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Dr. Varun Gupta: Enabling Innovators To Revolutionize Education

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Dr. Varun Gupta is an Educationist and the Education Advisor to the State of African Diaspora. Apart from being Peace Ambassador for UN SUSTAINABLE GOALS, he is the Executive Director at VQENA (an NGO working on the 4th principle of the UNITED NATIONS – Quality Education). Being an Educator and the Vice president OSG, Dr. Varun offers Scholarships with a belief in educating everyone everywhere. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, he shares more insight on his impacts in the educational ecosystem in Africa. Excerpts.

Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself?

Dr. Varun: I am the Education Advisor to the State of African Diaspora, well known for being humble, dedicated, and God-fearing. Committed to encouraging the global movement that inspires to turn consciousness into action at the Earth Charter Center for Education for Sustainable Development is a few of my objectives. A belief to treat all living beings with respect and consideration prevail to promote the transition to sustainable ways of living is what I preach.

Apart from being Indian Peace Ambassador for United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, I serve on the board of one dozen global firms in the academic sector and have collaborated for years with many international educational organizations to develop specialized programs being run for the uplifting of the African people. I have marked milestones with the pedestals of rich academic and professional experience and a young budding intellectual scholar in the education service industry. Also, Swadeshi’s business and products are what I support falling in nexus with the thought process of our Honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji.

Alaba: What attracted you to Africa and her educational system? 

Dr. Varun: Africa! Feels like home and I have loved the way Africa has always hosted me. The cost of living in Africa is considerably lower than developed nations. The remuneration packages are quite attractive. For a business person like me as an investor, there is a huge scope of growth as many of the African countries are rich in natural resources.

On the other hand, being an educationist, the good news on education in Africa is that out-of-school numbers have fallen dramatically over the past decade.  The elimination of school fees, increased investment in school infrastructure, and increased teacher recruitment have all contributed to the change. I want to flow with the change and become a part of development is what I would like to add. 

Alaba: In your role as an Education Advisor to the State of African Diaspora, what are your major achievements since your appointment? 

Dr. Varun: As a member and education advisor of the African Diaspora I, ministers and MP together as a part of the constitution work on initiatives of the Parliament in sectors of activities ranging from agriculture, education, healthcare, cultural and human rights, economy and social issues, etc believe towards Africa’s empowerment especially with respect to education, skill development and employment. 

While working on a project named “Cyber future academy” in Africa, I have promoted education through various programmes in the most remote and marginalized areas of Africa. We ensure and strongly believe that the benefits of the Right to Education reach the most deprived children.  

Also, we focus on the most important aspect to boost the spread of education is to spread awareness amongst the parents and the communities and every child needs education.

I also feel proud to announce the latest update (Groundbreaking initiative) – launch of New Diaspora ID on African Liberation Day by the State of the African Diaspora (SOAD) and the Economic Community of the 6th Region (ECO-6). This new ID is to create a new citizenship and common unity for the Afro-descendant members of the African Diaspora. 

With me, the real aim of education is to enable the students to learn HOW TO THINK and not just WHAT TO THINK. They are trained to focus not on the problem but on the solution.

Success of a country depends upon the success of its people and People can succeed only if they are able to get the exposure required to become competitive.

Alaba: How are you enabling innovators to revolutionize education in Africa?

Dr. Varun: First small step already taken includes changing the definition of classroom based training to online sessions and webinars. An approach towards technological innovations (traditional to smart learning environment) using digitalization technology is the path adopted. Here teachers can now engage their students in a more personalized, individual manner rather than the traditional, one-size-fits-all approach.

And to promote education and help the African youth take concrete steps towards their dreams, I, in the capacity of Vice President- On Sky Global is extremely happy to announce 100% Scholarship Scheme for 200 Students, no fee will be charged except for the registration fee and they will be given support & ample guidance to complete our courses and enhance their CV with international qualification. I also believe and am contributing to make Education should be the top development agenda.

Alaba: Mention some of your projects in Africa and its impacts?

