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2020 Award Winners

Inspiring leaders and learners

Morris T. Keeton Award 

Granted to Dr. Zakiya Smith Ellis
Chief Policy Advisor to the Governor of the State of New Jersey 

Established in 1989 to honor Morris T. Keeton, the founding president of CAEL, this award recognizes a person whose work, commitment, and ideals reflect and extend the values that Morris Keeton exemplified. 

Dr. Zakiya Smith Ellis' commitment to innovate policy and improve access to higher education for all adults ensures that there is no better recipient of the 2020 Morris T. Keeton Award.

Learner of the Year Award

Granted to Alphur "Slim" Willock
Sponsored by Soomo Learning

To recognize CAEL’s adult learner of the year is to witness our ideals in action. It’s a reminder of the importance of helping all students, regardless of age or life situation, meet their education goals.

CAEL’s learner of the year is someone who has overcome multiple barriers in pursuit of higher learning, and there is no better example than Alphur "Slim" Willock. As we reflect on his accomplishments, we also are reminded of the millions like him who are pursuing lifelong learning and the opportunities it enables. Their success is our success.

Thank you to our generous sponsor

Pamela Tate Rise Award

Granted to Tessa LeSage
Director of Social Innovation and Sustainability for the Southwest Florida Community Foundation and the Future-Makers Coalition

The Pamela Tate Rise Award recognizes those who use incredible tenacity to forge connections between higher education and the workplace. In the process, they enhance the lives of adult learners and help sustain our nation’s talent pipeline.

Tessa LeSage embodies the spirit of this award. Tessa built a coalition to address a chronic workforce shortage in certified nursing assistants, and her tenacity kept the initiative intact, improving a chronic workforce shortage and the lives of 60 workers during the initial cohort.

Adult Learner Impact Award

Granted to Texas State University


Each year, the Adult Learner Impact Award goes to an institution that has provided outstanding programs and services for adult learners.

Texas State University was an early adopter of principles and processes dedicated to adult learners. Recently, department faculty completed a multi-year strategic planning process and program redesign to update and strengthen the university’s bachelor of applied arts and sciences program outcomes, curriculum, and PLA processes.