ACE Names Giovanna Grantham and Casey Dunn 2021 Students of the Year
March 07, 2022

​​Giovanna Grantham, an IT consultant, and Casey Dunn, a U.S. Army staff sergeant and cadet, are ACE's 2021 Students of t​he Year.​​​

Grantham expects to graduate later this year from Thomas Edison State University (TESU) with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Studies and an Associate of Natural Science and Mathematics in Computer Science. She also will earn an Associate of Applied Science in Information Systems from Pierpont Community & Technical College in West Virginia. Dunn is an active-duty soldier and student at Colorado State University (CSU) working on his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a minor in Military Science. He is expected to graduate in spring 2023. Both recipients will receive a $1,000 scholarship to help fund their education.  

The ACE Student of the Year Award is presented annually by ACE to two individuals who have benefitted academically or professionally from the use of ACE credit recommendations for workforce or military training. Recipients must demonstrate outstanding achievements in their community or workplace while successfully balancing the demands of family, career, and education. The names of the winners were announced today during the closing plenary session at ACE2022, ACE's Annual Meeting in San Diego. 

Born in Guatemala, Grantham moved with her family to the United Stated when she was seven. Financially, college was out of reach for her after high school, but she became certified in graphic design and worked for five years as a digital media producer with Prison Fellowship, bringing hope and restoration to prisoners, families and communities impacted by crime and incarceration, all while serving as a pro bono Spanish language translator in her community. Despite her career growth, she felt stuck and still wanted to pursue a postsecondary education.

Her fiancé used ACE-recommended credits almost exclusively to earn his degree from TESU a few years prior and she says her future mother-in-law was invaluable in helping her find the right ACE accredited courses and exams to speed up her path toward a degree, calling her “her biggest cheerleader and motivator.” In all, she was awarded 95 ACE-recommended credits in 11 months, all of which were accepted and applied towards her degrees at TESU. 

A member of the Chickasaw Nation in Arizona, Grantham says she plans to use her platform as a Student of the Year to go out into the Native American and Latino communities and bring more attention to the alternative educational pathways available to them.  

“I could not have done this without my mother-in-law who helped make me aware of these options, and I look forward to sharing this with other people who may not have the resources to spend years working toward a degree because they have families and jobs,” Grantham said. “This scholarship will also help me work towards my next goal, which is to pursue a master’s degree in Management Information Systems so that I can continue to advance professionally.”

Dunn has been serving with the Army for 12 years and was selected for the Army Green to Gold Active Duty Option Program, which provides enlisted soldiers an opportunity to complete a baccalaureate degree or a two-year graduate degree and earn a commission as an Army officer. Dunn chose to attend CSU, which accepted 54 ACE-recommended credits provided on his Joint Services Transcript (JST). 

Dunn, a married father of three, says he barely graduated high school. Now he’s part of a select community to navigate a program that has put him in a position to have influence and the opportunity to better his fellow soldier’s lives both professionally and personally. Dunn eagerly serves as a mentor and advisor to dozens of peer ROTC cadets who actively seek his counsel. 

He does this all while balancing the demands of being a father, husband, and volunteer in his community. Dunn says he chooses to stay up and put in his long hours at school while his family sleeps. He added, “I had an amazing leader say to me once that ‘no one misses you when you are asleep.’” 

As he moved up in rank and saw how the military valued educated leaders he began to see a new path for himself and says he’s grateful the ACE-recommended credits were able to help him move toward his goals and set others up for the same successes.  

“The Army wants experienced and educated leaders and continuing to pursue education is vital for both career and individual development. I see this award, my degree, and my educational journey as tools that can be used to foster this mentality and hopefully empower other soldiers to follow this path,” Dunn said.

“These award winners are already proven leaders who actively seek growth in and out of the classroom. Their commitment to education despite all the obstacles they have faced will undoubtedly be an inspiration to other students who may not follow the traditional postsecondary path,” said Louis Soares, ACE’s chief learning and innovation officer.

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