ACE, Sophia Learning Name Amberlin Dupre and Joel Riley 2022 Students of the Year
March 23, 2023

​Amberlin Dupre, an operations manager at a national nonprofit medical society, and Joel Riley, a Marine Corps veteran and project manager in the finance technology industry, are the 2022 American Council on Education (ACE)/Sophia Learning Students of the Year.

Both recipients, driven by a desire to help people overcome challenges, are working toward or have completed a bachelor of arts degree in psychology and are planning to pursue graduate degrees. Dupre, who graduated from Thomas Edison State University this spring, plans to enroll in an advanced-degree program that would enable her to help people who struggle with mental health challenges and learning disabilities. Riley expects to graduate in the spring of 2024 from National University, and he intends to pursue an advanced degree in counseling psychology so he can better help veterans and people of color with mental health issues. Both recipients will receive a $1,000 scholarship to help fund their education.

The ACE/Sophia Learning Student of the Year Award is presented annually by ACE to two individuals who have benefited 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 winners will be honored at ACE2023, ACE's Annual Meeting next month in Washington, DC.

headshot of Amberlin Dupre

​​Amberlin Dupre

Dupre decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree after overcoming a variety of obstacles. Though mental health challenges interfered with her ability to finish high school, she bravely decided to pursue higher education as an adult. Once enrolled, Dupre thrived, earning a 4.0 grade-point average, all while juggling a full-time job, health and personal challenges, and a family. She recognized the ability to earn over 72 ACE credits as an essential component to her success. 

“The availability of online classes and alternative credits revolutionized my ability to learn in a way that my brain craved,” she said. “Earning ACE-approved credits saved me thousands of dollars and is allowing me to graduate two years early.”

Dupre has flourished professionally as well. After taking a college internship with Family Physicians Inquiries Network (FPIN), Dupre excelled and was offered a full-time position as operations and human resources coordinator, before being promoted to manage and oversee the organization’s finance department. LuShawna Gerdes, executive director of FPIN, praised Dupre’s passion, work ethic, and leadership.

“Her unparalleled efficiency, dedication to serving those around her, and commitment to doing an extraordinary job has completely transformed our office,” Gerdes said.

As if school and work are not enough, Dupre also gives back to her community. For example, Dupre has supported an older gentleman with dementia at a local senior living community, and she raised money for St. Jude’s Hospital when she ran a half marathon.

Dupre plans to attend graduate school to pursue her dream of helping people who struggle with mental health challenges and learning disabilities. “My educational journey exemplifies the resilience, strength, and innovative problem solving of all adult learners,” she said.

headshot of Joel RIley

​​Joel Riley

Riley first became interested in the U.S. Marine Corps after learning about some of its humanitarian work, and at age 19, he enlisted. During his service, Riley earned a variety of accolades: he was selected as an honor graduate in boot camp and in technical school; elected as a class leader at technical school; and honored with the Operation Inherent Resolve Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, and two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals. 

“Every success indicated to me that I was right where I was supposed to be, and further propelled me to keep going,” Riley said.

While in the Marines, Riley enrolled at National University, and he was able to apply 135 Joint Services Credits that he gained from the technical and leadership schools toward his degree. Riley remained enrolled in this program while embarking on two combat deployments.

“It was a true challenge, but my professors were gracious and understanding when factors out of my control presented challenges,” he said.

Riley, who also plans to pursue an advanced degree, chose to focus his education on psychology because of his desire to help people. His passion for education, however, does not stop with himself. Before he left active duty, Riley ensured that all the Marines under his direct command were enrolled in higher education courses. He also taught them how to prioritize their time and how to be successful in school. Riley still offers mentorship to Marines, and he works as a life coach in his personal time. 

“Amberlin and Joel have demonstrated a drive to grow academically and professionally and a desire to use their education to help others,” said Louis Soares, ACE’s chief learning and innovation officer. “They are a model to other students who may not follow a traditional postsecondary path, and I am excited to see all that they accomplish.”

This year’s sponsor for the ACE Student of the Year Award is Sophia Learning, an online learning platform that allows students to get a head start on their education, or finish up a degree, by taking affordable and flexible general education-level courses that are ACE-recommended for college credit. Since 2020, Sophia students have completed more than 250,000 courses, earning more than 750,000 credits and saving more than $200 million dollars.

“Many higher education journeys aren’t linear—life simply gets in the way. It is important for students like Amberlin and Joel to have opportunities just like everyone else to excel and thrive to help reach their education goal,” said Shawna Thayer, CEO of Sophia. “I am proud of the achievements of our winners, and look forward to seeing how they progress in their education journeys.”

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