college of education | fall 2001

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The College of Education Celebrates 50 Years | Article 4 |
Spartan Families

Generations of students—undergraduate and graduate—have made their way through the College of Education over its 50 years of existence. More than a few even predate the college, graduating from its predecessor, the Division of Education. One of our most important and lasting legacies takes form in the thousands of alumni throughout the world. In this commemorative edition of the New Educator we feature a few of those who can truly say they are a ‘Spartan family.’

The Ballard Family

One of the largest Spartan families with College of Education connections almost didn’t happen. Carolyn Ballard was set on becoming a teacher all through high school in Detroit and when it came time to pick a college she didn’t chose MSU. In 1947, she enrolled at Albion College. She stayed at Albion for only a year, however. In the fall of 1948, she was an elementary education student at MSU. “I kind of grew up with education,” she said. “My mother was a teacher and that is what I wanted to do. I did transfer to Michigan State for the last three years, and that was good for me because the university was great and it is where I met my husband.” Carolyn graduated in 1951 and her husband Jim in 1952. The couple eventually settled in Onondaga south of Lansing and raised their family. Since then there has been a steady stream of Ballards at MSU. All four of their children graduated from MSU, including one daughter, Kathy, who majored in early childhood education and is now a teacher. “They were free to go where they wanted, but being just 27 miles from home certainly helped,” Carolyn said. And now there is a third generation. Carolyn and Jim have two grandchildren attending MSU.

“It is amazing,” Carolyn said. “We’ve had someone at MSU for 50 years. Even our fathers attended MSU briefly for short courses. I guess you could say we like the university.”


The Bird Family

The Birds have a claim to fame unique among Spartan families: both father and son served as school superintendents in Michigan. Dan Bird received his Ph.D. from the College of Education in 1977 and his son, Patrick, got his bachelor’s degree in 1984. Dan served as superintendent of the Fruitport Community Schools for 20 years until his retirement in January 2001. Patrick has been superintendent of the Richmond Community Schools since 1999. “We had some fun for about a year and a half while we were both superintendents,” Dan said. “We attended conferences together and shared job experiences. It was fun.” The ties to MSU don’t end with father and son, however. Mom Jan is also an alumnus, earning her bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1975. She had to make her way through the program with a young Patrick and two of his siblings at home. “I was very scared because I thought here I am 31 years old competing with all these 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds with these sharp minds. So my experience was different than the typical student living in the dormitory.” The fear didn’t last long and within a term or two she was attending MSU fulltime. Today, all three remember their years at MSU fondly, and remain faithful Spartans. “I definitely bleed green and white,” Patrick said. “The experiences I had as an R.A. and a student in general were just great. I feel like I got a quality education.”


The Costar Family

The Costar family is unique among Spartan families. Every family member—four in all—has a degree from MSU. In fact, the family boasts seven MSU undergraduate and graduate degrees among them. “We’ve all got green blood,” said Jim Costar, who received his Ph.D. from the College of Education in 1955. His daughter, Deborah Costar, who got her bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1981 and master’s degree in student personnel administration from the college in 1983, puts it another way, “I guess you could say we have the ultimate connections to MSU.” The other members of the Spartan clan include mom, Joy, who received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1976 and master’s degree in reading instruction in 1981, and son David, who has earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from MSU. Perhaps not surprisingly, all of them have remained close to teaching and higher education throughout their lives. Jim spent more than 30 years on the faculty in the college, teaching in the guidance and counseling program. Joy taught elementary school in Lansing for a number of years. Deborah has built a career in residence life and student affairs, the last 13 years at the University of Washington. David Costar also has been in academe, tutoring students in physics and teaching at the School of Veterinary Medicine at MSU. “What a wonderful place MSU was and is,” Deborah said. “I still remember getting the big, ‘Congratulations, you are a Spartan!’ packet in the mail. MSU was just so welcoming. To this day, when fall starts and the leaves start to turn, I immediately want to transport myself back to East Lansing. I feel extremely lucky to have had such a great experience both academically and in terms of feeling really connected to the university.”

