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In recognition of our best and brightest.

Many outstanding people have come through SCC's doors, from inspiring professionals to industry leaders to leading academics. With the Distinguished Alumni Award, the SCC Foundation recognizes these stars among our alumni. Those chosen for this award have done exceptional work and shown exemplary dedication to their communities.

The SCC Foundation is always accepting nominations for the Distinguished Alumni Award

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Seth Peimann, 2021 Distinguished Alumnus

As the administrator for NHC – National HealthCare Corporation - St. Charles, Seth Peimann is proud of his caring team and how dedicated they are in caring for their patients. This past year has tested the medical community and those who care for others in ways never imagined.

Before beginning his career, Seth took a class at St. Charles Community College that helped him identify careers that aligned to his talents and interests. He knew becoming a doctor, like his two older brothers, was not the path for him, and was determined to find a career that he found fulfilling and be in service to others.

“SCC’s learning environment was what I needed at the time and assisted me in completing a bachelor’s degree at the University of Missouri-Columbia,” Seth said. “The teachers at SCC instilled the confidence I needed.”

Giving back to the community he was from, by serving for the last 12 years on the board of the St. Charles Community College Foundation, is a cause he believes in. The mission to support students with scholarships and academic enhancements, especially nursing students, is close to him. Seth sees firsthand, every day at work, the important role educated nurses have in the senior care environment. He said the connections he has made during his service to the SCC Foundation have been invaluable to him and his coworkers. Seth said he strives to be a resource for others as they begin or complete their education journey.

Past Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Rich Loughridge, 2020 Recipient

Rich Loughridge, 2020 Distinguished Alumnus


With an interest in helping others to make wise financial decisions, Rich Loughridge co-founded Trademark Real Estate where he has led by example as the top sales agent since the company’s inception in 2011. As the company grew they purchased and renovated an office space on Main Street in St. Peters, and in 2015 merged with Realty One Group.

He previously worked for Schneider Real Estate where he was Agent of the Year in 2009 and earned the Quality Service Award of Distinction in 2007, 2008 and 2009. He also was awarded Best in Client Satisfaction in 2007-2011 by St. Louis Business Magazine.

When Rich was first getting started with his education, it was a theater scholarship that brought him to SCC. “At the time I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do and it was up to me to pay for my own education,” Rich said.

While his interest in performing arts may have brought him in the door, what he found was more than what he expected. “This community college has a rock star lineup of educators,” Rich said. “I felt like the professors actually cared about me and my success and didn’t treat me like just another student on a chart.”

A number of professors made an impact, especially Pam Cilek, Lynne Snyder, Debbie Phillips, and Hal Berry. “Each of those instructors had such a positive impact on my life and in my level of self-confidence. They were all vital in helping me realize that I did have a lot in me, and that I shouldn’t limit any expectations I have for myself. That meant so much to me then and still resonates with me to this day,” he said.

In his business he often sees people who are not financially able to purchase a home due to student loans or other types of debt. “When you start at community college you can prevent some of those problems before they start and still be on the same level as any third year student when you go to a university. The education you can get at SCC, whether you are planning to be an attorney, a doctor, a nurse, a CPA or any other profession, is fabulous.”

Rich received an associate degree from SCC in 2004 and a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Lindenwood University in 2010 while working full-time. He earned his Missouri Real Estate License in 2005, along with the Graduate, REALTOR® Institute (GRI) designation and the Short Sales and Foreclosure Resource certification, or SFR®.

As business grows, his love of theater and his community college remain. He is on the board of directors for Act Two Theatre in St. Peters and serves on the SCC Alumni Council. He has performed in more than 15 SCC Center Stage Theatre productions while a student and as an alum.

Sally A. Faith, 2019 Recipient

Sally A. Faith, 2019 Distinguished Alumna

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Sally A. Faith has devoted her life to moving St. Charles and St. Charles County forward. As part of that, her persistence and support for St. Charles Community College from the very earliest days all the way to the present, has helped thousands of students to pursue their dream of a college education.

