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News from DREAM 2021 — Wednesday, Feb. 17

News & Updates
February 17, 2021

Welcome to DREAM 2021, Achieving the Dream’s annual flagship conference gone virtual in the time of COVID-19. This year, more than 3,300 participants are tuning in from around the world. They include prominent thinkers, distinguished faculty and administrators, exceptional students, and kindred colleagues grappling with current issues and challenges. Throughout the conference they will gain fresh perspectives, inspiration, and a deeper understanding of the priorities for community colleges today and in the future.

DREAM Daily is a wrap-up of the prior day’s plenaries, a guide to upcoming sessions, news of note about speakers and attendees, ATD resources, and important announcements.

Quote that says We have a responsibility to effect change in a meaningful way - in our classrooms, on our campuses, and in the communities we serve.


In her opening address, Achieving the Dream President and CEO Dr. Karen A. Stout outlined the challenges community colleges face as they address the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and deep-seated racism in American culture while at the same time serving as essential hubs in their communities.

Kicking off the 17th annual DREAM with “The Future is Now: Hope at the Forefront of Change,” Dr. Stout welcomed more than 3,300 registrants attending virtually and laid out four major challenges that frame the action themes of this year’s conference. They are:

  • Being intentional and action-oriented in removing racial inequities that impede social justice.
  • Embracing a bolder equitable access agenda focused on finding new ways to immerse ourselves in our communities and serve more students.
  • Ensuring that faculty are at the heart of efforts to leverage teaching and learning to drive equitable gains.
  •  Listening in new ways to what Big Data imparts about the systems and structures that are producing results.

“There is a moral arc to our student success work,” and it calls for proactive leadership, beginning with deep and difficult self-reflection to examine our own prejudices and privilege, Dr. Stout told attendees. ATD is doing its own internal work, which has resulted in the creation of the new Racial Equity Leadership Academy and additional services and professional supports.

The commitment to equity must be universal, Dr. Stout added. As one community college leader noted later in the day at a Spotlight workshop: “Equity cannot be one person’s job. Everyone has to have a role in it.”

The work ahead can feel daunting, Dr. Stout conceded, “but not as daunting as the disruption facing our students. Their voices and stories inspire us to hear and understand the changes that are coming.”


In sharing her own struggle to overcome a childhood of hardship, oppression, and self-doubt, opening plenary keynote speaker Jesmyn Ward conveyed how the act of storytelling helped her find her voice, her agency, and creative liberation. A two-time National Book Award winner, the recipient of awards including a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, and a professor of creative writing at Tulane University, Ward recounted the enduring effect poverty and racism had on her, her family, and the community in the Deep South that is her home.

Despite the relentless impact of 400 years of oppression, Ward still saw her parents and older relatives get up each day, work hard, and keep going. She applied that formula to her passionate desire to write, overcoming fear through hard work, perseverance, and education. “The way I grew out of that and began feeling a sense of agency that the things I had to say had some value was by embracing my gifts, telling my story again and again, and exercising my voice,” she told DREAM attendees.

Jesmyn Ward delivers her keynote address on the DREAM virtual platform to an audience of over 1,000 viewers

Ward’s experience serves as a lesson for students, but also for our institutions, Dr. Stout noted, pointing out that the community college story is complicated, but must be told repeatedly until, bit by bit, we and our students achieve success.


3 women with a sign for Leah Meye Austin Award for Northeast Wisconsin Technical CollegeNortheast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) was recognized with the Leah Meyer Austin Award for its efforts to make the institution “student ready.” ATD Board Chair Dr. Pam Eddinger presented the award noting that it is “the highest honor awarded to colleges in the Achieving the Dream National Network, recognizing institutional strength, aligned policies and procedures, a student-focused culture, notable increases in student outcomes, and reduction of equity gaps.”

The award reflects “NWTC’s core belief that everyone—no matter where they are in their personal and professional journeys—can dream big and soar higher,” said NWTC president Dr. H. Jeffrey Rafn.

