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Be true to your school: Columbia College alumni artists shine

Posted by on Oct 20, 2017 in Academics, Alumni, Day Campus | 0 comments

Be true to your school: Columbia College alumni artists shine

Dan Gemkow ’05 (courtesy of Columbia Missourian)

via the Columbia Daily Tribune – October 15, 2017

Living in a college town, it can be easy to get swept up in the latest higher education rankings. It seems like a different list is published each day: What school offers the most bang for your buck? Which have the strongest alumni networks? Which school is the safest bet for a left-handed student paying out-of-state tuition? These listings have their purposes, but it seems like two factors should loom the largest. What creative or innovative work is the school engaged in today? And how well has it prepared past students to make their way in the world? By those standards, the art department at Columbia College is sitting near the head of its class. Right now, two alums are augmenting the work of current students by displaying pieces of resonance in the school’s galleries.

 “Be true to your school: Columbia College alumni artists shine” – Columbia Daily Tribune

Chambers ’16 brings days of the week to life with animated show

Posted by on Aug 30, 2017 in Alumni | 0 comments

Chambers ’16 brings days of the week to life with animated show

August 9, 2017 – via

Monday. The beginning of the workweek. The day we all dread. What would Monday be like if she was a character? Would we dislike her because we hate Mondays? That’s the premise behind The Weeklings, a new animated series created by 2016 Columbia College alumnus Brandyn Chambers (far right in the photo) and his team. The show stars the days of the week and holidays as characters, and all those feelings you have about Monday or Sunday are personified onto those characters. And you guessed it — everyone loves Friday. Friday is the cool guy. Jabril Mack, who lived in the Gateway City for four years, and Chambers, a ‘Lou native, are two of the creators of the series. They met in a classroom at Mary Emily Bryan Middle School in Weldon Spring, Missouri, where they began creating cartoons. “They weren’t as good as The Weeklings, but it was a start,” Chambers says.

READ MORE – “This adorable TV series brings the weekdays to life” –

Ruth Hawkins ’67 earns place in Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame

Posted by on Jul 31, 2017 in Alumni, Featured Story, Instagram | 0 comments

Ruth Hawkins ’67 earns place in Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame

The two years she spent at Christian (now Columbia) College continue to hold great resonance for Dr. Ruth Wehmer Hawkins ’67, no matter where her life has taken her.

Dr. Ruth Wehmer Hawkins, a 1967 alumna of Christian College, is one of this year’s Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame inductees.
(Photo submitted)

After a stint on the Christian College Microphone newspaper staff and encouragement from instructor Linda Lusk helped kindle a flair for journalism, Hawkins earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and worked as a television and newspaper reporter in Virginia after graduation.

When Hawkins, a St. Louis native, and her husband moved to Jonesboro, Arkansas, to be closer to home in 1978, she became head of the advancement division at Arkansas State University, using skills she learned under Christian College development director Charles Mai and alumni relations director Jane Crow the summer after her graduation.

She fell in love with the researching and preservation of historic sites as the executive director of the Arkansas State University Heritage Sites program — a title she created — which calls back to her days helping Allean Lemmon Hale research an update to Hale’s book Petticoat Pioneer: The Story of Christian College.

All of Hawkins’ professional passions have something in common, besides the fact that she was able to cultivate them while earning her Associate in Arts degree at Christian College.

“It’s all about telling a story,” Hawkins said. “Now, I’m telling the stories of important heritage sites, but I’m telling them through doing the research on why they’re significant, then developing the exhibits and interpretive materials for people to come and visit and learn to appreciate those sites.”

Hawkins’ story has earned her a spot in the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame class of 2017, a collection of nine women — including famed poet Maya Angelou — and one group of women who will be honored with an induction ceremony on August 24 in Little Rock.

For the record, she also happens to be the recipient of the Parker Westbrook Award for Lifetime Achievement in preservation, the Lifetime Achievement Award through the Arkansas Historical Association, the Peg Newton Smith Lifetime Achievement Award through the Arkansas Museums Association and is a member of the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame. Just to name a few.

“This is obviously a major honor,” Hawkins said. “I feel a little guilty in receiving it, because I have such a great team that I’ve worked with over the years. They do all the work, and I get to be the front person and take all the credit.

