Press Release

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

Washington, DC—The Association of American Colleges and Universities announced today the 2020 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; who demonstrate a commitment to developing academic and civic responsibility in themselves and in others; and whose work reflects a strong emphasis on teaching and learning. The awards honor the work of K. Patricia Cross, professor of higher education, emerita, at the University of California–Berkeley.

The 2020 recipients are:

  • Sara R. Abelson, Health Behavior and Health Education, University of Michigan
  • María B. Alcívar-Zuñiga, Human Development and Family Studies, Iowa State University
  • Ciara R. Christian, Language, Literacy, and Culture, University of Maryland Baltimore County
  • Zachary del Rosario, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, Stanford University
  • Brett Ranon Nachman, Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, University of Wisconsin–Madison
  • Douglas R. Valentine, Sociology, University of Missouri
  • Edgar Virgüez, Environmental Sciences and Policy, Duke University

The 2020 recipients were chosen in a rigorous process from a pool of more than 200 nominees from 118 institutions who have demonstrated the potential for leadership in teaching and learning and a strong commitment to academic and civic responsibility. 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.

“We are truly grateful to Pat Cross for her deep and abiding commitment to championing the next generation of leaders in higher education. This year’s scholars have demonstrated excellence in teaching, scholarship, leadership, and civic engagement. 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.

“This year’s scholars are serious and published researchers, award-winning teachers, campus leaders, and catalysts for campus/community involvement. Their stories are amazingly diverse and, taken together, give us a vision of an American higher education that will serve our increasingly complex society,” said K. Patricia Cross.

“At a time of much scrutiny for higher education, the K. Patricia Cross Scholars 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. “These future leaders 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’ legacy of innovation and engagement in the classroom is well-represented by these seven 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 2020 Cross Scholars will be recognized at AAC&U’s 2020 Annual Meeting, “Shaping the Future of Higher Education: An Invitation to Lead” in Washington, DC, January 22–25. They will be honored and introduced to the AAC&U community during the Opening Plenary and will speak in the session “Voices of Changemakers: How Commitments to Learning, Community, and Equity Shape Future Faculty.” The Cross Award recipients will also participate in other sessions and meetings throughout the conference.

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 1,400 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.

Information about AAC&U can be found at