Corps winner is Erica Whiting, a second-year coach serving at Northwestern Michigan College. In her role, Erica supports students who are first-generation and Pell-eligible. She is dedicated to listening to students, understanding their needs, and sharing relatable communication to help them feel comfortable. Eighty-two percent of Whiting’s students persisted in college from their first year to second year, and they have earned a higher GPA compared to the institutional average.

The Flagship Award
The recipient of this award is an individual or organization that has provided leadership in the creation of effective alliances focused on postsecondary attainment. MCAN presented the 2022 Flagship Award to Oakland County Executive David Coulter. By setting a bold goal for education and establishing the connection between attainment and economic vitality, and providing leadership at the county-wide level, David laid the foundation for Oakland 80 and its developing Local College Access Network.

The Promise Keeper Award
The Michigan Promise Zone Association bestows The Promise Keeper Award to individuals or organizations that have made extraordinary contributions to community-based programs using Promise Scholarships to expand educational opportunity and promote economic development. The 2022 honoree is Ellen Lipton of Hazel Park Promise Zone. Lipton served three terms in Michigan’s House of Representatives, representing House District 27 from 2009 to 2015. Lipton voted on the bill that established Michigan’s Promise Zones, and went on to become co-founder and the first chairperson of Hazel Park Promise. She currently serves on the Michigan State Board of Education and continues to support the Michigan Promise Zones Association by rallying the Hazel Park community around postsecondary attainment.

The Chief Mate Award
The Chief Mate Award goes to an individual school counselor or school counseling program that has made significant strides in advancing college readiness and enrollment supports and services provided to students, in turn, moving the needle on critical postsecondary metrics. The 2022 honoree is MCAN is Rakiba Mitchell, school counselor at Southeastern High School in Detroit and adjunct professor at Eastern Michigan University, as well as founder and CEO of HBC&U Legacies. From her deep and robust advocacy for expanding exposure to opportunities at Historically Black Colleges and Universities to engagement in the inaugural year of MCAN’s Counselor Fellows Program, Mitchell’s commitment to equity and access is powerfully evident.

The Marina Award
The recipient of this award is a school that has advanced the college-going culture and/or tackled systems-level change within the school. The 2022 Marina Award honoree is Alpena High School. Over the past ten years, the Alpena High School team has taken part in virtually every MCAN initiative available, including AdviseMI and College Bound Michigan. Even though they are the farthest community from a four-year college in the state, Alpena High School has worked across sectors and is responsible for a district-wide culture shift around postsecondary attainment.

The Fleet Award
The Fleet Award recognizes an individual or organization that has significantly contributed to the college access field outside the walls of K-12 institutions. The 2022 recipient is Melissa Kiesewetter, tribal liaison for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Kiesewetter has been a relentless advocate for Native students and a connector between educational organizations and the tribal college community. She has moved MCAN forward regarding our support of Native students, and she plays an important role on the board of the Native American Heritage Fund.

The Beacon Award
The recipient of this award is an individual or organization that has continually endeavored to unite programs, activities and/or operations in support of postsecondary attainment. This year’s Beacon Award is presented to Michigan’s community foundations. This group has been at the table from the beginning, helping to fund and create MCAN. We would not be at the place we are now without Michigan’s community foundations and the ways they have worked within communities to align to a common agenda, matched COVID grants, and doubled down on their commitment as engaged, eager partners in our collective college access work.

The Brandy Johnson Board of Directors Award
To celebrate MCAN's fifth anniversary in 2015, the board of directors created an award that they may present when the occasion arises, but not necessarily each year. In 2019, it was named in honor of MCAN founder and former executive director Brandy Johnson. This award is given to an individual or organization that has been particularly supportive of MCAN's mission and the Sixty by 30 Goal. This year, MCAN is thrilled to present it to Dr. David Eisler, the recently retired president of Ferris State University. Under Eisler’s leadership as president since 2003, Ferris saw unparalleled growth. Student retention and graduation rates sharply increased over the past 19 years, the latter by 65 percent. During his time as president, the university’s presence also dramatically increased across Michigan, providing access to a Ferris education through partnerships with 22 community colleges across the state. In 2019, Dr. Eisler and his wife, Patsy, established the Norris and Irene Johnson Scholarship Endowment to assist students who have experienced foster care pursue a bachelor’s degree at the university.

To learn more about MCAN’s College Access Impact Awards, visit micollegeaccess.org/awards.


Quotes from College Access Impact Awards honorees:

“The value of an award comes more from the bestower than the recipient. MCAN impacts the lives of thousands of Michiganders. A decade of high school students have gone on to college, and community college students have earned degrees because of MCAN. It’s an honor to receive an award from an organization that makes important things happen.”

