ACE Names St. Nicholas Burrus and Edwin Duarte Jr. 2020 Students of the Year
May 19, 2021

​St. Nicholas Burrus, a business student and heart transplant recipient, and Edwin Duarte, a U.S. Army veteran and history major, are ACE's 2020 Students of the Year.

Burrus recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine at Presque Isle, while Duarte, a father of three, is currently working toward a bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) after earning two associate’s degrees at Norco College in California. Both recipients will receive a $1,000 scholarship to help fund further education.

The ACE 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.

St. Nicholas Burrus

St. Nicholas Burrus

​Burrus’ journey began when he was diagnosed with heart failure at birth, worsened by Kawasaki Disease as a toddler, that led to a lifetime of illness, including extreme damage to his heart and ears, affecting his hearing ability. He spent most of his life feeling very ill, going through multiple surgeries, and couldn’t imagine going to college right after high school. Burrus died on the operating table at 18 years old before doctors were able to resuscitate him. After high school, he started a job at Stria, LLC, a company that helped him see his potential in business management and administration.

Finally, in January 2020, Burrus had a heart transplant. During his extensive recovery, he heard about ACE credit recommendations from InstantCert and took advantage of a discount on online courses at Sophia Learning and ALEKS. He spent most of his time in the hospital studying and taking courses online. He then realized he had enough credits to pursue a degree and chose to enroll at the University of Maine at Presque Isle in large part because they were able to help him adapt to his physical challenges, he said.

“My mind has never been dumb—my body has always failed me,” Burrus said. “The University of Maine at Presque Isle has been fantastic about modifying courses for me and now, with my new heart, I’m ready to take the next step in my education, and this award will help me do that.”

Edwin Duarte

Edwin Duarte

Edwin Duarte served in the Army for nearly 12 years, deploying twice, first for 15 months as part of President Bush’s troop surge in Baghdad, Iraq and then a one-year deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan as part of President Obama’s troop surge. He served with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) as a forward observer for an air assault infantry platoon. After he was medically discharged in July 2017, on his daughter’s birthday, Duarte began pursuing his goal to become a high school history teacher. He was awarded 16 ACE-recommended credits based on his military training and experience when he began at Norco College.

In addition to his classes, Duarte was the athletics department photographer and became involved with the college’s Veterans Club, served as the club’s president, revamped the Veterans Resource Center, and was called on by the dean of admissions to work on the Military Articulation Platform (MAP)—a cloud-based system that allows evaluators and faculty to match military training with college courses and give veterans the college credit they deserve. His motivation also came from his wife, Patricia, who joined the Army to become a medic after graduating with a bachelors in psychology from the University of Illinois and a master’s in psychology from Southern New Hampshire University while on active duty. Duarte is now in his third year at UTEP, and spends most of his free time with his wife, two boys, ages 13 and 7, and his 6-year-old daughter.

“Everything I have done since they were born was to set a good example for them. If they decide that school is not for them that is fine, I just want them to know it is something that can be done,” Duarte said. “I look forward to the next part of my educational journey and appreciate ACE’s opportunities to keep assisting students like myself.”

“These students have served their families, their country, and communities. Their perseverance exemplifies the qualities we seek in ACE’s Student of the Year,” said Louis Soares, ACE’s chief learning and innovation officer. “Their commitment to education, desire to earn a degree, and determination to set high goals should be an inspiration to posttraditional students everywhere.”​

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