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Sue CourtneySue Courtney (KCKCC photo)
Sue Courtney was born to be an educator.
“When I was four years old riding my tricycle, I said I was going to be a teacher,” said Courtney, whose parents were both long-time teachers and administrators.
For the last 30 years, Courtney has followed in their footsteps. An instructor and dean at Kansas City Kansas Community College the last 28 years, she received one of education’s most prestigious honors last year, the International Teaching Excellence Award for two-year colleges presented by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). The award was given in recognition of her innovation, creativity, and community involvement in higher education as an active ACBSP member since 1995.
\That career, however, will come to a close at the end of KCKCC’s spring semester.
“I like to travel and I’m going to be able to spend more time with my mother and visit my daughter in Houston more often so it was not a difficult decision,” said Courtney, who will early retire July 1. Her daughter, Jill, was recently named on-line producer for KHOU-TV in Houston, Texas, the nation’s 10th largest TV market. A December 2009 graduate of the University of Wisconsin, she previously worked for the ABC-TV affiliate in Madison.
Courtney’s mother, Patricia Vonhof, was a junior high and high school home economics teacher before retiring from the Olathe Schoo1 District. Her father, James, was one of the first five administrators hired by Johnson County Community College. He spent 26 years at JCCC and was the Dean of Business and Technology when he retired.
“My parents were outstanding educators, and I was proud to follow in their footsteps,” Courtney said. “My career closely followed my father’s career, almost from the beginning. We had big plans to do a lot of traveling when I retired, however he passed away on Dec. 5, 2012. I miss him so much…he was such a wonderful father, educator, businessman – and my mentor.”
Courtney, who holds an MBA from Avila College and a doctorate in adult and continuing education from Kansas State University, indeed followed in her father’s footsteps, serving two years as Dean of Business and Technology at KCKCC.
“My dad had serious health problems so I left that position to take care of him,” she said. “It was the right decision, I just couldn’t give the time required of a dean.” Her life suffered another setback with the unexpected death of her husband, John, just as she was starting her second year as dean in September of 2009, and the unexpected death of her sister’s husband shortly after that.
She returned to the position of coordinator of the Marketing-Mid-Management program in the fall of 2010, a position she’d held previously for eight years and introduced such innovative programs as budget projects in Business Math and an on-line team community project for a human relations class.
“I enjoy hearing from students that the Budget Project resulted in helping them pay off credit card debt, open emergency savings accounts, improve communications with their spouse about finances or simply improve their financial situations.”
Students in the online Human Relations class are assigned a team community project of collecting food for the college’s food pantry. They have three weeks to plan, implement and complete the project by working with people they only knew through their on-line class discussions and with a budgets.
“I want them to see how much they can impact the community a limited time with no money and a small team,” Courtney said. “Because of this project, former students have reported that they began implementing service projects in their own communities because they learned how easy it was to implement.
“The program I’m most proud was the College Prep Program started in 1997. It was basically a learning community program where we grouped all the developmental classes – math, reading, pre-composition, keyboarding – into one semester to prepare them for college. It was very successful and helped a lot of people. About 75 percent went on to the college, the others found that college was not for them or they had to get a job.”
Courtney’s first job was teaching business in high school in her parents’ native state of Minnesota. She left teaching to work for United Telecom (now Sprint) for four years. When her position was moved East, she spotted an ad seeking someone to start a Business and Industry program at KCKCC.
“It was exactly what I wanted, the perfect combination of using my academic and business expertise to work with industry,” she said. “I believe you need that real life business experience to bring to the classroom, which is why we have such a strong Business Division. All of the professors have business experience.”
Active in the ACBSP since 1995, Courtney was elected secretary of the Board of Directors at the 2008 ACBSP National Conference. She has also served as a site evaluator and team chair of ACBSP site teams, as a member of the Two-Year Commission for six years, and as the Secretary for the Board of Directors for two years.
Her key accomplishments with ACBSP were assisting with editing and updating the Accreditation and Reaffirmation Self-Study template in an effort to simplify the ACBSP reporting process; mentoring other community colleges as they prepared for accreditation; and presenting training sessions at numerous national conferences and regional meetings, which earned her the 2012 International Teaching Excellence Award.
Courtney has not ruled out more teaching in the future or possible volunteer work on resumes and job seeking opportunities for lower income adults. But she is sure of one thing – education. “If I had to start my career all over again, I would still select education!”