SAN MARCOS — When Dr. Nora Kenney determined that a tenure-track teaching position was not the path she thought she should take, the justice impacted population in San Diego County benefited.  Dr. Nora, as her students refer to her, began teaching at the Vista Detention Center, and has become a steadfast resource for students seeking a life after incarceration. 

Now serving as the Interim Director, Occupational and Noncredit Programs at Palomar College, Dr. Kenney oversees the Rising Scholars/Transitions program for current and formerly incarcerated students.  She proudly expresses this work as “lending our privilege to empower students to succeed.”  While she describes her career path as non-traditional, with a lot of twists and turns, she describes Palomar College as home and her landing spot.  “The entire college is supportive of our students and the students feel it, they are honored by the outpouring of support,” Dr. Kenney stated.

The Empowered Women Alliance at Palomar College celebrated Dr. Kenney the 2023 “Woman of the Year” at the close of Women’s History month.  The annual award is now in its third year and is presented to a woman who demonstrates a commitment to equity and inclusion.  Nominated by colleagues, Dr. Kenney was recognized for not only her outstanding work with the Rising Scholars/Transitions program students, but also for her unwavering commitment to Palomar’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Antiracism and Accessibility (DEIAA) efforts, and for empowering other women on campus and in the region. Her nominators shared the following:

“Dr. Nora is tenacious and unrelenting in her exemplification of doing what is right and just for her students, peers, and for Palomar College.” 

“Dr. Kenney-Whitley is every woman’s cheerleader. She leads through kindness, exhibits grace, and is undeniably genuine in her approach to creating safe environments for women.”   

“When a colleague mentioned that they wanted to nominate Dr. Nora for this award, I absolutely agreed,” said Superintendent/President Dr. Star Rivera-Lacey. “Our Rising Scholars program has gained recognition at the state level, and I am certain it is due to Dr. Nora’s contributions and her commitment to our students. Congratulations to our 2023 Woman of the Year.”

While contemplating what the award means to her, Dr. Kenney stated, “this work resonates with me as I am most happy when serving others and this award substantiates that I am in the best place possible to do so.  I hope that one day upon my retirement, a formerly incarcerated professional will be the leader selected to carry on this important mission.”

About the Rising Scholars/Transitions Program at Palomar College
In the United States, more than 700,000 people return home from incarceration each year, often with little support or stability. At Palomar College the Rising Scholars/Transitions program provides access to wraparound services and a thriving community of students, faculty, staff, and administration to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students.