Icons of Education 2019

The leaders of tomorrow are not products of wishful thinking; they will come from the ranks of students being taught by dedicated and caring educators. And the very best among those who have committed their lives to that cause are Ingram’s Icons of Education. The Class of 2019, like the 10 classes that preceded them, have demonstrated exceptional, lifelong commitment to improving the lives of their students, and by extension, the health of this region, for decades to come.


The practice of chiropractic medicine runs five generations deep in the Cleveland family, and Carl Cleveland III is the torch-bearer for not just that family legacy, but of instruction in that practice itself: He’s the third-generation member of the family to lead what is now Cleveland University-Kansas City.

The human body has been the focus of the family’s work for more than a century, but through his childhood and teen years, young Carl was attracted to studying bodies of another sort. “My first interest was to become a biologist, with a specific focus on herpetology,” says Cleveland. Reptiles and amphibians, as it turned out, didn’t have the same pull as the human form. 

By the time he hit UMKC, his biology degree focused on human physiology. Following postgraduate studies at KU and the University of Colorado, he says, “entering chiropractic college was a natural transition,” even if the original intent was instruction and research, rather than administration.

The college today has nearly 550 students, most of them graduate students pursuing their doctor of chiropractic degrees where the student-teacher ratio is an intimate 10:1. With 47 percent of that student body being female, students there are far closer to gender balance than the profession as a whole; nationwide, nearly 73 percent of licensed chiropractors are men. 

Since becoming president in 1992, Cleveland has transformed the university in significant ways. Most visible would be the move from the single focus on chiropractic instruction into what Cleveland calls “a multiple-degree program University with a mission focused on health science and health promotion education.” Today, it also offers a graduate degree in health-promotion education and a bachelor’s in human biology, along with accredited allied-health career programs in occupational therapy and radiologic technology.

He also oversaw the acquisition, funding, and construction of the 34-acre that overlooks Interstate 435 in Overland Park. In addition to its education mission, the facility is home to the Cleveland Chiropractic  Health Center, which had more than 21,000 patient visits last year. 

It is, Cleveland says, “the capstone educational experience for the senior intern to develop the hands-on clinical competencies and patient care skills required to begin the practice of chiropractic.” His most significant achievement, perhaps, “is the strength of the educational programs, and its well credentialed, and experienced faculty,” he says. The quality of instruction is benchmarked by student performance
on standardized examinations, with scores that rank in the 90th percentile.


Before she could start changing the lives of college students, Vicki Schwinke had to change her own. Education wasn’t part of the early-life plan, so “I worked at a non-profit for abused children in California, moved back to the Midwest and worked for a software company and then managed a debit-card center for a fiduciary trust company,” Schwinke says. “Then, all in one year, I decided to get married, move from Kansas City to a farm in central Missouri, and begin a new career in education.”

That was 26 years ago, and the destination was Linn, Mo., in what was then Linn State Technical College. There, she began by coordinating business and industry training programs, and is now vice president of academic affairs. “The best part about being an educator is that we change lives,” Schwinke says. “To effectively change lives, we must keep up with technology, the economy, and business and industry trends. We change curriculum, add or delete programs, add new technology and expand our industry advisers, but we don’t change our mission, to prepare students for profitable employment and a life of learning.”

That focus, Schwinke says, directly contributes to the college’s success of having the second-highest graduation rate among public colleges and universities in Missouri, being ranked by Forbes Magazine as the third-best in its category nationwide, and a No. 1 ranking from WalletHub for student outcomes (and No. 2 for career outcomes).

None of that, she says, occurred within an ivy-covered silo. “From the day I started at the college to the present, we have depended on our business and industry partners to keep current with changing technology and overall work-force needs of the state,” Schwinke says. “We also depend on our 350-plus partners to advise us on the development of new curriculum and help us keep our existing curriculum up-to-date. College business and industry partners also participate in job fairs and mock interviews, and provide internships to augment the hands-on-training for which the college is well known. Most importantly, they hire our graduates.” 