The Cvengros Family

Barbara Cvengros didn’t come to MSU in 1945 to be a teacher. She thought she might pursue a career in nursing. After her first year on campus, however, she knew that nursing wasn’t the career for her. Instead she found that she enjoyed children and teaching and in 1949 (even before there was a College of Education at MSU) she graduated with a degree in elementary education. Little did Cvengros know then the role that teaching would play in her family. The Pontiac native, who taught in the Pontiac and Birmingham schools, has three children—all of whom are teachers. Not only that, but one of her daughters, Jane Knapp, followed in her mother’s footsteps and graduated from the college with a degree in special education in 1976. Her links to MSU don’t stop there. Her brother also graduated from MSU, and his wife is a graduate of the College of Education. Moreover, her husband Jack, who graduated from MSU with a degree in business, spent much of his career working with school districts on bond issues and other such business-related activities. “I guess we really have been involved in education in one way or another,” Knapp said. “It’s been fun.” But perhaps the most interesting link Barbara Cvengros has to MSU is that of her father, Louis Schimmel, who graduated from the University of Michigan but became a great MSU supporter. He served on the Board of Trustees during some of the years John Hannah was president. “My dad had a lot to do with me going to MSU. He loved Michigan State and we decided that that was the place to go. Anytime I think about MSU today, it brings back some great memories. I don’t think we’ve missed a homecoming since our college days. I loved it. I had a great time.”

The Mawdsley Family

The Mawdsleys are a Spartan family that took a bit of circuitous route to MSU. Jack Mawdsley made his way to Erickson Hall after already having earned a master’s degree and while holding down the job as assistant superintendent in the Battle Creek Public Schools. Coming to MSU to earn a doctorate turned out to be a great experience for him, and he remembers fondly his advisor, Dick Featherstone. “Dick was one super guy. He was just great for me and we became very close friends. He made my experience at MSU just terrific. I could not have drawn a better doctoral program.” Mawdsley finished his doctorate in 1968, and went on to become superintendent in Battle Creek in 1973. A second generation came to MSU when one of Mawdsley’s daughters, Kim, became part of the Elementary Intern Program while a student at Kellogg Community College. As part of the program, she completed the first two years at KCC and then finished at MSU. Not only did she go through the program, but her husband, Chuck, did as well. “It was the best preparation for teaching I could have ever received,” said Kim, who graduated in 1977. “I am a very, very big fan of Michigan State.” Jack, meanwhile, has stayed close to the college, serving over the years as president of the alumni association, as an adjunct faculty member, a founding member of the Featherstone Society, and on the Dean’s Advisory Board. “The college is such a great place,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being affiliated with it over the years.”


The Maldegans

For Helene “Lee” Maldegen, education at MSU was almost a religious experience. She came to MSU in 1948 because of its strong program in home economics, but quickly found that she just wasn’t happy. So she had a discussion with her priest on campus, and he suggested she might consider teaching. She gave it some thought, and decided after her freshman year to switch to elementary education. “I transferred to education and could not have been happier,” she recalls. “I took my training as a teacher of the deaf-blind and we were the only place that had this kind of program available at that time. As soon as I became happy with my program, my grades became happy, too.” She also met her husband, Bob, during those years and after graduating in 1952 they started a family and she began teaching in the Detroit area. The Maldegans had six daughters, three of whom went on to become Spartans. One of those daughters, Kristin, followed in her mother’s footsteps, pursuing a degree in special education at MSU. She is now a teacher in Atlanta, Georgia. For Lee, the years she spent at MSU and the lessons she learned about teaching are very special and after all the years since she first stepped on campus, she and her husband remain loyal Spartans. “We are definitely Spartans,” Lee Maldegan said. “We still have season tickets. We love MSU. It was a very thrilling time.”

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