Outstanding Community College Alums to be Honored at AACC Convention

Apr 17, 2012, 10:30 ET from American Association of Community Colleges

AT&T Mobility CEO, a pioneering microbiologist and education advocate, a Grammy Award winning songwriter, and an inspirational teacher to be recognized

NEW ORLEANS, April 17, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Four outstanding community college alumni will be recognized Monday during the 91st annual convention of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and be applauded by college leaders from across the nation. The gala dinner honoring the 2011 Outstanding Community College Alumni will be held at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside Hotel from 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.in Grand Ballroom B-D. Emcee for the event is PBS' Shauna Sanford, host for "The State We're In."  The honorees are:

An Immigrant Rises to the Top & Transforms Corporate Cultures: Ralph de la Vega
Nominated by Miami Dade College in Miami, Fla.
Ralph de la Vega is the president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets. He leads all consumer marketing, sales, content, converged services and customer care for the company's wireless and wired businesses.

De la Vega is known not just for architecting business deals like the proposed $39 billion merger between AT&T and T-Mobile, but he's also hailed for transforming corporate cultures. He's held top positions at AT&T, BellSouth and Cingular. A decade ago when de la Vega became president of BellSouth's Latin American operations, he inherited a money-losing operation that spanned 11 countries loaded with warring executives. He turned things around and the company turned a $100 million profit in 2002 and $160 million in 2003.

He managed the $41 billion merger between Cingular and AT&T Wireless, which he characterized at the time as "the Super Bowl, the World Cup, of business." Merging corporate cultures and branding meant training thousands of employees, re-branding the company and converting more than a thousand stores quickly.

De la Vega rose to corporate success from humble beginnings. His parents sent him to Florida from Cuba in the 1960s where he lived in a poor Miami neighborhood. De la Vega worked as a janitor, mechanic and a draftsman to pay for his education. He attended Miami Dade College and earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Florida Atlantic University. He holds a master's degree in business administration from Northern Illinois University and has completed the Executive Program at the University of Virginia.

He is the author of Obstacles Welcome: Turn Adversity Into Advantage in Business and Life, and is active in charitable causes. He is the chairman of Junior Achievement Worldwide and chairs Hispanic Initiatives for the Boy Scouts of America. He serves on the boards of the Georgia Research Alliance and the Georgia Aquarium.

A Pioneering Microbiologist Advocates for Others: Dr. Rosaria Haugland
Nominated by Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore.
Community college played a role in helping Dr. Rosaria Haugland turn her pioneering research in microbiology into a multi-million dollar corporate venture.

Haugland was the first person in her family to graduate from college. She earned a doctorate in biology from the University of Milan and a doctorate in biochemistry from Syracuse University in New York. In 1975, she founded Molecular Probes with her husband. They conducted pioneering research in fluorescent probe development.

They enrolled in Lane Community College's Small Business Management Program in 1983 and won the Business of the Year award in 2001 and the U.S. Small Business Administration Tibbetts Award in 2002.

"Lane Community College is a great place. It helps people change their life for the better and increases the quality of life for the people of Lane County," said Haugland. The company became a world leader in fluorescence-based technology. In 2003, they sold the company to Invitrogen.

"What's closest to my heart is education, especially helping women get an education," she said. She serves as president of the Rosaria P. Haugland Foundation and she established a scholarship for single mothers. An ardent volunteer, Haugland has served on the Lane Foundation Board of Trustees since 2004.

A Grammy-Winning Songwriter with Nine Number One Singles: Richard Leigh
Nominated by Virginia Highlands Community College in Abingdon, Va.
Songwriter Richard Leigh's career is nothing short of spectacular. He's written #1 hit songs like Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue and A Cold Day in July for performers such as Crystal Gayle and the Dixie Chicks. To date, Leigh's songs have made 14 trips to the Top Ten. He has written or co-written nine number one singles.

He began writing songs when he was only 10-years-old and became a professional songwriter at age 23. Leigh got his first break in 1976 when Crystal Gayle released I'll Get Over You and took it to #1 on Billboard's Country Chart. This was made all the sweeter when I'll Get Over You garnered Leigh his first of now 7 Song of the Year nominations, this one from the Country Music Association (CMA).

Two years later, Leigh took home the Song of the Year award from the CMA for Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue. The song reached the #1 position on both Pop and Country charts and remained on the charts for more than 6 months and won a Grammy Award for Best Country Song. In addition to his own three Grammy nominations, five of Leigh's songs have become vehicles to the Grammy Awards for other artists in the Best Performance, Record of the Year and Vocal Event categories.

His songs have been recorded by Conway Twitty, Martina McBride, Anne Murray, Debbie Boone, Ray Charles, Alabama, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, the Bellamy Brothers, Marie Osmond and many others. Leigh received one of his greatest honors in 1994, twenty years and one month after arriving in Nashville as an aspiring and unknown songwriter, when his peers elected him into the Nashville Songwriter's Hall of Fame. Leigh is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University.

From High School Dropout to Teacher of the Year: Elva Morales
Nominated by Seward County Community College/Area Technical School in Liberal, Kan.
Inspirational teacher and citizenship instructor Elva Morales has educated hundreds of children, influenced policies impacting the U.S. citizenship exam and helped more than 2,000 people become U.S. citizens.

Morales was born in Guanajuato, Mexico and raised in Deerfield, Kan. As a child, she saw her parents struggle with the English language and she recognized the need to learn the English language in this new country.

She dropped out of high school her sophomore year to work at a beef packing plant to help her family. She worked for National Beef for 17 years, until a doctor told her she needed to find a new career for health reasons.

She decided to go back to school and get her GED, but it was tough. "The large campus was very frightening," Morales said. "It took me several times to even enter the building." But she overcame her fears and received her GED. Morales earned her associate's degree from Seward County Community College/Area Technical School, her bachelor's degree from St. Mary's of the Plains and her English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) certification from Fort Hays State University. She is presently working on her master's degree.

She became an elementary school teacher and instructional coach. "She is a great teacher who has a lot of dedication and love toward teaching and preparing all of those people that are willing to get ahead in life," said Flor Franz, one of her students.

In the past 20 years, she has helped over 2,000 students obtain their U.S. citizenship. In 2000, she was selected as Teacher of the Year by Nordstrom Department Stores and Hispanic magazine. In 2007, Morales was selected to serve on the United States Department of Homeland Security National Immigration Service's task force to review and improve the U.S. examination of citizenship. She is the only representative for community colleges on the task force and the only individual from a rural community.


  • There are 12.4 million community college students in the United States. 40% of community college students are enrolled full-time, while 60% are enrolled part-time.
  • The average age of a community college student is 28-years-old.
  • Only 39% of community college students are age 21 or younger, while 15% are age 40 and up.
  • 58% of community college students are women.
  • 45% of community college students are minorities.
  • 42% of community college students are the first generation in their family to attend college.
  • Half of all nurses and the majority of other new healthcare workers are educated at community colleges.
  • Average annual community college tuition is $2,713 for a full-time student, compared with $7,605 average tuition costs for a public four-year college.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Association of Community Colleges is the leading advocacy organization representing close to 1,200 community, junior and technical colleges nationwide. Community colleges are the largest sector of higher education, enrolling 12.4 million credit and non-credit students each year. To learn more about the AACC, visit www.aacc.nche.edu.



SOURCE American Association of Community Colleges