Doug Ross, partner at Diploma Equity Project


“Creating more opportunities for all Michigan students, regardless their goals or skills, is an important part of our state’s success. However, many struggle with costs and other barriers associated with postsecondary education. We have formed many great partnerships as we work to create more avenues for students to succeed, and working with MCAN to create policies that improve access to higher education for all Michigan families has been incredibly rewarding. We have the talent, we just need to continue opening more doors for Michigan’s best and brightest minds.”

Sen. Kim LaSata, Michigan’s 21st Senate District


“I enjoy working in underrepresented and underfunded schools because it gifts me the opportunity to change young people's lives every day. My commitment to this work is to show every student that a college education is accessible to them. Every child deserves a chance at success.”

Danyale Dockery, college adviser with Michigan College Advising Corps


“I am very grateful to be nominated for the Ombudsman Award. My time at MSUCAC helped me find my purpose in postsecondary access, and I am now pursuing a master’s degree in student affairs leadership.”

Cion Swoope, former college adviser with MSU College Advising Corps


“I was honestly a little surprised when I found out about the award, but I also felt honored and grateful to be recognized. I'm excited to be able to continue impacting students now as a secondary teacher.”

Brandon Wardlow, former college adviser with AdviseMI


“I am overwhelmed with gratitude to have been selected as one of this year’s recipients for the Ombudsman Award. Having my efforts recognized in this way is not only an incredible honor, but also an affirmation that the work we do is meaningful.”

Erica Whiting, College Completion Corps coach


“I’m incredibly honored and humbled to receive MCAN’s Flagship Award. This is a big deal for me, because ensuring our residents have access to the education and training they need to have successful careers was a top priority for me when I became the Oakland County executive in 2019. Thank you for this award on behalf of myself and the fantastic team of county employees who are helping our residents succeed, day in and day out. We could not do this important work without our amazing partners, including MCAN, who support our Oakland80 initiative and are committed to our collective success.”

David Coulter, Oakland County executive


“I’m incredibly honored and humbled to receive the Promise Keeper Award. Each and every day, I am inspired by students who are working so hard to achieve their postsecondary dreams. They keep me motivated and focused on making sure that successful postsecondary completion is within everyone’s reach.”

Ellen Lipton, co-founder and former chairperson of Hazel Park Promise Zone


“This isn't a job, it's a calling, and I'm not a position, I'm a person. When you are called, the work becomes your mission. It is my honor and privilege to be of service to phenomenally amazing young minds, and this has truly been a beautiful journey. I'm humbled. It is my belief that every student is born on purpose with a purpose and deserves to explore their definition of success. Students cannot choose what is unfamiliar or unknown, therefore, making sure that all students are exposed to diverse postsecondary career options becomes a priority. Students can't walk through doors they don't know exist. All students need to find their door, so that they can unlock their dreams.”

Rakiba Mitchell, school counselor at Southeastern High School in Detroit and adjunct professor at Eastern Michigan University


“Alpena High School is fortunate to continue to partnering with MCAN to provide resources and learning opportunities that focus on career and college readiness. Our goal is to ensure all students who graduate from Alpena Public Schools have the opportunity to design their career roadmap prior to graduation and use what they have learned to guide and support them as they move forward with their postsecondary plans. Thank you to MCAN for continuing to stress the value and importance of earning postsecondary certificates and degrees, strengthening the workforce throughout our great state.”

Matt Poli, director of Alternative Choices for Educational Success Academy in Alpena


“My relationship with MCAN has impacted two careers, spanned three decades and introduced me to upwards of a thousand advisers and coaches. MCAN is an amazing platform for sharing resources, advocating for college access and operationalizing equity. Through this work, it is not only the students of color and underrepresented students who are impacted. With each student, every institution becomes more diverse and more inclusive. With each student, every institution is given the opportunity to further foster an educational environment where every student can see themselves, feel a sense of belonging and receive the support they need to succeed.”

Melissa Kiesewetter, tribal liaison for Michigan Department of Civil Rights


“In order to tackle a big, hairy, audacious goal, you need all hands on deck. Sixty by 30 is one of those goals, and community foundations across Michigan have been working hard within our communities to leverage local relationships with community partners and donors to support local residents and expand education beyond high school. We are better when we work together to get the job done, and we appreciate the efforts of MCAN to leverage its resources and supports to impact our local communities.”

Monica Moser, president and CEO at Jackson Community Foundation and chair of the Council of Michigan Foundations’ community foundation affinity group


“Knowing MCAN’s commitment to student access and success, this award is especially meaningful for me. They believe, as I do, that the opportunity of a college education is the gateway to success, both in one’s career and in life. The work that we do makes a meaningful difference in the lives of students, both now and in the future.”

Dr. David Eisler, recently retired president of Ferris State University