“It certainly means a lot to me because it’s the women’s hall of fame, and I’ve been an advocate for advancing the roles of women for a long time, starting with going to Christian College.”

Ruth Wehmer Hawkins, during her time on the Christian College Microphone newspaper staff.
(Photo submitted)

Hawkins came by it naturally: her mother, Hazel Snoddy Wehmer, was a 1941 graduate.

When Hawkins was young, the family would make trips to Columbia, and Wehmer would always take them by campus.

“I would see all these young women walking by with their heels and their hose and their hats,” Hawkins said. “That was back in the day. I just always thought that’s where I should go.”

During her time at Christian College, Hawkins formed close bonds with dean of women Elizabeth Kirkman and faculty members such as Hazel Kennedy and Polly and Jack Batterson. She first met her husband, Van — a student at MU — when he served as her waiter in the dining hall.

The vice president of Missouri Hall, Hawkins and her housemates would try to think up ways to slip out for a night on the town once the security detail had finished its rounds.

“We never really did sneak out,” Hawkins said. “Or I didn’t, anyway. I never had the nerve. We used to plot and scheme, though. Like, ‘Oh, maybe we can get past the Pinkerton man.’”

Hawkins has vivid memories of the fun and camaraderie she enjoyed at Christian College. She even has a paper trail to help guide her recollections, thanks to a mandatory practice she used to loathe as a student.

You see, Christian College students had to fill out index cards including information on where they were going and who they were going with whenever they headed off campus.

“I just thought that was awful that we had to do that,” Hawkins said. “But I saved all those index cards, and now it’s really great. I occasionally look back at those, and it’s a complete two-year diary of what I did every time I left campus. That’s a great memory for me.”

Hawkins, who received the Columbia College Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1989, continues working to preserve the memories of some of Arkansas’ most historically significant sites.

The first project she oversaw was the restoration of the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum in Piggott, the family home of novelist Ernest Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, at which Hemingway was a frequent visitor. The project also resulted in Hawkins’ book, Unbelievable Happiness and Final Sorrow: The Hemingway-Pfeiffer Marriage. After several additional heritage site restorations, her most recent project — the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home — opened in 2014 in Dyess.

Before undertaking the project, she would drive by the country singer’s childhood home and see how it had fallen into a state of disrepair. She worried that tourists were getting the wrong idea about Cash’s upbringing, which took place in a New Deal resettlement colony for farmers.

Ruth Wehmer Hawkins (third from left) at the 1967 Ivy Chain ceremony, with Kathleen Knabb, Karen Knepper Morgan and Clare O’Connor Stuempfig.
(Photo submitted)

“He lived in that house when it was brand new. So, for Johnny Cash and his family, it was a palace,” Hawkins said. “His mother sat on the floor and cried the day they moved in because it was the first new house she’d ever lived in. She kept it spotless.”

Hawkins’ team restored the house and a nearby colont administration building to their 1930s form, along with rebuilding a 1940s theater as a visitors center. This October, they’re planning the inaugural Johnny Cash Heritage Festival, headlined by music performances from artists such as Kris Kristofferson and Cash’s eldest daughter, Rosanne, in the field by the house.

She still makes time to come back to Columbia every now and then. She still stops by the campus.

If the memories ever fade, the preservationist always has her notecards for reference.

“When I think of Christian, I think of the all-night study sessions with the group of girls in the alcove at the end of the hall,” Hawkins said. “And just doing things together, celebrating each other’s successes.”

The art of advocacy

Posted by on Jun 29, 2017 in Alumni, Featured Story, Instagram, Online Education | 0 comments

The art of advocacy

Editors Note: This story was included in the latest edition of Affinity Magazine. Click here to check out the magazine in its entirety!

A love of painting came naturally to Renee Hamilton-McNealy ’12. As a child, she would go to art galleries with her mother and discuss the works they’d see. She painted in the backyard with her father. From that passion, she branched out as a makeup artist and aesthetician, which flowed organically into an interest in body painting.

After all, body painting is just another form of fine art, using the human body as a canvas.

“What I gravitate toward is usually healing experiences for people beyond just paint to skin,” Hamilton-McNealy says. “It’s a whole beautiful world out there. Everybody I’ve worked with always felt like it was a therapeutic experience for them.”

