NOVA Wins $240,000 Innovation Grant in Strada Education Network’s Beyond Completion Challenge

January 18, 2022

Supported through a grant from Strada in partnership with the Taskforce on Higher Education and Opportunity, NOVA joins 14 other institutions in the $10 million challenge to improve students’ careers and lives

Annandale, Va. — Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) has received a $240,000 innovation grant in the initial phase of Strada Education Network’s $10 million Beyond Completion Challenge. The challenge is aimed at helping higher education institutions identify new and expand existing solutions that will improve career and life opportunities for more students of color, first-generation students, those who struggle to afford education, working students and non-traditional adult learners.

The grant will support NOVA’s efforts to build on its existing career services through a personalized program called “Career Up,” which is designed specifically to address the unique needs of first-generation students.

“Many of our first-generation students see NOVA as their initial step towards a meaningful and exciting career and we are grateful for the investment Strada and the Taskforce on Higher Education are making to support their success,” said Anne M. Kress, president of NOVA. “Our new Career Up program will provide first-generation students with the skills and networks to connect to rewarding, good-paying jobs in high demand career pathways—strengthening their futures and our region’s economy.”

Career Up is a 15-week intensive program that helps first-generation students gain knowledge and skills that are crucial for career exploration, planning, job preparation and more. As part of this program, students will be matched with professional mentors and participate in corporate internships. The initial pilot will be conducted in the summer and fall of 2022.

To complement the Career Up curriculum for students, NOVA will also develop a webinar-based “Career Awareness Toolkit” for faculty and staff. The toolkit training series will focus on NOVA’s career ladders/pathways. These career ladders span both credit and non-credit programs in healthcare, information technology, business and finance, public administration and safety and entertainment, skilled trades and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). Select faculty and staff will be trained in career counseling and planning to ensure that there is sufficient support for students through the Career Up program and beyond.

Strada is partnering with the Taskforce on Higher Education and Opportunity for the Beyond Completion Challenge to reimagine higher education to better serve students’ needs. Strada launched the grant challenge with the understanding that students need an educational experience that connects learning with employment so that students can secure a good job, do meaningful work and lead a fulfilling life.

Each participating institution will develop an initiative on their campus or in collaboration with other organizations, including industry partners, to foster a more effective higher education experience.

NOVA also congratulates the 14 other institutions selected to receive innovation grants of up to $250,000:

  1. Arizona State University
  2. City University of New York
  3. Georgia State University
  4. Georgia Institute of Technology
  5. New York University
  6. North Carolina A&T State University
  7. Northern Virginia Community College
  8. Southern New Hampshire University
  9. University of Arizona
  10. University of Minnesota Rochester
  11. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  12. University of Oregon
  13. University of Pittsburgh
  14. University of Texas System
  15. Virginia Tech

The grants announced today will support new projects and initiatives that focus on equitable outcomes through and beyond college completion. Strada will provide more than $6 million in additional support later this year to expand upon these grants and will engage in a year-long community of practice with grant recipients and other members of the Taskforce working to improve outcomes beyond completion.

In Phase One, grants were awarded to 15 institutions to support curricular, career guidance and support, and technology innovations. Funded initiatives fall into four categories:

  • Infusing career relevance into the curriculum
  • Developing strategies to expand career support
  • Strengthening connections between education and career
  • Building institutional capacity to improve career outcomes

Learn more about the innovation grant recipients and their projects here.

“As we recover from a worldwide pandemic, we understand that our economy and our education system are changing dramatically,” said Strada’s Ruth Watkins. “We must shift our focus beyond completion of credentials and degrees. The Beyond Completion Challenge was designed not just to come up with new ideas for how to achieve that goal, but to put resources behind them so that more students can benefit. We were delighted with the quality of the proposals and are thrilled to support this terrific work.” Learn more about the Taskforce’s work and Strada’s Beyond Completion Challenge here.

Strada will share more information on early insights from initiatives and related projects already in progress during a Public Viewpoint webinar on Jan. 19.

About Northern Virginia Community College
Northern Virginia Community College is the largest public institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site,

About Strada Education Network
Strada Education Network is a nonprofit dedicated to helping people take advantage of education and training after high school that helps them secure a good job, do meaningful work, contribute to their communities, and lead a fulfilling life. We believe that education and training after high school have the potential to be the most powerful and equitable ways to help all people thrive in their careers and lives. To help students succeed beyond completion of a certificate or degree, we conduct research, make charitable grants and social impact investments, and support Strada Collaborative, which directly serves students and workers. Learn more at

About the Taskforce on Higher Education and Opportunity
The Taskforce on Higher Education and Opportunity is a collective of 37 institutions, including 35 higher education presidents and chancellors, representing 2.4 million students across public, private, two-and four-year institutions. To address the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, rising income inequality, and the changing nature of work, the Taskforce aims to expand higher education’s contribution to society by supporting students entering the workforce, partnering with communities, and delivering accessible, applicable, and high-quality education. The Taskforce provides new opportunities to collaborate, share insights, and scale impact across the higher education ecosystem. Learn more at

Topics: press release