Alumni Achievements

Where are Kirkwood grads? What are they doing now? Read about some of the educational paths and achievements of fellow Kirkwood Community College alumni!

Alumni Achievements, 2000s

Alumni Achievement Recipient Denise Kassis '17

For Kirkwood alum Denise Kassis, attending college in her hometown of Cedar Rapids felt like the right decision. Unsure about choosing a major, Kirkwood seemed like the logical fit and the right place to complete a Liberal Arts degree while figuring out her interests.

Denise graduated in May 2017 with an Associate of Arts degree and still holds ties to Kirkwood as a member of the Alumni Leadership Council.

Denise did not waste any time getting involved at Kirkwood and truly believes that helped her connect more with the faculty and staff. Being engaged in campus life also opened the door for more opportunities and helped her form several strong friendships.

While a student, Denise was:

  • A Student Ambassador
  • A member of the Student Leadership Council
  • A peer leader for orientation
  • A leadership member of Dance Marathon
  • The sports editor for Kirkwood’s student newspaper, Communiqué.

Now a junior at the University of Northern Iowa majoring in communications with a journalism minor, Denise credits the opportunities she took advantage of at Kirkwood for her easy transition to UNI. 

What's Next?

After graduating from UNI, Denise hopes to find a job in sports journalism or broadcasting. She would also love to travel the world and gain a new knowledge for different cultures, and continue to learn and grow as a person. “Get out of your comfort zone and try something new,” said Denise. “Join clubs, meet new people, go to school events and take advantage of the many opportunities Kirkwood has to offer. I guarantee you won’t regret any of it!”

Alumni Achievement Recipient Raeann Gordon

At the age of 30, with a one-year-old and four- year-old at home, RaeAnn Gordon decided to go for it. She had long felt a nudge to go back to school and with help from Kirkwood’s Project START (Supported Training and Retraining), she made the leap and enrolled before the 2004 fall semester.

Shortly after stepping onto the Kirkwood campus, a faculty member helped RaeAnn find her way to a program that just really seemed to fit – human services.

While at Kirkwood

As she progressed at Kirkwood, RaeAnn felt challenged to become the best human services worker she could be. “I really connected to the class material and really appreciated and respected the faculty at Kirkwood,” she recalled.

Throughout her time as a student, RaeAnn became a very active community member in Cedar Rapids. Something she’s especially proud of is her work co-facilitating Moms Off Meth, a support group for moms recovering from substance abuse and drug addiction. She’s also been a significant part of the Partnership for Safe Families Advisory Committee.

After Kirkwood

She proudly graduated from Kirkwood in 2006 with an A.A.S. degree in human services, but RaeAnn’s educational journey didn’t stop there. Inspired by her success at Kirkwood, she transferred to Mount Mercy University and earned her Bachelor of Arts in Social Work in 2009. Most recently, RaeAnn graduated with her Master of Social Work at the University of Northern Iowa in the spring of 2018.

RaeAnn currently works as the Linn County director for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and continues to volunteer her time in the community.

Alumni Achievement Recipient Mike Lingo

Like many students, life after high school didn’t go as planned for Mike Lingo. Mike thought a four-year, out-of-state college would launch his career, but that didn’t pan out. Determined to get a degree, Mike decided to take classes closer to home at Kirkwood.

While at Kirkwood

After enrolling, his friends and family encouraged him to explore culinary arts, since he had always enjoyed cooking and grilling with his family while growing up. The hands-on nature of the program and friendly professors ignited his interest in cooking as a professional career.

His talent propelled him through graduation from Kirkwood and on to the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York, and later allowed him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in food science from Iowa State University.

While going to school, he held research and development chef positions with food industry companies formulating products for various clients. One of those clients was McDonald’s, and it wasn’t long before he started working for them directly.

After Kirkwood

Today, Mike serves as McDonald’s menu innovation team manager. He’s responsible for the development of new menu items. His culinary creativity blends customer input with nutritional guidelines established by the company. Mike and his team carefully consider all aspects of introduction.

“When I was unsure about my career future, I wouldn’t have believed that I’d wind up where I am,” Mike said. “I’m a testament to finding out the range of possibilities within your industry. I encourage students like myself to explore the different disciplines college has to offer. Education opens doors.”