The other piece of the success matrix, she says, comes from hiring quality faculty. “At State Tech, that means that faculty have industry experience in the area they are teaching, they have a passion for their profession and want to pass it down to the next generation,” Schwinke says. That yields an institution uniquely positioned within the state education system. “Missouri is unifying the focus of state agencies, colleges and universities around work-force development and infrastructure,” Schwinke says. “Based on these priorities and our industry advisors’ input, we are expanding our programs and enrollment to meet work-force needs.” 


It was the same stomach churn many college graduates still feel today once the ink is dry on the diploma and life sets in. Frank Einhellig knows all about it: “Did I make the right choice?”

Today, he’s provost at Missouri State University, but once upon a time, he had an agriculture degree from K-State and a new career as a management trainee in a feed mill. “Over time, I began to realize I was not utilizing much of the education I had worked hard to achieve,” he says. “I eventually realized that education in general—and the experience of a college education in particular—had broadened my horizons, and I made the decision that I needed to share my love of learning.”

So it was off to the University of Kansas for an education degree, a teaching position in the Shawnee Mission School District, and eventually a Ph.D. in botany. “My mother had spent a number of years in teaching (starting in a one-room schoolhouse),” he says, and that was an influence both positive and negative. First, her experience had convinced him that education would not be his future. “Later
on, it helped inspire my pathway to a career in education.”

A native of the Bonner Springs area, he originally pursued an ag degree because the farm life seemed like the proper fit. “I truly enjoyed the environment and work of agricultural science, but the economics of farming and other life circumstances began to change the course of my future,” he says.

After earning his doctorate, a stint teaching biology, genetics and plant physiology at the University of South Dakota set the stage for his move to Springfield as graduate dean and associate vice president for academic affairs nearly 28 years ago. “I was enticed by what I saw in Missouri State as a strong, solid academic university that was ready and should have a greatly expanded graduate program,” Einhellig says. “I also saw the strength and abilities of faculty that would allow them to grow in their research and creative activities needed to accompany and lead graduate education.”

The expansion of graduate programs on his watch “has been a dream come true,” he says, and has well-served southwest Missouri.  “We now have tripled the number of graduate programs that existed when I came to the institution,” he says, “and those programs include a significant impact on providing health-care professionals across the spectrum of the professions other than medical school.”

For Kevin Eichner, the itch was always there, waiting to be scratched. Through his undergraduate days at Ottawa University, through Harvard Business School, through four decades in consulting and banking that led to co-founding of what today is a $5 billion bank, plus a $1.5 billion wealth-management firm. 

In 2008, it was time to scratch. After more than 25 years on the board of his alma mater—and having turned down three of its previous requests to enlist his services—Eichner answered the call he’d first heard in school, the one that made him think, “I’d like to be a college president.”

“After that third time,” Eichner recalls, “I didn’t feel very good about it. I had the idea that I wanted to spend 10 years in some worthy full-time service, part of the life plan I wrote all the way back in the ’70s at Ottawa.” He called back to let a grateful board know that he’d changed his mind.

When he was just 22, he was offered the position as director of admissions at Ottawa, something the school’s president says would help him pursue a Phd. and prepare him for college administration. A consultant, however, persuaded Eichner that the MBA was a better choice. “Using Ottawa’s  value-clarification techniques,” he says, “I realized that what business and education and church and government—all those things—need is the same thing: Competent general management and exceptional leadership.” 

Taking a degree in social change from Ottawa and heading for Harvard made him, in all likelihood, the only person ever to execute that particular academic leap. After a few years in consulting, he got into banking, eventually co-founding Enterprise Bank & Trust, then Enterprise Wealth Management. Since coming back to his passion in higher education, he has turned his alma mater into a vibrant entity with two residential campuses—the mother ship in Ottawa, and a sparkling new facility in Surprise, Ariz., near the OU adult education center in Phoenix. With satellite facilities in Indiana, Wisconsin and in Overland Park, the system serves nearly 3,200 students.

The tools for his success, Eichner says, were forged in the innovative approach to education that OU embraced in his youth, and still clings to today. “We had totally individualized programs in the early ’70s; you were encouraged to branch out beyond your traditional major, to think more broadly about the world,” he says. And his degree choice? “It was a self-designed major with the help of faculty,” he says. “I think I’m the only one then and since who’s had that degree.” But it set the stage for a lifetime of success, and as a result, Eichner says, Ottawa University “has been an important part of my life for a long time.”