Body painting is a mode of expression for both artist and subject. Hamilton- McNealy learned about the power of body painting while assisting world-renowned artist Trina Merry at a workshop at the San Jose Museum of Art, then brought her own works to life during the Ms. Veteran America competition last  year.

In the talent competition, she performed a spoken-word piece about women serving in the US Army since the time of the Revolutionary War while painting an American flag on a model. In the finals — she was one of 10 chosen out of about 400 competitors — she presented a video of her art that raised awareness of the plight of female veterans who become homeless after serving, while a model she pre-painted in a camouflage pattern stood on stage.

“I was showing that even the art doesn’t cover up the camo,” Hamilton-McNealy says. “It enhances it, sheds more light on it.”

It’s a cause that’s near and dear to Hamilton-McNealy’s heart. She’s a master sergeant in the Army Reserves in her 18th year of service, 10 of them on active duty. Through her work with the Final Salute foundation, which helps find safe and suitable housing for homeless female veterans and their children, and her advocacy as a Ms. Veteran America contestant, Hamilton-McNealy strives to make her art imitate life.


Getting a degree

Hamilton-McNealy was not aware that the Army could pull her out of school when she got called up for active duty shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. She had just lost her mother and wanted to keep her commitment to earn her degree, but she wasn’t sure of her next step. She visited the education center at Fort Stewart, Georgia, where she was serving in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. There, a representative from Columbia College offered her a solution.

“They explained how it could work, even though I was on active duty,” Hamilton-McNealy says. “Due to one of the reps being really helpful and showing the way, learning I could take some classes online and go to the classroom — which is what I truly wanted — it worked exceptionally well with my schedule and how I learned.”

Hamilton-McNealy earned her Associate in General Studies in 2004 and served eight more years of active duty as a financial manager/budget analyst, four in Atlanta and four in the San Francisco Bay area in California.

When she relocated to California, she knew where to turn to complete her bachelor’s degree. She took online classes through Columbia College until earning her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in 2012. She then completed a Master of Business Administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

“I feel that what is great is women who are building themselves prior to transitioning [from military to civilian life], and education is a part of that,” Hamilton-McNealy says.

She serves as a mentor for around 2,500 non-commissioned officers through a Facebook group. She has a go-to message when someone asks her for advice on how to pursue a degree along with a military career.

“All I could think about is there was a school I went to when I just got called into active duty, lost my mother and got pulled out of school that still helped me focus and move ahead,” Hamilton-McNealy says. “I didn’t go to Columbia College for my MBA, only because I wanted to go in person. But if that was an option where I worked, I would have, because it was a great support beyond education at the time.

“I think it’s a good school for anyone who’s still serving to be able to go to.”


Making a Difference

When she applied for the Army Entertainment’s traveling Soldier Show as a volunteer, Hamilton-McNealy was thinking she’d fit best in the hair and makeup department. The director had another idea.

In the production there was a Tina Turner “Proud Mary” number for which Hamilton-McNealy would be perfect. So she found herself performing and in charge of hair and makeup on a 10-month nationwide tour of Army bases and other communities. They worked 16-hour days for 75 minutes on stage, singing and dancing for servicemembers and their families, sharing the Army’s message of “ready and resilient.”

“It was just awesome serving primarily the military and veteran community, but also children, youth, the homeless, Wounded Warriors,” Hamilton-McNealy says. “You had soldiers come together like a family to perform.”

At one stop, she met a man who said he came to the show every year, but this one would be his last. He planned on taking his life. He changed his mind after hearing the messages of affirmation offered by the Soldier Show.

“Seeing the show really changed him,” Hamilton-McNealy says. “That just made the whole thing valid, if nothing else ever did. Just another way to reach out to people.”

That’s how she viewed her Ms. Veteran America candidacy. She joined a dedicated group of women from all branches and levels of the military to showcase “the women beyond the uniform” and benefit homeless female veterans and their children through Final Salute. Hamilton-McNealy raised nearly $3,000 on her own. The competition was secondary. The message was foremost.

“It made me want to cry. To see a population of other women who were just as driven, it was just phenomenal,” Hamilton-McNealy says. “It felt good to come together and say, ‘We have these solutions to provide support for other women veterans.’ It extended beyond just the sisterhood of the Army and opened up to all other branches. It just felt really infinite, and something that’s truly needed.”