Alumni Achievements, 1990s

Alumni Achievement Recipient Angie Mccormick

Angie grew up on her family’s farm in Solon, IA. She enjoyed the country way of life, and played sports year-round in addition to the daily farm chores she shared with her two older sisters and younger brother.

After high school, Angie attended Kirkwood from 1995-1997 where she excelled in the classroom because, she admits, she worked hard at it. “You have to make the most out of every opportunity you’re given. I learned this at Kirkwood—because in college you can choose to go the easy route or you can challenge yourself. I chose to do the latter.”

After Kirkwood

Angie moved away from Iowa to continue her education and play basketball in Florida, but quickly found herself homesick for the Midwest. When she returned to her home state, she enrolled in the University of Iowa’s graduate Physical Therapy program, earned her Master’s degree, and established a career in the field.

She built a life in Iowa with her husband Tim and the couple has three children: Emma, Sydney and Luke.

"No matter what atmosphere you are put in, you can make the most of it,” says Angie. “I am content. I might want to better my profession through continuing education, but my family is the most important accomplishment I’ve achieved. I am a physical therapist, a mom and a wife. Mom and Wife are the most significant roles I play in this life."

Alumni Achievement Recipient Danita Bradsaw

Despite attending multiple schools during her academic career, Bradshaw-Ward maintains that Kirkwood tops the list.

“Education-wise, it set a foundation for me. All the instructors were very knowledgeable and engaging. I had the opportunity to be a student ambassador as well as a basketball player. Coach Kim Muhl provided a great experience for me,” she said, noting the current NJCAA Hall of Fame coach.

“I cannot speak more highly of Doug Bannon (Dean of Admissions and Student Life) or Coach Muhl. They made being on a team feel like a family atmosphere. It meant a lot to me, having that family on campus. Coach Muhl instilled family values in his players, but also instilled a work ethic and sense of responsibility.”

After Kirkwood

Currently a biology professor at Eastfield Community College in Mesquite, Texas, Danita Bradshaw-Ward holds multiple science-based degrees. She also coaches her oldest daughter’s track team and competes with her husband of ten years, Koreley Ward, in bodybuilding competitions. The Wards have two daughters: Kadia and Kyleigh.

The family feel and accessibility meant so much to her that she now teaches at a community college—and doesn’t plan on ever leaving. “I like to teach,” she asserted. “At the university level, especially in biology, emphasis is not put on teaching…I want to teach. I’m happy where I am, teaching at a small college where I can have personal relationships with my students and engage them individually.”

Alumni Achievement Recipient Cliff and Trudie

Cliff began his career in the late 70s as a journeyman machinist in the oil industry. However, lost contracts led to layoffs and, in 1988, Cliff and his wife Trudie moved to Iowa. They put Trudie through college for a degree in elementary education and Cliff returned to school to pursue a new career in computer programming.

While at Kirkwood - Cliff

With hard work, Cliff maintained a 3.8 GPA on the Dean’s list for his entire Kirkwood career. He took an internship at MCI during his summer and fall terms of 1993, graduated from the Mainframe Computer Programming and AS400 Programming programs that year and continued to work for MCI for five years.

After Kirkwood - Cliff

Cliff is now the senior UNIX administrator for Hewlett Packard at Rockwell Collins, mentoring his less experienced team members on the technologies for which his Kirkwood education helped make him an expert.

He asserts that it’s important for Kirkwood to keep looking for new and existing technologies that eastern Iowa needs. “It does not matter if it is nursing, programming, machining, welding or wind technology. It is important that we have a place for people to go to get a great education that leads to thriving careers in our community.”

Husband and Wife Back at Kirkwood

Once Cliff finished his degree, he asked Trudie to return to Kirkwood and take one semester of Computer Programming with him. She did and, with many liberal arts classes already on her transcripts, soon completed another Associate of Sciences degree with a triple emphasis on Mainframe Programming, AS400 Programming and Networking.

She is currently the college’s Senior Programmer/Reporting Services Team Lead and oversees state and federal reporting for the college.

Alumni Achievement Recipient Elizabeth Humphreys

Alicia Keys, Donna Karan, Usher, Kid Rock. When they’re in town, they talk to Elizabeth Humphreys.