Dr. Varun: In May 2014, I volunteered to go to Kigali, Rwanda (East Africa) leaving USA (California) to help a new University and agreed to hold the post as Director and later a year, promoted as Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration and Finance), as the principal administrative officer of the University. When I was in Africa, I continued to manage the foundation using ICT and communicating to all stakeholders online.

I served as an independent consultant and program content developer (and mostly pro bono) and organized capacity building training programs to governments and private organizations in the area of (a) education, skills training (b) public administration (c) good governance, and (d) leadership. I traveled to many countries to provide various workshops and seminars.

Dr Varun Gupta

Have also developed the School of Postgraduate Studies Vision and Mission (Curriculum Statements, Prospectus and 2 year Strategic plan, 2014 for an university. I conducted training on “Developing Institutional Corporate and Strategic Work Plans”, Rwanda, Uganda & Nigeria, 2015-2016. Also established a presence and promoted programs under scholarship schemes to many nations in the East, West, Central and Southern African region.

I would also like to mention that I had participated and presented an ICT strategic plan in five days Quality Improvement Program of Entrepreneurship Development sponsored by the Ministry of Higher Education in  Kigali, 20th – 24th July 2015. (Rwanda – ICT Plan).

Alaba:
The current global crisis is changing the face of education especially in Africa. What adaptive solution will you offer?

Dr. Varun: The world of education is threatened and is at a juncture. One path leads back to where things were before the COVID-19 crisis, a system that, by and large, has been in place for the last 200 years. The other path concentrates on much more investment in education but also on student wellness while doing whatever can be done to ensure that learning is happening not just through test scores and output but by being more closely connected to the psychological and emotional realities of learners.

Let us aim for the path of wisdom. As the ancient proverb says: the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now. It’s not too late.

Alaba: What is the future of education in Africa post Covid-19?

Dr. Varun: It is clear that technological innovations such as content management systems (CMS), learning management systems (LMS), and internet use have become a part of the DNA of higher education in Africa. These innovations, like COVID-19, have come to alter teaching and learning pedagogies.

Alaba: What advice would you give African leaders on the importance of education to Africa’s development?

Dr. Varun: The future of education must seek to amplify humanity’s greatest evolutionary advantage: its ability to collaborate flexibly in very large numbers across time and place. Both biology and history teach us that we cannot solve problems and flourish alone and in isolation. Enhancing social cohesion both at the local and global levels must become a core objective of education particularly if, as seems likely, internationalism and global collaboration end up as casualties of the current crisis.

Our education future must include active steps to bring the world together across all forms of the divide—political, cultural, social, and economic. This will require us to once again put ethics and values at the core of the education enterprise.

Also Read: Investing in Africa: Interview with Amb. Prof. Nabhit Kapur, Founder Global Chamber of Business Leaders

Alaba: What is your advice to African youths and entrepreneurs?   

Dr. Varun: A famous proverb quotes – “if the cow gives milk as a healthy food, why ask whether she is black or white”. Our skills should become our identity. We should encourage the youth to keep on learning new skills and implementing the same in their career because we will be known for our skills; the value we will be able to derive to the nation. It will not be about who we are; but it will be then what we are; I think in Africa there are a lot of young entrepreneurs who have great ideas but never get noticed or past the small-scale level.

I think one reason is that they poorly position themselves and the organization. They don’t know how to tell their story. They don’t know how to create their brand. And I think that is also very important.

Dr Varun Gupta

Alaba: Tell us about your favorite destinations in Africa? Why?

Dr. Varun: Oh Yes! With no doubt it’s Rwanda – The Land of Thousand Hills where I lived and spent 3 years. Many beautiful memories associated, I consider it as my second home. I love this country and its people to the core.  After traveling to more than 20 countries in Africa, I find this is the safest country to live and quite easy to do business. The country is very stable with good governance (inspired and touched by the good governance of the His Excellency President Paul Kagame who inherited Rwanda that had been torn apart by Genocide.

