Alumni Award Recipients: 2016

Columbia College honored several outstanding alumni with distinguished, community and professional achievement awards at the annual Alumni Awards Banquet and Presentation, Friday, April 29, 2016. The awards recognize the exemplary accomplishments of our alumni.

Distinguished Alumni Award

For attaining outstanding regional and national recognition in one’s chosen career field

C. Byron Wilson ’07

Back when he was in high school, Charles Byron Wilson ’07 never dreamed he’d go to college. But today, he’s managing multi-million dollar contracts for the Air Force, as well as serving as a mentor to others like himself who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Growing up, Byron says that college was never mentioned as an option. Things changed during his junior year of high school when his principal told him that his grades were high enough to apply to college. His girlfriend’s mother (now his mother-in-law) gave him encouragement as well. 

“She said, ‘You’re too smart not to go to school,’” he says. “She was an alumna from Columbia College, and she suggested that I give it a try.”

He took her advice, applied for financial aid and started Columbia College in the winter of 2004. “Columbia College gave me a home,” he says. “Room and board were taken care of. I knew where I would sleep and eat. I had nothing to worry about except my education. I could focus on what I want to be when I grow up.”

It was then that Byron decided he wanted to make a difference by giving back to the community. After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration in 2007, he became a deputy juvenile officer with the Boone County Juvenile Office. There, he supervised up to 50 youth at a time, helping deter them from delinquency and develop paths to promising futures.

In 2010, he decided he wanted to continue helping others on a global scale while serving his country in the Air Force. Today, Byron works as a contract specialist for the Air Force, where he manages contracts for commodities and services ranging from tactical gear to mission-critical aircraft. He was named Sharp Airman in 2011, AETC Honor Guard Member of the Year in 2011 and Airman of the Year in 2012 and 2014. He received the John L. Levitow Award, the highest award for enlisted Professional Military Education in the Air Force, in 2013. He also volunteers for Veterans Stand-down, an event providing supplies and services to veterans. He completed his MBA in January.

Columbia College Service Award

For significant contributions and service to Columbia College

Tonia Davis '03

Tonia Davis ’03 followed her brother into the U.S. Army, the date ingrained in her memory – November 29, 1979. “We were very close,” she says. “I thought we would be serving together, but we didn’t.”

Nevertheless, Tonia excelled in her career in the military. She traveled as far as Germany and received nine awards, including U.S. Army Achievement Medals and Commendation Medals.

In 1999, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and she left the army two years later. The diagnosis gave her a new mission in life – to spread the word about MS and help find a cure.

Today, despite the challenges of MS, Tonia volunteers her time for a number of causes. She serves on the committee for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in Utah-Southern Idaho. She attends the Bike MS Utah in Logan, Utah, where she serves food and water to participants every year. She is active in the Calvary Baptist Church, where she is the director of the nurses’ guild and ministry leader.

In addition to her volunteer work, Tonia also started, operates and co-owns a successful business, Tee’s & Lee’s T-Shirt and Sweatshirt Shop. The idea for the business came about because of her hobby of collecting t-shirts while in the Army. “My husband asked, ‘What are you going to do with all of these t-shirts?’” she says. “I said I’d open a t-shirt business.”

Today, she sells custom-made t-shirts and sweatshirts for Columbia College-Salt Lake as well as several other businesses and between 20 to 30 schools in the area. Tonia graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business from Columbia College in 2003. “Some of my courses were taken in the hospital,” she says. “I was in the hospital 10 times before graduation. It was tough, but I wouldn’t give up.”

She is a tireless advocate for the college and has appeared on local television news programs wearing her custom-made Columbia College sweatshirt. She credits the school and its professors for encouraging her to put her knowledge into starting a business and hopes to encourage others to attend the school as well.

“I always hang up Columbia College flyers at my business,” she says. “And I talk with people at the high school and encourage them to visit the Salt Lake campus. I’ll help with promoting Columbia College for as long as I can."

