Co-sponsored by the national Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Educators, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, and the American Council on Education, All-USA judges grouped the 60 academic honorees into three teams, which are called the First Team, Second Team and Third Team. A judging panel of educators, chosen by the co-sponsors, considered students' outstanding original academic or intellectual products by reviewing the candidates' written descriptions of their efforts, as well as their recommendation letters from a nominating professor and two other people. All-USA Second and Third team members received certificates of achievement, and First Team members additionally received $2,500 cash prizes.
MIX, the organization Simmons initiated during her first year at Middlebury, now includes 40 students from four Vermont colleges. The students come from a variety of racial, ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds, and promote awareness and understanding of these diverse backgrounds by offering presentations of dance, literature, arts, crafts and cuisine in classrooms of Vermont elementary schools.
In 2004, Simmons received a Truman Scholarship, one of 77 of the distinguished scholarships granted nationwide, for her demonstrated intellectual ability, leadership and potential for making a significant impact in her area of interest. All in the top quarter of their class, as required, Simmons and other successful candidates demonstrated commitment to careers in government, the nonprofit or advocacy sectors, education or elsewhere in public service.
She also participated in the Middlebury College Study Abroad Program that year, and served as a high school teaching assistant in Chile while studying at the Universidad de Chile in Santiago. Back on campus this academic year, Simmons is currently a service learning coordinator with the Middlebury College Teacher Education Department, where she supervises 50 college students from eight Vermont schools that incorporate community service projects into some portion of their curriculums for academic credit. Additionally, she volunteers as a coordinator and mentor for a program through the Cornwall-based Foundation for Excellent Schools, which is a national nonprofit organization that partners with public schools in high-need communities to raise student aspirations and performance.
In recognition for her exceptional volunteer efforts, Simmons received the 2004-2005 Vermont Student Citizen Award, presented annually by the Shelburne-based Vermont Teddy Bear Company to a volunteer selected from amongst college students throughout Vermont.
She was granted the award for her efforts to increase equality in education and opportunity among diverse racial and socioeconomic groups. Director of the Middlebury College Alliance for Civic Engagement Tiffany Sargent said, "I can think of no other student who fits the criteria outlined for the Vermont Student Citizenship Award as well as Dena Simmons. She has made a huge mark on our campus and in the community through her work with the Foundation for Excellent Schools and with the creation of MIX."
After graduation from Middlebury in May 2005, Simmons plans to return to her hometown of New York City in order to help improve the quality of education in the Bronx. She wants to be a teacher and ultimately to continue her public service efforts with the school administration.