Category: Alumni Spotlight


‘Cookie’ Hays Named Outstanding ECC Alumni

May 18, 2023 | Alumni Spotlight Campus News

Ina “Cookie” Hays is the only person to be a graduate, support staff member, professional staff member, administrator, and trustee at East Central College, giving her a unique perspective of the College.

And now, she can add Outstanding ECC Alumni award recipient to the list.

Hays was presented the award at the ECC Commencement on May 13 by President Dr. Jon Bauer. This prestigious award is given annually by the ECC Foundation and is the highest award presented to an alum.

“I have experienced ECC as a student, graduate, support staff, professional staff and I retired as an administrator,” Hays said after accepting the award.

“Now it’s my honor to serve our community as an elected trustee,” She added. “In that role, I hope to ensure that East Central continues to provide an excellent learning environment and opportunities for generations to come.”

Hays has dedicated more than 50 years of service to the College as an employee and Trustee.

“When I graduated from Washington High in 1970, I didn’t see many options for young women like me,” she said. “I dreamed of going to college, but higher education seemed out of reach for someone whose family had never attended.”

“Thanks to the forward thinking of several community leaders,” Hays continued, “East Central Junior College became a reality, and our community was transformed.”

She noted that her husband, Don, and two children graduated from ECC.

Addressing the ECC Class of 2023, Hays said, “Today we can all be proud to call ourselves graduates of ECC.”

Hays was both a student and student worker when she graduated from “East Central Junior College” in 1973.

She was in one of the first graduating classes, initially taking classes in Union Memorial Auditorium before moving to the current campus to take courses.

Career at ECC

After graduation, she began her career at ECC that would span 41 years. She held several positions until she became the Vice President for Student Development in 2009.

Hays worked in or with every department on the Union campus and the College extension sites. Her position at ECC took her to every high school district throughout the service region.

“The faculty and staff I have met over the years have inspired me to grow professionally and helped me gain confidence in my abilities,” she said. “Many have become lifelong friends.”

Her first position at ECC was an administrative assistant role, a position she served in for 15 years. She then moved into the position of assistant to a vice president for a year.

In 1989, she became an academic advisor, serving 9 years in that office. Hays then was named as the interim director of counseling services for a year, until she was appointed to that position, serving for another year.

Her next step at ECC was as the dean of student development, a role that she was in for 8 years.

Then, in 2009 she was named the vice president of student development. She retired from the College in 2014 while serving as the vice president of student development.

Hays earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from Maryville University while employed at ECC, and then she recieved a Master of Education in Counseling from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

In 2016, two years after retiring from the College, Hays was elected to her first six-year term on the ECC Board of Trustees. She was re-elected in 2022 and she continues to promote and guide ECC.


Alum, AEL Director Presented with Missouri Community College Awards

December 2, 2022 | Alumni Spotlight Campus News ECC Rolla

East Central College Trustee and alumni Dr. Eric Park and Adult Education Program Director Alice Whalen were selected among their peers to receive 2022 Missouri Community College Association (MCCA) awards.

Park was presented with the 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award for his service to ECC, his community and growing his professional career with roots planted at ECC where he graduated with an associate degree in May 1982.

Whalen was selected as the 2022 Administrative Professional Leadership Award recipient for her work in expanding adult education services throughout the ECC service region and for her dedication to adult education at the state level.

In addition, ECC student Carly Hamlyn spoke during the closing event of the convention. Carly is an Early College Academy student attending Washington High School and ECC. She also is president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society at ECC.

The MCCA Annual Convention was held in St. Louis Nov. 29 through Dec. 1. In addition to Park and Whalen, three others from ECC were nominated for awards.

  • Leigh Kolb, associate professor of English and Journalism — Excellence in Teaching Award nominee.
  •  Amy DeMiere, Division of Arts and Sciences program assistant — Classified Staff Achievement Award nominee.
  •  Jill Harrison, nursing adjunct — Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Award nominee.

The MCCA is a statewide organization representing the 12 Missouri community colleges and their faculty, staff, students and administrators.

MCCA provides services to its member institutions in four main areas – advocacy, education, information and networking

Dr. Eric Park

East Central College Trustee and alumni Dr. Eric Park, right, received the 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award at the Missouri Community College Association annual convention. He is pictured ECC President Dr. Jon Bauer.

For more than 35 years, Dr. Park has been a successful investment adviser. He is a co-founder of LPL Financial investment firm in Washington. He has received several national awards for his dedication to quality investment management.

Dr. Park was elected to the ECC board of trustees in 2016 and reelected in 2022. Dr. Park attended ECC after serving in the U.S. Army. He earned an associate degree in 1982 followed by a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

He also has served as an adjunct instructor at ECC and has long been active with the ECC Foundation board.