Community Service Award

For demonstrating outstanding leadership and service to the citizens of one’s community

Jared Reichel ’16

Jared Reichel ’16 was serving in Iraq in 2008 when he was injured by an explosive. His injuries led to his retirement from the Army, but it didn’t take away his passion for helping fellow veterans.

In 2012, while attending Columbia College and working at Veterans United Home Loans, Jared and two fellow co-workers created the Home Runs for Heroes softball tournament. The proceeds from the tournament benefit Central Missouri Honor Flight, an organization that flies World War II, Vietnam and Korean War veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit their memorials.

“Every day we lose more World War II veterans to old age, and now we’re seeing Korean War and Vietnam veterans passing as well,” says Jared. “Many veterans don’t have the financial resources to go to Washington, D.C., to see their memorials. We want to raise money to send them there so they can see their brothers and sisters from combat memorialized at least one more time.”

Jared and his two friends created the tournament so they could combine their two passions— helping veterans and playing baseball. In 2012, 28 local teams signed up for the tournament. Last year, the tournament grew to 62 teams from seven states. It has become the largest one-day tournament in the Midwest. Last year, it raised $13,000 for Central Missouri Honor Flight.

Jared was able to accompany two of the veterans on one of the flights to Washington, D.C. “It was like being back in the military with fellow brothers, just with a longer span in years,” he says. After the flight, the veterans rode buses from St. Louis to Columbia with police forces blocking off exit ramps and clearing the highway. “When we arrived, hundreds of people were there waving flags with bagpipes playing music. It was a life-changing, humbling experience.”

Jared graduated from Columbia College with his bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies. He was named as one of the seven “Heroes Among Us” by Inside Columbia magazine in November 2015. He has received multiple honors and awards from the military, including the Army Commendation Medal for Service in a combat, the Army Commendation Medal with Valor for acts of courage and bravery in a combat zone, the Purple Heart, the Army Good Conduct Medal and the Combat Action Badge.

Jane Froman Courage Award

For demonstrating perseverance to overcome personal obstacles while continuing to better one's self personally or professionally

Heather Gieck ’15

For women facing addiction problems, Heather Gieck ’15 brings a message of recovery and hope with her story of how she overcame the odds.

After years of battling alcoholism and drug addiction, Heather went to prison at age 35 for three years. Today, she’s the founder of the first women’s recovery house in Jefferson City – the Healing House and New Beginnings. She also speaks with women who are battling addictions as part of her jail ministry in Cole County, Missouri.

 “I share every ounce of my life with them,” says Heather. “The ladies’ eyes light up when they see me. They say, ‘If she can do it, then I can do it.’”

Heather says the turning point for her was the realization that she couldn’t raise her three daughters. “Because of the pain I caused them and myself, I got to a place in life where I had to make a change. Prison was a way out of that environment. I couldn’t make myself quit using.”

When Heather got out of prison, she completed a faith-based 12-step recovery program in Branson, Missouri. After the year-long program, she decided that it changed her life so much that she stayed with the program for two more years where she served as a house manager, helped mentor women and presented classes. When she returned to Jefferson City, she enrolled in Columbia College-Jefferson City.

“God put it in my heart to go back to school,” says Heather. “It’s not something I would have ever considered because I always struggled in school.”

Being in school helped boost her confidence. “I graduated college at the top of my class, just shy of a 4.0. I never would have thought that. God blessed me.”

She graduated Columbia College in 2015, the same year that she opened the Healing House and New Beginnings. The recovery house is a Christian-based ministry that offers a one-year program with 12-step meetings and mentoring. The program also focuses on building life skills and emphasizes spiritual growth.

“God is the only one who can change a person’s heart,” says Heather. “You can change the behavior, but if the heart doesn’t change, you’ll revert back.”

Heather also gives presentations at Jefferson City High School about her background and the cycle of addiction. She serves on the Department of Corrections – Missouri Reentry Group, is a member of the Breakfast Rotary and received the Missouri Mental Health Champions’ Award in 2016.