While Moraine Valley usually competes both academically and physically against the seven other community colleges in the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference (ISCC), the group was united in winning the 2016 Collaborative Excellence Award from the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) at its international convention in Montreal, Canada, on March 7.

Dr. Lisa Kelsay, assistant dean of Liberal Arts, accepted the award on behalf of the conference.

According to ACPA, the Collaborative Excellence Award recognizes a program that has demonstrated an exemplary partnership or innovative, collaborative initiative among academic and student affairs professionals/departments. It recognizes achievements that support and foster college student learning through the generation and dissemination of knowledge.

“The collaborative nature of these eight colleges provides opportunities for students to explore new avenues, learn in a different way, create teamwork, and excel in their academics,”Dr. Kelsay said. “It also allows representatives from each college to work together to help students achieve their dreams. To be recognized by ACPA-College Student Educators International for this unique collaboration is an honor that is shared by all of the conference colleges.”

The colleges in the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference are College of Lake County, Elgin Community College, McHenry County College, Moraine Valley Community College, Morton College, Oakton Community College, Prairie State College, and Waubonsee Community College.

This conference is unique in its structure and activities. It requires partnerships within an institution among administrators and faculty from different divisions, and it requires partnerships across all eight colleges. To belong in the conference, each college must participate in 12 athletic competitions as well as four co-curricular contests each year: the Juried Art Competition, Jazz Festival, STEM Poster Competition, and Writers Competition and Festival. Colleges rotate as host for each event.

Athletic competition in the conference started in 1970, and in 1991 the presidents of the Skyway colleges established the co-curricular events so students could demonstrate their academic abilities. They believed competition presents a unique learning opportunity to hone a skill and test it against the critique of others.

“Generally, the number of students participating in co-curricular activities each year is similar to the total number of student athletes,” said Ann Marie Barry, director of Student Life at Oakton Community College and chair of the ISCC Co-Curricular Program. “The critical issue is that the co-curricular competition has provided the very fundamental elements of being a student athlete. This includes a chance to demonstrate one’s skill, to work in a team environment, to obtain mentoring toward one’s goals, and to be recognized for one’s effort and skill.”

Bill Finn, athletic director at Moraine Valley and chair of the conference’s athletic directors group, praised the co-curricular administrators for their detail, planning and setup of events, likening their work to hosting state finals basketball games.

“Unlike their athletic counterparts, the co-curricular members are not full-time co-curricular employees administering this program. All of them work in other areas of the colleges, but they all share a passion for broadening our students’ scope with the events they put on. Their work is refreshing and amazing and gets our students charged up just like a playoff atmosphere at an athletic event,” Finn said.

Dr. Kelsay, Moraine Valley’s co-curricular representative, said the Skyway conference encourages collaboration across many areas of an institution that may not always intersect.

“It is a good tool to build relationships across divisions when often times many areas can be silos. It also provides an arena to think holistically about how co-curricular activities contribute to a student’s engagement. The four co-curricular events go above and beyond what a class may require and provide opportunities for students and faculty to engage in active learning. From research we know the more students are engaged, the more likely they are to persist and complete,” she said.