Kirkwood Transforms Lives Through Education

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Denise Kassis


My name is Denise Kassis and I was an ACCESS scholarship recipient. I received this scholarship on my graduation day in 8th grade back in 2010. To this day, this has been my biggest accomplishment. The scholarship meant so much to me especially since 3 years prior to starting middle school was when my family and I officially moved back to the United States. Receiving the scholarship helped create the pathway for my education. This scholarship helped me financially get through college as a first generation student.

Denise KassisKirkwood is an institution that I hold close to my heart. Attending Kirkwood community college was the best decision that I made. Attending Kirkwood gave me the opportunity to complete my Liberal Arts Degree while exploring what major I wanted to pursue. Now 6 years later, I am finishing my Master’s in Higher Education. My previous involvement in Student Leadership Council, Alumni Leadership Council, Orientation as well as the Student Ambassador program helped me discover my passion and love of working with students and in the higher education field.

A few years after graduating and I still have the opportunity to be involved at Kirkwood by serving on the Alumni Leadership Council. I wouldn’t be where I am or doing what I am doing if it wasn’t for receiving the ACCESS scholarship and being able to get an education from Kirkwood. The ACCESS scholarship has been one of the biggest blessings in my life. I hope that this scholarship, and future scholarships will continue to help other students with their college experience and open their doors for future opportunities.

Cassandra Brower


My name is Cassandra Brower and I am a proud Kirkwood Alumni. I graduated from Nevada High School in Nevada, Iowa. There was 86 people in my graduating class – I could tell you each of their names and their story. I was so frightened by the idea of big lecture halls filled with hundreds of students.

Cassandra BrowerFebruary 7th, 2014. I’ll never forget the day. I attended Kirkwood’s TGIF (To Get Information Fast) college visit. To Kirkwood, I wasn’t just a number. They truly cared about me and my experience. The student ambassadors were amazing, I remember thinking I could see myself up there telling everyone and anyone how great Kirkwood was. I couldn’t stop smiling the whole two hour drive home.

From the handmade card that Seth Vander Tuig made me inviting me to join the Student Leadership Council to the most recent care package from the Alumni Office with Kirkwood hand sanitizer, Kirkwood never fails to make me feel special.

Kirkwood changed my life. They gave me the opportunity to go to college by awarding me the Presidential Scholarship. Not only is Kirkwood affordable, but the scholarship opportunities are amazing. The financial aid office was so kind and patient throughout my first experience with FAFSA and paying for college. The entire orientation process was a breeze. Everywhere I turned there was a smiling face and a helping hand.

After waiting for months, I finally started my first semester at Kirkwood and they welcomed me with open arms. So many opportunities to get involved, so many resources to help me be successful. I became involved in Student Ambassadors, Student Leadership Council, Career Services, the Dean of Students Office, Orientation, fitness classes at the Michael J. Gould Recreation Center, and the Alumni Leadership Council. They say college is what you make it so I took every chance to make the most of it.

Student Ambassadors was incredible. It was like instantly making 60 new best friends that hang out on Fridays to tell prospective students how amazing Kirkwood was. They taught me communication skills, time management, and so much more. I credit the woman I am today to all the people that supported me in my time at Kirkwood.

When I began at Kirkwood, I was a pre-pharmacy major with the intention of transferring to the University of Iowa or Drake University to go to pharmacy school. After a couple semesters in this program, I realized it was not the right fit for me. I couldn’t see myself as a pharmacist. In the fall of 2015, Kirkwood started a new program – exercise science.

Suddenly everything clicked. I loved the fitness classes at the rec center and I knew that I could still help people like a pharmacist would, except using exercise. I switched majors and my GPA skyrocketed. I made Dean’s List three semesters in a row. I had found a newfound drive and passion I didn’t know I had. The instructors, my advisors, everyone was rooting for me to succeed.

I was disheartened that I had to stay a third year at Kirkwood. I loved Kirkwood and wasn’t ready to leave, but I felt a bit like a failure. My friends were leaving and going on to four-year universities or into the workforce. But Kirkwood’s support never wavered. I made even more friends through my activities and made connections that will last a lifetime.

By the time it came to transfer, I felt ready to spread my wings (get it? Kirkwood Eagles?).

I have stayed connected with Kirkwood through the Alumni Leadership Council and make it back to Cedar Rapids any chance I can get. Alumni Socials and the Celebration of Success are the two events I look forward to most every year. It also helps that my cousin decided to attend Kirkwood so I always have a place to stay when visiting one of my favorite places.

I am proud to be a Kirkwood Alum every day. There’s nothing I loved more than walking through Central Campus at Iowa State and seeing someone sporting their Kirkwood gear. I couldn’t believe all the students in my classes that had also attended Kirkwood. It’s a wonder our paths didn’t cross sooner, but I believe that it was fate bringing us together at the perfect time. There’s a bond between Kirkwood students that draws people together no matter how long they’ve been graduated from the school.

I thrived at Iowa State the same way I did at Kirkwood. There was a confidence instilled in me and my abilities. Kirkwood Community College was the perfect stepping stone to transition from my small town to big university. I felt ready to take on the world.

Faster forward three years since graduating from Kirkwood and I am now in my first semester of graduate school at Iowa State University. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, but I never dreamed it possible. Financially and realistically, it wasn’t in the cards for me. With the support of my family, friends, and Kirkwood, I was able to find the means to do so.