Hamilton-McNealy is lending a helping hand to a friend in the Air Force who is running for Ms. Veteran America this year. She’s willing to offer advice or organize events for any other candidates that call on her. She hasn’t exactly ruled out another run, but she also feels a desire to welcome more women into the fold.

“I think the journey was so honorable I’ll make room for others, but be the support that they need for their own given journey,” Hamilton-McNealy says. “I’ll be an ambassador, always.”


Alum Christopher Cardona recognized for community service

Posted by on Jun 23, 2017 in Alumni, Featured Story | 1 comment

Alum Christopher Cardona recognized for community service

Christopher Itai Cardona, a 2013 graduate of Columbia College-Springfield.

Christopher Itai Cardona was a welcome daily presence for staff members as he pursued his degree at Columbia College-Springfield, and not only because he regularly brought in coffee to share.

They could see how dedicated Cardona was about completing his Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration, how studious he was, how important education was to him, even to the point that he would drive to the college’s Rolla and Fort Leonard Wood locations for classes that Springfield did not offer.

That persistence paid off in the spring of 2013, when Cardona graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Columbia College-Springfield director Kathy Gress got to know him well during their frequent interactions and still corresponds with Cardona.

“He was kind of a champion for the underdog. He very much cared about people and their success,” Gress said. “He would work with the community, and he was very much an advocate.

“It was absolutely incredible and inspiring, especially to see someone with what we consider a disability — but he definitely didn’t — go as far as he did and have that kind of aspiration and the intelligence and the guts to do it. There just wasn’t anything he couldn’t do.”

In his 20s, Cardona underwent surgery to remove a non-cancerous tumor from the main nerve leading from his inner ear to his brain. He says he faced the normal financial and scholastic challenges every student faces, nothing more, while achieving his bachelor’s degree at Columbia College, then a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics with a specialization in foreign language pedagogy and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies at other institutions.

“I made my education paramount to any other aspect in life,” Cardona says. “I did not study for tests. I studied to learn. Once I learned the material, the tests were not a challenge.”

Cardona with former Missouri Governor Jay Nixon. (Photo submitted)

Cardona is putting his Columbia College degree to good use as a property manager for two companies in southern California, where he lives. Already a certified home inspector and property manager, Cardona is also studying to become a licensed real-estate agent and plans to begin pursuing a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership next spring.

He is also an active leader in his community of Desert Hot Springs, California. He volunteers for the LGBT Center as a deaf interpreter for its events and, last year, he served as the chair of the Mayoral Committee on Human Rights, which brought the community together and organized vigils to honor victims of violent crimes. Cardona has led voter registration efforts over the past two years, and he worked with the chamber of commerce to organize forums in which residents could ask questions of city council candidates.

Cardona also started a program to feed disadvantaged children in his community over the summer months when they’re not in school, and the Committee on Human Rights organized and hosted forums to facilitate a dialogue between community members and local police officers and educate at-risk youth on opportunities to get involved in their community.

Last December, Desert Hot Springs Mayor Scott Matas and California State Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia both rewarded Cardona with certificates of recognition for his efforts.

Cardona and his mother, Raquel Joyce, on the day of his graduation at the Columbia College main campus. (Photo submitted)

“I felt thankful and unworthy of such commendation, as there are those who do much more than I,” Cardona says. “I have been blessed in my life and I want to bless others by helping make the world more fair and by making our children a little less hungry. I want to inspire others to get involved and to just do what they can. I wish I could volunteer more.”

Cardona says he learned from his mother, Raquel Joyce, how to “do what we can for others with no expectation of return.” He is supported in all his efforts by his fiancé, Carlos, and the two have recently taken in Cardona’s niece and nephew, whose parents passed away.

Cardona is making them read novels over the summer to get ready for junior year of high school. He wants education to be just as important to them as it has been to him, as it was for the people who have helped him along the way.

“(The Columbia College-Springfield staff) made me want to go to school,” Cardona says. “I wanted to see them. I wanted to make them proud. They read my papers. They helped me navigate tough coursework. They allowed me to tutor fellow students. They became my friends who I wanted to see daily.”

