Alumni Achievements

Where are Kirkwood Community College graduates today? Read about the educational paths and achievements of Kirkwood alumni.

Has your classmate accomplished great things since their time on campus? Want to brag about your success? We are eager to share alumni stories! Tell us about it.

Alumni Achievements, 2020s

Dream It, Achieve Itsunita

"In 2014, I flew from Nepal with lots of excitement to achieve the American dream independently. I was also sad because I had to leave my family. I thought everything would be easy here as I saw on social media. After two months of struggling to find a job in Virginia, I got a call from the nearest store to join the night shift as a crew member. It was very hard for me to accept and adjust to American culture. I did not have anyone here to share my feelings and moments, and I could not share with my family that I was struggling here because I was the only person who was helping financially back there. With my hard work and dedication toward work, I was promoted to shift lead then Assistant General Manager, and was ready to take the General Manager position.

In 2016, I met my partner. He was earning his Ph.D. in South Dakota. Everything happens for a reason. I believe in God, and he sent me a progressive man who supported me continuously through my journey. We share, support, care, and guide whenever we both need it even though we were in different states. I shared with him that I want to continue my education. He completed his Ph.D. and moved to Iowa. In 2020, with his suggestion and support, I moved to Iowa and joined Kirkwood Community College. He helped me in every step and taught me how to cope with the situation. Sometimes we just need emotional support to achieve our dream. His words, “There is nothing wrong to try,” helped me to be a better version of myself.

On May 13, 2023, I wore his “sash” representing Nepal proudly, and walked the stage for the very first time with the blue gown. The moment when I received my very first diploma was emotional. Full-time job and classes were not obviously easy, but all I can say is that it’s worth it. Finally, I graduated from Kirkwood Community College debt-free." 

Award-Winning Marketer and WriterHannah

"I made so many great friends at Kirkwood that I still talk to, and even have roomed with after my first year! Kirkwood offered so many on campus events that helped me interact with different people.

My best experience or favorite memory at Kirkwood was getting to know new people and connecting with different professors. Mark Abel was my main professor, and he was a great mentor. He helped me understand various types of marketing fields and covered almost everything I’ve needed in my position now. I graduated in 2022 with a Business Administration: Marketing Management degree and landed a job right out of college.

I am currently a marketing specialist at Fort Madison Community School District, and it is a very rewarding job. I am part of an organization of school public relations professionals, superintendents, and leaders interested in fostering understanding and support for education in Iowa. In my first year as part of this group, I won a total of 11 awards, one being a perfect score Blue & Gold Award for Excellence in Writing. Awards of Excellence included our social media pages, websites, infographics, e-newsletters, brochures, and other content I created throughout the year. Education is a huge part of your life, and I am lucky to be able to highlight all of the great things happening at my school."

Hands-On Learning Leads to Dream Careertanner.jpg

Tanner Dickherber grew up mowing lawns. The Kirkwood Community College graduate still does it today, but on a grander scale.

Tanner is the sports turf manager at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa — not the one that was created for the 1989 movie of the same name, but the one that was built to host the state’s first Major League Baseball game on Aug. 12, 2021.

More than 5.9 million people tuned in to watch the Chicago White Sox take on the New York Yankees in a dramatic game even Hollywood couldn’t touch, with the White Sox clinching a 9-8 win with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. Tanner was one of the lucky few who got to see it in person.

“The experience was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and just breathtaking,” the 20-year-old said. “To see all of the reactions on people’s faces when they saw the field for the first time was truly a great feeling knowing that the hard work my colleagues and I put into the field really paid off. It was definitely my best moment in the industry yet.”

Tanner graduated from Kirkwood in the spring of 2021 with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Golf Course and Athletic Turfgrass Management. The Clinton, Iowa, native specifically chose to attend Kirkwood for the Agriculture Sciences program.

“We did a lot of hands-on stuff that I really enjoyed because I believe that’s the best way to learn the material,” Tanner said. “There are a lot of things I took away from the program ... I am thankful for the Kirkwood turf program and everyone that has helped give me this opportunity.”

Chasing His Dreams

Serge KongaSerge Konga left the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for Iowa City, where his mother had lived years before, to pursue his childhood dream of building his own business. He immersed himself in learning English, started his studies at Kirkwood, and worked three part-time jobs so he could support himself as well as his wife and young son, who also live here, and his mother and some of his siblings in the DRC.

