Student Wins All-USA Today Recognition


Kenneth L. Ender, Ph.D. President

Stephanie Markgraf, who will graduate from Cumberland County College this May, is a true American success story. She recently received national recognition for her academic success, leadership and service at the American Association of Community Colleges convention in Seattle. Stephanie was among 20 students in the country named to the All-USA Community and Junior College Academic First Team, USA TODAY’s recognition program honoring outstanding two-year college students. There were nearly 1,600 nominations from community colleges throughout the country.

Last week, the 20 First Team members were featured in USA-TODAY. We were so excited when we saw their photos and bios on a full-page spread. With a combined grade-point average of 3.975, they represent the best and the brightest, as well as the diversity found at community colleges.

And we were proud when we saw Stephanie’s photo, large and in the center of the page in this international newspaper. The caption under Stephanie’s photo read: “Margraf: Majoring in graphic design at Cumberland County College in Vineland, N.J, with an eye on a career as an educator and art advocate.”

The next day, a colleague who lives in Washington, D.C. e-mailed me: “Did you see the Cumberland County College student in USA-Today? Very impressive!” I replied: “Certainly. I agree.”

We are proud for Stephanie, the college community and Cumberland County. Because many people played a role in her success, both on and off campus. Stephanie’s journey for excellence that culminated in Seattle began in 1998, when she returned to Vineland from San Francisco because of her late mother’s illness. While caring for her mother, she took some courses at CCC to upgrade her computer skills.

And an act of kindness changed Stephanie’s life.

At her mother’s funeral in 1999, Stephanie felt like a stranger in her hometown, after a 20-year absence. “I felt so alone in a crowded room of mourners,” Stephanie recalled. “Then, I saw Professor John Adair looming from across the room. It was comforting to see a familiar face, and an honor to introduce him around the room.” Professor Adair encouraged Stephanie to utilize her studies to help her work through her grief. He continually challenged Stephanie during his classes. His passion for teaching and desire to make a difference inspired Stephanie to want to do the same.

And Professor Sharon Kewish, advisor of Phi Theta Kappa, the community college honor society, urged Stephanie to get involved. So Stephanie became the PTK president, and she has served as president of the CCC art club and graphic designer for the college newspaper and literary magazine.

Stephanie has earned several scholarships to attend four-year colleges.

Although Stephanie is the protagonist of this inspiring story, there are many heroes. CCC employees are incredible because they make a difference in students’ lives, and they do it every day.

Typically, our staff members have higher expectations of their students than the students have of themselves. Our staff motivates, challenges and supports the students to be the best that they can be. Then the magic begins.

Just ask Stephanie and the rest of CCC’s graduating class at the May 23 commencement. We hope to see you there!