I am still in the Kinesiology field, but now my focus is on physical activity and mental wellbeing. It was through volunteering in the Wellbeing and Exercise Lab that I found my passion for research. I am able to apply my skills I learned through my exercise science and psychology courses at Kirkwood to my curriculum now as a graduate student.

Because of Career Services, I was able to nail my graduate school interview. Because of Student Ambassadors and Student Leadership Council, I can confidently communicate with research participants and work well in my research team. Because of my President Scholarship and financial aid, I was able to graduate with both my Associates of Science and Bachelors of Science debt free. Because of free tutoring offered at Kirkwood, I can effectively study and succeed academically in all my graduate school classes.

I cannot thank Kirkwood enough for all the support they’ve given me and I will never stop telling everyone how great the college is. As Brett Baumgart said at our last Alumni Social at the Michael J. Gould Recreation Center, “Once an eagle, always an eagle.”

I continue to be thankful to the people that supported me along my journey at Kirkwood. Each of them holds a special place in my heart for helping me navigate during one of the most stressful, but amazing times in my life. I couldn’t have done it without them.

Thank you to each of you who help students like me be a success. Kirkwood is a special place, and I hope you will join me in affording future students the same amazing education and experience.

Letters of Support

I am writing you today to express my pride for my alma mater, Kirkwood Community College. I also want to congratulate Kirkwood for having over 200,000 Kirkwood Alumni out in the workforce!  You make a huge difference in so many people’s lives.

For more than 50 years, Kirkwood has been doing an excellent job of serving our community in multiple ways. It’s been a constant in an ever-changing world. JOB WELL DONE!

I graduated from Kirkwood in 1980.  Getting my degree from this college was one of the proudest moments of my life – and it still is. The day I became a graduate of Kirkwood was the day I realized that I could do anything I put my mind to. It was a big moment for me and it set the stage for my career.

After Kirkwood, I headed into the workforce and later transferred my credits from Kirkwood to Mount Mercy. I’ve enjoyed a pretty eventful career spanning more than 30 years, currently as a partner at TrueNorth. But, it all started with Kirkwood.

Even if I was not a graduate of this college, I would still be a major supporter of everything happening at Kirkwood.  This institution is a great community resource FOR EVERYONE.

If you want to get your two-year degree and transfer to a four-year school like I did… you can do that. If you want to get a degree in a particular field, then start your career right after graduation… you can do that too. Say you decided to get a job out of high school, but now you want to go back to college for a degree… Kirkwood is the place for you.

I am so impressed with the certifications and training to further careers, as well as the opportunity Kirkwood provides to help those who need to finish their high school education.  (My mother-in-law did this at 50!) Even younger generations benefit from this college through programs like KICK Camps for kids. There’s even dual enrollment where students can earn college credit while still in high school. Millions of dollars in college tuition are saved for these students and their families annually.

I realize I’m really starting to sound like a commercial. But if you put it all together… Kirkwood really lives up to its name of being a COMMUNITY college – and I’m very proud of my alma mater for that. Keep getting the Kirkwood name out there and I will too!

I am also so honored to be a part of the Alumni Council and on the Kirkwood Foundation Board and proud to be a donor giving my time, talent and treasures to a great institution that is a huge asset for our community.

If you share in my loyalty to Kirkwood and believe they are integral to our community, I hope you will share in my desire to give back. I ask you to please help me in making a difference to the current students, and supporting their educational journey.

Teri Gibson ‘79

Teri Gibson

In retrospect, Kirkwood may well have saved my life some 50+ years ago. I graduated from Cedar Rapids Washington High School in 1967. The Vietnam War was raging, with thousands of dead and wounded American soldiers every month. Some of my fellow classmates were enlisting in the military to answer the call. Sadly, some of them never returned alive, and others returned physically or mentally wounded.

Upon high school graduation, my father asked me what I planned to do next. I really wasn't sure at the time, but told him I was going to enlist in the Army for lack of a better idea or direction in life as a 17 year old. Dad had served in WWII and the Army reserve after that, my older brother was in the ROTC program at the University of Iowa, and my older sister was attending UNI.

Dad had worked long and hard in planning the future Kirkwood Community College (known as Area X at the time). Area X had just started an Associates of Arts program that fall and he encouraged me to try it. He said if it wasn't a good fit for me, then enlist if I was still so inclined.

The first year of classes were held in what is now the Grant Wood AEA headquarters on 6th Street SW. The next year I attended classes in the new portable classrooms on the Kirkwood campus. I took a number of different courses designed for eventual transfer with full credit to a 4-year college or university. During my two years at Kirkwood, I became more focused on my future plans. Two years later I transferred to UNI and graduated with a Business degree, which served me well during my working years.

I still enlisted in the US Army in the fall of 1971. Because of my college background, I attended AIT (Advanced Individual Training) for a year before being assigned. Our class was designated for shipment to Vietnam, but by then the troop draw-downs had begun.

I am proud and thankful of my time spent at both Kirkwood and the US Army. Both helped me grow and become a better person, but Kirkwood may have also saved my life in the process. My future really did begin at Kirkwood! As a fellow alum, thank you for your continued commitment to Kirkwood. Together, we can make a big difference.

Pete Larson