With Fringe Boutique, the Smarrs keep it all in the family

Posted by on Jun 20, 2017 in Alumni | 0 comments

With Fringe Boutique, the Smarrs keep it all in the family

Charlotte Smarr, right, and her daughters Riley, left, and Morgan Smarr Pingel ’13 have opened Fringe Boutique at 914 E. Broadway (Don Schrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune)

June 16, 2017 – Columbia Business Times

After years of working in their family’s various construction companies, it was time for Charlotte Smarr and her daughters, Riley Smarr and Morgan Smarr Pingel, to do something “for the girls.” When a landlord called offering them their “dream location” on Broadway, the three women jumped at the opportunity to open their own women’s clothing boutique. Charlotte Smarr and her husband, Mel Smarr, have co-owned several construction and excavation-related businesses for more than 30 years. Morgan graduated in 2013 from Columbia College with a degree in business administration and a minor in marketing. She worked alongside Charlotte for 10 years, through high school and college. Riley, 20, will be a senior at Columbia College — also pursuing a business administration degree.

Read more:

“With Fringe, the Smarrs Keep it all in the family” – Columbia Business Times

Alumna designs plus-size clothing to help women feel beautiful

Posted by on Jun 19, 2017 in Alumni, St. Louis | 0 comments

Alumna designs plus-size clothing to help women feel beautiful

Whitney Jones (photo by St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

June 18, 2017 – via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Whitney Jones ’16 explains that her St. Louis-based Liv and Kiss brand for plus-size women didn’t begin as a quest for fame or fortune. She just wanted something smart, sensible, professional and affordable to wear. She thought the same desire might resonate with others. “I’m plus-sized, and I’ve been plus my entire life,” she said. Given her history, she’s tired of feeling that she doesn’t deserve well-made, long-lasting clothing. Her weight is not in transition. This is her weight, and she said she “wanted some simple pieces to fit my life from the boardroom to the nightclub.” Jones was the winner of the Columbia College-St. Louis location pitch competition in 2016 and finished third place this past April in the college’s Student Entrepreneur Showcase.

Read more:

“Made in St. Louis: She designs plus-size clothing to help women feel beautiful” – St. Louis Post-Dispatch


Alumni Awards banquet honors outstanding graduates

Posted by on May 22, 2017 in Alumni, Featured Story | 0 comments

Alumni Awards banquet honors outstanding graduates

Randy Sanchez was in for a bit of a surprise during a recent campus tour. He and the group he was with stopped to look at a mural containing scenes from days of Columbia College past, and Sanchez found a picture of his younger self and a couple of his classmates staring back at him.

Alumni award winners (from left) Anna Gotangco Osborn, Rena Day, Randy Sanchez and Janette Roberts Nichols
(Photo by Kaci Smart)

The faces had changed considerably since his graduation in 1983, as had the Columbia College campus he was touring. But the friendships remained.

“Who would’ve thought that these guys are going to be my lifelong friends?” Sanchez said at the Alumni Awards Banquet and Presentation on April 21. “They were in my wedding, I was in their weddings. Long-lasting friendships are probably the thing I cherish the most about Columbia College. I wouldn’t give it up for the world. I had such a great experience.”

Sanchez and the other three alumni award winners all stressed the role Columbia College played in shaping who they are during acceptance speeches in front of a crowd of about 70 people at the Dulany Hall Banquet Room. President Scott Dalrymple, Alumni Relations Director Ann Merrifield and Columbia College Alumni Association Advisory Board President Joshua Muder ’99 helped honor the evening’s award recipients.

Sanchez, the general manager of the Coronado Center shopping mall in Albuquerque, New Mexico, won the Professional Achievement Award, Rena Day ’05 earned the Jane Froman Courage Award, Janette Roberts Nichols ’00 and ’02 won the Community Service Award, and Anna Gotangco Osborn ’91 earned the Distinguished Alumni Award.

All received standing ovations after their acceptance speeches.

“It only takes a second to be the difference in someone’s life,” Nichols said. “Choose to be the difference.”

Nichols, who earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Criminal Justice Administration from Columbia College, is now a regional recruiter for the school and an adjunct criminal justice professor.

Coming from a military family, Nichols has made it her life’s mission to help support servicemembers and veterans through philanthropic enterprises such as Central Missouri Honor Flight and Missouri Patriot Paws, an organization that works to train and provide service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

“Working with servicemembers from pre-deployment to post-deployment, you see the families working together, but you also see the sacrifices they’re making as well,” Nichols said. “When they return with disabilities related to their service, it’s our responsibility to serve them.”