“We cannot ever give up,” Faith said. “We have to keep going forward.”

Faith helped to pass the ballot initiative that established SCC, and was elected to SCC’s first Board of Trustees, serving from 1986-1995. She said she ran because she wanted residents to have the opportunity to get low in-district tuition rates, and because the college would make a positive impact on the region. She was the director of development for the SCC Foundation from 1997 to 2005, and was elected an Emeritus Foundation board member in 2009. She took classes at SCC, her son Howard received an associate degree and her grandson Lance is currently attending SCC.

Throughout her career, Faith continued to push for excellence. She recently retired after serving two terms as Mayor of the City of St. Charles, 2011-2015 and 2015-2019. She previously represented St. Charles County (District 15) in the Missouri House of Representatives and served as chair and vice-chair of the St. Charles County Council District 5 from 1995-2004.

Faith is a member of the St. Charles Transit Authority, Athena Leadership Foundation, the Rotary Club of St. Charles and the Greater St. Charles County Chamber of Commerce. She also served on the board of directors of Bridgeway, Focus St. Louis, Connections to Success, New Frontier Bank, Habitat for Humanity, the Foundry Art Center, Mayor’s Clergy Coalition, Human Relations Commission, Neighbor Helping Neighbor Services Coalition and Emergency Weather Response Team.

Always mindful of the importance of helping others and affecting positive change, Faith said she plans to continue the scholarship she set up in 2003, the Florence Killian Memorial Scholarship, in memory of her mother. She said the scholarship is intended to help returning learners attend college who may not have had the best GPA or circumstances. Some friends and community members originally helped her to set it up, and today her son and grandson help to keep it going.

Steven R. Thomas, 2018 Recipient

Steven R. Thomas, 2018 Distinguished Alumnus

Steven R. Thomas

A decorated military veteran of the United States Navy with 20 years of experience working in the intelligence community, Steven is director of advanced systems and manager of business development for Ball Aerospace and Technologies in St. Louis. He also is president and founder of GEO STL, a 501(c)3 focused on establishing a center of excellence and hub of the Geospatial Industry in the greater St. Louis region.

Steven is the volunteer chair of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation St. Louis Area Working Group, which seeks to educate our community about the importance of Geographic Information Systems and the career opportunities available in industries from agriculture to zoology. He recently had a story published in “Trajectory,” the official magazine of USGIF, about the need for well-trained GIS candidates from our area who are ready to enter the workforce.

His service in the Navy took him around the world, with tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and work with counter drug operations in South America. He supported SEAL teams, gathered military intelligence, and after an extensive career, he retired from the Navy at the rank of Chief Petty Officer. He received a Joint Commendation Medal, two Navy Commendation medals, four Navy Achievement medals, and several other honors.

During his time in the Navy, Steven developed a passion for the field of intelligence and decided to further his education so that he would be able to able to continue and advance in his field. Although he previously earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering, he needed a different degree for his career path. He chose St. Charles Community College because it was near where he grew up in St. Charles, and offered a flexible course schedule. He credits SCC for helping him to make the transition from the Navy into collegiate studies.

“SCC allowed me not only to change my career path, but also to make the most of the college experience so that I was better-suited for success in my career,” Steven said.

After earning an Associate of Arts degree from SCC, he transferred to the University of Missouri-St. Louis to earn a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and then a Master of Business Administration.

Prior to working at Ball Aerospace and Technologies, he was director of technical operations at NJVC in St. Louis.

While Steven likes his career, he is most proud of his family. He and his wife live in Defiance, Mo., and are raising two boys and two girls. He enjoys spending time coaching their swimming and soccer teams, and being a Cub Scout leader.

Ben Waggoner, 2017 Recipient

Ben Waggoner, 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

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What distinguishes Ben is his entrepreneurial spirit.

During his second year at SCC, Ben discovered his passion for helping people with their financial planning and immediately found a way to start on this career path while in school. He worked full-time while attending classes and earned his Associate of Arts in 1999. His first job at Edward Jones gave him access to the professional development opportunities he needed to help get his own business started and growing.

