Voices and Viewpoints

OCCRL Founding Director Debra Bragg Awarded the Association for the Study of Higher Education’s Howard R. Bowen Distinguished Career Award

by Eboni Zamani-Gallaher and Heather Fox / Nov 15, 2016

The Howard R. Bowen Distinguished Career Award is a pinnacle award provided in recognition of an individual who has “significantly advanced the field [of higher education] through extraordinary scholarship, leadership and service.” On Friday, November 11, 2016, at the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, Dr. Debra Bragg was awarded this honor provided annually to a single individual. Other recent awardees include Dr. George D. Kuh, Dr. Shelia Slaughter, Dr. Ronald G. Ehrenberg, Dr. Daryl G. Smith, Dr. Walter R. Allen, and Dr. Patrick Terenzini.

Deb1Dr. Bragg’s research focuses on the transition to college of youth and adults, with a special focus on populations that have been historically underserved in the postsecondary setting. With great foresight, Dr. Bragg recognized early in her career the important role of community colleges in serving as a primary entry point into postsecondary underserved youths and adults. She founded the Office of Community College of Research and Leadership (OCCRL), in 1989, building a cutting-edge research agenda focused on the key transition points both into and out of postsecondary education. Throughout the years, Dr. Bragg providing mentoring and guidance to dozens of graduate students who were able to use their experiences at OCCRL to jump-start their careers as researchers, practitioners, policy makers, and faculty. Dr. Bragg’s continuous (and continuing) contributions to higher education will have lasting effects on access and outcomes for underserved student populations for generations to come. Likewise, OCCRL will forever benefit from the foundation built by Dr. Bragg.

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Debra Bragg for being selected as the 2016 recipient of the Howard R. Brown Distinguished Career Award! I was an honor to see our founding director bestowed with this notable recognition. In asking her to reflect on what this award means to her, she offered the following:   

Thank you to the Association for the Study of Higher Education for bestowing me with the Distinguished Career Award. This is an honor I could have (and did not) ever imagine as possible. I am humbled by the many accolades that have come my way in recent years but none is so sweet as the ASHE award. Reflecting on the last 30 years, I am simply amazed but also enormously grateful that my professional pursuits are perceived as valuable to others. Being a first-generation college student, I enrolled at Eastern Illinois University with very little understanding of what college means. After a successful freshman year, I convinced my parents to let me to transfer to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and I completed a program of study to become a high school teacher. Reflecting on this initial goal and subsequent decisions to pursue graduate school at The Ohio State University, I must admit I still had very limited understanding of the options before me. A career still seemed out of reach for someone with as modest means and connections as me. However, what I did not know at that time, is how incredibly blessed I would become to work with such brilliant colleagues and students, to learn how to do research in pursuit of so many important problems and opportunities, and to receive such enduring support from family and friends. Like anyone, there were struggles along the way but I was blessed in that none of them derailed me. I persisted because I dearly loved my colleagues, family and friends, and I loved my work, and I used this passion day in and day out to try to make a difference. I recognize that this is a formula that defines the professional lives that most of us live. It is enormously humbling to be recognized from so many deserving to receive this accolade today. Last, I want to recognize my new colleagues at the University of Washington for providing me with such generous support and friendship as I carry on my research. I am grateful for the lifetime of blessings that I have received, and I promise to continue to do all I can to continue to serve you and our students well in the years ahead.


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