The ’92 Kirkwood grad and Cedar Rapids Washington alum, is at the forefront of music and fashion in Dallas, Texas. SWAGG Urban Luxe Magazine is her brainchild, which was realized in print for the first time in 2008 with hopes of eventually taking it nation-wide.

How Kirkwood Helped Jumpstart Humphreys' Career

Humphreys credits Kirkwood with giving her a start in the media industry. She took communication courses that she says helped her come out of her shell.

After transferring to the University of Iowa to complete her degree, Humphreys found herself at the Dallas Observer, and later working for Modern Luxury Magazine. She knew she wanted more. She wanted to be at the center of pop culture.

SWAGG covers everything from red carpet events, to runways, to charity events raising $100,000’s, all the while showing people in Dallas the newest urban fashion trends and which local designers may become the next big thing. Keep your eyes open. If all goes as planned, SWAGG will one day be on newsstands near you.

Alumni Achievement Recipient Brian Gardner

Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner credits the deputy who lived across the street from him during his youth for helping to shape his future. “He asked if I wanted to ride with him on shift and of course I did,” Gardner said. “That’s all it took.” That deputy helped Gardner get his first job as a dispatcher.

While at Kirkwood

In 1982, Gardner completed the mandatory Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, which provided a good overview of police work, but not great depth, he said. “That’s where Kirkwood really helped. It gave me more depth, detail and background.”  

Based on his experience he would recommend Kirkwood to anyone. “It’s accessible, affordable and you get a quality education that’s transferrable if you want to go on to a four-year school. I wanted to continue on and get my BA.”

He graduated in 1991 with an Associate of Science Degree in law enforcement from Kirkwood.

After Kirkwood

From there he completed his BA in criminal justice administration at Mount Mercy College in 1995. In 2004, he received his Masters of Public Administration Degree in Criminal Justice from City University in Bellevue, Washington.

Gardner steadily worked his way up through the ranks and became sheriff in 2009. He currently serves on the executive board of the Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association and is chairperson of the Linn County Emergency Management Commission. S

heriff Gardner is also a member of numerous professional organizations and serves on several local boards and committees, including Kirkwood’s Criminal Justice Advisory Committee. This committee helps shape the law enforcement curriculum that impacts today’s young officers.

Alumni Achievement Recipient Kim Peterson

Petersen is the ultimate multi-tasker. As sole owner of Architectural Building and Design, Inc., Kim is the builder, designer, and general contractor for each of her custom built homes. She typically works with 25 different companies throughout construction and has completed more than 80 homes since establishing her business in 2000.

Kim insists on using higher-end quality in smaller square footage homes. Her homes include the quality and details characteristically found in $1 million homes.

How Kirkwood Helped Kim's Career

As a 1990 graduate of Kirkwood’s Architectural Technology program, Kim sought Kirkwood’s support in helping her land her first job, designing foundations.

Her next stop was designing and then building her own home, proving to herself and others in the male-dominated business that she could be successful. She then worked as a project manager and designer for several years before starting her own business. She received career opportunity updates from Kirkwood throughout the years following graduation.

Mentoring Students

Kim understands the importance of mentoring female students interested in the field. She has had the opportunity to come back to Kirkwood to speak with and encourage women to get involved in the building industry. “I think it is so important.” Kirkwood is proud of Kim’s success in the business. Congratulations!


Alumni Achievements, 1980s

Alumni Achievement Recipient Traci Weber

Traci Weber is a bubbly, outgoing entrepreneurial who truly loves her job. She is the sole owner of the First Avenue Wine House and manages all day-to-day operations. After spending eight years as the Director of Education with Planned Parenthood, she decided to take a risk and try something new.

Traci opened the First Avenue Wine House in 2003. The Wine House is a one-stop shop for anyone in the market for wines from around the world, cheeses and other specialty foods, or a vast array of wine-related gift items. Traci also offers wine-tasting classes and special events throughout the year. Her shop has grown steadily since 2003 and now wine and related gift items fill every nook and cranny of the three-story building.

Why Kirkwood?

As a 1989 graduate of Jefferson High School, Traci headed to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire where she was a member of the swim team. After two years, she decided to move back home.