In 2007, Ben became a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional. It took commitment and discipline to fulfill the requirements for the desired industry designation while balancing his responsibilities at work and with his growing family.

Over the past 18 years, Ben has served in various voluntary leadership roles within Edward Jones to help train, coach, encourage and inspire others starting and growing their businesses.

Ben moved his business to New Melle, Mo., in 2014, and he remains excited about his future with Edward Jones. The friendliness of the small town drew him in and he soon became a leader in the community, where he served as president of the New Melle Chamber of Commerce.

Ben and his wife Jennifer (also an SCC alum) live in Wentzville and are raising four children, 12, 8, 5 and 3.

“When I started taking college classes right after high school, I didn’t know yet what career path I wanted to take. Going to SCC offered me the opportunity to get my education started while keeping my career options open.”

James Wieczorek, 2016 Recipient

James' life was forever altered in 1991. He was a truck driver, and when he stopped at a rest area, he was assaulted and shot.

The next 12 months were spent in and out of hospitals. James survived, but due to the spinal cord injury he was paralyzed. This father-of-four courageously chose to view this life-changing event as an opportunity to consider a new future, one that could now include college.

James came to SCC with a positive attitude, eager to prepare for a new career and never used his disability as an excuse. He earned a degree in 1996. During his time at SCC, his interest in politics and advocating for others developed into a dream to practice law. He received a bachelor's degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and earned his law degree from Saint Louis University School of Law, where he was named Student of the Year.

He works for the Law Firm of Michael T. George and has argued cases at all levels, including the Missouri Supreme Court, Missouri Court of Appeals and Illinois Appellate Court.

He makes time to give back, volunteering to assist students in doctorate programs at universities in the area. James lives in St. Charles County and enjoys spending time with his four children and six grandchildren.

"After suffering my spinal cord injury, I didn't want to sit home and do nothing. I decided that SCC would be a perfect choice to begin my educational journey. The community college provided a social environment and great learning opportunity that set the foundation for reaching my goals."

Rob Dixon, 2015 Recipient

15-0516-SCC-Commencement-028-768x350As president and CEO of the Missouri Community College Association, Rob Dixon is a powerful advocate for community colleges.

"When we look at issues facing our country and our economy, nothing is more important than investing in education and making sure our colleges and communities are ready to meet the needs of the 21st century economy," Dixon said. "If we don't we will be left behind."

Dixon was 23 when he completed his service to the U.S. Marine Corps and started taking classes at SCC using benefits from the GI bill.

"Returning to school after five years of being in the military was a little intimidating," Dixon said.

When he took his first class, Introduction to Business, with Joe Hartnett, SCC professor of business, it sparked his interest in political science.

"Mr. Hartnett's class was engaging and it gave me the confidence to pursue my professional interests," Dixon said.

He graduated from SCC with an Associate of Arts degree with an emphasis in political science. He then received a transfer scholarship to the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where he graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in international and comparative politics. Dixon later took three classes during a semester of study at Georgetown in Washington, D.C., and he completed an internship at the Embassy of the Republic of Croatia, also in Washington, D.C.

Dixon and his wife moved to the Springfield, Mo., area where he took a job with the Hollister Chamber. While there he spearheaded a ballot initiative to expand the taxing district and bring a satellite campus of Ozarks Technical Community College to the people in his community. The campus is called OTC Table Rock.

These kind of experiences caused Dixon to become more interested in seeing large projects through from beginning to end. To aid this outlook, Dixon enrolled in a master's degree in public administration from Missouri State University.

Just prior to his work with the Missouri Community College Association, Dixon worked for the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, where he moved up the ranks into a vice president role and worked with the board of directors to improve workforce development in Southwest Missouri, which also included community college initiatives.

Dixon's wife Melanie is also an SCC alumna, and they have a six-year-old son. Both of his parents are U.S. Marine veterans and community college graduates, including his mother, Lea Dixon, SCC Child Development lead teacher.