When he first arrived in the U.S., Serge says his English was “a catastrophe.” In January 2016, he started taking free English classes at Kirkwood’s Learning Center on the Iowa City campus and his English proficiency greatly improved. In May 2016, he switched to for-credit English Language Acquisition (ELA) classes at Kirkwood. He then worked part time at the Learning Center helping new students and immigrants from around the world learn about Kirkwood, register for English classes, and start courses to gain their General Equivalency Degree (GED) or Pathways to Success. By 2018, he was ready to begin studying Business Administration at Kirkwood.

Through his study abroad experience, Serge worked with student teams in Australia on special projects, observing events and then offering recommendations on improving operations and logistics, training, and marketing — all valuable learning experiences for a future business owner.

After Kirkwood

Serge was on the Dean’s List every semester and graduated from Kirkwood in May 2021. Upon graduation, he began his full-time studies in Business Administration at the University of Iowa, majoring in Finance with a minor in International Relations. This fall he will be a junior and hopes to graduate in 2023 or 2024. He credits Kirkwood with giving him the support that kept him moving forward. “Kirkwood has helped me a lot over the years,” he says. “It made a big difference.”

Alumni Achievements, 2010s

Denise KassisFor 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.

She 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, she 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!”

Making Her Mark

Cassandra BrowerA woman who follows her gut, Cassandra Brower knew Kirkwood was the right fit for her the first day she stepped on campus. This go-getter spent the next two years getting involved in as many organizations and activities as possible including Student Leadership Council, STEM Club, and Student Ambassadors. In everything she did, Cassandra was proud to share her college experience, create networking opportunities, and encourage others to attend Kirkwood.

Since her graduation in 2017, she continued to spread the word about Kirkwood as an enthusiastic member of the Alumni Leadership Council.

After Kirkwood

Cassandra went on to attend Iowa State University where she achieved a master’s degree in kinesiology. To no one’s surprise, she is incredibly active on the Iowa State campus. Cassandra serves as a teaching assistant, Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Club mentor, and treasurer of the Kinesiology Graduate Student Association.

In her limited free time, she enjoys taking photos. Cassandra even started her own photography business, Captured by Cassandra Brower.

In 2022, she was recognized by Kirkwood and the Alumni Leadership Council with the Distinguished Young Alumni Award. Learn more about her extraordinary success:

Lindy-Sherman.jpgLindy Sherman always knew she wanted to attend Kirkwood. She believed the small class sizes and affordable tuition would set her up for professional success, and she had heard great things from her father and Kirkwood Sociology Professor, Jeff Sherman.  

Lindy was the first Kirkwood student in eight years to be included in Coca-Cola’s National Community College Academic Team, which comprises the country’s top 1,500 community college students! She graduated in 2015 and went on to attain her Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Notre Dame. Her research spans illicit drug detection to nanoparticle surface reactions and targeted drug delivery processes.

Setting an Example for Women in Science

Since graduating from Notre Dame in 2022, Lindy works at PRECISIONscientia in science communications. She partners with pharmaceutical clients to develop effective communication materials targeted to the public, patients, and physicians, with a passion for increasing awareness of and supporting therapeutics for rare diseases.

At 27 years old, Lindy consistently uses her scientific background to help others. She has taught over four years in higher education, has over eight years of research experience, six published scientific articles, been awarded over $350,000 in research fellowships, mentored over 20 undergraduates, and is a strong advocate for women in science.

Ahna-Soenksen-Fiora.jpgAhna Soenksen Fiora’s success as a graphic designer rests squarely on a solid base of Kirkwood training to hone her craft. The 30-year-old Cedar Rapidian says she always knew she would go to Kirkwood; her mom, Ruth Main Soenksen, worked in Kirkwood’s financial aid department for 41 years. Ahna also always knew that working with art was her destiny.  

While at Kirkwood, Ahna had a graphic design internship at the University of Iowa (UI). From Kirkwood, Ahna transferred to MidAmerica Nazarene University (MNU) in metro Kansas City, which had an excellent art program. She graduated in one year because of the extra classes she had taken at Kirkwood.

