Valencia Community College Professor Julie M. Phelps Receives
National Award for Innovation in Higher Education
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San Jose, CA—
The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and the Council
for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) today named Julie M. Phelps, project director of
Achieving the Dream and professor of mathematics at Valencia Community College in Orlando,
Fla., the 2010 winner of the Virginia B. Smith Innovative Leadership Award.
The award, presented annually by the National Center and CAEL, recognizes leaders who have
made exceptional contributions to advance innovation in American higher education. While
winners have demonstrated innovative leadership qualities, they are still at a stage in their
careers where they will likely make significant contributions in the future.
Phelps has served since 2005 as project director of Achieving the Dream, a multiyear national
initiative to help more community college students – particularly students of color and lowincome
students – graduate from college. As project director and professor of mathematics, her
work focuses on three learning community strategies: supplemental instruction or cooperative
learning inside and outside of class; the expansion of the Learning in Community (LinC)
approach that brings faculty members and student support experts to work with students in
double-class periods; and expanded course offerings focused on academic success and life
lessons designed for community college students.
“We were very impressed with Julie Phelps’ ongoing work to give students at Valencia
Community College a good start and help them meet the academic and social challenges of
college,” said Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center. “When we provide early
support, particularly to at-risk students who are not college-ready, we can help ensure that they
continue their education and make it to graduation.”
For the past 10 years, Phelps has studied ways to increase student engagement, learning,
retention, and graduation among developmental education students. This research has provided
her with strategies to strengthen student engagement and performance through peer mentoring
in which a "role model" student demonstrates how to be a successful student both in and out of
the classroom. Valencia’s supplemental instruction focuses on high-risk courses, those with less
than a 70 percent success rate, instead of high-risk students so that the students are not
stigmatized. Since its beginning in 2004, the supplemental instruction courses have grown from
10 sections to over 40 sections per semester.
In her work with Achieving the Dream, Phelps has used data to understand how Valencia
Community College students experience college during their first year. She also has taught
developmental mathematics as part of an intentional learning community by linking mathematics
to a student success course. In this LinC program, two courses are taught back-to-back in the
same classroom with two different faculty members and a success coach.
Phelps holds a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction, specializing in Community College from
the University of Central Florida. Her dissertation, “Supplemental Instruction in a Community
College Developmental Mathematics Curriculum: A Phenomenological Study of Learning
Experiences,” focused supplemental instruction in developmental math by looking at the
experiences of students in supplemental instruction courses at other Valencia campuses.
More information about Phelps’ work and an interview by Joni E. Finney, vice president of the
National Center, and Carol F. Stoel, program officer at the National Science Foundation, with
Julie Phelps will be available in the July/August issue of Change magazine.
The National Center and CAEL established the award in 1999 in honor of Virginia B. Smith,
president emerita of Vassar College and founding director of the Fund for the Improvement of
Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). Throughout her career, Smith led efforts to develop new
approaches for improving opportunity and excellence in higher education. A committee of
national experts selects the award winner, who receives a $4,000 stipend.
Previous winners include:
Improving education for minority
students in science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics
(STEM), particularly through the
university’s Meyerhoff Scholars
- Freeman A. Hrabowski, III
- University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Redesigning regional accreditation, with an emphasis on student learning assessment.
- 2008 - Ralph Wolf
- Executive Director
- Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
Increasing learning productivity through course redesign and the use of technology
- 2007 - Carol Twigg
- National Center for Academic Transformation
Providing leadership in developing and implementing the California State University Early Assessment Program.
- 2006 - David Spence
- Southern Regional Education Board
Providing leadership in developing and implementing the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).
- 2005 - George Kuh
- Chancellor's Professor of Higher Education
- Indiana University Bloomington
Providing leadership in developing and helping others develop learning communities.
- 2003 - Barbara Leigh Smith and Jean MacGregor
- National Learning Communities Project
- The Evergreen State College
Providing leadership in the use of technology in the classroom.
- 2002 - Robert Olin
- Professor and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
- University of Alabama
Pioneering strategies to assess student learning.
- 2001 - Tim Riordan
- Professor of Philosophy
- Alverno College Institute
Providing leadership for institutional change and assessment strategies.
- 2001 - Peter Ewell
- Vice President
- National Center for Higher Education Management Systems
Developing and implementing community-based educational achievement strategies.
- 2000 - Susana Navarro
- Executive Director
- The El Paso Collaborative for Academic Excellence
The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education promotes public policies that enhance Americans' opportunities to pursue and achieve a quality higher education. Established in 1998 by a consortium of national foundations, the National Center is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in San Jose, California. It is not associated with any institution of higher education, with any political party, or with any government agency.
The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) is a non-profit organization committed to providing better access to education for adults through partnerships with business, government, labor, and higher education. CAEL works to remove policy and organizational barriers to learning opportunities, identifies and disseminates effective practices, and delivers value-added services.
For more information about the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, visit www.umbc.edu/meyerhoff/index.html.
For more information about the Virginia B. Smith Innovative Leadership Award, including information about nominations, visit: www.highereducation.org/vsmithaward/.