"Throughout our community, state and nation, strong community colleges are preparing students for life and the workforce," Dixon said. "Their academic programs and workforce training programs will provide a tenfold return on our investment."

Laura Helling, 2014 Recipient

As the Director of Development for Wings of Hope, an international non-profit organization, Laura Helling travels the globe, supporting humanitarian efforts that lift people out of poverty. In fact, over the past year she's been to more than 100 villages in a half dozen countries.

When Laura attended St. Charles Community College almost 20 years ago, she had no idea this is where her career would take her. What she did know, was that she just needed a start. And, being a mother of five, SCC was the perfect choice for her as it was close by and offered a flexible schedule.

Laura described her teachers as phenomenal. She said she enjoyed the academic environment and gained a set of skills at SCC that prepared her for success. So much so that after earning an Associate of Arts degree, she earned a bachelor's degree from Lindenwood University and then a master’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis.

Along the way, she served as the executive director of the Foundry Art Centre, and was cultural arts supervisor for the City of St. Peters Cultural Arts Center, helping the organization to grow and coordinating grassroots efforts to establish local interest in the arts.

Beyond her work, she contributes to the community. She served on the Arts and Culture Commission with the City of St. Charles. She is a founding board member of Riverside Shakespeare Theatre Co., a board member for the Festival of the Little Hills, a member of the Association for Fundraising Professionals and is a member of Lambert Airport's Art Advisory Committee.

Dr. Natalie Greene, 2013 Recipient

ngreenFrom a young age, Natalie Greene aspired to become a doctor. She watched her aunt and uncle who owned a small clinic provide medical services to people from all walks of life.

Many times her family accepted payment of chickens and puppies, even though they didn't have a farm and had to find people who could use the chickens and puppies. They did this so individuals receiving care could do so with dignity. Greene admired her aunt's and uncles' commitment to helping others, and she knew that one day, she wanted to do the same.

However, after graduating from St. Charles West High School, Greene did not feel that she was smart enough to become a doctor. It was not until she was 29 years old that she felt ready to begin college and start working toward her dream.

With her husband's support, Greene developed a plan for her education. "SCC was the obvious first step," said Greene. "It was at SCC that I gained confidence that I was moving in the right direction. The teachers at SCC really supported my goals."

Greene was active in student activities across campus at SCC. She served as the Student Senate president and was a member of Phi Theta Kappa, in international honor society of the two-year college.

"I loved being involved," said Greene. "It was important to me to be a strong voice for the students."

Greene graduated from SCC in May 2001 with honors and was selected to speak at the commencement ceremony as a representative of her entire class.

Like many students, SCC was only the beginning of Greene's journey to success. Greene went on to obtain her bachelor's degree at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. From there, she received her doctorate at A.T. Still University in Kirksville.

While finishing her residency at Mercy Hospital, Greene accepted her dream position as the medical director and physician for Macoupin County Health Department of Illinois.

LCDR Tina Marie Cox, 2012 Recipient

tcox"SCC definitely opens a door that otherwise might not be available for many to step through."

LCDR Tina M. Cox, MSN, MSM, CNS-BC, RNC, of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps, received SCC's 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award.

The perinatal clinical nurse specialist from Highland Park, Ill. is the division officer for the immunization and administration clinics for recruit training at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center.

The award-winning navy nurse credits her husband and family for their support.

And her journey to success began with an associate degree from SCC.

At the time, she was a divorced, single mom in her 20s with four part-time jobs including one at a local 7-Eleven store. She realized that she couldn't keep up the pace and wanted more for her family. Cox decided to pursue a nursing career like her mom, and enrolled in SCC’s nursing program.

"I couldn't afford a four-year program, and the college provided me with a stair step to the bachelor's degree required by the Navy," Cox said.

She went on to earn a bachelor's degree, joined the U.S. Navy, and eventually earned two masters degrees while serving. Her Navy career has taken her many places, including Kuwait and Okinawa, Japan. She is the recipient of a Navy Commendation Medal, three Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals and two National Defense Medals. She also co-published an article in the Journal of Nursing Education.

