Giovanna Grantham, an IT consultant and student at Thomas Edison State University (TESU) is one of two students selected as the American Council on Education’s (ACE) 2021 Students of the Year.

Grantham expects to graduate later this year from TESU with a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies and an associate of natural science and mathematics in computer science. She also will earn an associate of applied science in information systems from Pierpont Community & Technical College in West Virginia.

“We are honored that ACE chose a Thomas Edison student and so very proud of Giovanna and her accomplishments as she completes her journey to a degree,” said Dr. Merodie A. Hancock, president, Thomas Edison State University. “At TESU, recognizing learning that occurs outside the classroom is the cornerstone of our mission to help adult learners. We strive to assist students like Giovanna to apply their past experiences to accelerate their path to a degree and, because of that, students earned more than 1 million credits for learning outside of the classroom in the last five years.”

The ACE Student of the Year Award is presented annually by ACE to two individuals who have benefited. Recipients must demonstrate outstanding achievements in their community or workplace while successfully balancing the demands of family, career and education. The names of the winners were announced today during the closing plenary session at ACE2022, ACE’s annual meeting in San Diego.

In addition to Grantham, Casey Dunn, a U.S. Army staff sergeant and cadet, who is an active-duty soldier and student at Colorado State University (CSU), was selected. Both recipients will receive a $1,000 scholarship to help fund their education.

Born in Guatemala, Grantham moved with her family to the United Stated when she was seven. Financially, college was out of reach for her after high school, but she became certified in graphic design and worked for five years as a digital media producer with Prison Fellowship, bringing hope and restoration to prisoners, families and communities impacted by crime and incarceration, all while serving as a pro bono Spanish language translator in her community. Despite her career growth, she felt stuck and still wanted to pursue a postsecondary education.

Her fiancé used ACE-recommended credits almost exclusively to earn his degree from TESU a few years prior, and she says her future mother-in-law was invaluable in helping her find the right courses and exams to speed up her path toward a degree, calling her “her biggest cheerleader and motivator.” In all, she was awarded 95 ACE-recommended credits in 11 months, all of which were accepted and applied toward her degrees at TESU.

A member of the Chickasaw Nation in Arizona, Grantham says she plans to use her platform as a Student of the Year to go out into the Native American and Latino communities and bring more attention to the alternative educational pathways available to them.

“I could not have done this without my mother-in-law who helped make me aware of these options, and I look forward to sharing this with other people who may not have the resources to spend years working toward a degree because they have families and jobs,” Grantham said. “This scholarship will also help me work toward my next goal, which is to pursue a master’s degree in management information systems so that I can continue to advance professionally.”

“These award winners are already proven leaders who actively seek growth in and out of the classroom. Their commitment to education despite all the obstacles they have faced will undoubtedly be an inspiration to other students who may not follow the traditional postsecondary path,” said Louis Soares, ACE’s chief learning and innovation officer.