“I was lost and felt like I had hit rock-bottom. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Kirkwood saved me.”

Traci enrolled at Kirkwood Community College and immediately knew she had done the right thing. She loved the small classes, the attention she received from her instructors, and for the first time found success in the classroom.

She received her AA in 1992 and enrolled at University of Northern Iowa where she completed her degree in secondary education.

After Kirkwood

As an adult, Traci has realizes even more how important Kirkwood was in her life. “If I could do it again, I would have started at Kirkwood!” She is a strong advocate for the college and believes that more students should take advantage of what Kirkwood can offer.

Traci has a special relationship with the instructors in the culinary program and provides input for the Wines and Spirits course taught as part of the Hospitality program. 

Alumni Achievement Recipient Tim Hoover

Today, Tim Hoover is group product manager for Knee & Hip Products at Arthrex, a worldwide industry leader in arthroscopy. However, 20 years ago, Tim’s life was taking a completely different direction.

Back in 1982, Tim earned a degree in Criminal Justice/Sociology from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. While attempting to gain a position in the Juvenile Corrections field in Minnesota, he was temporarily a night orderly at St. Paul’s Midway Hospital, putting him in direct contact with orthopedic physician’s assistants (OPAs) from surrounding clinics.

Why Kirkwood?

A few years later, Tim decided to take the leap to a new career. Under the recommendation of those same OPAs, he attended Kirkwood’s Orthopedic Physicians Assisting program and graduated in 1988. After more than a decade of clinical experience, he accepted a position with Arthrex, Inc. of Naples, FL.

“To look back on my Kirkwood days, and to even suggest that I could go from student to head of the second largest revenue generating division of a worldwide industry-leading medical company, would have at the time seemed laughable,” Tim said. “But Kirkwood is all about opportunities and potential; and given the right set of educational tools and support, Kirkwood graduates can literally do anything.”

Alumni Achievement Recipient Chris Wheeler

Chris Wheeler is a leader in both his career and his community. The 1987 Kirkwood graduate is president of Point Builders and volunteers for several organizations including his church’s parish council, school boards of directors and his local day care board of directors.

Kirkwood Community College played an integral role in nurturing his natural leadership skills. “Kirkwood lets you explore and develop your own skills, knowing it relates to what you want to do at the end of the day.” 

While at Kirkwood

When Wheeler attended Kirkwood, CAD (computer-aided design) was a newer program, and he enjoyed using and adapting his skills in a team environment.  

Graduating with an associate’s degree in Architectural Drafting, Wheeler spent three defining years at Louis Rich as a CAD draftsman.

Career Experience

That experience led him to Design Build Associates in Davenport. After 12 years, Wheeler was the company’s vice president.

Point Builders soon recruited him to be their general manager for their Davenport branch, and he rapidly moved up to the vice president position.  In 2010, Wheeler took over as president of the company.  His most memorable moment was getting his first job.

“Accelerating through what I wanted at Kirkwood and getting in the market with the skills I’d built—putting the college experience to the test—that was my most pivotal point for me in my career.”

Wheeler holds that, “In anything you pursue, knowing what you want to get has to be what you put into it. Maintain focus. Explore opportunities around you. Get involved. That’s the recipe for success.”

Alumni Achievement Recipient David Garcia

At age 18, David Garcia left his home in Colorado, joined the U.S. Navy in San Diego, California, and began the first of his four years of active duty. Three years in, he married his wife, Collette, and soon after the couple had twin sons.

After finishing active duty, Garcia moved his family to Cedar Rapids, IA and he came to Kirkwood to pursue an Associate of Arts degree with the goal of completing the University of Iowa’s Psychology program.

While studying full-time at Kirkwood, he also played basketball for the Eagles and held several part-time jobs in order to provide for his young family. After receiving his AA in 1981, he did attend the University of Iowa as a full-time student while he continued to work; however, Garcia soon put his education on hold to focus on his sons’ academic possibilities. 

A Family Milestone

He returned almost a decade later to complete his bachelor’s degree. David attended commencement, sharing the stage with his son, Mike, as they both marked a family milestone as the first two Garcia men to receive college degrees. He then pursued his Masters in Counseling Psychology from Regis University and completed the degree in 2005.