Designing a Life She Loves

Her Kansas City connection from MNU and top standing in her design classes ultimately led her to an interview with the Kansas City Chiefs and a one-year internship in 2014. In 2015, she began her master’s studies at UI, finishing in 2018. She then went to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, to pursue a doctorate. Her thesis was “Designing with All Five Senses and How that Shapes the Workplace.” She graduated in 2019.

Simultaneously, Ahna had been doing contract work for the Chiefs; she went full time in 2019.

From 2019 through May 2022, Ahna lived in Kansas City. But her priorities changed when she got married and wanted to return to Cedar Rapids. The Chiefs revised her contract so she works 30 hours a week while living in Cedar Rapids. Today she loves her work designing team T-shirts, and she has established her own design firm — Fiora Designs — and has an office in Marion. She hasn’t forgotten the good start she got at Kirkwood.

“Kirkwood started me off right,” she said. “Their skilled professors and smaller classes were key. They made a huge difference for me.”

Laying the Foundation52232158731_489d07a986_o.jpg

After high school, Tyler Cooksley worked in residential construction with his uncle, made a good living, and, in the process, discovered he loved it. From there, he didn’t know if he wanted to study design, architecture, or engineering in college, or explore on-site management.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but Kirkwood is a great place to figure that out,” he said.

Graduating with his A.A. in 2012, he planned to work summers and transfer to the University of Northern Iowa for a 4-year degree. He had the knowledge to begin testing his skills. He worked with Steve Gee Construction that spring. By summer, he needed more work; Larson Construction hired him, and he never looked back.

Building for the Future

In summer 2022, Tyler looked at the new Kirkwood Student Center and shook his head.

He was standing where he’d been a student in Construction Management 10 years ago and was viewing the completion of a major renovation he led as project superintendent for Larson Construction.

“For me, with this phenomenal project, I’ve truly come full circle,” he said.

Since 2015, he’s been a superintendent on building sites all over the state. He led several big school projects, including a new sports complex in North Liberty in 2018 and assisting in a three-year, $120-million project to build a high school in Waukee in 2019.

Tyler’s success started with choosing Kirkwood.

“No matter what you want to do, Kirkwood offers you the chance to pursue your dreams, explore yourself, learn what you want to do, and see what’s out there.”

Alumni Achievements, 2000s

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.”

Determination Leading to SuccessBruce-Teague_edit.jpg

Bruce Teague moved from Chicago to Iowa City at age 17. He's grateful to have overcome being a recipient of food assistance and Section 8 housing. He worked many jobs to help support his family, eventually finding his way to Kirkwood's nursing program. He graduated in 2002 with an Associate of Applied Science degree. He later transferred to the University of Iowa, where he completed his Bachelor's degree in Psychology.

Passionate about service to others, Bruce now owns two businesses that support individuals in need. Caring Hands & More designs appropriate, coordinated plans of care for individuals of all ages, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. CHARM Homes specializes in providing rental properties to seniors, persons with disabilities, individuals in crisis, and people in hospice care.

Bruce was elected to the Iowa City Council in 2018, and elected Mayor in 2020 and 2022.

In 2019, he was recognized by Kirkwood and the Alumni Leadership Council with the Distinguished Alumni Award.

From Kirkwood to Family MedicineBrent-Owen_edit.png

Dr. Brent Owen chose Kirkwood for its excellence in education and affordable classes. A 2001 Kirkwood graduate, he continued his schooling at the University of Iowa where he received his medical degree from the Carver College of Medicine. He completed the Via Christi Family Medicine Residency program in Wichita, Kansas, which places strong emphasis on patient-centered care.

Brent returned to rural Iowa and currently practices family medicine in Algona. He is very active within his community, serving as a member of the local school board, a volunteer coach for wrestling and summer flag football, and is a board member for C.A.R.E., an organization providing public and social services and support to those in need. Brent also pays it forward as a preceptor for medical students from the University of Iowa.

In 2018, he was recognized by Kirkwood and the Alumni Leadership Council with the Distinguished Alumni Award.

Celebrated Cattle ProducerAaron-Amstutz_edit.png

When Aaron Amstutz graduated from Kirkwood's Agriculture program in 2000, Amstutz Cattle, Inc. was composed of 80 head of cattle. Today, Aaron lives on the farm with his wife and young family, and continues to maintain the heard, which has grown to 550 cattle and counting. The Amstutz Cattle farm also raises swine, various crops, and stretches across three miles and 2,500 acres.

