Educator and alumnus Rachel (Doering) Eells said Concordia Nebraska thoroughly prepared her for her current service.

Published by Amy Crawford 5 days ago on Mon, Jul 8, 2024 12:25 PM
Photo courtesy of Little Rock Soirée Magazine

Prior to college, Rachel Jean (Doering) Eells ’95 was somewhat familiar with Concordia University, Nebraska due to her family’s many connections with the Concordia University System, but when she visited the campus, she immediately recognized the special feel of the university community and knew that it was the place for her. 

“I really appreciated the family feel. I knew that my life was intertwined with my classmates, professors and alumni, as we were all working toward a shared mission to live in our vocations,” she said. “[My professors encouraged] me to challenge my own assumptions about life, faith and myself. They encouraged me to explore difficult truths about life as a teacher, as a citizen of the world and a child of God."

Eells has a Lutheran Teacher Diploma and bachelor of science in elementary and special education from Concordia Nebraska, as well as a master of education focused on teaching the gifted and talented from University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a doctorate in educational psychology from Loyola University Chicago.  

Concordia laid a foundation for my understanding of learner-centered education. 

She said the university thoroughly prepared her for her current service. 

“Concordia laid a foundation for my understanding of learner-centered education. All education is personal and personalize-able, and teachers must be ready to see their students as individuals who are not only learning math or literacy but learning how to be humans in a messy and complicated world,” she said. “We often talked about teaching the whole child, not just the strictly academic part. That taught me to find ways to make meaningful connections with students, which leads to meaningful learning.” 

Eells grew up in the church, but said that her time at the university strengthened and developed her faith. 

Attending Concordia was a logical and beneficial step in my faith growth. I was able to deepen my understanding of church history, politics, practice and influence, so I could get a sense of the ways that humans clumsily work out a faith that is gracefully given,” she said. “I saw people living their lives with a fully-integrated faith, so that there was no line between church self and work self. Concordia encouraged me to take my faith seriously, knowing that grace gives me the freedom to ask and consider hard questions about how I am called to serve and lead.”  

Following graduation, Eells’ first call was to the school where she completed her student teaching: Christ Lutheran in Little Rock, Arkansas. During her eight years there, she taught art, special education, gifted education, fifth grade and sixth grade. Her next call was to St. Paul Lutheran School in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, where she provided special education and gifted education for kindergarten through eighth grade.  

“After that, while pursuing my PhD, I received a call into higher education as a faculty member at Concordia University Chicago,” she said. “While there, I moved through leadership roles, eventually serving as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. After 12 years at CUC, my family and I moved to Bronxville, New York, where I was called to Concordia College New York as the vice president for academic affairs.” 

Following the closure of Concordia College New York, Eells assisted with the university’s wind-down processes, and she still serves as an independent contractor for the remaining board as they support alumni.  

She then moved back to Little Rock to be closer to family and reconnected with the University of Arkansas Little Rock assisting with projects and filling some vacancies. She now serves the university as Windgate Director of the School of Education, which is in the process of transforming its teacher preparation programs to better serve educational needs in Arkansas. She was recently named one of Little Rock Soiree's 2024 Women to Watch

“My vocation remains the same as it has always been: I lead people to live their vocations, helping them discover their strengths and understand their areas of growth and positioning them to do their best work,” she said. “I describe my work as clearing rubble so that faculty can do their jobs well and students can learn well. I split my focus between long-term planning and immediate management of processes. I still teach a class every semester, but I also interact with state officials and leaders of other education programs around the state. I build and maintain relationships with school districts, partners and donors. I try to keep up with a steady stream of email and phone calls while leaving time for stillness and concentration on critical issues. I work to clearly communicate what is beneficial to our shared work in timely and succinct ways. I try to have lunch or take walks with colleagues whenever I can.”  

She said the University of Arkansas at Little Rock has designed its programs to provide access to education and careers for underserved populations.  

“Ours is a diverse student body. Many of our students are the first in their family to attend colleges. Many of our students are working adults, looking to establish a new career,” she said. “In the School of Education, our online programs make it possible for people in small, rural communities across the state to learn to be a teacher without leaving their communities. I love that we are able to support districts that are struggling to hire and retain teachers by helping them develop their local talent. We have a three year, multi-million dollar grant supporting our transformation work, and we are working with districts to provide paid residencies for our teacher candidates. This way, our candidates can complete their education while still providing for their families and building connections with school districts who are invested in their success and get to be a part of the training of the next generation of teachers for their schools. I am seeing life-changing accomplishments from teacher candidates dedicated to making education in Arkansas stronger.”  

Eells met her husband Brandon in Little Rock. He is an actor whose voice can be heard in commercials, video games and cartoons. They have one child, Lucinda, who was born in Chicago and is now a senior at Parkview Arts and Science High School in Little Rock.  

“Many of my hobbies are connected to my immediate community. Currently, the three of us are working to revitalize a small theater space in Little Rock, as we have many deep ties to local arts organizations. In addition, I find that I move through various hobbies, but always find that I need a creative outlet, a physical outlet, a connection to nature and a connection to great stories,” she said. “I also am finding quite a bit of joy volunteering at my church and participating in the community there.” 

Concordia Nebraska’s special education program trains students to serve individuals with mild to moderate disabilities, giving them the skills to address their specific differences, strengths and needs. Whether serving in the classroom or elsewhere, a degree in special education from Concordia Nebraska equips future teachers and others to find meaningful work that allows them to serve others while combining their long-term employment goals with their passions and strengths.  

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