Awards, Gifts and Recognitions


Mark Johnson, Ruth & Marvin Denekas Endowed Chair in Science and Humanities and professor of mathematics/computer science

Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson, Ruth & Marvin Denekas Endowed Chair in Science and Humanities and professor of mathematics/computer science, (B.A., St. Olaf College; M.A., Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison). Johnson began teaching mathematics and transitioned to computer science in 2000. His areas of expertise include computer graphics, theory of computation and mathematical logic.


The cover story of the Summer 2018 issue of Civitas won a gold award in the platinum category for the best story of the year from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.

Carol Mendez ’09

Carol Mendez ’09

The story, titled “The Unbroken Circle,” profiled the journey of Carol Mendez ’09 from immigrant field laborer in Cambridge, Iowa, to two-time, award-winning fifth-grade math teacher at KIPP Triumph Academy in inner-city St. Louis, a free public charter school serving a 100 percent low-income and minority student body.

Mendez quintupled her student’s math scores, for which she earned both the William T. Kemper Excellence in Teaching Award and the 2017 Missouri Public Schools Teacher of the Year Award. Dan Weeks, Civitas editor, wrote and photographed the story.


The Noel Cover Foundation of Cozad, Nebraska, presented Central College with a $50,000 gift. The foundation provides scholarships and loans to needy, deserving and promising young men who live in Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado or Minnesota, attend private, Protestant-related colleges and study engineering, medicine, science or social science.

Central is one of four regular gift recipients and the only Iowa institution represented. Central has received 261 scholarships for 114 students totaling $1.19 million since the foundation was established in 1972.

“We are extremely grateful to the Noel Cover Foundation for its signifi cant, longterm support of Central College and its students,” says Sunny Gonzales Eighmy ’99, Central’s vice president for advancement. “The college’s recent addition of an engineering degree strengthens Central’s alignment with the foundation’s objectives.”

Noel Cover was a farmer and rancher in the Cozad, Nebraska, area. He and his wife, Nellie Cover, believed in education even though they had no children. The Noel Cover Foundation was established after Noel’s death to benefit students. Earnings from the foundation are derived from the annual revenue generated by approximately 1,000 acres of irrigated farmland near Cozad.


As a result of its groundbreaking research on tallgrass prairies, Central’s Prairies for Agriculture project will host two regional conferences this year: the annual conference of the Midwest Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration in April and the Iowa Prairie Conference Aug. 8-10.

Now in its eighth year, the project uses 350-plus plots at the college’s Carlson-Kuyper Field Station to test and demonstrate the benefits of planting prairie plants rather than nonnative species on unfarmable sites in the agricultural landscape.

Central students do much of the work, data collection and statistical analysis. Many have gone on to become leaders in government agencies and NGOs; others are in graduate school.

Central College Carlson- Kuyper Field Station

PFA already has learned much about how prairies work and how they potentially can benefit nature and humans. It has studied prairie planting techniques, the impact of drought, the importance of individual plant species for monarchs and native bees and how likely common prairie plants are to thrive in new plantings. Starting this year, researchers also will study using highly diverse seed mixes to minimize the effects of drought on new prairie plantings.

“Drought has impacted four of PFA’s first seven years and is expected to become more frequent in the Midwest as climate change increases,” says Russ Benedict, professor of biology and the project’s director. “Our research during the last two years suggests diverse prairie plantings do better during the critical first years of growth than do less diverse mixes.”

To tour the Carlson-Kuyper Field Station and its tallgrass prairie, contact: Russ Benedict, professor of biology (

For more information on the Iowa Prairie Conference, visit


Jenae Jenison ’11, bottom left and Reid Evans ’01, bottom rightJenae Jenison ’11, above front left, and Reid Evans ’01, above front right, were named as two of the Red Rock Area’s Top 10 under 40. Jenison is director of external engagement at Central College. Evans is financial advisor at Main Street Advisory Group in Pella.

Central also won three Best of Red Rock Area awards from the Marion County Development Commission. For 2018, Central was named Best Caterer, Best Wedding Reception Venue and Best Meeting Facilities. Central also won top honors in these categories for 2016 and 2017. The Best of Red Rock Awards honor the best in local tourism and business throughout the county in over 50 categories.


Central received 2018 Tree Campus USA recognition by the Arbor Day Foundation for promoting healthy trees and engaging students and staff in conservation efforts.

Central integrates trees into its sustainability education with maple syrup harvesting, apple cider pressing, a student-produced “Tree of the Week” column in the college’s sustainability blog and by caring for trees on public lands during the college’s annual service day.

Students planting a tree on Arbor Day 2018

Zach Greder ’19 and his friends living in the green pods—one of Central’s sustainable housing options—led the effort to obtain the recognition with Brian Campbell, director of sustainability education.

Central is one of only six campuses in Iowa and just 364 nationwide to earn the Tree Campus recognition.

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