Aaron has served as a member of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the Iowa Pork Producers and Cattlemen's Association, Davis County Pork Producers and Cattlemen's Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, and more.

In 2013, Aaron was named Iowa's Commercial Cattle Producer of the Year by the Iowa Cattlemen's Association and Beef Breeds Council. In 2019, he was recognized by Kirkwood and the Alumni Leadership Council with the Distinguished Alumni Award.

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, Danita 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 holds multiple science-based degrees. She also coaches her oldest daughter’s track team and competes with her husband of 10 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.”

 World-Leading PhysicianCinnamon-Sullivan_edit.png

Dr. Cinnamon Sullivan graduated from Kirkwood in 1996. She was recognized as an outstanding student of the year in Kirkwood’s pre-med interest area. Dr. Sullivan continued her education at the University of Iowa, where she graduated with a medical degree from the Carver College of Medicine in 2002. She completed residency programs at Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines, IA, and Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, GA.

She joined the medical staff at Emory University, where she is currently the Director of Global Health Anesthesiology and Transplant Anesthesiology. Her clinical expertise and research interest include perioperative care of end stage liver disease patients, extubation post liver transplant, and anesthetic implications of mass biochemical incidents.

Dr. Sullivan was named one of the leading physicians of the world in November of 2016 by the International Association of Healthcare Professionals. She also received the Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism in Medicine Award for her time and expertise travelling to disaster areas all over the world. If there is a Tsunami in Haiti or an earthquake flood leaving dozens in great need, she goes.

In 2018, she was recognized by Kirkwood and the Alumni Leadership Council with the Distinguished Alumni Award.

Tawnya-Salsbery.jpgThriving in College and Career

A first-generation college student who overcame significant challenges, Tawnya Salsbery received her associate degree in Nursing from Kirkwood Community College before going on to achieve her master of science in Nursing.

After receiving her associate degree, Tawnya worked as a charge nurse at Willow Gardens Care Center. She always had a passion for caring for the elderly and people living with chronic diseases.

In 1997, Tawnya joined Mercy Medical Center as a staff nurse working in the dialysis unit. Like her education, she gradually worked her way up at Mercy over the past 25 years.

Life-Saving Leader

Tawnya was recently promoted to Executive Director of Post Acute and Senior Services, overseeing 10 departments and managing 300 employees, including Mercy’s new therapy dog Lyla. She is a member of Mercy’s Dementia Core Team and the operational owner of the transformation of care in Mercy’s HallMar, a nursing care facility.

In addition, Tawnya leads outside the hospital. She participates on the Young Parents Network and Linn County Public Health Board of Directors. To the community, she built administrative relationships with nursing facilities and has been the trusted person to support them through the Covid-19 pandemic and August 2020 derecho, saving countless lives.


Tami-Schlamp.jpgTami Schlamp graduated from Kirkwood in 1995. She speaks fondly of her time here and her former advisor, who encouraged her to complete her associate degree so all of her credits would transfer to the University of Northern Iowa.

Today, as director of member services at the Marion Chamber of Commerce, Tami has made a tremendous impact on the organization, Marion schools, and the community at-large.

Leading by Example

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Tami worked around the clock to keep the Chamber’s communications up-to-date so businesses did not miss critical funding opportunities. She also organized a Curbside, Carryout & Delivery Facebook page allowing restaurants and retailers to continue selling their goods and, ultimately, keep their doors open. While many postponed gatherings, Tami brainstormed ways to continue building community – taking music events on the road and creating a safe space for the Farmers Market.

Of course, Tami could not have done this alone. She has built a loyal volunteer following because of her caring and compassionate spirit.

Tami is also a proud volunteer. She is Linn-Mar School Foundation Board Chair, and helps students learn interviewing skills and leads learning projects through Junior Achievement, Iowa Big, and Venture Academics.


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, Trudie 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.

Beyond the Call of Duty

John OxleyFollowing in the generational footsteps of numerous family military service members, John Oxley enlisted in the United States Marine Corps after graduating high school. After completing his enlistment in the Marine Corps, he began his long and winding educational journey at Kirkwood. John graduated with his associates degree in 1994 and went on to receive a Master Degree in Social Work from the University of Iowa.

