All posts by Ashton Hockman

7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story debuts Feb. 23

Chris Norton, an Iowa native, stars in this uplifting documentary which chronicles his spinal cord injury, subsequent rehabilitation, and how he defied medical odds when he successfully walked across the stage at his 2015 graduation. The Chris Norton Foundation has worked tirelessly to support rehabilitation programs and education in Iowa, including at Drake University.

Drake’s Occupational Therapy Doctoral Program received a grant from the Chris Norton Foundation last year, which allowed the program to purchase a functional electrical stimulation (FES) cycle.

“It’s an honor for the Chris Norton Foundation to support such a respectable institution such as Drake University,” said Chris Norton, speaker, author, and founder of the foundation. “Their commitment to improve the lives of individuals with neurological challenges fits right with our mission.”

Nicole Kuhl, assistant professor of occupational therapy at Drake, who assisted with the filming of the documentary and even has a short appearance in the film, said the Chris Norton Foundation has been a significant and critical resource to rehabilitation programs in Iowa in terms of getting the equipment they need.

Check out the official website 7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story and watch the film available on Apple TV and Prime Video.

— Nicole Kuhl, assistant professor, Occupational Therapy Doctoral Program

Drake partnering with new merchandise vendor

Drake University has switched merchandise vendors from Competitive Edge to Image Solutions. Effective today, Image Solutions will be the University’s only vendor for purchasing University name tags. Competitive Edge users will automatically receive Image Solutions sign-in credentials and instructions.

Promotional items such as Drake branded pens, pencils, and pennants are not yet available through Image Solutions. University Communications and Marketing hopes to partner with Image Solutions and other vendors to make these items available in the future. In the interim, if you need promotional items, please contact Sara Sommerlot at

Woolverton Manufacturing remains Drake’s preferred vendor for paper goods, such as letterhead, envelopes, and business cards. Please continue using Woolverton to purchase customized paper products.

For questions, please contact Sara Sommerlot at or at extension 2169.

— Sara Sommerlot, University Communications & Marketing

Advancing the legacy of alumna Catherine Williams

Pictured above Catherine Williams, LA’61, poses with President Martin in 2018 after receiving Drake University’s Alumni Community Service Award.

As our inspiration statement declares, our University strives to transform lives and strengthen communities. This inspiration is often embodied in the work and accomplishments of our graduates. One such graduate, was Ms. Catherine Gayle Williams who passed away last spring at the age of 105.

While working as an assistant stenographer for Polk County, Ms. Williams decided to pursue a Drake degree in sociology part-time. Following her graduation in 1961, she joined the Iowa Department of Human Services where she embarked on a 30-year career of firsts. Ms. Williams established the first foster parent group for children with developmental disabilities, provided the first statewide training program for foster parents, developed the first subsidized adoption program, and implemented Iowa’s first child abuse registry. Her efforts resonated on a national level with the creation of uniform standards for the delivery of foster care services.

When she retired in 1981 as deputy commissioner of the Iowa Department of Human Services, she was the highest ranking African American in the Iowa State government. Ms. Williams received many accolades for her incredible service including membership in the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame and the Iowa African Americans Hall of Fame. In 2019, she was inducted into the National Association of Social Workers Foundation Pioneers Program.

I met Ms. Williams in 2018 when she received Drake’s Alumni Community Service Award, having previously received Drake’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

When it was Ms. Williams turn to accept her award and address the crowd, she rose from her seat in Sheslow Auditorium. Instead of taking the stage, she spoke from the auditorium floor. Despite not taking center-stage, the audience listened with rapt attention. With few notes, Ms. Williams passionately advocated for the value of community service and the impact we can each have on one another. The insight in her words and spirt of her delivery were electric. In these polarizing times, Ms. Williams’ message of shared humanity coupled with her exemplary life lived in service to others continues to resonate with me and all who shared in that special moment.

Following Ms. Williams’ passing, Drake learned of her continuing commitment to others and her alma mater. Ms. Williams made an estate gift to Drake of nearly $600,000. This gift will further advance her legacy while providing countless opportunities for generations of students to attend Drake. While the scale of Ms. William’s gift is significant, her legacy looms even larger, inspiring each of us to live a life of purpose and in support of our communities.

— Marty Martin, President

Voices of Drake: Brandi Miller

This Q&A is part of the story series Voices of Drake that highlights the diversity, ambition, and passion of the incredible people who make up our campus community. In honor of Black History Month, we will be sharing a collection of interviews to spotlight Black voices in our community. This week’s story introduces Brandi Miller, assistant director of new student programs.

