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Presidential Impact: Alumni Leading Colleges and Universities

Lori Sundberg

November 2013 | by Ted Stephens III '01, '04

As a young student growing up in Sterling, Ill., Kenneth Yowell '69, EdD, consistently found himself surrounded by Ambrosians: teachers and coaches who were products of a St. Ambrose education. They also were the people Yowell most admired and with whom he most identified.

"I thought that if I attended St. Ambrose, maybe I would come out at least half of the person they were," he said.

His years at St. Ambrose began a lifelong passion for higher education that spanned more than three decades, including 23 years as president of Edison Community College in Piqua, Ohio.

Higher education is a career path more and more St. Ambrose graduates are taking, with 485 of the alumni who have shared employment information with the Office of Alumni Engagement currently reporting that they work at colleges and universities.

A select few have risen to the top. Yowell recently retired from his long career at the helm of Edison. Lori Sundberg '03 DBA is president at Carl Sandburg Community College in Galesburg, Ill. And, in March, Clay McDonald '97 MBA, PhD, DC, was named president of Logan College of Chiropractic in Chesterfield, Mo.

For McDonald, the call to higher education administration evolved because he wanted more education—a realization that came while he was a chiropractor in a small, isolated town in Montana.

"As a chiropractor, it became clear to me that I could make an impact on a number of people's lives," McDonald said. "But I could impact thousands more by becoming a faculty member. As a teacher, I quickly understood that I could alter how students learn by becoming an administrator."

So while working as the dean of clinics at Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, McDonald turned to St. Ambrose for his master's degree. "Up until that time, I would argue with the Chief Financial Officer on how to run things—I was blessedly ignorant," he said. "I figured I'd earn an MBA so that I could finally explain all the reasons I was right. Instead, I discovered that most of the time I was wrong. The MBA program showed me that I needed to think more broadly and laterally about what I was doing and to be inclusive."

It is something McDonald said he is using every day as president of Logan, where he said the organizational behavior coursework he had at St. Ambrose has molded his presidential approach.

"Higher education is a culture that requires team behavior," he said. "You work with people who are really bright-and many who have very strong opinions. You really need to be a servant leader and, if you are, you can get the institution to move with you fairly readily."

Sundberg understands that. Now in her fourth year as president of Carl Sandburg, she has become a leader well versed in the national agenda for community colleges.

"Community colleges have a power and a reach that no other institution of higher education really has," she said. "We are open door and not selective. We take people wherever they are-whether 18, 45 or 64-and give them an opportunity at post-secondary education."

Sundberg said her tenure thus far has been nothing short of invigorating, especially as her college listens to the needs of the community and region and responds to industry's needs.

"Adapting to the changing educational landscape is something that has been a challenge," she said, "but also incredibly fulfilling. It is something Carl Sandburg College can be very proud of."

As he reflects on his time at Edison, Yowell—who retired two years ago—said that his greatest contribution lives on through the school's thousands of graduates.

"More than anything else," he said, "what I hope happened is that the education we offered was a conduit for personal change in our students' lives."

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