Day moved from her home in Azerbaijan to the United States in 2000, with only $43 in her pocket. After earning a master’s degree in Economics from the University of Arkansas, where she had received a scholarship from the prestigious Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program, she earned a Master of Business Administration from Columbia College and eventually started her own Edward Jones investment company branch in Monticello, Arkansas.

“I started from zero,” Day said. “I knocked on more than 2,000 doors to build up my client base.”

Osborn never thought she wanted to be a teacher until taking classes at Columbia College. Former Dean for Student Affairs Faye Burchard asked her to volunteer reading to elementary schoolers and, while Osborn came away from the experience confident she couldn’t handle teaching second graders, she also took away a passion for spreading the joy of reading.

The whole time she lived in Hughes Hall on campus, she never realized Jefferson Middle School sat right across the street. Now, she teaches reading there.

“Instead of giving them a book, it’s teaching them to choose a book,” Osborn said. “It’s kind of like, ‘Do you give someone a fish or teach them how to fish?’”

This past year, she was selected as one of 11 education leaders nationally to be a Heinemann Fellow. She plans to use the fellowship to conduct research projects in the classroom and meet with other educational leaders to learn teaching methods and problem-solving tactics.

She said Columbia College remains an integral part of her life, through the support of such figures as associate professor of education Dr. Teresa VanDover, First Lady Tina Dalrymple — who has been instrumental in securing book donations to Jefferson Middle School — and associate professor of human services Dr. Lia Willis, who puts on programs with Osborn’s students to show them the attainability of a college education.

Osborn closed her speech by reading a poem she wrote about her time at Columbia College.

“I am those moments, seeds planted long ago in a moment called Columbia College,” she concluded.

A Columbia College education can be a “Life Changer”

Posted by on Feb 10, 2017 in Alumni, Featured Story, Nationwide | 0 comments

A Columbia College education can be a “Life Changer”

This feature was published in the latest edition of Affinity Magazine! Click here to check out the magazine in its entirety. 

Earning a college degree is an accomplishment that changes lives. It takes courage, dedication and encouragement. If we’re fortunate, we have people, places and moments in time that have helped us to achieve heights we never thought possible. The following five alumni come from different backgrounds, but they all had the dream to finish their college degree. These are their stories of how they were inspired to reach their goals.

Charting a New Course

Jennifer Shala

Jennifer Shala joined the Army when she was 25 – several years older than the 18-year-olds around her. During her seven years of service, she was stationed in Kansas, Korea and Georgia. She then went to Iraq, where she dealt with the horrors of the war around her.

After Iraq, she came back to the U.S. and was medically discharged from the Army as she suffered from PTSD along with bad knee problems and asthma. It was then that she knew it was time to figure out another career path. “I couldn’t keep doing physical work forever,” Shala says. “I had to have a job where I can use my brain.”

Shala began taking classes through Columbia College’s Online Education program in 2005. She took a few classes here and there, but it wasn’t until 2008 when she was working as a civilian in Iraq that she began taking classes non-stop. After moving back to the states, she was determined to finish.

“When I was younger, I didn’t feel college was that important,” Shala says. “Now, it’s absolutely necessary to get a decent job.”

That determination kept her on track with her coursework, even when she was dealing with life changes. When she was pregnant with her daughter, Shala took a midterm exam right before driving herself to the hospital for a C-section. One of her Columbia College instructors gave her an extension on a second exam and, two days later, she drove home and completed the test.

“I am so thankful for Columbia College and my instructors,” Shala says. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise.”

Shala finished her associate degree in 2012, her bachelor’s degree in General Studies in 2014, and then this past July, finished her bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration.

Her degrees hang on the wall at her office where she works as an administrative programs officer for the Grand River Dam Authority in Chouteau, Oklahoma. “I walk by them several times a day, and I can’t believe I did it,” Shala says. “I stand a little taller and a little prouder.”

Making Today Count

Dr. Nathan Miller (left) and Aileen Zei

Aileen Zei had intended to go to college but had put it on the back burner for years as she raised her family. When she had to recover from a cancer diagnosis, she decided it was time to fulfill her dream. Luckily, the cancer was at Stage 0 and treatable with surgery and radiation. But the experience changed her way of thinking.

“You realize that life is really short,” Zei says. “If there are things you want to do, you should do them.”