James Hall, 2011 Recipient

James Hall III, a sixth grade science teacher at Orchard Farm Middle School, received the college's 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award.

Hall's passion for teaching was ignited during a physics class at SCC, and today Hall is focused on making an impact on his students – both in the way they understand science, and in the way they view their own career potential.

"At the middle school level, there are so many teachable moments, and I try to make things relevant," Hall said. "For example, after the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, we monitored the aftershocks using a smart phone app."

Hall said he also checks out telescopes to students so they have an opportunity to experience the wonder of science first-hand, and that he keeps a class pet, a bearded dragon lizard, to make learning fun for students.

When Hall first decided to go back to school at age 29, he was on a path to get a degree in engineering. A scholarship from SCC allowed him to quit his job as a test cell operator on jet engines and go to school full-time. Hall said that had it not been for SCC, college would not have been an option.

It was a "mind-expanding moment" he had during a physics class at SCC that made Hall realize his purpose, and change his major from pre-engineering to education. "My teacher, Stacey Thater, had the ability to see the big picture and the interconnectedness of science with the physical world – a trait we both share," said Hall. "He inspired me to become a teacher so that I could help students demystify the physical world around them and impact them in the same way that Mr. Thater affected me."

"Hall is one of the most humble and intelligent people I have ever had the pleasure of teaching," said Stacey Thater, SCC science instructor. "He would have easily progressed to his engineering degree and a very lucrative career, but he wanted to do something with his education that would give back to the community, and he decided to become a teacher."

Hall also gives credit to Will Griffin, SCC professor of anthropology, for his influence. "Mr. Griffin's cultural anthropology class altered the framework with which I see the world, and created a desire in me to serve the local community and society."

After attending SCC, Hall transferred to Lindenwood University where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in education in 2008. In addition to teaching at Orchard Farm Middle School, Hall coordinates the sixth grade participation in the annual science fair and coaches seventh grade girls basketball.

Hall is a graduate of Fort Zumwalt North High School. He and his wife live in St. Charles, Mo.

Jim Dreyer, 2010 Recipient

Jim Dreyer loves the combination of creativity and technology that goes into video production. It's his passion – a passion he first discovered as a student at SCC in the late 90s, and that continues to drive him toward success.

Dreyer now is an award-winning video producer for the City of St. Charles' local government cable channel, where he produces promotional, educational and entertainment shows for the city. His "Beyond the Set Shadowland" project earned him a 2009 Silver Telly, the highest of the Telly Awards, which honor local, regional and cable television commercials and programs, as well as the finest video and film productions and work created for the Web.

"One man may not change the world, but I have seen the difference one man can make in the world around him because I know Jim," said Kelley Pfeiffer, student activities coordinator at SCC, in her nomination letter.

He produced his first feature-length documentary, "Tracy and Jess: Living With Early Onset Alzheimer's," which portrays an uplifting look at the disease. Together with the Alzheimer's Association, he has been using the film to raise awareness and encourage research for a cure. A public screening of the documentary was held at SCC on March 26, 2010. The topic hits close to home for Dreyer, as his mother, Jess Dreyer, was diagnosed in her 40s.

"I love what I do," said Dreyer. "I really enjoy using my skills to raise awareness of important causes."

After attending SCC, Dreyer transferred to the University of Missouri-St. Louis where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in mass communication with emphasis in video production in 2003. Upon graduation, he returned to SCC as a full-time employee in the Instructional Media Department from 2004-07, where he aided faculty and staff with audio/visual projects.

Dreyer volunteers his video talents with the Toys for Tots program sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps and the UMSL Life Review Project of the University of Missouri-St. Louis Gerontology Graduate Program. He also is the advisor for the Youth Media Group, a joint venture between the City of St. Charles and the Foundry Art Centre, where high school students work on video projects relating to the events and history of St. Charles.

Jennifer White, 2009 Recipient

jwhiteThis year’s SCC Distinguished Alumni Award was awarded at commencement to Jennifer White, eighth grade principal at DuBray Middle School in the Fort Zumwalt School District.