Brandi Miller, assistant director of new student programs, has worked at Drake for almost 20 years. In addition to supporting Black faculty and staff, her favorite things about working at Drake include the flexibility, opportunities for professional development—working in an environment where you are encouraged to learn and grow—and of course the students.

Tell us about yourself.
I am a native of Des Moines and a proud east-sider. I graduated from North High School. I am married to Kenan Miller. Together we have five adult children and eight grandchildren.

Tell us about your education. Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I attended Grand View College (now University) on the east side of Des Moines. My undergraduate degree is in human services. I have a minor in psychology. I also earned my MPA with an emphasis in executive development from Drake.

How long have you been in the Drake campus community?
I am assistant director of new student programs in the Office of Student Financial Planning. I work with new and prospective students. I have been at Drake for 19 years and Student Financial Planning for all of those years. Before hired full-time at Drake, I completed an internship with the director of student activities during my senior year at Grand View.

You are the organizer for Drake’s African American Faculty/Staff Affinity Group. How has the organization been important to you during your time at Drake?
Being the Black Faculty and Staff Affinity Group Champion is one of my favorite things about working at Drake. I love meeting and connecting with new faculty and staff of color and learning about them and where they come from.

These aren’t normal times, but in normal times, what kinds of things does the African American Affinity Group do?
We had one normal semester that included two small gatherings and a few regular meetings at the Black Cultural Center/House. We kicked off the fall semester with an ice cream social and ended with a holiday party. Then COVID-19 hit. We took Spring 2020 off. We resumed meeting in Fall 2020. We began having monthly virtual brown bag meetings, which allow us to check in with one another. This is a time of self-care for many of us. I leave energized.  

How long have you been at Drake? What is your favorite thing about working at Drake?
I have worked at Drake for 19 years. Nov. 1 will be 20 years for me. In addition to supporting Black faculty and staff, my favorite things about working at Drake have been the flexibility, opportunities for professional development—working in an environment where you are encouraged to learn and grow—and of course the students. 

I have had some amazing opportunities that include serving our professional organization IASFAA (Iowa Association Student Financial Aid Administrators) and going on a study abroad site visit in 2003. I also really enjoy working with the students. Seeing students years later still in the Des Moines area, serving now their community, and showing love and respect toward me makes working at Drake special. Oh, and I can’t forget, my son graduated from Drake in Spring 2020. I am a Bulldog, and now I have a Bulldog. 

What is your favorite thing about the Drake neighborhood?
I don’t have just one favorite thing about the neighborhood, but our campus is beautiful year-round.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life and what lessons did that person teach you?
There are too many to mention. One that I think of often is Evelyn K Davis. She was my aunt and an activist in Des Moines. There is a park and building named after her. I remember her for the love she showed me and the words of wisdom that anchored me while going through college. I wish I could tell her I’m doing great. She probably wouldn’t be surprised. She seemed to see something in me when I couldn’t.

How do you like to spend your free-time? Tell us about your hobbies and interests.
I love cycling in my free time. I enjoy running and hiking. I enjoy spending time with my family. I enjoy time with my grandchildren—we have eight and one on the way. In my spare time, I am Co-founder and President of Black Women 4 Healthy Living. We are a nonprofit that focuses on the wellness of Black women in the Greater Des Moines area. We work to see Black women well in mind, healthy in body, and strong in spirit. I am also a Girl Scout Troop Leader in the metro. If you need some Girl Scout cookies, we got you. I am the Troops Cookie manager.

This year is a year like no other. What advice would you like to give to a first-year student at Drake?
Create a healthy routine and stick with it. This may take some adjusting, but work it out. Take control of your time. Don’t let time control you. Have a quiet time to refresh yourself daily. Take breaks to sharpen your ax. You will be able to cut down more trees and be more productive. Don’t push through. It is okay to take a break. Then get back at it. Take care of your spiritual and mental health. I am a person of faith and without God, I am nothing, could do nothing, and would be nothing. So, I make time with Him each day. Scheduled time for physical activity, self-care, and rest. Try to get some veggies and fruits in. Drink water. I cannot say it enough, rest. Last but not least, you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.

Moving forward: The Big Ideas and fundraising campaign

As we kick off the second semester, I am pleased to provide an update on the Big Ideas as well as Drake’s emerging University-wide fundraising campaign.