She also wanted to show her sons the importance of getting a college degree. At the time, her older son was in high school and her younger son in middle school.

“How can I tell them that college is important if I don’t finish it? I knew it would be hard, but if there was ever a time to do it, I knew I needed to do it now,” she says.

Zei decided to pursue a degree in human services at Columbia College–Crystal Lake. She says that two of her instructors, Jean Beard and Kathleen McNamara, inspired her in her area of interest, gerontology.

“Because they worked in the field, they could give students a real-world account for what things are like when you’re working with senior populations,” says Zei.

Zei graduated in 2014. She now works as assistant director of senior and disability services in Wheeling Township, Illinois, helping elderly patients to find services in the community.

“My degree allowed me to get the job that I have now,” she says. “It’s rewarding to know that we’re able to help the elderly and adults with disabilities find services in the community.”

Finding the Inspiration to Finish

Irma Ortiz

Irma Ortiz had always dreamed of going to college. However, with a husband in the military, she and her family were often on the move.

After years of raising her family and moving from place to place, she still kept her dream alive to get her degree. In 2009, her husband retired from the military, and the family moved to Fort Worth, Texas. There, Ortiz visited a recruiter who happened to be a student at Columbia College.

“He said, ‘you’ll love the school,’” she says. And he was right. “I felt like I belonged there.”

Ortiz started in the General Studies and Business Administration program in 2012. She was scheduled to start in January, but that month, her mother-in-law passed away in Puerto Rico.

“I called the school and told them to drop me,” Ortiz says. “They said not to worry, and that I could start the next semester. No matter what, they are always supportive and understanding.”

Ortiz feels grateful to her teachers for their inspiration and their flexibility when dealing with family issues. In particular, she credits Walter Belcher, Kenneth Newell and John Hardy.

“They’re not going to cut you slack, but they ask how you’re doing and how they can help,” she says. “They really take the time to get to know you.”

In 2014, Ortiz received her associate degree in General Studies and Business Administration, and this year, she is on track to complete a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.

“I believe I’ve been successful because of the understanding teachers at Columbia College,” Ortiz says. “And I’ve proved to myself that I can succeed and attain the goals I set for myself in life.”

Getting a Degree at Sea

Nolan Nichols

Nolan Nichols served in the Navy on four different ships and was deployed six times. Even with all of these transfers, he knew he wanted to pursue an education.

“My goal was to get a degree to open up opportunities in my career in the Navy,” Nichols says.

He had his associate degree in Marine Engineering, but his goal was to get his bachelor’s degree as well. After a few years of taking classes, Nichols enrolled at Columbia College in 2005 because of its strong presence on Navy bases.

“I chose Columbia because of the reputation that they had as a solid school when I was growing up in Northeast Missouri,” Nichols says.

He started in the history program, but when those degree requirements changed, Nichols began to question whether he should continue to take classes. That’s when he got an email from Rachel Smith, a Student Success advisor at the main campus in Columbia, Missouri. She recommended that he switch to General Studies, which would automatically qualify him for a bachelor’s degree.

“I had been taking college classes off and on for over 10 years,” Nichols says. “I was ready to stop altogether when the program changed. She was the one that had the positive attitude and took her time to help me get what I needed.”

Nichols officially graduated from Columbia College-Lake County this past May. A lieutenant junior grade in the Navy, he is currently deployed conducting operations in the oceans off the coast of Asia. He says that working on his degrees has helped him to advance in his military career.

“It means a lot,” Nichols says. “I just want to thank Columbia and Rachel once again for the help they gave me and the flexibility they provide for military members getting their degrees.”

You’re Never ‘Too Old’

Dori Cantrell

Dori Cantrell was working as an administrative assistant for Columbia College–Kansas City when she overheard the academic advisor tell a student, “You are never too old to learn.”

The phrase stuck with Cantrell. She had been the first in her family to go to college, and years ago, she had graduated with an associate degree in her home state of California. After hearing the advisor’s encouragement, she decided to further her education. She discussed it with her family and signed up for her first class in 30 years at Columbia College-Kansas City in 2004.

“At first I thought that I would feel out of place being an older student,” says Cantrell. “What is so wonderful about Columbia College is that everyone, no matter your age, is equal.”

Cantrell enjoyed her classes so much that when she received her bachelor’s degree in 2006, she continued with classes until she earned her MBA at Columbia College-Kansas City.