Under his leadership, the country is now very stable, prosperous, unified and in large part, reconciled. Social services, such as education, healthcare, housing and livestock are provided to the needy, with no distinction of ethnicity or region of origin. More power to the country and its people. 

There are infinite reasons to love Rwanda. I have plans to spend my retirement in presigitious Rwanda and look forward to visiting them soon. 

Dr. Varun Gupta

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Education

The Viroscape Series: Use of Technology in education during Covid-19

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By Dr Masha, Dr Eze, Dr Lamont-Mbawuli

According to an article written by Bonilla-Molina, the concept of “Global Pedagogical Blackout” refers to the conversion between the Third and Fourth Industrial Revolution, for a progressive educational reality. 

It is important for one to consider the complex interaction of “viral behaviors” in all spheres of life. A publication in Education Philosophy and Theory, defines the concept of “viral modernity”, as an example of “bio-informationalism”, which applies to “viral technologies, codes and ecosystems in information systems, publication, education and emerging knowledge”. There is a necessity for flexible education (teaching and learning anywhere, anytime) that promotes a more just, accessible, autonomous, and creative system. 

To develop educators, one needs to employ the use of digital technologies in classrooms which is still far from generating systemic change, rather promoting “islands of innovation”, based on the work of excellent teachers who carry out innovation in their teaching practices using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) without mediating a formal process of lifelong learning. Confounding factors that can affect the use of ICT in education are the following: lack of trust within the educational centre, the role of the ICT coordinator and the management team, as well as the existence of networks for access to new information and knowledge sharing among teachers, have greater positive effect on the use of ICTs compared to traditional lifelong learning activities .Teacher training must go beyond the development of basic digital skills but rather to seek to strategize an integrative the interpretative and creative potential of ICT into their training actions. 

One of the important factors needed to build good nations is education, as it is considered a backbone of most countries (Raheem & Khan, 2020). As the essence of education is to empower the lives of students, with a prerequisite of ensuring their health and well-being (Yong, 2020), Higher Education Institutes (HEI’s) are forced to reconsider what part of their educational delivery will be offered in person and what part will be offered on-line (Dennis, 2020). 

Against the backdrop of uncertainty about the trajectory of the pandemic and therefore the length of the lockdown (Bawa, 2020), HEIs in South Africa have committed themselves to completing the 2020 academic year and one of the three possible scenarios in the uncertain terrain presented by the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic (Dell, 2020) is the use of the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) in teaching and learning (Behari-leak & Ganas, 2020; Demuyakor, 2020; Mhlanga & Moloi, 2020), a platform on which lecturers’ and students’ interactions of all kinds are strictly on-line.

As a result of the massification of the higher education system in South Africa, HEIs now see that participation of students who are diverse in terms of age, gender, social background, schooling background and expectations (Crisp, Palmer, Turnbull, Nettelbeck, Ward, LeCouteur, Sarria, Strelan & Schneider, 2009) include first year students (Tinto, 1988; Brewer, 2013; Brinkworth, McCann, Matthews & Nordstrom, 2009). 

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These are mainly international students (Chysikos, Ahmed & Ward, 2017), indigenous students from isolated locations (Abdullah & Elia, 2009), students from rural backgrounds (Maila & Ross, 2018; Pillay, 2010), students from disadvantaged backgrounds (Hobden & Hobden, 2015), students who are first-generation students (FGS) in HEIs (Bayaga & Lekena, 2018; Heymann & Carolissen, 2011) and first time entering (FTEN) university students. FTEN undergraduate students refer to all students who are entering university for the first time and enrolled in formal undergraduate academic programmes (DHET, 2018). Most students from HEIs in South Africa are from either rural areas, farms, or townships.

Artificial Intelligence/Technology Assistance in Education 

The VLE platform is now widely accepted as a system that supports learning within the HEI realm (Dunn, 2003). It comes with facilities that allow lecturers to download notes in different formats and to receive feedback from students (Adu et al., 2020). There are several other advantages as far as the use of VLEs is concerned as revealed by several authors (e.g., Erasmus, Loedolff, Mda, & Nel, 2019; Montazer, 2014; Najafi, 2014; Negash & Vilkas, 2017; Warnich, Carrell, Elbert, & Hatfield, 2018). The common advantages of VLE include three elements; namely convenience for individual paperwork, automatic traditionalism and conformity. Accordingly, learning via the VLE platform is imperceptibly becoming a learning strategy in the teaching and learning realm, as such it is utilised by HEIs in many developed economies (Negash & Vilkas, 2017).

