Honoring Joan Knapp

Joan Knapp received posthumous recognition for ICE’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the ICE Exchange 2017 in New Orleans. Her daughter, Lenora Knapp, received the award on Joan’s behalf and offered the following comments. ICE was granted permission to publish her speech below. Review the other award winners on the ICE website. 

You would have to have known Joan to understand how truly remarkable she was. Perhaps Sandy Greenberg put it best when she described Joan as, “a force of nature.” 

Although Joan’s accomplishments were certainly significant, I think what’s more important is who she was as a person and why she accomplished what she did. 

My mother possessed a wealth of personal gifts. As a proud daughter I can brag and tell you she was absolutely brilliant in every academic subject – EXCEPT phys. ed. In her first job as a new college graduate, she conducted molecular DNA research. And when she applied to Cornell’s PhD program, her Master’s professor began his recommendation letter with the question, “How often have you used the phrase ‘one in a million’ in referring to a student?” But Joan wasn’t just brilliant, she also was wise. 

Joan had great courage, strength, and tenacity. Although confronted with societal and academic prejudices against women, she never allowed this to hold her back. She majored in both English and Science, graduating from college summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi and was the only woman in the small group of six students who were bestowed with high honors. When she arrived at Cornell, her doctoral advisor questioned whether she could complete a PhD while raising a young child on her own. Naturally, she proved him wrong. And when later in her career she hit the glass ceiling one too many times, she took a risk and founded her own company. 

In the 1960s, she taught 8th grade Science and English and headed the Science Department in a segregated black school in Miami. She chose to be in the first cadre of teachers to integrate the Miami-Dade public school system. 

In the 1970s, far in advance of today’s competency-based education and assessment movement, Joan was a pioneer in the development of methodologies for the prior learning/ portfolio assessments which today enable adult learners to earn college credit for knowledge and skills acquired through professional and life experience. Her interest in these assessments was not psychometric. Rather, she believed these assessments would make a difference in the underserved and overlooked populations in our society. 

Once Joan became part of the ICE community, she considered it to be her home and dedicated her boundless energy to it. In addition to the many volunteer and leadership roles she served, she enthusiastically gave her time to mentor those new to certification and to serve as a sounding board and share insights with colleagues. She encouraged many of you to join ICE, then to volunteer, and finally she twisted your arm to serve in leadership positions.

Joan was a visionary. Before the computer era, the internet and digital badges, she spearheaded the development of a product which would enable individuals to document academic and professional credentials and work samples on microfiche, thus serving as a portable portfolio of their accomplishments. And she understood years ago that we would need to rethink professional credentialing if we were to remain relevant in the future. 

A few years ago Joan was interviewed after being honored by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. She said: 

“What I have a passion for is finding ways to bring people into the mainstream so that they can do something in society that we have probably never dreamed of, because they’ve not had the opportunity to be part of this society. 

I see people who don’t have the skills they need to move ahead in their lives and a generation of people who want to learn, but they want or need to learn on their time. I think people want to design their own education. And maybe a degree is important and maybe it’s not. 

The major barrier is that we have a traditional system that still doesn’t allow for that kind of personalization. We need systems to adapt. I hope that in the future, this organization is not just a place to talk about it, but that it becomes a place to do something about it.” 

Joan was “one in a million.” Thank you for recognizing that with this award.

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