As a reminder, and for those new to the University, the Big Ideas initiative solicited more than 50 bold, transformational ideas from the campus community designed to elevate and define Drake’s future. Through a detailed and year-long evaluation process, the University narrowed down the Big Ideas into six themes, which will become the cornerstones of the upcoming fundraising campaign:

  • Center for Public Democracy
  • Digital Proficiency Platform
  • Every Bulldog a Changemaker
  • Intergenerational Campus
  • Jay N. Darling Institute
  • University Center

In March, we were forced to put the Big Ideas and campaign planning on pause due to the pandemic. While supporting our students’ and community’s most immediate needs remains paramount, I’m happy to announce that the Drake University Board of Trustees has agreed to move forward with planning for Drake’s comprehensive fundraising campaign. Key next steps as we resume this exciting process include:

  • Re-engage campus leaders, Big Ideas Champions, and key messengers. Together, we will work to sharpen the details around campaign priorities, Big Ideas narratives, and the messaging for the emerging campaign. These individuals received an invitation to a meeting Feb. 11, which will review the campaign process and next steps in more detail.
  • Collaborate with 160over90, a national marketing agency we have partnered with for the last four years, to refine campaign messaging, conduct discovery meetings, and define communications plans. In addition, 160over90 will conduct discovery meetings from mid-February to mid-March. These meetings will include each of the Big Ideas Champions, Academic Deans, campus leadership, and select volunteers. They will build off previous conversations with Champions and work to bring clarity and consensus around fundraising priorities and inspiring narratives.

This campaign is a reason for all of us to look to the future with great optimism. It is an opportunity to accelerate and sustain the Big Ideas that will shape Drake University for years to come. Please watch OnCampus for more updates as the campaign progresses.

John Smith, Vice President, University Advancement

Voices of Drake: Layana Sariah

This Q&A is part of the story series Voices of Drake that highlights the diversity, ambition, and passion of the incredible people who make up our campus community. In honor of Black History Month, we will be sharing a collection of interviews to spotlight Black voices in our community. This week’s story introduces Layana Sariah, junior at Drake and president of the Coalition of Black Students.

Meet Layana Sariah, psychology major, neuroscience minor, behavior analysis of developmental disabilities concentration, resident assistant, president of Coalition of Black Students, vice president of National Pan-Hellenic Council, and vice president of Delta Sigma Theta.

What is the Coalition of Black Students (CBS)?
The Coalition of Black Students is an inclusive multicultural organization that seeks to unite, empower, and educate the Black/African American Student Community through top quality social, cultural, and academic programming initiatives.

How did you get involved with CBS?
I got involved with CBS my first year at Drake within the first few weeks of school. I began attending events and most if not all of their events were something, I enjoyed so I just continued to attend events. With this most of my friends were apart of CBS as well. 

What has it meant to you during your time at Drake?
CBS has been very influential in my Drake experience. Majority of my favorite memories are from CBS events or with CBS members. This organization has always made me feel comfortable with being myself and has provided the familiarity and home aspect that I was looking for on campus. This organization was essential in my adjustment to the Drake community and assisting with my comfortability on campus.

What does a robust and active CBS mean to the Drake community?
A robust and active CBS means that all of Drake’s Black students are being taken care of. They have a regular space that they can be themselves and feel like they are getting support. Having an active CBS ensures that Black students on campus feel more comfortable in the Drake Community. Being Black in the world today especially at a predominately white institution it is vital that these students feel supported but also a place where they can get away from the stressors the world or campus can provide.

How, if at all, does your role as President of CBS connect with your studies at Drake or your future career plans?
I am studying psychology in hopes that I can have a private practice as a psychologist. Along with that I want to start a nonprofit that offers patient catered therapy. I especially would like to focus on improving and changing the stigma surrounding mental health in the Black community. Mental health issues are ignored in our community, and in my career, I would like to bring more awareness to it and normalize it. I will do that by becoming a mental health professional which add to the amount of people that look like us in the mental health field. As the CBS president, I am able to host events that can contribute to improving the mental health of Black students on campus. I do this through my role as president by checking in and connecting with my members but also through our events. We host events where our members can have the space to participate in various forms of self-care. We also have events that bring attention to mental health problems specifically in our community. One way we have done this is through a mental health panel. At this panel, we had all Black individuals with various backgrounds in mental health come together and talk about mental health and self-care in our community and this aided in bringing awareness to it but also normalizing it. 