ECC president Dr. Jon Bauer, said Dr. Park epitomizes the best of community college alumni.

“Eric used his academic foundation at East Central to earn advanced degrees in his field, become a leading professional in the investment world, yet has always made it a priority to give back to his community, his college, and those around him,” Bauer said.

Alice Whalen

East Central College Adult Education Program Director Alice Whalen, center, received the 2022 Missouri Community College Association Administrative Professional Leadership Award. She is pictured with ECC Vice President of Eternal Relations Joel Doepker, left, and ECC President Dr. Jon Bauer.

Whalen has been the AEL director at ECC since September 2014. Since then, she has expanded the program from offering programming in six communities to 13 communities throughout the ECC service region.

The AEL program offers day and evening HiSET classes and English Language Acquisition courses at an average of 150-200 hundred students per year.

In 2015, under her leadership and direction, Alice worked with the South Central Missouri Literacy Council in Phelps Country to add four counties, Crawford, Gasconade, Franklin, and Montgomery, to create the East Central Literacy Council. The council also has its own county committees, which include an advisory council and fundraises for the ECC AEL program to cover additional AEL student expenses.

Overall, Alice knows the importance of community involvement and understands how multiple barriers effect a student’s ability to start and complete their education. Alice’s positive energy at the college and throughout the ECC service region is contagious as she strives to make sure anyone who wants to enhance their lives through education can do so.

To read more about Dr. Park, Whalen and all of the nominees for MCCA Awards, visit



Nine Students Inducted into ECC Rolla Honor Society

November 4, 2022 | Alumni Spotlight Campus News ECC Rolla Inspiring Excellence
Pictured are seven of the nine inductees into the Beta Omicron Phi chapter of Phi Theta Kappa at East Central College in Rolla. From left, are Madison Brown, Serena Macey, Hayden Loeb, Mary Romine, Elise Jeffers, Alicia Ramirez and Kelsea Smith. Not pictured are Gabriel E. Killian and Elysia D. Frayer.

The Beta Omicron Phi chapter of Phi Theta Kappa at East Central College in Rolla inducted nine new members into the honor society during its annual Fall ceremony.

Carson Mowery, an alumna of the chapter and the ECC Campus Life & Leadership coordinator, was the keynote speaker during the in-person ceremony held Oct. 9 when the following students were inducted:
Madison G. Brown, Elysia D. Frayer, Elise M. Jeffers, Gabriel E. Killian, Hayden E. Loeb, Serena C. Macey, Alicia A. Ramirez, Kelsea E. Smith and Mary B. Romine.

Jeffers was installed as chapter president, and Ramirez was named chapter vice president.

At the ceremony, ECC President Dr. Jon Bauer presented ECC Rolla PTK sponsor Dr. Elizabeth Winters-Rozema with a 15-year PTK advisor pin.

PTK is an international honor society for two-year colleges. Members pursue activities that fall under the direction of the society’s hallmarks of Scholarship, Leadership, Service, and Fellowship.


The Beta Omicron Phi Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa at East Central College in Rolla installed Alicia Ramirez, left, as vice president of the honor society, and Elise Jeffers, center, as chapter president. Pictured on the right is Carson Mowery, an alumna of the chapter and the ECC Campus Life & Leadership coordinator.To be eligible for induction, students must maintain a grade point average of at least 3.4 for one semester and maintain a 3.2 GPA after their induction. Students can be pursuing any major, degree or certificate.

For more information about PTK in Rolla, contact Rozema at 573-466-4084 or

East Central College East Central College in Rolla Phi Theta Kappa Advisor Dr. Elizabeth Winters-Rozema, left, was presented a Phi Theta Kappa 15-year advisor pin by ECC President Dr. Jon Bauer. Rozema, an assistant professor of biology, was recognized during the installation ceremony of new PTK members held in October.


Former Student Returns to ECC to Follow His Dream

October 18, 2022 | Alumni Spotlight Campus News

Austin Gildehaus knew as a student at St. Francis Borgia High School that he wanted to be a teacher one day.

He enrolled in classes at East Central College shortly after high school graduation in 2014, dual credit hours in tow, Gildehaus started on his path toward a degree in education.

“My journey through ECC was not a traditional one,” Gildehaus said. “I started right out of high school as many students do. But after a few semesters, life took me on a different route, and I dropped out.”

But that wasn’t the last time that he would attend classes at ECC. Gildehaus learned, through the help of ECC employees, that a degree wasn’t far off.

Returning to Class

Gildehaus was posed with a difficult family situation, and he left college after three semesters to take a full-time job at a local factory.

