A Cal Poly Pomona program created to promote disability awareness, an administrator dedicated to mentoring and an alumnus who hopes to make a difference in higher education will be honored in November.
NASPA, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education Region VI, will present awards to the university’s Ability Ally Program, Rebecca Gutierrez Keeton, the acting vice president of student affairs, and 2013 graduate Julio Flores.
Region VI covers a vast area that includes California, Arizona, Hawaii, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Guam and Hong Kong.
Ability Ally will receive the region’s Innovative Program Award. Gutierrez Keeton will be honored with the Sandra Kuchler Excellence in Mentoring Award, while Flores will receive the Graduate Rising Star prize.
“We couldn’t be more pleased that our nominations were selected as this year’s regional winners,” says Kevin Colaner, associate vice president for student services. “The Ability Ally Program is a truly unique and innovative program that is making an impact in the lives of our students and improving the campus climate for those with disabilities.”
The group describes the Innovation Program Award as an honor given to an institution or individual that creatively pushes for the growth of staff, faculty, or community development and enriches campus life.
Faculty, staff, and students who belong to the campus’ Access & disABILITY Alliance (AdA) created the program in January 2013.
More than 400 campus community members have gone through Ability Ally training. Goals for the program include dispelling myths and stereotypes of people with disabilities, increasing sensitivities to their accommodation needs, and changing the perspectives of staff, faculty, and students involved, says Catherine Schmitt Whitaker, president of AdA and executive director of student health and counseling services.
“The Ability Ally program exemplifies innovation as it has developed the training curriculum and experience from an inclusive, holistic, community perspective,” Schmitt Whitaker says in her letter supporting the program’s nomination. “Few diversity programs focus on the cultural, educational and advocacy needs of individuals with disabilities.”
Carmen Munoz-Silva, the university’s director of diversity, risk management, and organization, training, and development, says that participants surveyed lauded the program’s ability to help them be more mindful about how people with disabilities are treated, careful of their choice of words, and compassionate without making people with disabilities feel they are different.
“It is an exceptional program, which creatively handles sensitivity awareness training,” says Munoz-Silva in her recommendation letter. “I have attended the program’s training sessions as have staff members from Organization, Training and Development. The program’s strength and value are in the insight provided to someone working with a disabled student, faculty or staff member.”
Gutierrez Keeton, who will receive the Sandra Kuchler award, says she feels honored that her colleagues nominated her and relishes her opportunity to mentor others.
The award, which is named after a former dean of students at Cal State San Marcos, recognizes individuals who serve as a role model to others and have the ability to advocate and advise on the job.
Byron E. Howlett Jr., acting associate vice president and dean of students for student affairs, wrote the nomination for Gutierrez Keeton with input from colleagues across campus. The honor is deserved, Howlett says.
“Dr. Gutierrez Keeton is selfless when giving her time and guidance to others,” he says. “Her personal story as a first-generation Latina college student, combined with the literally thousands of staff and students she has mentored, provides fantastic insight to those who have the opportunity to know her and literally be taken under her wing. She is a beacon that calls to professionals of all levels as well as students to meet with her and garner advice on any and all topics.”
Gutierrez Keeton, who has worked for the university for 25 years, said she especially enjoys the mentoring aspect of her job.
“Half the fun is giving people I mentor a chance to move up,” she says. “I do like the chance you have to match people’s jobs with their abilities and give them new opportunities.”
She adds that her work in student affairs is never dull.
“Every day is an adventure,” she says. “You never know what’s coming or what’s going to happen next.”
For Flores, who graduated in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in communications, hearing that he will receive the Graduate Rising Student Award was quite a surprise.
“I am still pretty shocked,” he says. “It’s really nice when you work really hard at something and you get to see the fruit of your labors manifest itself.”
The award recognizes a graduate student for achievement, involvement and career potential in student affairs. Flores, who is attending USC, will receive a $250 scholarship from Region VI.
The 25-year-old says he had difficulty in the first couple of years because, as a first-generation college student, he didn’t have anyone to help direct his path.
His work in student affairs provided him with mentors who helped him reach his goals, he says.
Flores, who is earning a master’s degree in educational counseling, plans on giving back through a career in higher education research.
“What I enjoyed the most was basically being able to help students,” Flores says of his experience in student affairs. “I am all about the helping profession.”
Colaner, who served as one of Flores’ mentors at Cal Poly Pomona, praised the alumnus.
“Julio Flores is a worthy recipient and I’m proud to be his mentor,” he says. “He has distinguished himself at USC and will be sure to make a positive impact in the field of student affairs.”
Region VI will present its awards at its conference during a luncheon Nov. 11 at the Anaheim Marriott.