Russell Fellowship Changes Lives and Addresses Real-World Issues

Posted in: Alumni

By Michael Urban, Advancement Coordinator

Changing lives and addressing real-world issues is what motivated David (Ph.D. ’08) and Lee Russell to establish the Russell Fellowship in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at MU’s College of Education.

Announced on the occasion of David’s retirement as commissioner of higher education in Missouri, the Russell Fellowship established a policy research internship at the Missouri Department of Higher Education (MDHE) for doctoral and master’s students in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. Russell Fellows gain real-world experience as they do work that provides important policy support for state leaders in government and education.

David and Lee Russell
David and Lee Russell

For David and Lee, whose careers reflect years of leadership and service for the public good, the fellowship was a way to invest in the next generation of leaders. “This kind of real-world experience is priceless,” David noted. “I’m hopeful, as Lee is, that this will become a prototype for future fellowships.”

Upon retirement as an officer in the U.S. Army, David moved on to the University of Missouri System, where he served in numerous roles including senior associate vice president and chief of staff. David went on to become the Missouri commissioner of higher education in 2010, where he provided leadership for a statewide system that serves over 400,000 students.  In 2014, David was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award from the College of Education.

Formerly CEO of the Columbia Board of Realtors, Lee has served the Columbia community as a member of the City of Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission and as board president of True North, a nonprofit dedicated to helping women who have been affected by domestic and sexual violence.

At a University of Missouri College of Education event for fellowship and scholarship recipients, the Russells stated: “We believe that investing in young American and international scholars is the surest way for us to assert a positive influence on the future of our troubled planet.”

Junpeng “Joe” Yan, a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri’s College of Education, was chosen as the first Russell Scholar and reported to the director of data and research services for the MDHE in Jefferson City, Missouri. Joe is passionate about the economics of higher education, with a particular interest in the relationship between state financial aid programs and their impact on academic major choices by students.

Lee Russell, Junpeng “Joe” Yan, and David Russell
Lee Russell, Junpeng “Joe” Yan, and David Russell

Joe was able to leverage his passions to respond to the data needs of Talent for Tomorrow, an initiative that will fundamentally reset Missouri’s approach to meeting the state’s workforce needs, by analyzing supply-and-demand data from other states and attending financial aid task force meetings. Joe got to brief the Coordinating Board for Higher Education on the work that he had done and MDHE staff recommended that he be publicly commended for his hard work and dedication.

David and Lee’s gift is a prime example of the ways that alumni and friends can inspire new ideas and through generosity, turn them into real opportunity. Opportunities like the Russell Fellowship open the doors for Mizzou to make practical contributions to local, state, national, and global communities by facilitating cutting-edge research and student success. “Some experts say that more than 70% of future jobs haven’t even been invented yet,” David said. “I am convinced that we need to do more to help this younger generation acquire the skills and hands-on experience that they need to lead a prosperous life.”