He was in the workforce for several years, but he wasn’t satisfied with the work he was doing.

About one year ago, Gildehaus mentioned to his friend, Phillip Giacomelli, that he wasn’t working his dream job and wanted to see what else was out there for him.

Giacomelli, an early college and admissions advisor at ECC, introduced Gildehaus to Sarah Haines, who had just been named the Occupational Navigator at ECC’s new Falcon Career Center. Gildehaus was the first student that Haines worked with in the new position at ECC.

She examined Gildehaus’ records and saw that he was six credit hours shy of an associate degree.

“I knew I wanted to eventually finish my degree. When I found out I was that close to graduating, I was beyond ecstatic,” Gildehaus said. “That’s when I learned, it is never too late to finish your degree!”

Giacomelli, who has held several roles in education, helped his friend find a job in the classroom, and encouraged Gildehaus to continue his journey in higher education.

“He decided to pursue a career in classroom teaching and fulfill his dream that he’d thought was so far out of reach,” Giacomelli said. “Little did he know, it wasn’t far. He’d already taken so many steps to help pave the way.”

Dream Restored

Gildehaus, with his dream resurrected, graduated with an Associate in Liberal Studies Degree in the Summer of 2022, about eight years after starting at the College.

Today he is working as a paraprofessional in Wright City with plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

Gildehaus’ journey shows that education, determination and never giving up can help one reach their dreams — even if it takes longer than expected.

“My goal when I graduated high school was to become a high school Algebra teacher,” he said. “I started ECC with a few credit hours through dual credit options in high school…  and over the course of eight years, off and on, I was able to graduate!”

Learn more about ECC’s Falcon Career Center and find contact information for our Academic Advising team.


ECC Grads Receive rootEd Alliance Transfer Scholarships

October 11, 2022 | Alumni Spotlight Campus News ECC Rolla

Two East Central College Class of 2022 graduates are recipients of a rootEd Alliance Transfer Scholarship that is helping them fund their four-year degrees.

The rootEd Alliance partners with the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis to award new scholarships to undergraduate and transfer students from rural Missouri, filling critical gaps in students’ financial aid packages to help ensure they graduate debt-free. The rootEd Undergraduate Scholarship is a renewable grant of up to $12,000 per academic year.

David Wysong, Sullivan, received the maximum grant available for this academic year.

Wysong graduated from ECC with an Associate of Arts degree with a Business emphasis. He received $12,000 — $6,000 each semester — to help pay for classes at the University of Missouri. Columbia.

He is a business major with plans to seek a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA).

“I was surprised to be selected,” Wysong said. “This is a great opportunity and one less thing to stress about for me and my family.

“I will get a bachelor’s degree for almost no cost,” he added.

Michael Adkison, of the Labadie area, received $10,000, split evenly between the Fall and Spring semesters, to help him pay for tuition at Missouri State University in Springfield where he is studying sports medicine.

Adkison graduated from ECC with an Associate of Arts degree with a STEM emphasis. He aspires to be a physical therapist.

“I am very grateful for this award and that it will make it easier for me to strive to be the best physical therapist in the future,” he said. “I am forever thankful for the rootEd Alliance.”

Over the past four years, rootEd Alliance has provided dedicated support to students from rural areas and small towns across Missouri as they pursue their education beyond high school.

The organization does so, in part, through providing funding and resources for student success advisors in high schools and community colleges, and through creating opportunities, like the rootEd Alliance Transfer Scholarships.

Students transferring from any community college in Missouri, who also graduated from a rural high school in Missouri over the past five years, are eligible for the rootEd Scholarship.

Class or 2023 graduates can begin applying for the scholarship in the spring.

For more information, visit, or call ECC at 636-584-6588.


Nominations Sought for Outstanding ECC Alumni

March 30, 2022 | Alumni Spotlight Campus News

There are many great East Central College alumni making a difference in their communities, and throughout the world.

The ECC Foundation is asking for the community’s assistance to recognize one of those former students with the 2022 Outstanding Alumni Award.

Nominees must have completed at least one college credit course at ECC at some point in their educational journey to be considered for the award.

According to Bridgette Kelch, Foundation executive director, nominees should be viewed by their peers as leaders in their field, with a demonstrated commitment to their community.

“Our annual Outstanding Alumni award is the perfect way to recognize an alum’s commitment to their career and community,” Kelch said. “We know that many of our alumni are deserving of this prestigious award and are reaching out to the community for help to find those deserving individuals.”

Nominees should demonstrate outstanding contributions to ECC or the community, and nominees must have an ongoing commitment to ECC, she added.

