When David and Sheila Bennett became students at the College of Education in the 1960s, they had no idea what a profound impact they would have on the field of education over the course of their lives.

The Bennetts credit the teachers they encountered while students at the College of Education for starting them on their paths to success in education.

David (BA ‘67, MA ‘68, PhD ‘71) and Sheila (BA ‘67, MA ‘69) each received a bachelor’s degree in English and a certification in secondary education, and both went on to teach at the high school level while pursuing graduate studies. David eventually earned a doctoral degree in educational administration, while Sheila earned her master’s degree in English education.

“What success we’ve had in education is so much attributable to the education we received here,” David says. “I could not have done the work I did in administration without the foundation the College of Education educational administration faculty provided.”

David served as deputy superintendent in Milwaukee, Wis., in 1976 when a federal court order mandated that schools be desegregated, and he was responsible for designing and implementing a voluntary, magnet-school plan to make that happen. The plan was so successful that he served in consultant and expert witness roles on nearly 30 desegregation cases across the country and helped design voluntary desegregation plans for several school districts.

In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, as Superintendent of Schools in St. Paul, Minn., David desegregated all of the schools of that district using a voluntary plan and also welcomed the first charter school in the nation.

$54 Million Raised

David says he is especially proud that he was able to build minority success in public schools through desegregation.

“I was watching what could be done with an entire school district — the ability to convert the district to a real learning opportunity for every student,” David says. “To see parents choose among schools based upon their own interests and the interest of their children was very rewarding. It was wonderful to see all that work out in terms of improvement and performance, particularly for minority students, which was my focus since the beginning.”

Sheila has also made substantial contributions to the field of education throughout her career.

“In my career as an English teacher and a literacy specialist, I benefited greatly from the excellent preparation I received at Iowa,” says Sheila. “My gratitude for that runs deep.”

As a teacher, Sheila worked with students ranging from “struggling readers, to college-bound high flyers.” During the last 17 years of her career she worked with K-12 teachers, developing effective strategies in reading and writing instruction.

Due to diminishing state and federal funding, the Bennetts say that individuals have to step up to the plate and “make it possible for students to have the same benefits we did.”

“Access to education is the key to the future of our country, to any democracy.” – Sheila Bennett

“For us, it’s a calling. It was really our life’s calling to work in public education,” Sheila says. “I believe access to education is the key to the future of our country, to any democracy, and it’s essential that we attract serious students and qualified candidates into education, into teaching and leadership. People who are drawn to education really want to make a difference.”

Both Bennetts wanted to leave a legacy for future generations, so supporting teachers of tomorrow and public education has been a natural choice.

In additional to devoting decades of their lives to the field of education, the husband and wife team served as the College of Education’s co-chairs of For Iowa. Forever More., the University of Iowa Foundation fundraising campaign that was launched in 2008 and will end this December.

Thanks to their leadership and support, the campaign has been so successful, it twice exceeded its original goal. The original $30 million goal was reached in 2014; in July of this year, the college surpassed the $50 million mark thanks to more than 4,000 generous donors like the Bennetts.

Additionally, they have established the David and Sheila Bennett Fund for Educational Administration and the David and Sheila Bennett Fund for English Education, two endowed funds that are paving the way for promising young educators.

“We are well aware that it is not possible for students today to earn enough money to pay their way through college so the need for scholarships is greater than ever,” David says.