One Page Bio | Video Introduction

Who is Donna?

Donna received her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Missouri. She began her career as a K–12 school social worker for the Albany School District in Missouri for three years. Donna was the first social worker ever employed by the district and laid the foundation for future school social service positions before moving to a career in higher education. After spending a summer as the assistant director for the Graceland University TRIO Upward Bound Summer Program, Donna took a position with TRIO Student Support Services, counseling and advising under-resourced, first-generation college students.

Donna has been an advocate and a voice for under-resourced college students on her campus. She has had numerous speaking opportunities to educate staff, faculty, and student leaders about the needs of the university’s under-resourced students and the strategies necessary to retain and graduate them. She is considered an expert on under-resourced college students on her campus and consults with departments and divisions across campus to create a better experience for students.

Donna also works directly with Graceland’s under-resourced student population to build resources and assist them in creating a life of stability and choice. The TRIO team works intentionally with their student participants to help them see their future stories and assists them with the resources to one day live those stories.

With aha! Process, Donna trains the College Achievement Alliance certified training that includes Investigations into Economic Class in America. She also provides the Understanding and Engaging Under-Resourced College Students workshop.

Donna’s credentials, degrees, and certifications

  • Bachelor of Science in Child and Family Studies from Northwest Missouri State University
  • Master of Social Work from University of Missouri with a clinical emphasis on children and families
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker, State of Missouri
  • Certified Professional Health and Wellness Coach, Wellcoaches
  • Bridges Out of Poverty Certified Trainer
  • College Alliance Achievement Certified Trainer

Donna’s work history

  • TRIO Student Support Services Academic Advising Coach and Instructor, Graceland University
  • Adjunct Faculty, Social Sciences, Graceland University
  • K–12 School Social Worker, ACES, Maryville School District, Missouri
  • TRIO Student Support Services Personal Counselor, Graceland University
  • Individual and Family Therapist, Solutions for Families, Bethany, Missouri
  • K–12 School Social Worker, Albany School District, Missouri
  • At-Risk Paraprofessional, Albany High School, Missouri

Donna’s aha! moment

In my first year as a school social worker, I attended a conference session with Rita Pierson about A Framework for Understanding Poverty, and I was fascinated by what I learned. It forever changed the way I engaged with students and families from poverty—people I worked with every day. Ten years later I would come across this work again when the TRIO director sent me to the Bridges Out of Poverty Trainer Certification and the College Achievement Alliance Trainer Certification. I shared my newfound knowledge with every department and division on campus that would hear me!

With an invested faculty member, I cofacilitated a two-week Winter Term professional development opportunity for faculty and staff and realized just how powerful the Understanding and Engaging Under-Resourced College Students content could be. It was exciting to co-create new meaning with our faculty about our students’ experiences, what our students need, and who we can help our students become. One of our most rigid faculty members left this experience with a plan to create a new course designed specifically for under-resourced freshmen using what he learned from the book. He followed through with that plan, and he has been teaching this extremely popular course successfully for three years! Other faculty have caught on and are designing curriculum with our under-resourced population in mind.

Donna’s passions

My passions include advocating for, teaching, and advising my TRIO students as they navigate the unknown world of higher education. Every moment spent with them is an opportunity to build them up and give them hope. I especially enjoy facilitating Investigations into Economic Class in America with our first-year students. They see their lives represented in the material and realize that a future story truly does exist for them! I love to teach human services courses and am excited to have the opportunity to educate and equip future professionals to advocate passionately for social justice issues. I am also passionate about the opportunity I have to spend time with the youth in my church who come from under-resourced homes through our Team Kid program.

Donna’s best training

One of my best training experiences was during a fall faculty conference session in which I presented on advising first-generation, under-resourced students. I did an activity with the faculty in which they assumed the role of a student, read their names out loud, and shared a true and nonacademic stressor that our students experience. For example: “My name is Donna, and I’m experiencing a lot of guilt because I get three meals a day while my family back home still doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from. This guilt consumes me.” This activity was designed to increase understanding of the “tyranny of the moment” that impacts a student’s daily life and makes learning difficult. The room was dead silent as each participant read their situation out loud. The faculty experienced a strong emotional reaction, and many stated that this exercise would change the approach they took with students when they were witnessing self-defeating academic behaviors.

What does Donna do for fun?

I love fitness and wellness activities! I teach kettlebell and other group fitness classes at a local gym, and I love to run outdoors and enjoy nature when it’s warm and sunny outside. My daughters are into sports, especially travel softball, so I spend a lot of time at the field almost year-round, and I love every minute of it! I also enjoy art museums, theater, and all kinds of festivals. One of my favorite things to do is find fun, unique places to dine when I travel.