As part of the VLE platform, HEIs have seen the use and application of information and communication technologies to improve teaching and learning processes. Seen as a unifying phrase accustomed to explaining the areas associated with the internet, web-based instruction and technologies directions (Lorrain, 2017), VLEs enable numerous students in HEIs to study synchronously; thus HEIs have grown to enjoy its popularity since this method improves students’ academic achievement (Khalkhali, Shakibayi & Andosh, 2015).

However, since most students in South African HEIs come from majorly rural and peri-urban areas that are geographically spread across the nine Provinces, the VLE platform has resulted in challenges (experienced by both lecturers and students) such as lack of on-line learning environment, accessibility to data/Wi-Fi/internet and their usage, lack of connectivity, personality traits and attitude towards the use of smartphones, laptops and iPads. HEIs draw most of their students from rural areas of the Eastern Cape Province, with some coming from low quality primary and secondary schooling. Having not settled into their first year on campus when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, most students were immensely under-prepared to undertake instructions using the VLE platform.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) development is entrenched in the idea of distance education and openness in education. It has the potential of 24 hours access to cost-effective information, which attracts many learners across the globe. This type of learning can be useful for those learners who pursue university degrees whilst working. MOOCs are different from traditional university online modules in that participation is not limited, it is free, and it has a high scale production of modules for a high number of participants.

Other advantages of MOOCs include the reality that it has the potential of expansion, hence, it provides an avenue for income generation, it also provides a wide range of students’ access to the online education programme at low cost (Jung Lee, 2018; Phan et al., 2016; Zhou, 2016), it is flexible and accommodates some short courses apart from online degree qualifications, lastly it offers high accessibility and greater autonomy in the learning process (Shah, 2018a).

MOOCs flexibility includes participation without necessary entry or prerequisite qualification. This does not mean that it is meant for novice. According to Li and Powell (2013), MOOC is not an extension of the online teaching and learning approach but offers an opportunity for the recipients to think outside the box on different modules that include fundamentals of open education. Language and information communication and technologies (ICT) skills are also requirements for MOOCs. As submitted by Lee et al. (2016), it is behavioural to engage in terms of completing a task, having feelings toward a task, and intellectual or mental efforts. Ben-Eliyahu et al. (2018) and Oga-Baldwin et al. (2017) shared similar conceptualization, that involvement is about contribution in learning activities, which has three important elements that include behavioural engagement, emotional engagement, and intellectual engagement. Hsieh (2014) report that there are three types of learner behaviours which exhibit signs of engagement namely: cognitive effort, active participation, and interactions with instructors.

Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment (MOODLE) 

Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment (MOODLE) is a free web application that promotes effective online learning sites. It can be in the form of a course management system (Course Management System – CMS) through the Internet, also known as a Learning Management System (LMS) or a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). One of its main advantages is that it allows any user with knowledge of programming to adapt and modify it according to their needs because it is open source. MOODLE can be installed at no cost at all and there is no cost for upgrading. Making any update is not by force, neither can one be forced to buy tools that they do not want. The teacher is expected to manage the platform per their needs (Adu et al., 2020).

In conclusion, the use of artificial intelligence/technologies in education already has a strong and affirmative influence on higher education delivery as educational resources (all human, material, non-material audio-visual, school environment and community) from around the world have become more freely accessible and more interactive medium for learning are employed. COVID 19 has perpetuated the use of artificial intelligence/technology in education in three major ways. 