No one has to tell Hal Higdon about the role that entrepreneurship plays in a community’s health. He started absorbing that lesson when he was just 12, working for the engraving and rubber-stamping business that his parents founded in Decatur, Ala. There, over the years leading up to his time at the University of Alabama, he “did pretty much everything” at one time or another.

Growing up in the family business, he says, made it an easy decision to major in business himself. But Higdon was looking for something else. “While I enjoyed the business world, running a small family business, spending 80 hours a week at it was just not my passion. I loved my time in college, and being in higher ed, had the opportunity to work at a community college in Alabama, working in both human-
resources and work-force development roles.”

He also came out of a region where education and technology were valued; nearby Huntsville is home to the Marshall Space Flight Center, which became a key element in the U.S. space program during  Higdon’s youth. Throughout his career, Higdon has had specific goals that included becoming a college president, one he was able to check off his list in 2006 by coming to Missouri. Being located in Springfield  is a particular advantage, he says, as the community plays a unique role in Missouri higher education.

“People don’t think of Springfield as being a college town, but with all the colleges here, there are 50,000 students,” he says. “That’s a nice draw.” There’s a nice blend of students from the St. Louis and Kansas City metro areas, as well as Jefferson City, but “our purpose is to serve those students in southwest Missouri,” Higdon says, and the focus is on business and allied-health.

Most college chief executives, he says, leave their positions because they’re looking for something bigger and better, or because of employee issues or a conflict with the board, if not a dysfunctional board itself. “I’ve always been blessed with a good board,” Higdon says.

Asked about his own legacy at OTC, Higdon said, “The most important reason for being here is the students, so you hope that you’ve change the trajectory of a student’s life,” he says. “You hope they take away not just the credentials, but life learning habits so they can cycle out of poverty. We see a lot who come in who are coming from very tough circumstances, and there is no better place to pull yourself
up by the bootstraps than at a community college.

“I hope when I leave this place that I’ve left culture of service to community, commitment to serving the community and of integrity and entrepreneurial spirit. That’s what makes the OTC difference. We have one rule: No harm, no foul. If you try something and it doesn’t work, it’s not the end of world.”



Sandy Hutchinson credits her grandmother’s work history as a rural-school teacher for planting the seed, but the commitment to that career was driven by the little girl inside her. “As a kid, I had a chalkboard in the basement, where I could practice my handwriting, because teachers have to write on the board,” Hutchinson remembers. “I saved my old Think and Do books, and Weekly Readers and art projects, because one of these, I will be a teacher and might need those things.”

Well, the techniques of instruction have changed over the decades, but never the commitment. Today, Hutchinson is hard at work fashioning new generations of teacher as a doctoral instructor at the University of Central Missouri, where she earned degrees at every level. She majored in elementary education, speech communication and theater education, then earned a masters and doctorate in school administration, and has long focused on challenges facing rural educators and schools.

Being able to project her own take on teaching and reach into school systems for years beyond her own career, she says, “means a lot to me. I spent 23 years in K-12 education and 21 of those in  administration.” She was just 23 when she became the chief administrator in the Leesville R9 district after just two years in the classroom. “I don’t criticize someone else for the job they do if I’m not willing to do it,” she says of the early move. “I just wanted to be a leader. That was the larger picture, expanding your influence,” a trait she had developed during her own school years with various clubs and student activities.

After earning her doctorate—delayed somewhat, she says, because “life gets in the way”—she transitioned to the collegiate ranks. “My job is working with doctoral students, but also masters and Ed.S. in leadership, so I’m working with students who are studying to become K-12 leaders, superintendents and principals. That’s pretty cool, knowing they will go on to influence people in their schools.” But it also entails working with professors, leadership of student-services departments like housing and food service. “It’s amazing to think of the other people who go out and have an impact on students in so many areas,” Hutchinson says.

Rural districts are close to her heart because “they are the lifeblood of a community. Often, they are the largest employer,” she says. It’s essential that we keep rural schools going.” When it comes to working in such districts, she says, “they might not earn as much money, but by golly, the rewards of working with people in those communities, and with those kids, are huge. To lose rural schools is to lose your identity as a community.”