Like many of Kirkwood’s student Veterans, John's time in the Marines made a lasting impact on his life. According to the National Center for PTSD, about 12 of every 100 Gulf War Veterans have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in a given year. John is a VA endorsed evidence-based psychotherapy provider  for Veterans with PTSD and depression. He applies his education and experience to provide invaluable services to Veterans to improve their mental health and overall quality of life as a clinical social worker with the Iowa City VA Health Care System.

In 2022, John was recognized by Kirkwood and the Alumni Leadership Council with the Distinguished Alumni Award. Learn more about his remarkable achievements as a Kirkwood alum:

Spreading SmilesClayton-Parks_edit.jpg

Graduating from Kirkwood in 1994, Dr. Clayton Parks had plans to become a large animal veterinarian. Clayton quickly found that his enthusiasm for making people smile carried professional merit, as he discovered a passion for dentistry.

He went on to receive his Doctorate of Dental Surgery from the University of Iowa in 1998 and Master of Science degree and Certificate in Orthodontics in 2000. He is board-certified by the American Board of Orthodontics and is a partner in Parks, Schmit & Fuller Orthodontics, with four locations across Cedar Rapids and Marion.

Clayton is a lifelong resident of Cedar Rapids. His community involvement includes Leadership for Five Seasons, Waypoint Services (Past President and Trustee), Boys and Girls Club of the Cooridor (Trustee), March of Dimes (Leadership Team) and the Kirkwood Community College Foundation (Trustee).

He and his wife, Kim ('90), are proud parents of John and Lindsay (both former Kirkwood students).

In 2019, Clayton was recognized by Kirkwood and the Alumni Leadership Council with the Distinguished Alumni Award.

Non-traditional Student Success StoryJoel-Thys_edit.png

Joel Thys is a successful businessman in the automobile industry, owning several auto dealerships in Benton County.

An entrepreneur from the very beginning, Joel got his start at Kirkwood as a non-traditional student taking classes in the evening. He earned his Associate of Applied Science degree in Marketing Management from Kirkwood in 1994, his Bachelor of Arts from Western Illinois in 1997, and his Master of Business Administration from the University of Iowa in 2002.

Joel is the president, owner and operator of Thys Automotive Group. Thys Automotive Group is comprised of four dealerships offering new Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram vehicles.

Joel is a family man and is extremely supportive and involved in the communities where his businesses are located. Joel joined the Kirkwood Advisory Board in 2006 and was elected to the Board of Trustees in 2013. In 2018, he was recognized by Kirkwood and the Alumni Leadership Council with the Distinguished Alumni Award.

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 Her Career

Elizabeth 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, Elizabeth 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,” Brian said. “That’s all it took.” That deputy helped Gardner get his first job as a dispatcher.

While at Kirkwood

In 1982, Brian 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.

Brian 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.

Sheriff 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

Kim 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.”

While at Kirkwood

Ron RauschRon Rausch spent his free time on campus as a video editor, creating accounting videos for students, and as a broadcaster for the Kirkwood radio program. Quick to share his love of media, Ron created the Kirkwood Student Productions (KSP) Program. The organization is still active on campus today.

Spotlighting His Success

Ron graduated in 1990 with an associate degree in Communications Technology. He traveled the country as a freelance videographer and editor before founding his own company, Rausch Productions, in his garage. Over the years Ron added 26 fulltime employees and services like LED technology and event planning.

A serial entrepreneur, in 2005 he established a second company, Mobile Xpress Productions, which rents video equipment. In 2016, Ron purchased the company’s longtime business partner, 16th Avenue Music. He merged the two businesses to form Wired Production Group.

Wired Production Group follows live event and video production clients around the U.S., producing over $4.3 million in annual sales. Clients range from the president of the United States to Grammy Award-winning artists, to Cedar Rapids-based corporations.

Through it all, Ron has never forgotten his humble beginnings. He continues to be an advocate for small business owners.

In 2022, Ron was recognized by Kirkwood and the Alumni Leadership Council with the Distinguished Alumni Award. Learn more about his outstanding achievements as a Kirkwood alum:

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 realizes 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 daycare 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 Chris 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, Chris 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, Chris was the company’s vice president.