Since joining the ATD Network in 2010, NWTC has substantively increased student persistence, credit completion, and the proportion of students who successfully transfer and earn a baccalaureate degree. NWTC has also narrowed equity gaps for students receiving Pell grants, part-time students, and student parents. Learn more by reading the announcement or the full case study.


Achieving the Dream announced today that four community colleges have earned Leader College of Distinction status, the highest designation offered to institutions in the ATD Network. The 2020 cohort of Leader Colleges of Distinction includes 2021 Leah Meyer Austin Award winner Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (WI), Roane State College (TN), Sinclair Community College (OH), and Odessa College (TX). ATD created the Leader College of Distinction award in 2018 to recognize colleges that have pursued and met challenging student success goals, often earning Leader College status several times.


Seven rural colleges have joined the inaugural cohort of ATD’s new initiative, Building Resiliency in Rural Communities for the Future of Work. Announced during DREAM on Tuesday, the initiative will strengthen participating institutions’ capacity to provide students with the workforce skills needed in today and tomorrow’s economy, connect students with careers in the digital economy that pay family-sustaining wages, and pursue whole-college reform efforts to provide academic and personal supports and narrow equity gaps.  They include:

  • Berkshire Community College (MA)
  • Clovis Community College (NM)
  • Columbia-Greene Community College (NY)
  • Halifax Community College (NC)
  • Louisiana State University-Eunice (LA)
  • Northwest Mississippi Community College (MS)
  • Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College (KY)

“Rural community colleges have long served as drivers of their communities’ economic and civic vitality, playing a critical role in ensuring social and economic mobility,” said Dr. Stout, adding that the initiative will offer “new learning opportunities around the role of rural community colleges as workforce and economic development engines.” Learn more here.


Tuesday’s five spotlight sessions provided DREAM attendees with an in-depth exploration into five of higher education’s most pressing topics, ranging from building resiliency in rural communities to how diversity and equity officers increase equity. Sessions also covered K-12 partnerships and dual enrollment, building capacity for teaching and learning, and redesigning the college experience in a post-pandemic world.

While the five sessions were held concurrently, don’t miss the opportunity to learn from each of these valuable sessions! All are already available on the DREAM platform, accompanied by additional materials and resources shared by presenters, for you to revisit and learn from now or after the conference. Just visit the sessions you missed in the online program to view a recording and download presentations and other materials


Today’s opening plenary session, Fostering Teaching & Learning Excellence: Creating Inclusive, Relationship-Rich, Culturally Responsive Learning Experiences for Student Success, will take place from 1:00pm to 1:15pm ET. Featured speakers:

  • Dr. Peter Felten, Executive Director of the Center for Engaged Learning, Assistant Provost for Teaching and Learning, and Professor of History, Elon University
  • Dr. Laura Rendón, Professor Emerita, University of Texas-San Antonio
  • Dr. Jacqueline Taylor, Associate Vice President, Retention & Student Success, Southwest Tennessee Community College

Photos of 3 plenary speakers


DREAM is known for the networking, idea exchange, and brainstorming conversations that being together makes possible. This year, lacking proximity, ATD has found the virtue in virtual by developing a broad range of immersive programming.

After the plenary, participants can choose between presentations in various formats on themes of racial equity, teaching and learning, data and technology, the access agenda, and community connections. The four 60-minute Concurrent Sessions show the successful execution of a strategy and evidence of improved student and institutional outcomes. Next up will be a choice from eight 30-minute Innovative Collaboration sessions featuring best practices and case studies. The six Lightning Learning sessions highlight new or evolving advancements in student and institutional outcomes. DREAM Labs are highly practical and provide tips on using ATD tools for student success redesign.


Achieving the Dream is proud to welcome this year’s DREAM Scholars — eight dynamic student leaders looking to make a difference on their campuses and in their communities. The DREAM Scholar program is an experiential learning and leadership program that also involves participation in DREAM 2021. Participants will hear directly from these students throughout DREAM, including videos of their “I Am From” poems. We will also highlight two Scholars in each issue of DREAM Daily. Today, meet Sarah and Pedro.

Sarah Cuevas, DREAM 2021 Student

Pedro Moranchel; DREAM 2021 Student

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