Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

CPE’s Aaron Thompson receives 2023 Smith-Wilson Award for Civil and Human Rights in Education

April 13, 2023

Thompson and Campbell
CPE President Aaron Thompson accepts the the 2023 Lucy Harth Smith-Atwood S. Wilson Award for Civil and Human Rights in Education from KEA President Eddie Campbell.

The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education is pleased to announce that President Aaron Thompson received the 2023 Lucy Harth Smith-Atwood S. Wilson Award for Civil and Human Rights in Education. The award was presented at the 151st Kentucky Education Association (KEA) Delegate Assembly.

The Smith-Wilson Award is given annually to a person or organization that has made notable contributions in any of the following areas:

Thompson, the first Black, native-born Kentuckian to hold the position of Council president, was a first-generation high school and college graduate. His career has been dedicated to the belief that quality education not only provides a path to personal prosperity, but also has the power to break cycles of poverty in families and communities. 

“My father said there’s two things worth fighting for, that’s your education and your family,” Thompson said. “I’ve always considered my life’s work to be transforming the education ‘fight’ to ‘opportunity’ for Kentucky’s minority and low-income populations. To have that work recognized by fellow educators is a great honor.”

Under Thompson, CPE developed a strategic agenda for higher education that places equity at the core of the agency’s work. Thompson also helped establish the state’s diversity, equity and inclusion plan and performance funding model for higher education that incentivizes campus progress in equity metrics. Highlights of the changes these efforts have made over five years include:

Thompson has also prioritized expanding Kentucky’s teaching cadre to include more underrepresented minorities. He was instrumental in the establishment of CPE’s Academic Leadership Development Institute (ALDI) program, which aims to prepare minority faculty and staff members for leadership roles in Kentucky higher education. Thompson also helped establish the Commonwealth Educator Diversity Grant Program to promote innovative strategies for recruiting and retaining teacher candidates to increase the diversity of the K12 teacher workforce.

In addition to his work at the Council, Thompson has researched, taught and consulted in areas of diversity, leadership, ethics, multicultural families, race and ethnic relations, student success, first-year students, retention, cultural competence and organizational design throughout his career. During his time as board chair at Baptist Health, Thompson led efforts to improve diversity and cultural competence in healthcare as well as to support nursing and physician education.

Thompson’s recent awards include induction into Kentucky’s Civil Rights Hall of Fame and the Health Care Governance Leadership Award from the Kentucky Hospital Association, among others.

Last Updated: 4/13/2023