Firstly, a new educational and classroom tools that enable new techniques of offering the course; secondly, a change in pedagogy in teaching and learning and thirdly new educational systems to enrich and enhance the conventional teaching pattern. Examples of these new educational and classroom tools are Google Apps, Basecamp, Slack, Trello, Red Pen, BeeCanvas, Yammer and Wrike. These tools facilitate interactions between instructors and students to share documents online. Electronic readers are portable devices for reading digital books and periodicals, such as the Amazon Kindle, Apple ipad, Barnes & Noble Nook, Bookeen Cybook Opus, the Kobo Reader, Sony Reader, the Samsung Galaxy, and the likes. These assist instructors and students to communicate through diagrams, drawings, and text.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Dr Maribanyana Lebeko who is part of the advisory for Simanye Clinic for his assistance in terms of compilation, editing and proofreading of this article. Dr Eric Makoni for his initial thoughts and contributions to the Viroscape series.

 

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Calvin University Appoints Adejoke Ayoola Founding Dean of its School of Health

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Calvin professor of nursing Adejoke Ayoola, PhD, RN, FAAN (Image & Article: Calvin)

Calvin University has appointed Adejoke Bolanle Ayoola as the founding dean of its School of Health. Ayoola stood out among the high caliber candidates reviewed by the search committee – a team which included Provost Noah Toly and representatives from each department and program in the School of Health.

Ayoola is nationally and globally recognized as an experienced practitioner, educator, researcher, and administrator. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, and earned her PhD from Michigan State University. Ayoola has been a member of Calvin’s faculty since 2007, contributing to both the nursing and public health programs and most recently chairing the nursing department.

“Dr. Ayoola not only met but also clearly excelled in the critical leadership requirements established by the committee,” said Toly. “She has a vibrant Christian faith, possesses a deep understanding of the Reformed tradition, models a prayerful life, and demonstrates a commitment to joyful integration of faith and learning.”

Accomplished thought leader and scholar

Ayoola’s academic influence runs deep, as she has contributed to her field with research in the areas of community based nursing, and maternal and infant health. Since completing her PhD, Ayoola has earned several awards and distinctions recognizing her accomplishments in the health field.

Notably, from 2012–2015, Ayoola served as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar. The program, involving intensive leadership training, was created to inspire the next generation of national leaders in academic nursing. Five years later, Ayoola was inducted into the 2020 Class of Fellows of the American Academy of Nursing.

Ayoola is a member of the American Association of Nurses, the Honors Society of Nursing, Sigma International, and the Midwest Nursing Research Society; and she currently serves as a reviewer, associate editor or on the editorial board of 12 scholarly publications.

Guided by God

For Ayoola, the field of health has always been a passion, and it is a passion that is rooted in her faith.

“I am motivated to act when I see people or members of my community hurting —physically, emotionally, and spiritually – and when the vulnerable population experience health challenges,” she said. “I see health as an important part of what God wants for us.”

Ayoola believes that it is God who equipped her with the skills needed for this position, not only through her academic experiences, but also through her community work such as leading the African Ladies Fellowship of the African Resource Center in Grand Rapids and serving as an elder in her home church, Brookside CRC.

Carrying on Calvin’s mission

“Dr. Ayoola is deeply committed to the mission and vision of Calvin University,” said Kerrie Berends, kinesiology department co-chair and professor, and member of the search committee.

Ayoola has demonstrated this commitment by playing an integral role at Calvin, participating herself in a search committee for the dean of the School of Business, founding H.E.A.L.T.H. Camp at the university, and serving on the task force that articulated a vision for Calvin’s university structure – to name just a few contributions during her 15 years of service. Former advisees, research assistants, and research fellows recognize Ayoola for her commitment to their learning and post-graduate success.

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For Ayoola, this next vocational step was confirmed by God’s guidance through prayer. She believes her vocation also includes preparing others well for work in the field.

“My vision is also for the experience in the School of Health to be transformative and for our future health professionals to be well-prepared in their calling to serve as great advocates for their patients,” she said.

Building on collaboration and partnerships

Beginning July 1 Ayoola will lead the School, serving approximately 600 undergraduate and over 75 graduate students studying directly in health-related programs, and dozens of other students in pre-professional tracks.

