News about the program and our honorees

Education Commissioner Welcomes Alma Exley Scholar

Commissioner Cardona and Marquis Harris

Marquis Harris of Waterbury, a junior at the University of Saint Joseph, has been welcomed into the Alma Exley scholarship family by Dr. Miguel Cardona, the Connecticut state commissioner of education.

This meeting was especially fortuitous since Dr. Cardona was one of the first Alma Exley Scholars, in 1998.

Mr. Harris, a secondary education major with a concentration in English literature, was chosen as our 31st Alma Exley Scholar by a diverse selection committee of respected educators. We will honor him at a reception in the spring.

He is a graduate of Wilby High School and Naugatuck Community College in Waterbury. He plans to return to teach at one of the high schools in his hometown after receiving his degree from USJ in 2121.

Setting an Example

“I’ve never had a black, male teacher,” he told Dr. Cardona in a meeting in the commissioner’s office in Hartford. “I want to be the kind of role model that I’ve never had. It’s been said that ‘you cannot be what you cannot see,’ and I want to set the kind of example that students can look up to and emulate.”

Dr. Cardona recalled being honored with the scholarship in 1998 when he was an undergraduate at Central Connecticut State University. He said that the award gave him confidence as he was looking ahead to beginning his teaching career. He went on to earn a master’s degree and a doctorate from UConn.

While at the State Department of Education, Mr. Harris also had the opportunity to meet Desi Nesmith, whom we honored with an Alma Exley memorial scholarship in 2000, and who recently had been appointed deputy commissioner.

A group of people posing for the camera

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Desi Nesmith with Marquis Harris

An Inspiring Experience

Mr. Harris said it was inspiring to meet two Alma Exley Scholars who had risen to important leadership positions. He loves poetry, especially the writing of Emily Dickinson, and he hopes to pass along his appreciation for literature to his students in the future.

Dr. Cardona began his career as an elementary teacher in his hometown of Meriden, and soon became the state’s youngest school principal. He was honored at the White House as a National Distinguished Principal. He served as assistant superintendent in Meriden before being appointed state education commissioner in 2019.

Mr. Nesmith began his career as a teacher at East Hartford’s Mayberry Elementary School, where he was named Teacher of the Year. He served as an elementary principal in Hartford, being named the state’s outstanding first-year principal. He was a principal in his hometown of Bloomfield before joining the State Department of Education, where he served as chief school turnaround officer and interim commissioner until being appointed deputy commissioner late in 2019.

Congratulations to Marquis Harris on this honor, as well as to Dr. Miguel Cardona and Desi Nesmith on their recent appointments to leadership positions at the highest level of public education in the State of Connecticut.


Our Program Cited Among Top 5 in Connecticut

College Consensus, a unique new college review aggregator, has recognized the Alma Exley Scholarship Program as one of the Top 5 Scholarships in Connecticut.

View the announcement and rankings here.

As an official of College Consensus said, “With prospective students facing the increasing costs of higher education, organizations such as yours are an important contributor to making college more affordable.”

Thanks to everyone who has supported and participated in our program, including our generous donors, our selection committee, the colleges and universities who send us such outstanding applicants, the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain, and our wonderful recipients who make us so proud.

College Consensus is an online resource for students looking for information on scholarships as well as on colleges and the programs they offer. College Consensus ranks scholarships in various categories and regions, and ranks colleges in many categories such as small colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, public universities, business schools, etc.

English Teacher’s Novel Set For Publication

Since we honored Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle in 2003, she has emerged as a prolific author while continuing to cultivate young minds as an English teacher at Swain County High School in North Carolina. 

Her latest novel, Even As We Breathe, is to be published by the University of Kentucky Press in the summer of 2020. The novel focuses on a young Cherokee man, who must clear his name when he is accused of abducting a diplomat’s daughter while working at a World War II prisoner-of-war camp in North Carolina. 

Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle

Ms. Clapsaddle, an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (ECBI), resides in Cherokee, N.C., her hometown, with her husband, Evan, and their sons, Ross and Charlie. 

A recent article in Cherokee One Feather, an ECBI publication, tells the story of how she became a published novelist.

Her first novel, Going to Water, won the Morning Star Award for Creative Writing from the Native American Literature Symposium in 2012. The novel was the 2017-2018 selection for Western Carolina University’s One Book program. 

She is the author of a series of bi-lingual children’s books published by EBCI and illustrated by Cherokee artists. She wrote a chapter in a novel titled Naked Came the Leaf Peeper, a collaboration of several writers from western North Carolina. She is co-editor of the Journal of Cherokee Studies and writes bimonthly columns for Smoky Mountain Living magazine.

She received an Alma Exley memorial scholarship while at Yale, where she earned her B.A. degree, and then she earned an M.A. from William & Mary College.

She returned home to Cherokee, where she served as assistant to the principal chief of the EBCI for three years before beginning her teaching career.  

From 2007 to 2012 she taught English and Cherokee studies at Swain County High School. She left the classroom in 2013 to serve as executive director of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation. She returned in 2015 to Swain County High School, where she continues to teach. 

Congratulations to Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, who has secured a prominent place in the literacy scene of western North Carolina. I’m sure her experience as a published author enables her to bring exceptional depth to her teaching. Her students are lucky to have her as their teacher.

By the way, when we honored Ms. Saunooke, I was surprised to learn that a Cherokee community was living in North Carolina. I thought the Cherokees had been expelled from the southeastern states in the 19th century and relocated to Oklahoma. But here’s the story, in a nutshell. 

Until the early 19th century, the Cherokees controlled a vast territory encompassing parts of present-day Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. Under the presidency of Andrew Jackson, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830 to evict the tribal members from their homes and territory. Thousands of Cherokees were forced westward to Oklahoma, in a devastating march that became known as the Trail of Tears. At the time that catastrophe, a few hundred individuals escaped to the mountains of western North Carolina, where they were able to reclaim land and eventually establish their reservation, where thousands live today.

This story is told in an excellent novel called Thirteen Moons, by Charles Frazer, another writer residing in western North Carolina. 

– Woody Exley