Amberlin Dupre, operations manager at a national nonprofit medical society, and Joel Riley, Marine Corps veteran and project manager in the financial 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 towards or have completed a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and plan to pursue graduate degrees. Dupre, who graduated from Thomas Edison State University this spring, plans to enroll in an advanced degree program that would allow her to help people struggling with mental health issues and learning disabilities. Riley is expected to graduate from National University in the spring of 2024, and he intends to pursue an advanced degree in counseling psychology so he can better serve veterans and people of color with mental health issues. Both recipients will receive a $1,000 stipend to 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 utilizing ACE credit recommendations for personnel or military training. Recipients must demonstrate excellence in their community or workplace while successfully balancing the demands of family, work, and education. Winners will be honored next month at ACE2023, ACE’s annual meeting in Washington, DC.
Dupre decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree after overcoming a number of obstacles. Although mental health issues prevented her from completing high school, she bravely chose to pursue higher education as an adult. After enrolling, Dupre thrived, earning a 4.0 GPA 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 integral part of her success.
“The availability of online courses and alternative credits has revolutionized my ability to study the way my brain wanted it to,” she said. “Earning ACE-approved credits has saved me thousands of dollars and allows me to graduate two years early.”
Dupre has also developed successfully professionally. After a college internship with the Family Physicians Inquiries Network (FPIN), Dupre excelled and was offered a full-time position as operations and human resources coordinator before being promoted to lead and oversee the organization’s finance department. FPIN Executive Director LuShawna Gerdes praised Dupre’s passion, work ethic and leadership.
“Her unparalleled efficiency, her dedication to the people around her and her dedication to doing exceptional work has completely transformed our office,” said Gerdes.
As if school and work weren’t enough, Dupre also gives back to their community. For example, Dupre has supported an elderly gentleman with dementia at a local senior living community, and she raised money for St. Jude’s Hospital by running a half marathon.
Dupre plans to attend graduate school to pursue her dream of helping people struggling with mental health issues and learning disabilities. “My educational journey exemplifies the resilience, strength, and innovative problem-solving of all adult learners,” she said.
Riley first became interested in the US Marine Corps after learning about its humanitarian work and enlisted at the age of 19. During his service, Riley received a variety of honors: he was selected as an honorary graduate of boot camp and technical school; elected as class teacher at the technical school; and honored with the Operation Inherent Resolve Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, and two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals.
“Each success showed me that I was exactly where I needed to be and kept pushing me to keep going,” Riley said.
During his time in the Marines, Riley enrolled at National University and was able to apply 135 joint services credits he earned from the technical and command schools for his degree. Riley remained enrolled in this program while he embarked on two combat missions.
“It was a real challenge, but my professors were gracious and understanding when factors beyond my control posed challenges,” he said.
Riley, who is also pursuing an advanced degree, has chosen to focus his education on psychology because he wants to help people. However, his passion for education does not stop with him. Before leaving active duty, Riley ensured that all Marines under his direct command were enrolled in higher education courses. He also taught them how to prioritize their time and be successful in school. Riley still offers mentoring to Marines and works privately as a life coach.
“Amberlin and Joel have demonstrated a desire 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. “You are a role model for other students who may not be following a traditional post-secondary path, and I’m excited to see what they achieve.”
This year’s ACE Student of the Year Award sponsor is Sophia Learning, an online learning platform that enables students to get a head start in their education or graduate by taking affordable and flexible ACE courses at the general education level – Recommended for college credit. As of 2020, Sophia students have completed more than 250,000 courses, earned more than 750,000 credits and saved more than $200 million.
“Many university paths are not straight – life just gets in the way. It’s important that students like Amberlin and Joel, like everyone else, have the opportunity to excel and thrive in order to achieve their educational goal,” said Shawna Thayer, CEO of Sophia. “I’m proud of the achievements of our winners and look forward to seeing how they progress in their educational journey.”