What are you excited about for the future of CBS or the Drake community more broadly?
I am very excited for CBS to grow. With how vital CBS is on Drake’s campus I am excited to hopefully spread the same influential experience that CBS has had on me to other students. Since my first year, I noticed a small increase to the number of Black students on Drake’s campus and so with that growing I am really excited to how that can impact CBS.

Who have been some of your important mentors during your time at Drake?
One of my mentors on campus is Debra DeLaet. She has been my mentor since my first year and it was through the Crew Scholars program that we got connected. She has been very supportive of me and my Drake experience.

What would you like the broader Drake community to know about CBS?
I would like the broader Drake community to know that CBS is very important to Drake’s campus. We may not be big in numbers like other organizations but that does not make us any less important. We are vital to the Drake community and we should not go overlooked or unnoticed. Along with that I would like people to know that although we contribute to helping our members feel supported and welcomed on Drake’s campus, we are not the only ones who should be doing the work. Our goal is to unite, empower, and educate Black and African American students on this campus, but membership in our organization is open to anyone. Anyone is able to come to our events and learn how to be an advocate for the Black community.

Track and Field hiring student manager

Drake Track and Field is looking to hire a student manager to work alongside Head Coach Asha Gibson for on-field data collection and processing, practice set-up and/or breakdown, and occasional video recording. The student manager would work directly with the sprints, hurdles, horizontal jumps, and relay events. The student manager must comply with set guidelines, rules, and regulations of Drake University, the NCAA, and the Missouri Valley Conference.

To apply, submit cover letter and resume to Asha Gibson, head track and field coach, at

Required Qualifications
Current Drake student
Schedule that aligns with track and field practice times (3 p.m.–5:30 p.m.) 

Preferred Qualifications 
Proficient with Microsoft Excel (or equivalent) 
Prior track and field/athletic experience
General digital and/or social media experience or working knowledge

Job Description
— Attend select practices to assist with practice set-up and/or breakdown, document practice results, and record select practice sessions.
— Attend track and field competitions to assist with the above mentioned. 
— Attend track and field competitions and perform special duties assigned by the Head Track and Field Coach, Coordinator of Operations, and/or Director of Track and Field. 
— Strong communication (verbal and written) and interpersonal skills combined with the ability to collaborate effectively with colleagues and student-athletes having a range of backgrounds, interests and perspectives.

Time Commitment & Compensation
Candidates are expected to commit up to 3–10 hours per week. This includes practice sessions and travel for competition (extended hours may be necessary). Drake University realizes that candidates may have additional school and job constraints; these conflicts will be addressed on a case-by-case basis. This is a volunteer position. Starting on or before Feb. 15, 2021.

— Brette Jensen, Women’s Track

Return to on-campus operations

Campus operations will gradually increase over the next few weeks as students return to campus and spring semester classes begin. As the semester begins, the University will use the same guidelines in place at the beginning of the fall semester.

  • Reduced staff levels continue—while staffing levels may vary based on operational need, effective Monday, Feb. 1, managers should plan for a general target of 50% staffing levels at any one time.
  • Telecommuting arrangements and alternative work schedules will continue to be used to reduce density on campus.
  • Departmental and unit leaders are responsible for developing and communicating staffing plans.
  • The Drake Together Commitments—including wearing masks and maintaining social distance—remain in place. 
  • Download, print, and post signage about social distancing and mask wearing to replace worn or tattered signs in your work area.
  • Review the resources about returning to campus found on the COVID-19 section of the Drake website.

For questions or concerns about these guidelines, please contact your manager. Thank you for all you do to make Drake University strong and resilient every day.

— Human Resources

In Memoriam: Curt Cardwell

It is with heavy hearts that we share the passing of Curt Cardwell, associate professor of History. Curt passed away unexpectedly on Thursday, Jan. 7, at his home in Des Moines. Curt was a valued, dedicated, and talented member of the Drake community who will be deeply missed by his students and colleagues.

A service is being planned for late spring 2021 at the Veterans Cemetery in Adel, Iowa. Friends and family interested in honoring Curt’s memory can make donations to the Drake University History Department (, Des Moines Mutual Aid (Venmo @DesMoines-MutualAid), or the charity of their choice.

Curt is survived by his wife Stephanie Cardwell, program coordinator of the Buchanan Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership in the College of Business and Public Administration, and their daughter, Lenin, who graduated last spring from Drake. 

You can read Curt’s obituary here. Drake community members wishing to express their sympathies can send cards addressed to the Cardwell Family through Karen MacKinnon, Meredith Hall, 2507 University Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50311, and the history department will ensure they are delivered.