While the School is already involved in many community partnerships and collaborative scholarship, with Ayoola at the helm, colleagues say it is poised to broaden its impact.

“Dr. Ayoola has prioritized interprofessional collaboration among our departments, West Michigan communities, and globally,” said Berends. “It’s exciting and energizing to anticipate the impact that faculty and students will have as we expand our reach.”

Ayoola is ready for the challenge.

“I love creatively designing new programs in collaboration with people and in response to identified needs,” she said. “The idea of serving as a founding dean of the School of Health is exciting because it will provide me with opportunities to work with stakeholders to shape the School of Health’s programs.”

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Simi Nwogugu on Africa Education Medal launched by T4 Education, HP, and Intel

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Simi Nwogugu, CEO of Junior Achievement Africa, voiced her support for the new Africa Education Medal, launched this year by T4 Education in collaboration with HP and Intel.

Junior Achievement Africa CEO Simi Nwogugu, called on Nigeria’s changemakers to apply or be nominated for the inaugural Africa Education Medal. Simi Nwogugu has joined leading figures from across Africa in support of the new award that will be given to an outstanding individual who has demonstrated impact, leadership, and advocacy in the field of education.

In the decades leading up to the pandemic, Africa had been making great strides in boosting school enrolment. To protect and expand upon these vital gains in the wake of COVID. Teachers, NGOs, politicians, tech entrepreneurs, and figures from the public and private sectors, will need to work together to build a future where every child in Africa can achieve the quality education that is their birthright.

The Africa Education Medal has been launched to recognise the tireless work of those who are transforming education across the continent. And to celebrate the stories of those who have lit the spark of change so others will be inspired to take up the torch.

Brad Pulford, Managing Director at HP Africa, said: “HP has been committed to enabling better learning outcomes for 100 million people between 2015-2025. Achieving this bold goal wouldn’t be possible without empowered education leaders and trailblazers who are at the forefront of the rapidly changing education environment. A quality education empowers not just individuals, but entire communities. It will skill the next generation to fulfil their full potential in a world being transformed by technology. The Africa Education Medal not only honours the tireless work of those seeking to improve education all across Africa. But gives them a platform to amplify their voices and inspire others to follow their examples.”

Simi Nwogugu, CEO of Junior Achievement Africa, said: “A good education will empower young people in Nigeria and across Africa. To fulfil their full potential, secure better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities. I am a beneficiary of great educational institutions from attending a public secondary school in Lagos, Nigeria. To attaining an MBA at Harvard Business School, which empowered me to return to Nigeria to expand the work of JA across Nigeria and the continent. Africa’s great changemakers know education is the key to our continent’s prosperity in a global economy. I urge inspirational leaders from Nigeria and across Africa to step forward and apply for the Africa Education Medal so their stories can inspire thousands more.”

Vikas Pota, Founder and CEO of T4 Education: “Quality education will help African countries grow and prosper. And it will help Africa produce the public leaders of tomorrow who will go on to grapple with the continent’s greatest challenges from inequality, to climate change, food insecurity and disease. The Africa Education Medal recognises those who are working every day to make that vision a reality.”

The Africa Education Medal is open to individuals working to improve pre-kindergarten, K-12, vocational and university education who are one of the following:

  • Educators and school administrators.
  • Civil society leaders.
  • Public servants and government officials.
  • Political leaders.
  • Technologists and innovators.

Nominees must demonstrate their contribution in any of the following key areas in education:

  • Significantly improving learning outcomes.
  • Promoting girls’ education.
  • Promoting equity and broadening access to education.
  • Advancing pedagogical or technological innovation.
  • Building and strengthening educator capacity.
  • Catalysing civic participation in education.
  • Championing the rights of education stakeholders.

 The Top 10 finalists for the Africa Education Medal will be announced in July and the winner will be announced in September. Nominees will be assessed by a Jury comprising prominent individuals based on rigorous criteria.

Nominations, including self-nominations, can be made online HERE. 

Nominations will close on June 3, 2022.

 

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