AACRAO Celebrates 2023 Award & Grant Winners

February 20, 2023
Group of people clapping hands.

AACRAO members come together every year at the Annual Meeting to collaborate, network, learn, and celebrate each other's successes. For the uninitiated, each year we encourage our members to nominate themselves or their peers for an AACRAO Award or Grant during the summer open nomination period. Once selected these winners are recognized at the next AACRAO Annual Meeting. Continue reading to hear from some of our award winners and learn more about each of the AACRAO Awards & Grants.

2023 Award & Grant Winners:

Elbert W. Ockerman State and Regional Award

Emerging Leader Award
Katie Brown, Aspen University
Erin Collins, Pomona College 
Michelle Weller, New York Law School

Award for Excellence in International Education
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert, Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc

Honorary Membership
Tina Falkner (posthumous), University of Minnesota - Twin Cities
Andrew Hannah, The University of Chicago
Sherry Waldon Wells, Lamar University (retired)

Janie Barnett Distinguished Service Award
Michele Sandlin, AACRAO Consulting 
Carol Harrison, College of Southern Maryland (retired)

Thomas A. Bilger Award
Jonathan Helm, University of Pittsburgh 

Tina Falkner Engagement Grant
Sonia Munoz, American Academy of Dramatic Arts 

Conner Scholarship
Kristy Sprung, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Tysa Egleton, Youngstown State University
Michelle Gruber, Butler University 
Sue Strakowski, University of Cincinnati 
Rachel Birkner, Northeastern Illinois University
Brandice Brenner, Pittsburg State University 
Ramiro Hernandez, The University of Texas at San Antonio
Savannah Stevenson, Baker University -
Sydney Faught, University at Albany
Jessica Wallace, Capital Area School of Practical Nursing

Elbert W. Ockerman State & Regional Award

This award recognizes outstanding professional activities of the state/regional associations and encourages the development and expansion of quality professional activities among state/regional associations.

Thoughts from award winner Sara Sullivan, Upper Midwest AACRAO (UMACRAO) 2021 & 2022 President -

UMACRAO is incredibly grateful to win the Elbert W. Ockerman State and Regional Professional Activity Award. COVID forced pivots, produced barriers, and dampened morale; but it also created opportunities for creative outside-the-box thinking. The annual conference was scheduled to be an in-person joint event with WACRAO (Wisconsin AACRAO) but that was obviously derailed. In the midst of planning a very successful conference, we reinvigorated a long-standing relationship between our organizations and strengthened our “UMACRAO Conversations” initiative for monthly engagement. It was wonderful to invite our friends from WACRAO to join and to have larger, more collaborative, and more regularly scheduled connections focused on relevant topics. We continue to evolve the conversations to greater levels of success due to the enthusiasm of our membership and the mirrored engagement by our WACRAO colleagues. While we are grateful for the acknowledgment of UMACRAO’s success, we would also like to acknowledge that our impact was strengthened by WACRAO’s support.

Emerging Leader Award

This award is presented to professionals who have, early in their AACRAO engagement, made an exceptional or unique contribution to AACRAO that demonstrates promise as a future AACRAO leader.

Thoughts from one of our Emerging Leader Award recipients, Katie Brown, Assistant Vice President, Student Success & University Registrar -

Receiving an emerging leader award is a huge honor for me. As someone who has dealt with imposter syndrome, and who works at a more non-traditional university, it is amazing to be granted a seat at the table and to have my accomplishments recognized. I appreciate everyone who has helped me along the way and I hope to be able to continue contributing to the AACRAO community.

Being a part of AACRAO has given me the resources and support needed to help moving myself and my institution forward. Without AACRAO, I would not be where I’m at today in my own career. I would encourage everyone to try and get involved in AACRAO any way they can.

Award for Excellence in International Education

This award is presented to a member for excellence in the field of international education.

Thoughts from award winner Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert, Founder, President, and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc - 

It is an honor to be recognized for the award for Excellence in International Education. Having once been an international student myself who spent her formative school years in the UK and university education in the US, I know the first-hand benefits of studying abroad. Stepping into the world of international education research and credential evaluation seemed a natural progression for me. I cannot envision a world without scholarly exchange, student mobility, and international students.

My membership with AACRAO spans at least 3 decades if not more! I owe the broadening of my understanding of world education systems and credential evaluation standards to AACRAO’s Projects for International Education Research workshops which were instrumental in my professional growth. My ability to serve on committees, most especially my current role as Chair of the International Education Standards Council (IESC) that oversees the Electronic Database on Global Education not only strengthens the networks I’ve built with long-time colleagues but also keeps me connected with newcomers to the Association. In addition, AACRAO’s annual meetings continue to support international education by offering new members a rich array of training programs as well as providing professionals a platform to share their expertise.