They didn’t use the gold-plated language of today’s business consultancies back in Flint, Mich., in the 1970s, but even when he was sacking groceries and working for a caterer, John Jasinski was being exposed to the fundamentals of continuous improvement and performance excellence. And that became a framework for a career grounded in using systems-based models for organizational improvement, a
perspective that has guided him through both entrepreneurship and public service. For the past 10 years, he’s been president of Northwest Missouri State University, where academic and success metrics outpace even the Bearcat football team’s championship-level performances.

To wit: “Our enrollment is up, we have record-shattering student retention rates, our general education assessment is 14 percent above the state average, our graduation rate is in the 89th percentile of our national peer group, our student-satisfaction levels for both freshman and juniors outperform our regional and national peers, we have the highest career-placement rate among Missouri public  institutions,” Jasinski rightly proclaims.

All of that, he says, is “testimony to our focus on work-force development and a pathway for lifelong learning and employability.” In short, he says, “we bring it at Northwest.” Indeed. As government at nearly all levels sees growth nearly unabated, public universities largely have shouldered a disproportionate share of the belt-tightening the public sector has seen. “We protect our infrastructure and have found innovative methods to renovate and provide new construction to the tune of $80 million since 2009,” Jasinski says.

He is most proud of the intense fiscal stewardship at Northwest. “We are in the lower third of our peers on net price; Moody’s Investors Service recently reaffirmed a strong credit rating while providing the higher-education sector a negative outlook; we generated $76.5 million in cost containment and efficiencies between 2012 and 2018; we cut our debt in half since 2009—doing so through a tumultuous
and disruptive time frame and enhancing our infrastructure and protecting our costs,” he says.

What he’s done for Northwest, and for Maryville, reminds him that there is much to do in American cities like his hometown of Flint, in the news for very wrong reasons over the past decade. “Growing up in Flint was priceless and seminal in nature,” he says. “But looking back, it was also like living out a social experiment that, today, seems to be a model that presents some significant challenges. I remain  concerned that the Flints of the country and world are forgotten.”

Her name has been synonymous with excellence in health-care education for a generation in this region, but Betty Drees had some unfinished business after stepping out of her role as dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2014.

The latest phase of her contribution to educational administration came last March, when she was named dean of the Graduate School of the Stowers Institute. The academic arm of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, which focuses intensely on cancer studies. The graduate school was organized in 2011 to offer research-based Ph.D. degrees in biology, officially launched a year later, and has now begun turning out advanced degree holders in demand for their rare skill sets.

She succeeded William Neaves, who had previously asked her to serve on the school’s board. By the time he moved on, Drees said, “I knew all about the program. It’s a wonderful program, and the opportunity to be more involved in a leadership position was very attractive: Our mission is to train excellent scientists for the future.” 

The first graduates have moved on to post-doctoral experiences at research venues around the nation, but keeping them in Kansas City was never the point. “People who finish with a Ph,D. still need additional post-doctoral experiences, and you would expect your gradates who come out go on to those—they can choose wherever they go, and they have gone into excellent positions.”

It’s a healthy sign for Kansas City, she says, “to have this kind of program, training scientists of this caliber. We have an outstanding faculty that’s part of the broader contribution of the institute as a whole.”

Drees, an endocrinologist by training, came to that role with more than 25 years in clinical practice, research, education, and administration, and for 13 years was dean of UMKC’s medical school, where she remains affiliated. Her career course has been charted with a value set straight out of south-central Kansas. “My Dad owned a business and did farming, and it was an environment of high integrity, hard work, neighborliness, and people looking out for each other.” 

A career in medicine was something she considered, put on hold exploring the humanities, then came back to because she came to see the two as interconnected. Among her biggest career achievements were the addition of graduate programs at UMKC, something not just good for health-care consumers, but for Kansas City broadly. “The more we can offer in a region at the highest levels of education,” she says, “the better for the whole region.”


