Sophia Norcott, a communications major and media manager from Vancouver, Washington, and Brendyn Melugin, an Army veteran and psychology student from Cincinnati, Ohio, are ACE's 2018 Students of the Year.
Norcott, a student at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), and Melugin, who is studying at the University of North Georgia (UNG), will be presented with the honor at the closing plenary session March 12 at ACE2019, ACE’s 101st Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. Both recipients will receive a $1,000 scholarship to help continue their education.
The Student of the Year Award is presented annually by ACE to one or more 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.
“Like so many post-traditional students, our award winners successfully balance the demands of family and professional responsibilities even as they work on their degrees,” said Louis Soares, ACE chief learning and innovation officer. “Sophia and Brendyn have used their abilities and motivation to inspire others to also set high postsecondary achievement goals, and I can’t think of a better way to highlight the impact adult learners have on the higher education landscape than recognizing their accomplishments.”
Norcott, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in communications, is set to graduate this May with a 4.0 GPA. She admits returning to school as an adult was a daunting proposition, as she struggled in high school and traditional classroom settings. It wasn't until later in life that she discovered a knack for learning through reading. Over the next 20 years, she taught herself web coding and graphic design, eventually becoming an award-winning creative design manager for a regional engineering firm. Yet, she still felt a degree would help propel her career forward.
Norcott enrolled at SNHU, and her advisor walked her through flexible options to earn college credit such as College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DSST tests, which she was able to use to speed up her path towards graduation. During that time, she also created a website to help raise awareness of these flexible options and worked with fellow students to explore those opportunities one-on-one.
“For me, education did more than check a box on my resume. It equipped me with the gifts of curiosity and confidence—something that will influence every challenge I face going forward. A degree doesn’t magically equip you with all the answers, but education gives you the tools to find them,” Norcott said.
Melugin served in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper for three and a half years before an injury changed his trajectory. He was medically discharged in May 2016 and decided to serve his country in another way, setting his sights on working for the Army Research Institute in a civilian capacity. But he needed a college degree.
Melugin enrolled at UNG to pursue a degree in psychology. For financial reasons he needed to finish in three years, so he turned to ACE credit recommendations for military experience and training to help save time.
Melugin put the time to good use. He participated in undergraduate research projects, served in a leadership role with the Student Veterans of America, and conducted independent research for UNG's psychological science department. He says he plans to use the $1,000 scholarship from this award to help pay for graduate school.
"Anything that helps with my education will be great," Melugin said. "ACE credits allowed me to further my career, and grad school wouldn't be as attainable without it."
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Update March 13, 2019
The ACE2019 closing plenary featured a conversation among a diverse student panel—including Sophia Norcott and Brendyn Melugin, ACE's 2018 Students of the Year—and former Secretary of Education and President and CEO of The Education Trust John B. King Jr. for a “human-centered” approach to how we could design public policy and institutional practice from the bottom up to enhance student outcomes and get students across the completion finish line. Left to right: John B. King, Jr., former Secretary of Education and president and CEO of The Education Trust; Jonathan Yubi Gomez, student at Lehman College, The City University of New York; Norcott; Darryl Epps Jr., Justice in Education Scholar, Columbia University (NY); and Melugin. Photo credit: Tim Trumble for ACE.