Nominees to not have to live within the college district.


Current candidates for public office and past recipients are not eligible for the award.

To nominate a former ECC student, write an explanation in 500 words or less as to why the person is worthy of consideration. The explanation should accompany the nomination.

Nominations must be received by Wednesday, April 13. All nominations received within the last three years are eligible.

The nomination form can be found from at

For more information or to request a nomination form, email or call 636-584-6505.

The recipient will be selected by the ECC Foundation Alumni Committee. A formal invitation to the 2022 Commencement Ceremonies will be sent to the honoree and a plaque will be displayed at the ECC Union campus in his or her honor.


From New Haven to Seoul — ECC Grad Follows a Dream

January 6, 2022 | Alumni Spotlight Campus News

In 2016, while working toward a liberal studies degree at East Central College, Kjia Zuroweste had no idea that a few years later she’d be living and working more than 6,600 miles away.

But today, there is no place that Zuroweste would rather be than in Seoul, South Korea, her home for nearly two years.

Zuroweste graduated from ECC in 2017. She then earned a business administration degree in 2019 from Westminster College, in Fulton, Mo.

She is originally from New Haven and she is a graduate of Crosspoint Christian School, Villa Ridge.

Zuroweste explained that she had been interested in the culture and language of Korea for quite a while. When she was 20 years old, Zuroweste added, she challenged herself to learn seven languages by age 30.

“Why not start with Korean?” she asked.

Planning a Trip

A short time after she graduated from Westminster College, Zuroweste learned about a law school in Seoul. She already had been considering studying corporate law.

After learning about the school in 2019, Zuroweste and her mother embarked on a journey to visit the school in Seoul.

In the meantime, she needed work and began searching for an English as a Second Language (ESL) job, a position that would allow her to work in Korea.

Zuroweste met with a recruiter to help her locate and apply for ESL teaching opportunities in Korea, and she interviewed for an ESL position via Skype a short time before the trip to Korea with her mother.

“The moment I landed, I fell in love with the country,” she said. “I spent a few days on the east coast, which was absolutely beautiful, then I spent the rest of the time in Seoul.”

Zuroweste said she fell in love with nearly every aspect of Seoul and knew she wanted to live there.

“Between the history, the food, and the seemingly unlimited number of things to do, I knew it was the place for me,” she said.

As “fate” would have it, Seoul soon would be where she would live — the recruiter called Zuroweste while she was visiting Korea with her mother.

“I ended up receiving news that I got the job I interviewed for while on the subway back to my hostel and I was super excited to begin this new journey,” Zuroweste added.

Moving to Korea

In February 2020, she moved to the Gangnam district of Seoul to teach kindergarten students — just before COVID-19 became a worldwide pandemic, shuttering businesses and schools.

“I was supposed to start teaching in March but due to COVID, I didn’t start until May,” Zuroweste said. “We went through several shutdowns all year.”

Then, in February 2021 she moved to another academy where she taught mostly elementary and middle school students. The academy is in northern Seoul, right next to Bukhansan mountain.

Zuroweste rates her Korean language skills at an “intermediate level.”

“I can read, write and listen well, but I struggle with speaking,” she added. “Thankfully I have my friends and my boyfriend who are always willing to help.”

According to Zuroweste, it has been a challenge to be a foreigner during a worldwide pandemic and there have been many restrictions — curfews, QR code check-ins, and masks.

“Foreigners often get blamed for spreading the virus around Korea, so a lot of times we get told things like ‘go back to your country’ or ‘you don’t belong here,’” she said.  “Overall, people tend to be kind.”

Zuroweste noted that there are many things she misses about America, but a lot of reasons why she prefers living in Korea.

“Super affordable healthcare, reliable public transit, and incredible food are some of the things that have made my life here really enjoyable,” she added.

Zuroweste said her boyfriend, Eddie Cheon, who is a competitive bodybuilder, and many friends were born in Korea.  

“My friends that have been helpful to me with the language are also Korean nationals,” she commented.

Time at ECC

Zuroweste was very involved in the ECC community while she attended classes at the Union campus.

She was part of the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society, and she was president of the Chi Delta Chapter from 2016-2017. She won a few awards for being involved in the organization, she said.

Zuroweste also performed on the stage of the John Edson Anglin Performing Arts Center. She was in Book of Days and Shrek the Musical. In addition, she worked backstage and served as an usher during Theatre productions.

For a brief period, Zuroweste said, she also was part of the ECC Student Government Association.

“I really enjoyed my time at ECC — I was given so many opportunities and some of the connections I made have lasted to this day,” she said. “I am thankful for my ECC experience and wouldn’t change a thing.”

What’s Next?

