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Notable U.S. Community College Alumni
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Notable U.S. Community College Alumni 
Study in America > Why Community College > Notable U.S. Community College Alumni

Join the Ranks of Notable U.S. Community College Alumni

Many students who began their higher education at a U.S. community college have continued on to make significant contributions and achieve high recognition in a variety of fields. Community college alumni include renowned astronauts, doctors, business leaders, artists, government leaders, athletes, and  scientists.The education and experience they received at a U.S. community college prepared them and enabled them to contribute to the changing world in which we live today. Here we describe the achievements of but a few people for whom community colleges played an important role in their education and future success. Click here for a more comprehensive list of notable community college alumni.

Eileen Collins
Pilot and U.S. Space Shuttle Commander

After graduating from community college in 1976,Collins earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. She made history as the first female pilot and then first female commander of a U.S. space shuttle. Among the awards she has received are the Distinguished Flying Cross and the National Space Trophy. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1995, and the Encyclopedia Britannica recognized her as one of the top 300 women in history who changed the world. In 2006, the New York State Legislature passed a resolution honoring her.

Oscar Hijuelos
Author, 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Hijuelos is the first Hispanic American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. After receiving an associate degree, he transferred to the City College of New York, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Hijuelos has said that because of growing up poor and being a lifelong resident of New York City, he did not have the money to travel abroad as had many of the famous authors he admired.But, he said, education, no matter where it takes place, can expand people’s minds and help them realize new possibilities. His novels have been translated into more than 25 languages.

R. Bruce Merrifield
1984 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Merrifield began his higher education at a community college, where he learned the basics of his field. He has said of his community college that “the undergraduate teaching was better than at the big university.” After completing his associate degree, he transferred to a university, where he earned a PhD. Merrifield is best known in the scientific community for his solid-phase peptide synthesis, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize. The Royal Swedish Academy of Science described Merrifield’s method as “ingenious” and “a completely new approach to organic synthesis.”

Bola Ahmed Tinubu
Governor, State of Lagos, Nigeria

Tinubu is the former governor of the State of Lagos, location of the largest city in the most populous country in West Africa. He began his higher education at a U.S. community college. As a founding member of the prodemocracy National Democratic Coalition in Nigeria, Tinubu said that he learned about democratic principles while living in the United States. After graduating from community college, he transferred to a university, where he graduated summa cum laude. In 1983, he returned to Nigeria to work for Mobil Oil, eventually becoming the company’s treasurer, before his election to the Nigerian Senate in 1992.

Junki Yoshida
Entrepreneur/Corporate CEO

Yoshida is founder and CEO of Yoshida Group, a multinational conglomerate with 18 companies in the United States. In 2003, his company was inducted into the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Hall of Fame. Yoshida grew up poor in Japan. At 19, he traveled to the United States to pursue the American Dream. When he was refused admission to a 4-year university because of his poor English skills, he enrolled at a community college. Reflecting on his community college experience,Yoshida explains that it “provided the significant turning point in my life that eventually determined my career path and was responsible for my business success.” When traveling the country as a motivational speaker, he encourages young listeners: “Don’t give up your dreams.”