Point Builders soon recruited him to be general manager for their Davenport branch, and he rapidly moved up to the vice president position. In 2010, Chris 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.”

Chris 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, David 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 attended the University of Iowa as a full-time student while he continued to work; however, David 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 has had quite a career in softball.

Renee 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, Renee 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.

Renee 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. 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.”

Teri-Gibson.jpgFrom Kirkwood to the Community

Teri graduated from Kirkwood in 1980 before continuing her education at Mount Mercy University. Teri will be the first to tell you that the day she received her degree from Kirkwood was the day she realized that she could do anything, and it set the stage for her career.

Teri has been with TrueNorth Companies for the past 17 years, proudly serving as a principal and benefit advisor, strategist, and mentor. Teri is often sought after to guide new producers and colleagues, as well as network, connect, and build lasting relationships.

She is a champion for her community and community college, as can be seen in her service to numerous causes throughout the Corridor. Teri is past board chair of Trees Forever and incoming chair of United Way of East Central Iowa. She serves on the Waypoint Services Board of Trustees, the ARC of East Central Iowa Board of Directors, Systems Unlimited Board, Kirkwood Alumni Leadership Council, and Kirkwood Foundation Board.

Above it all, Teri is a proud mother to son Ryan, who received his AA degree from Kirkwood in 2012.


Additional Achievement Stories

Always Thinking, Always Innovating

Dave JungeRaised on farms in Benton County, David Junge personally understood the struggles of life in the field. After graduating in the mid-1970s, he put his Electronics Technology associate degree to good use creating a tool that accurately measured ag nutrients. The product launched his and his wife Mary’s business, Junge Control.

All the while David continued operating his and Mary’s families’ Century farms. An innovator at heart, he used these experiences to develop other products. Over the next four decades, Junge Control grew to become an award-winning manufacturer of automation, measurement and blending systems for the agriculture, fuel and aerial industries.

This outstanding alumnus was excited to share his knowledge with the next generation. He served on several industry organizations promoting ag technology and presented at elementary schools to help children learn where their food comes from.

David passed away in 2019 after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. He will forever be remembered for his innovation, passion for farming, and love of people.

In 2022, David was recognized by Kirkwood and the Alumni Leadership Council with the Distinguished Alumni Award. Learn more about his remarkable achievements as a Kirkwood alum:

Alumni Achievement Recipient Larry Erickson

There are times in life when instructors make an unforgettable impact. Larry Erickson 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, Larry started as a procedure writer and was eventually named the chief financial officer of Rockwell Collins. For over 20 years, Larry served as vice president and controller in both the government and commercial divisions of Rockwell before retiring.

In his long career, Larry 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

Michael 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 Michael 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

Michael 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.”

Finding His Way

Carter KramerLike many high school graduates, Carter Kramer wasn’t sure of his next step. From Monticello High School in 2000 — in a class of 74 — he went to the University of Iowa, considering a Biology major. That vision vanished when he walked into a lecture hall of 400 students and realized the cost of a four-year degree.

His pragmatic side kicked in; he started over with general education classes at Kirkwood. In 2002, his sister suggested he join her in Phoenix to check out the city. The opportunity beckoned. He agreed, got his real estate license, and worked for two guys who were establishing their own real estate business.

By 2007, with the market more unsteady, Carter returned to Iowa and Kirkwood. Then he got hired handling business development for a start-up telecommunications service company. Three years later, the business had 14 employees. Carter had found his path. That experience led him to start his own company in 2010.

Life of an Entrepreneur

Today, Carter is president/CEO of CellSite Solutions, a Cedar Rapids business that is thriving — despite COVID-19 and a derecho. CellSite is now a national leader in used telecom equipment, products, and services, managing projects that involve new, used, or refurbished equipment, with business in 30 states. As of spring 2021, CellSite reported 65 employees and $22 million in revenues.

“At Kirkwood, being able to ask questions and know I could talk with a professor at any moment really helped me build confidence,” Carter said looking back. And now, with Kirkwood’s great training in the trades, he envisions a partnership to hire Kirkwood graduates and work with Kirkwood’s training programs.

Kirkwood Alumni & Friends

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