Although visiting a law school was what first took Zuroweste to Korea, she doesn’t plan to continue down that path, for now.

“I no longer plan to attend law school at this time,” she said. “Since Covid, many things have changed.”

Her career plans may have changed, but Zuroweste said she will stay in South Korea, adding that she’ll likely work a remote job next year while still living there.

From New Haven to Seoul, Zuroweste’s journey shows just how far — literally and figuratively —education, curiosity, and motivation can take someone.


ECC Foundation Kicks Off Scholarship Campaign

December 2, 2021 | Alumni Spotlight Campus News

The East Central College Foundation’s annual Friends of the Foundation scholarship campaign is underway.

“While the last two years have brought challenges due to the pandemic, ECC supporters responded in extraordinary ways,” said Bridgette Kelch, Foundation executive director. “Our community is emerging stronger, more resilient, than ever.”

In the 2021-22 academic year, the ECC Foundation allocated a total of $478,150 in scholarships to 293 students. With donor support, the Foundation plans to allocate $485,595 to 330 students in 2022-23.

“Since 2002, the ECC Foundation has been able to award over $2.8 million in scholarships to students in need – thanks to our generous donors,” Kelch said.

The annual Friends of the Foundation scholarship campaign starts in November and typically wraps in late winter.

“Last year, as a thank you to our donors, we created our first-ever Alumni Gala Box. The box was such a hit, we decided to do it again this year,” said Kelch.

The box will contain items created or donated by current ECC students and alumni. Included in the box this year will be one bottle of red wine, donated by Robller Vineyard; chocolates made by ECC culinary students; a stress-relieving coloring book for adults designed by an ECC graduate; notecards featuring an alum’s artwork; and an ornament created by ECC welding students.

“If you feel that ECC played a role in making you, a loved one or your community a success, we ask that you consider making a positive difference in the lives of our students by donating to the annual scholarship appeal,” said Kelch.

People can donate online at or by calling 636-584-6505. Donations of $125 or more will receive the Alumni Gala Box.


ECC Graduate Receives rootED Scholarship

October 8, 2021 | Alumni Spotlight Campus News

An East Central College 2021 graduate was the recipient of a rootEd Alliance Transfer Scholarship.

Benjamin Schwanitz, who is now a student at Truman State University, Kirksville, was awarded up to $10,000 through the scholarship. The scholarship is renewable for up to five years as Schwanitz pursues a bachelor’s degree.

“I am attending Truman State University thanks to this lifesaving scholarship,” said Schwanitz. “It was truly remarkable that I was able to receive the scholarship.”

Over the past three years, rootEd Alliance has provided dedicated support to students from rural areas and small towns across Missouri as they pursue their education beyond high school.

The organization does so, in part, through providing funding and resources for student success advisors in high schools and community colleges, and through creating opportunities like the rootEd Alliance undergraduate and community college transfer scholarships.

This year rootEd partnered with the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis to award 18 new scholarships to undergraduate and transfer students from rural Missouri, filling critical gaps in students’ financial aid packages to help ensure they graduate debt-free.

For more information about rootED at EEC, contact Melissa Schall Willmore, student success advisor, at or 636-584-6530.


ECC Alum Trenton Garvey is ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ Winner

September 14, 2021 | Alumni Spotlight Campus News

East Central College graduate Trenton Garvey was named the winner of “Hell’s Kitchen: Young Guns” Monday night on Fox.

Garvey graduated from ECC Culinary Arts Program in 2016 and he was taught by the current Culinary Arts Program Coordinator Chef Mike Palazzola, and previous program coordinator Chef Ted Hirschi.

Palazzola remembers Garvey as a student who had the makings of a great chef.

“Trenton always showed a willingness to fail and to learn from it,” he said. “That is what it takes to be a chef — you’ve got to have thick skin.”

“You have to be humble enough to adjust if something is not right, and as they say on “Hell’s Kitchen,” ‘Bounce back,’ “ Palazzola added.

ECC offers a one-year certificate of specialization and a two-year Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Culinary Arts degree.

Learn more about ECC’s culinary arts program.

Before attending ECC, Garvey graduated from Union High School in 2013.

He has been working at the Blue Duck in Maplewood for the past three years where he is the executive chef.

As the winner of this season of Hell’s Kitchen, Garvey receives a $250,000 prize and the head chef position at the Gordon Ramsay Steak Las Vegas restaurant.

In addition, he will be mentored by Chef Ramsay.

Winning wasn’t Garvey’s only cause for celebration Monday night. He also got engaged to his longtime girlfriend Macee Jarvis, of Union. He proposed to her on national television after he was announced the winner of the competition.