Since its inception in 1989, the National Teachers Hall of Fame in Emporia has recognized just 135 U.S. educators—and one of those, by happenstance, would go on to become the organization’s executive director. She’s Carol Strickland, who taught speech and debate for nearly 30 years in Emporia’s K-12 school system before retiring and taking on adjunct professor duties at Emporia State.

In 2003, when she was admitted to the hall of fame, she became more involved in its mission and support. And when the opening at the top came in 2012—well, who better positioned to lead it than a past honoree with a history of involvement? “They were looking and did a national search, but my husband encouraged me,” Strickland says. “He said, ‘you’ve been doing this as a volunteer, you know it, you’re a member and you have a vested interest in seeing it survive? Why not throw your hat into the ring?”

She did, and her career choice was once again validated. Strickland has brought to education a career-long commitment to putting students first—even the ones that aren’t getting the good grades and attending every day. Success in the classroom, she says, “is not a magical formula. Some people are drawn to a service profession because they love people. In the case of teaching, you have to love children,
or you’re not going to make it.”

The keys, she says, are patience, consistency and building relationships inside and outside the classroom, the kinds of relationships that offer students assurances that they can turn to teachers as mentors and, at times, as confidantes. “The best advice I ever had was from a principal when I was in Denver; I had grown up in a segregated world in Texas, and that was my first assignment, at an inner-city school. I was clueless and green, but he told me: ‘The ones that don’t make it are the phonies. Just be yourself.’ That guided me through teaching. There are some kids that are tough to reach, but just don’t give up on them. Just keep trying.”

She was inspired to teach, in part, because her own mother was never able to realize the same dream. The Great Depression caused her mother to drop out of school to help the family generate an income, and the story was much the same with Strickland’s father. “They always knew the value of education,” she says.

Teaching has always been about making an impact, and often, that impact goes unseen. But a few years ago, Strickland ran into a former student who had dropped out of school. Their chance meeting at a grocery story prompted her to tell the youngster “You need to go get enrolled tomorrow. Teaching needs you.” The girl did, then finished her degree. “Some of my students are now in their 40s and 50s, and on Facebook, they’ll have discussions about something that happened in class so long ago, and it was a turning point for them that I didn’t even know about,” Strickland marvels.

“I have been gainfully employed, but have never worked a day in my life.” So says Beth Walizer, who followed up 26 years in the Russell school district by making the leap to campus, where she’s a professor of education at Fort Hays State University. Born and raised in Russell, which is no stranger to rough winters, she came back home as a teacher because of a different kind of chill. 

“In college, I decided to major in business, especially accounting, but when I went to class that second semester and everyone started opening briefcases, I thought ‘Oh, my goodness, this is just too cold for me. I got up, walked across campus and changed my major to teacher education.” 

She had taken that path, even though education, she says, “is where my heart always was. My dad knew I did really well in math, and he thought accounting would be a good place and something I could raise a family on. His dad died when he was just 9, and his mother had to raise him alone, and he didn’t want me to ever be in that position.” 

But after coming back to her first love, then finishing at Fort Hays State, she went to work in Russell—for the same principal, it turned out, she’d had during her school days. When she eventually decided to pursue her doctorate, an instructor asked her why. “I said I was touching 24 children in a classroom, but I wanted to touch more,” Walizer says. “If I could come to the college level and teach and touch them, they could go out and touch even more children.”

And that, Walizer says, has been part of a circle that has come back around in her own life—as demonstrated a former student who happened to bump into her on-line. “She asked, ‘are you the Mrs. W. I had in first grade?’” Turned out, that former student was now a teacher, as well, touching those unseen lives Walizer had envisioned. 

One of the trends she’s observing at this point of her career, she says, “is very interesting: It’s those who have bachelor’s degrees in other fields coming back to education. We’re seeing a lot of that in transition to teaching, and they are teaching the content that they love.”

The profession doesn’t pay a lot, she says, but I was never in it for the money. It’s the priceless things that happen in teaching.” In looking back across 40 years of instruction, Walizer says that “I hope I’ve left behind a legacy for the love of reading. It can take you anywhere, even if you don’t have the money to go to those places. It can also inspire you to reach your goals and dreams as you learn. I just love leaving that legacy of having children become independent readers and life-long learners.”