White attended SCC from 1994-1996, and then transferred to the University of Missouri-St. Louis to finish her Bachelor of Science degree in education. She received her master’s degree in 2003 from Lindenwood University, and went on to complete her Doctorate of Education degree at Lindenwood in 2008.

Bernard J. DuBray, superintendent for the Fort Zumwalt School District Schools, said White has been an asset to the district as both a teacher and administrator.

"She has been a leader in our school district, and is a strong administrator who has a bright future," DuBray said.

White is also a founding member of the SCC Alumni Council, a group dedicated to contributing to the future of SCC.

Terri Ingracia, 2008 Recipient

After earning her nursing degree at SCC in 1995, Terri Ingracia became a charge nurse, and worked three years at the Jewish Center for the Aged. She served in various nurse manager positions before being named director of nurses at St. Peters Manor in 1999. Ingracia also sits on the Board of the Missouri Director of Nurses Association, where she has been instrumental in increasing its membership.

Connie Verdone, nursing home administrator at St. Peters Manor, said Ingracia is a dedicated employee who truly cares for her patients.

"I have seen Terri take the time to mentor a marginal employee into an exceptional employee, explain medical conditions to family members when tough decisions were required, hold the hand of a dying resident, insist that quality care be provided, and lead and develop her staff," Verdone said.

Ingracia also devotes time to education in her role as director of nursing. St. Peters Manor provides mentorship programs for SCC nursing students who are about to graduate and offers clinical experiences for new nursing students. Mary Stassi, SCC health occupations coordinator, said Ingracia plays a pivotal role in the success of this program.

"Terri has been an exceptional role model for not only the nursing staff at her facility, but for the students who are placed at St. Peters Manor as part of their nursing clinical experience," Stassi said. "Her commitment to education as well as excellence in nursing is commendable."

Dianna Graveman, 2007 Recipient

A returning learner who started college in her mid-30s, Dianna Graveman rediscovered her passion for writing while taking classes part-time at St. Charles Community College. She then went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees with high honors, teach grade school and college, and become a successful published writer from the moment she submitted her first story.

The past few years have yielded a whirlwind of 27 published pieces including stories in books such as the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series, "Teacher Miracles," "Cup of Comfort for Grandparents," and "Letters to My Mother." Most recently, she received international recognition in the Erma Bombeck writing competition, earning Honorable Mention in the global category for human interest out of 1,300 entries from 22 countries and 47 states. In April 2007, Graveman received two Missouri Writers Guild Awards for work published in 2006. Three more stories were published in 2007, and she has collected numerous other writing and leadership awards.

Middle age has been productive for Graveman, an admitted late scholastic bloomer. As a child, Graveman had been a voracious reader, kept written journals, and was in awe of her grandmother, a published poet. They read poems together, and Graveman never forgot the satisfaction and fulfillment that resulted. But after high school came work, marriage, and children, and she had put higher education on hold.

"I didn’t have a lot of confidence attending college after being out of high school for 15 years," Graveman said, "but I had a supportive family, and that was a recipe for success." She said she also received strong support from her teachers at SCC, and soon she was a full-time student taking all the English and composition classes she could find among her 60 hours of general education courses. That she would choose to start her college education at SCC made perfect sense, she said, since about half of all first-time freshmen in the United States begin at community colleges.

After SCC, she transferred to the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where, at age 40, she graduated summa cum laude with a 3.96 grade point average and a bachelor’s degree in education. She received the University Scholar Award in 1994-1995 and was named to the Golden Key National Honor Society.

It was at UM that Graveman also began a continuing involvement in environmental issues. She received a commendation for organizing and facilitating workshops at a campus forum on "Diverse Responses to Environmental Issues" where she worked with 350 area high school students and their teachers.

Graveman had her first teaching experience in 1997 at the Academy of the Sacred Heart School in St. Charles, and from 2000-2006 she taught in the Fort Zumwalt School District. In addition to teaching, she worked with students in the Earth Club, joined the Wilderness Society, and continued her work on environmental issues.

