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December 2012

Avila roots run deep for Advantage assistant dean

It’s fair to say that Kari Clevenger has done much of her growing up at Avila University.

In fact, Clevenger, the assistant dean of Avila’s School of Professional Studies, perhaps better known as the Avila Advantage program, has been connected with the University literally for half of her young life. Whether as a student at both undergraduate and graduate levels, a star athlete for the Eagles women’s basketball team, or working for Avila Advantage, the University ranks right up there with her family as the biggest – and, most endearing – part of her life.

“Avila has been exceptionally wonderful to me,” she said. “I’ve been able to really flourish here. It’s been very fulfilling.”

Clevenger’s stay at Avila began back in 1996 as a wide-eyed freshman and recent graduate of Kickapoo High School in her hometown of Springfield, Mo. In addition to being a top-notch student, she was known more for her prowess in running cross country than playing basketball. But her heart was in hoops and that, along with the lure of the Kansas City area and a strong communications program, was what brought her to Avila.

The success she started in high school continued for Clevenger at Avila, both in the classroom and on the basketball court. She started for then-coach Jim McMurray at point guard, eventually earning all-Midlands Collegiate Athletics Conference honors and All-America Scholar-Athlete designation from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. When she finished her four seasons of eligibility, Clevenger was the Eagles women’s basketball program’s all-time leader in assists, steals and minutes played. She is in the Avila athletics hall of fame.

Another reason Clevenger came to Avila was a friendship she began with S. Ann Dominic, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet who lived and worked on campus at the time. In addition to being a leader at Avila in terms of education and values, S. Ann also was a huge sports fan who often attended Eagles games and cheered on the teams … and, according to Clevenger, also wasn’t above chewing a bit on the referees.

“She was a wonderfully fascinating lady with a gentle soul and zest for life,” Clevenger said. “She was very passionate about Avila and all that it stood for.”

S. Ann also worked part-time with Avila Advantage, and it was through that friendship that Clevenger was genuinely enthused to begin working there immediately after graduating in May of 2000. Starting as an office manager, she received her first promotion within her first three months and has worked her way up since. Working in Advantage, it became only natural for her to pursue a graduate degree, and she completed her master’s in organizational development in August 2006, the first graduating class to earn that degree at Avila.

As assistant dean, Clevenger said she spends much of her time advising students, providing guidance for the program partnership with Truman Medical Center and also works with systems management within the department’s office. She also teaches three classes for Advantage.

“Kari has been with Advantage since before I started,” said Steve Iliff, Ph.D., dean of the School of Professional Studies. “She helped train me in procedures. The students swear by her. Many have e-mailed me saying that if it wasn’t for Kari, they would not have continued on to finish their degree.

“Advantage stands strong on service to students, going the extra mile to get them what they need to be successful. Kari is the backbone of that service.”

Clevenger also has assisted Coach Larry Williams with the women’s basketball program the past several years.

As if all the time put in at Avila wasn’t enough, Clevenger also met her husband, Brandon, here and she said just about everything her four-year-old daughter Hadley wears is purple.

“It’s an integral part of our lives,” she said.

Yet, Clevenger said she nearly left Avila. She went through the arduous process of interviewing for the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) back in 2006-08. She was scheduled to go to Quantico, Va. for final training in April 2008. However, she learned she was pregnant with Hadley in March.

“The people at Avila have helped shape me into the person I am today; this relationship was simply meant to be,” Clevenger said. “I feel that it is beyond time to pay my gratitude forward.

“I’m deeply passionate about preparing my students for the rigors of academia and believe whole-heartedly in the vast rewards that a quality education can provide. There’s a real sense of family here, a sense of empowering people, to go on and live successful, productive lives. It’s an amazing feeling being just a tiny part of that.” AU

Media Contact: Bob Luder, 816.501.2434