Press Release

Nine Graduate Students Honored with K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award

Washington, DC—The Association of American Colleges and Universities announced today the 2021 recipients of the annual K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award. This award recognizes graduate students who show exemplary promise as future leaders of higher education and who are committed to academic innovation in the areas of equity, community engagement, and teaching and learning. The awards honor the work of K. Patricia Cross, professor of higher education, emerita, at the University of California, Berkeley.

The 2021 recipients are:

  • Terri Dunbar, Engineering Psychology, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Eliaquin Gonell, Education Leadership and Policy Studies, University of Vermont
  • Devon Isaacs, Clinical/Counseling Psychology, Utah State University
  • Megan Massa, Neuroscience, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Kristen Nelson, Sociology, University of California, Berkeley
  • Rachel Perez-Udell, Plant Biology, University of Georgia
  • Tatiane Russo-Tait, STEM Education, University of Texas at Austin
  • Meshell Sturgis, Communication, University of Washington
  • Ashleen Williams, History, University of Mississippi

The 2021 recipients were chosen in a rigorous process from a pool of 200 nominees from 121 institutions who have demonstrated the potential for leadership in teaching, academic innovation, and community engagement. The Cross Award is open to all doctoral-level graduate students who are planning a career in higher education, regardless of academic department, and have been nominated by a faculty member or administrator. Graduate students in fields where the Master’s degree is the terminal degree are also eligible

“We are truly grateful to Pat Cross for her deep and abiding commitment to championing the next generation of leaders in higher education. Their stories are amazingly diverse and, taken together, give us a vision of an American higher education that will serve our increasingly complex society. We are thrilled to honor them and look forward to the many ways in which they will shape the future of American higher education,” said AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella.

“At a time of much scrutiny for higher education, the K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award serve as a reminder of how bright the future of college learning is,” said Ashley Finley, AAC&U Senior Advisor to the President and Vice President for Strategic Planning and Partnerships. “This year’s awardees share a profound commitment to educating students for a world dependent upon equity, an active democracy, and the skills of a liberal education. Pat Cross’s legacy is well represented by these nine scholars and educators. AAC&U is honored to recognize their accomplishments as graduate students and their vast potential to shape the future of higher education.”

The 2021 winners will be recognized at AAC&U’s Virtual Annual Meeting, “Revolutionizing Higher Education after COVID-19,” which will be held on January 20–23. They will be honored and introduced to the AAC&U community during the opening plenary session. The award recipients will also participate in the K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Session, which will be moderated by José Antonio Bowen.

For more information about AAC&U, its annual meeting, or the K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award, visit

About AAC&U

AAC&U is the leading national association dedicated to advancing the vitality and public standing of liberal education by making quality and equity the foundations for excellence in undergraduate education in service to democracy. Its members are committed to extending the advantages of a liberal education to all students, regardless of academic specialization or intended career. Founded in 1915, AAC&U now comprises more than 1,200 member institutions—including accredited public and private colleges, community colleges, research universities, and comprehensive universities of every type and size.

AAC&U functions as a catalyst and facilitator, forging links among presidents, administrators, faculty, and staff engaged in institutional and curricular planning. Through a broad range of activities, AAC&U reinforces the collective commitment to liberal education at the national, local, and global levels. Its high-quality programs, publications, research, meetings, institutes, public outreach efforts, and campus-based projects help individual institutions ensure that the quality of student learning is central to their work as they evolve to meet new economic and social challenges.

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