"Her love of written expression and her love of learning made Dianna a phenomenal educator," said Dr. Gregg Sartorius, principal of Ostmann Elementary where Graveman taught third and fourth graders and helped her young authors create their own literary anthology. "She touched so many young lives, and she was a natural to make the transition to post-secondary teaching. It was clear that doors would open for her in the future," Sartorius said.

Graveman loved teaching because it enabled her to "connect" and make a positive difference in young lives. Her own elementary school experiences were not fond memories, she said, emphasizing, "Education needs compassion." Compassion and its impact on students was an experience she later wrote about in her essay for "God Allows U-Turns for Women." The story shares her initial doubts about her own effectiveness as a teacher followed by an epiphany that in helping one particular student she had made a major difference to him and to others.

Teaching at the elementary level further stirred in Graveman her desire to express herself as a published writer. After all, she was encouraging students to use their imaginations, so why not do so herself? Accordingly, Graveman entered the new Master of Fine Arts degree program at Lindenwood University, where, "pushing 50 years old," she earned an MFA in writing in 2005 with a 4.0 grade point average.

Then, encouraged by her professors and with a growing confidence in her own skills, Graveman began teaching part-time at the college level, both at St. Charles Community College and at the University of Phoenix St. Louis campuses. She also began submitting her stories and articles for publication.

"Dianna was an exemplary student willing to expand her scope of writing and working hard to carry through with anything she attempted," said Michael Castro, professor of humanities and director of communication programs at Lindenwood University whom Graveman credits as her mentor. "She has a true gift for writing," Castro said.

Graveman had been an occasional freelance opinion columnist for the Suburban Journals, but it was in Castro’s class in 2005 that Graveman wrote and submitted her first piece published in a book. It was accepted, and there was no stopping her after that.

Graveman has written for magazines, newspapers, anthologies, and literary journals. Her subjects are inspired largely by her own experiences and, particularly, by the history, landscape, and environment of the American West, where she and her family have frequently traveled.

Nonfiction topics have included stories for teachers, teenagers, families, and travelers. Her story "Goodwill Cranes" was selected as "best in book" by the editor and publisher of "Teacher Miracles." It’s about a project she introduced to her fourth graders to construct 1,000 folded origami cranes and send them to Japan as an offering of goodwill among children of all nations.

She is particularly proud of her fiction writing because it challenged her to create characters and plot lines. She draws inspiration from her travels out west and has written about ghosts, relationships, crime, and environmental controversies over natural gas drilling. Her recently published "Perseids," about a couple who face personal struggles as they travel to the Colorado Rockies to watch the Perseid Meteor shower, is based on similar trips she and her husband have taken.

Graveman not only writes, but she has become a leader in the local community of writers, according to colleagues who supported her nomination for the SCC Outstanding Alumni Award. She has judged writing contests for the Missouri Writers Guild and was honored this year by the St. Louis Writers Guild with a "Member of Distinction" title for volunteering in community events, serving as a judge, and overall project leadership.

"Dianna has excellent skills, is careful and meticulous, and sets a good example for others," said Robin Theiss, president of the St. Louis Writers Guild. Graveman is one of the top writers of the 300-member organization and gives of her time and efforts in offering assistance to aspiring writers, Theiss said.

Graveman mixes her dual loves – writing and teaching – with zest and determination. "I’ve taught kindergarten to college and just about all grades in between. "It’s a thrill and a privilege to encourage and teach students to express themselves in writing."

If, at almost 50, she can stand before students having found joy, purpose, and meaningful work later in life, she said, then others, too, can follow their hearts and succeed no matter what their age or challenges. They can make a difference.

Graveman is especially fond of the Henry David Thoreau quote: "Be not simply good. Be good for something." She teaches its meaning to her students, and she lives it!

Karen Sieve, 2006 Recipient

For Karen Sieve, of St. Peters, the entry point to higher education was a community college seminar on "Women in Transition" in 1988, just two years after the college was established. Married right out of high school and the mother of three, Sieve said she was successful in several jobs but never had a "career track" focus that would lead to truly meaningful work.