David’s achievements reflect his determination: “I firmly believe that anything worth doing is worth doing well—so I set the bar high in both personal and professional performance in all I undertake. I truly believe that the journey ends only if and when you allow it.” Considering all of his accomplishments, David celebrates his family and friends as his greatest successes.

Alumni Achievement Recipient Renee Gillispie

From playing in the national tournament at Kirkwood to coaching an NCAA Divison I team to its own national tournament, Renee Luers-Gillispie, Kirkwood ’81, has had quite a career in softball.

Luers-Gillispie is currently the head women’s softball coach at the University of Central Florida, where she’s coached the Golden Knights to two conference championships and three NCAA Division I Regional Tournaments.

In her days as an Eagle, Luers-Gillispie was ranked as the ninth-best pitcher in the National Junior College Athletic Association. She transferred and starred at West Texas State (now West Texas A&M), setting nine career records and was later inducted into that school’s athletics hall of fame.

How Kirkwood Influenced Her Coaching Career

Her coaching career has taken her from Joliet Junior College in Illinois, to Bradley University in Illinois, to Texas Tech and finally UCF, where she started the softball program in 2002. In the team’s first year of play, they finished 46-19 with a 21-game winning streak.

Luers-Gillispie said she relies on junior college players coming to UCF. “Even today we recruit tons of junior college players. They’re able to get their start and it helps our program out tremendously,” Luers-Gillispie said. “As a student athlete Kirkwood gave me many benefits and those benefits are the major reason I recruit so many players from the junior college level.”


Additional Achievement Stories

Alumni Achievement Recipient Larry Erickson

There are times in life when instructors make an unforgettable impact. Larry Erickson, Kirkwood ’72, remembers two finance professors from just one year at Kirkwood Community College: Dale Simon and Chuck Cunningham.

Despite the fact that he didn’t initially want to go into accounting at Rockwell Collins, he credits the two professors for steering him down that path. “They shaped my future and where I wanted to go and what I ultimately wanted to do,” he recalls.

After Kirkwood

After receiving his BS in Accounting from Mount Mercy, Erickson started as a procedure writer and was eventually named the chief financial officer of Rockwell Collins. For over 20 years, Erickson served as vice president and controller in both the government and commercial divisions of Rockwell before retiring.

In his long career Erickson was a witness to not only the growth of Rockwell, but also of Kirkwood. “I’m surprised at what I’ve seen in the last few years. It was a small campus when I started school there—only two buildings. I believe that the campus growth reflects the success and strength of the educational opportunities available at Kirkwood.

"I think it’s now at the optimal size to serve the community and surrounding area, providing those educational opportunities and activities. Thank you, Kirkwood, for providing my direction in life.”

Alumni Achievement Recipient Michael J Gould

June 30, 2006 | Michael and Jan Gould's $1Million Gift to "Encourage and Inspire" Future Students

Mike Gould has come a long way from washing cars in Iowa City. The eastern Iowa native held that job for five years at the University of Iowa, cleaning hospital ambulances and other vehicles until late in the night.

That was before Gould began a journey of learning and service that led across the U.S. and through several careers. In 2006, the successful Florida-based medical business owner is giving back to "the college that was there when I needed a direction."

Kirkwood's Impact

Mike spent multiple stints at Kirkwood, earning an associate's degree in Health Sciences. He worked as an orthopedic physician's assistant and a healthcare salesman for about 15 years, and eventually started his own company alongside his wife, Jan.

This now esteemed company, Gould & Lamb LLC, provides medical and financial information to companies involved in worker’s compensation settlement cases.

A Generous Gift

Kirkwood Community College celebrated a milestone June 30, 2006 when Michael and Jan announced a donation of $1 million to the college. Kirkwood officials commemorated the gift by dedicating one of Kirkwood's newest student facilities as the Michael J. Gould Recreation Center.

The Goulds' seven-figure gift established an educational endowment in perpetuity, designated to meet the areas of greatest need for Kirkwood now and in the future. "The biggest failure is in just watching and not participating,” Michael said. “We want Kirkwood students to always know that they should believe, try, and never give up.”



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