“All of the instructors were so inspiring,” she says. “Some of them went back to school later to get their master’s degrees. I thought if they can do it, then I can do it.”

Today, Cantrell works at the Kansas City location as an academic advisor. She says she’s happy to be able to give students the same advice she got from an advisor years ago.

“I feel I was placed here for a reason,” Cantrell says. “I wanted to help other students in the same way by advising them and letting them know they’re never too old to learn.”

Columbia College hosts WIN for Columbia awards luncheon

Posted by on Feb 9, 2017 in Alumni, Students | 0 comments

Columbia College hosts WIN for Columbia awards luncheon

Melinda Wrye-Washington didn’t really have an answer to the question.

Decade of Excellence award winner Melinda Wrye-Washington (left) with WIN for Columbia awards luncheon keynote speaker Natasha Brown.
(Photo by LG Patterson)

Wrye-Washington, Columbia College’s volleyball coach, was on the stage at Southwell Complex after winning the Decade of Excellence award at the 20th annual Women’s Intersport Network for Columbia awards luncheon on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

Radio host David Lile from KFRU-AM, tasked with interviewing each of the day’s award winners, asked Wrye-Washington what she would have been doing for the past 10 years, had she not been piloting the Cougars to a 358-66 record, 10 straight NAIA National Tournament appearances, four trips to the Final Four and the 2015 national championship.

“I don’t know. This is my home,” said Wrye-Washington, a 1995 Columbia College graduate. “The gym is my home.”

That home, where the volleyball program’s four national championship banners hang, hosted more than 400 guests for this year’s WIN luncheon. Wrye-Washington has compiled a 643-99 record and two of those national titles over her 17 years coaching the Cougars, a span of time in which the team has never failed to win 30 or more matches in a season.

She is also a four-time WIN Female Coach of the Year honoree and, as Cougars athletic director Bob Burchard mentioned in the luncheon’s opening remarks, presides over the winningest volleyball program in NAIA history.

Wrye-Washington wasn’t the only Columbia College representative recognized at the WIN luncheon.

Senior softball pitcher Paxton Welch took home the Mentor of the Year award for her work coaching the 12-and-under Rockers competitive softball team in Columbia. The Jefferson City, Missouri, native is a first-team all-conference ace for the Cougars who also just so happens to also serve as a strong role model for the Rockers players who want to follow in her footsteps.

“She spends a lot of time with her young girls,” said Columbia College assistant softball coach Debbie Jameson, who accepted the award on Welch’s behalf. “She’s just a real inspiration, provides a lot of guidance and puts a lot of time in. She’s really good at it.”

Founded in 1994, WIN for Columbia is an organization that promotes the importance of participation of girls and women in athletic and physical fitness endeavors, along with increasing the athletic opportunities for girls and women in the community.

Natasha Brown, associate head coach for the Missouri track and field team and this year’s keynote speaker, stressed how important such efforts are.

“I honestly wish, when I was growing up, I had an event like this,” Brown said. “This is amazing. This is really beautiful.”

Brown described how she used a mixture of a strong supporting cast and her own perseverance throughout her life to mold herself into a world-class runner. Brown was a member of the silver medalist 4×400-meter US national relay team at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics, and she won the 1989 indoor national title in the 400 meters while running collegiately at Missouri.

“If there’s that thing you’re putting off, that you don’t want to do, don’t want to try it, I just want to say: maybe think about trying it. You don’t know where it’s going to lead,” Brown said. “For everybody in this room, you’re all so important to the athletes that you touch. You never know what your words are going to mean to somebody who’s listening to them.”

Columbia College women’s basketball coach Jessica Keller, softball player Molly Carter and soccer player Molly Klein were also finalists for WIN awards.

Keller, who led the Cougars to a 27-6 record last season, was a finalist for the Female Coach of the Year award won by Missouri women’s basketball coach Robin Pingeton.

Carter hit .472 as a freshman to earn honorable mention All-America honors and a nomination for Collegiate Sportswoman of the Year, which went to Missouri cross country individual national champion Karissa Schweizer.

Klein was a finalist for the Inspiration Award, after battling through a stress fracture to score 10 goals and log eight assists for the 19-2-3 Cougars this past season. Missouri cross country runner Jamie Kempfer won the award.