Honorary Membership

Honorary membership is awarded in recognition of a member's active involvement and contribution to AACRAO by the Board of Directors.

Hear from one of our newest honorary members, Sherry Waldon-Wells -

It has been my honor to be a member of AACRAO during my 31 years in higher education. I was privileged to serve the organization in a variety of capacities over the years. I am humbled to be recognized by my peers and awarded honorary membership by an organization that has helped me grow so much as a professional over the course of my career. 

My membership in AACRAO has been immensely rewarding both personally and professionally. The resources, meetings, and trainings available to members are invaluable. Networking with colleagues from around the country and world from every type of educational sector has given me a perspective I could not have gotten any other way. The fact that some of these colleagues have developed into friendships that continue outside of the organization is a wonderful bonus.


Janie Barnett Distinguished Service Award

This award recognizes an active or retired AACRAO member for exceptional contributions over an extended period of time for service to AACRAO at the national level. 

Thoughts from award winner Carol Harrison -

I am humbled by receiving the Janie Barnett Distinguished Service Award from AACRAO this year. I have always believed in giving back and volunteering my time, especially for AACRAO who has given me so much over the years professionally.

The knowledge I gained from AACRAO’s professional development activities enhanced enrollment services at CSM. My involvement in AACRAO has allowed me to create a fantastic network of colleagues that could assist me with questions or issues in the Registrar’s Office. I have made lifelong friends. Thank you, AACRAO for so many wonderful memories culminating in this award.

Thomas A. Bilger Award

This award is presented to a member in recognition of consistent vision, service and/or leadership in AACRAO and with seven or more years of volunteer service.

Hear from award winner Jonathan Helm, University Registrar - 

It’s an honor to receive the Thomas A. Bilger award and be associated with the legacy of Tom Bilger within AACRAO. As a new professional and first-time attendee at the 2000 Annual Meeting, I hoped that maybe I would have something to contribute to AACRAO and the professions at a future point, but even that seemed difficult to imagine. While I often felt some amount of inadequacy for the task, all of the service opportunities with AACRAO that followed have simply been based on saying “yes” when there was a call for volunteers. My desire for involvement and service to AACRAO stemmed from what I have viewed as a debt of gratitude for all that I have gained from AACRAO and the desire to repay that debt in some small way. The problem with that plan is that every time I serve in some capacity, I always come away feeling that I gained more from the experience than I contributed. 

Over the past 23 years, and registrar’s offices at four institutions in four different states, AACRAO has been my consistent connection and home within the professions. I have felt certainty throughout my career that AACRAO played an indispensable role in my preparation for each new step. The personal and professional connections with friends and colleagues that I have made through AACRAO are something I treasure. 

Tina Falkner Engagement Grant

This grant supports continued, in-person engagement at AACRAO meetings to enable members of committees, caucuses, and/or work groups with a demonstrated financial need to fulfill their professional obligation.

Thoughts from grant recipient Sonia Munoz -

I began my career in higher education nearly a decade ago having worked in Admissions, Records Management, and, for the past four years, as the Registrar at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles. As a new Registrar, my AACRAO membership has been pivotal to my career and I am grateful for all the opportunities AACRAO has provided to help me learn and grow professionally. I appreciate the community AACRAO creates through numerous resources, newsletters, webinars, committees, caucuses, and so much more. My first experience at an Annual AACRAO meeting was in 2020 when I was able to attend virtually. This will be my first time attending an AACRAO annual meeting in person. I am thrilled to be attending live workshops and I know the information and knowledge I gain from this event will be incredibly valuable in helping me to continue my professional journey.

Conner Scholarship

The Conner Scholarship Fund provides support for AACRAO members to participate & attend the AACRAO Annual Meeting.

Hear from one of our scholarship recipients, Kristy Spring, Associate Registrar at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee:

I’ve worked in high education for over 21 years in many different areas, including admissions, advising, and student development. Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to build my network and learn invaluable information through professional development, including conferences. I’m so thankful to be a recipient of a Conner Scholarship, so I can continue to learn in a field that I love!

My first couple years of work in my role were during 2020-2022, where professional development opportunities were limited and priorities were shifted due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The opportunities to learn and grow because of the resources offered through AACRAO have been immensely helpful, and I look forward to finding ways to become more involved in AACRAO and my state association throughout my career.

Don't forget, registration is open for the 108th AACRAO Annual Meeting in Aurora, CO from March 26 - 29. 


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