Growing up in a family whose lives were touched by her father’s mental illness and struggling with her own attention deficit disorder (ADD), Sieve never dreamed she was college material.

With new-found confidence following the "Women in Transition" class, she took a computer course in 1989 and was amazed she was able to learn five software programs in just a few months. While working in a temp agency job, she took a business course in 1992, then, with the help of a scholarship she returned to the community college full time the following year.

In the meantime, she developed college and community contacts that both inspired her and helped her begin to define her career interests. She worked for a local chamber of commerce and as a constituent services representative for a U.S. congresswoman. She served as a legislative intern for the St. Louis Breast Cancer Coalition and continued to develop working relationships with community leaders, civic organizations, and advocacy groups.

At SCC, Sieve exemplified the college’s mission to provide life-changing opportunities for personal growth and professional success.

"I reached out for help, and the faculty and staff were so encouraging and welcoming. I used the college’s learning center, computer lab, and counseling assistance, and I soon became more focused. I learned there is a world of opportunity out there. "I began to see that through my own personal experience and opportunities, I could make a difference in others’ lives. This inspired me to advocate for others to have those same opportunities – to use my voice in a way that makes a positive difference."

Sieve has been making a positive difference in the community for more than two decades. A transfer student who earned 61 credit hours at SCC, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science, with honors, and a master’s degree in public policy administration, both from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Upon graduating, she briefly served as a litigation support specialist with the John Danforth Office of Special Council-Waco Investigation where she did legal research and achieved "top secret" government clearance.

Then, focusing on issues that shaped her true passion, Sieve became a public education specialist for the local Partnership With Families and Putting Kids First project. Later, as project director for Healthy Communities of St. Charles County from 2002 through 2005, she led and coordinated community mental health, suicide prevention, and anti-drug coalition activities, partnering with local school districts to help students make good choices and become productive citizens.

Currently, in her work at Bridgeway Counseling, Sieve collaborates with schools, agencies, law enforcement, and families to help make quality treatment and support services available for adolescents and their families. She is a member of the St. Charles Regional School/Business Partnership and the Citizens for Missouri Children Policy and Program Committee. In addition, she has served on the St. Charles County Domestic Violence Board, the Tri-County Citizens Advisory Board to Probation/Parole of the Missouri Department of Corrections, and the Missouri Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education and Mental Health Shared Agenda Grant Subcommittee. She is a graduate of the VISION St. Charles County Leadership Program, LeadershipPlenty, and the Coro Women in Leadership Program.

In April 2006, Sieve learned she would receive the Community Builder Award from the Community Council of St. Charles County at an event in May.

"Because of her determination, coupled with expertise, skills, knowledge, and passion, Karen is an asset to any group or project for which she is involved," said Betty Murr, deputy director of the St. Charles City-County Library District, who nominated Sieve for the alumni award. "This is a better community for all of us because of her," Murr said.

For Sieve, it’s all part of a journey of self discovery. "A career is not a destination; it’s a pathway. I always felt I had more questions than answers, but today I am blessed to be in a position to give back. I have tried to use each life experience to hone my skills for connecting people with resources so that I can make a difference in their lives," she said.

Sieve has advice for others who may not yet have discovered their own purpose and gifts. "We don’t always know at an early age what we want to be. Keep your eyes open to opportunities, and reach out when help is offered." She says the local community shines when everyone works together to help those in need – health and human services, law enforcement, faith community, schools, courts, and education – putting aside their differences to improve the quality of life.

And as for individuals who may fear returning to school, Sieve says: "Pace yourself. It’s not a race. The community college is here to give everyone affordable access to higher education, so don’t pass up the opportunity. Embrace it."

Sieve said courage and empowerment were instilled in her when she took that first step into the halls of higher education. It all started with a "Women in Transition" class at the local community college.

"Transitions are a part of life," Sieve said. A part of life that has made all the difference.

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