Excel High School Staff
Chief Executive Officer/Chairman
Rod Clarkson, B.S., MBA, Ed.S.
Rod Clarkson is the founder and CEO of Excel Education Systems. With a strong background in business, marketing, and technology, Mr. Clarkson realized the value of providing alternative, accredited educational opportunities for students in need of high-quality online education services.
Rod is a true visionary in the field of innovative online education technologies. Rod leads the marketing team and business operations for Excel Schools. Mr. Clarkson has an extensive background in executive leadership and genuinely cares about each student that we have the opportunity to serve.
Rod is passionate about serving others and volunteers with various community outreach efforts. Rod is an avid participant in the markets and enjoys spending his free time with his two adult children and close friends. Rod is a licensed private pilot and enjoys flying to explore places to camp and fish.
Rod holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business with a concentration in Marketing, and a Master of Business, with a concentration in Management from Ashworth College. Rod attended Northcentral University for his Doctoral-level studies (Ed.S.) in Educational Leadership.
President/Chief Academic Officer
Dr. Mark Ulven, B.A., M.Ed, Ed.D
Mark serves the critical role of President and Chief Academic Officer for Excel Schools. Mark is a State licensed educator and has taught both math and science for many years in the public school arena. Mark is passionate about education and online learning.
Mark received his B.A. degree in Education from Bemidji State University, and received his M.Ed from St. Mary's University and holds a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Capella University. Mark joined the team at EHS to assist with the school's mission and goals related to continuous quality improvement and a student-centered approach to learning.
Before coming to Excel, Mark worked for Capella University, where he played a vital role ensuring student success.
Mark is married and has two children.
Chief Technology Officer
Mr. Koorosh Vaziri, B.S., M.S., Ph.D
Koorosh has been with Excel since our inception. He is the talent behind our student information management system and manages all aspects of the school’s technology infrastructure.
Mr. Vaziri has a B.S. and M.S. Degree in Computer Science from the University of Minnesota. Mr. Vaziri is currently in the dissertation phase of his Ph.D. in Computer Science at the University of Minnesota. He also holds several MS certifications.
Koorosh is a vital part of the Excel team and works closely with the senior management team to make Excel a great school. Koorosh spends his free time with his close friends and family.
Chief Operating Officer
Ms. Lori Applegate, B.A., M.Ed
Lori has been with Excel Education Systems for over a decade and has advanced through the ranks to become Excel's Chief Operating Officer. Lori is charged with operational oversight of the school system, which includes supporting personnel and ensuring excellent customer service levels are provided for students, families, and partners. In concert with Excel’s Directors, Lori is instrumental in developing a winning team dedicated to the school's mission. Lori is actively involved in all aspects of the school and provides valuable insight into curriculum, IT systems, and accreditation activities.
Lori is passionate about every aspect of her job and enjoys mentoring and encouraging students to complete high school. She truly enjoys each student connection and provides “online” support and motivation for a successful Excel High School experience. Lori has a driving passion for education and enjoys being part of the Excel Executive Team.
Lori received a Bachelor of Education degree from William Carey College and earned her Master's degree in Education (M. Ed.) from Southeastern Louisiana University. Lori earned a graduate certificate in Online Learning from Duke University in 2020. Before joining Excel Education Systems, Lori was a classroom teacher in Louisiana. She served on various curriculum committees within the school district to improve ELA and Social Studies teaching methods. In addition, Lori served as a committee member for events that helped local teachers enhance their teaching practices. Lori has mentored and trained others toward future teaching careers.
In her non-working hours, Lori enjoys family time with her husband and three teenagers
Director of Operations
Lisa McDonald, B.A.
Lisa joined Excel Education Systems, Inc. in early 2020. Lisa oversees the day to day operations at Excel’s corporate headquarters in Minneapolis, MN. Lisa is passionate about ensuring Excel’s students are well supported with the highest levels of care and attention. Lisa strives to ensure the schools’ staff is thriving and growing in their roles as the school seeks to fulfill our mission.
Lisa has significant experience in the service industry. Lisa served as a pastor for 17 years at one of the largest churches in Minnesota. Most recently, Lisa was the Executive Director of a non-profit mental health clinic, where she has transitioned to the Chairman of the Board. Lisa genuinely cares about each person and their spiritual, mental and emotional well being.
Lisa received her bachelor's degree from the University of St. Thomas in Marketing and business communications. Lisa also graduated from Rhema Bible Training College. Lisa is married, has three children and her precious Coton De Tulear, Ginger.
Director of Sales
Ms. Kate Clarkson, B.S.
Ms. Clarkson came to Excel Education Systems in 2016. Before joining Excel as the Director of Sales, Kate was employed as a Sales Manager at LifeTime, Inc. In her role, Kate consistently ranked in the top ten nationally out of 600 sales agents for outstanding sales performance. Kate is a seasoned sales professional with a passion for serving our education partners. Ms. Clarkson attended Capella University and studied Business Administration and Marketing. Kate is currently an executive MBA candidate at the University of Saint Thomas, Opus College of Business.
Director of Digital/Media Services
Mr. Robert Ulven, B.M.
Rob is responsible for the accessibility, organization and archiving of the various types of educational media used within the coursework at the school. Rob plays a vital role in the development of EES courses and ensuring the efficient operation of our LMS.
Robert holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Industry, with a concentration in audio recording technology and music copyrighting, licensing and management.
Throughout Robert's professional career, his areas of media expertise expanded into video, with nearly 20 years of combined experience in television broadcast production and management. With another 15 years of print, digital and web media experience, Robert brings a versatile set of skills to the school to enhance the student learning experience.
Robert is married with two children.
Lead Middle School/Honors/AP
Ms. Myra M. Jackson, B.S.
Myra is responsible for new student enrollments in our AP/Honors High School and Middle School program. Myra quickly accesses students' files and assigns online courses in a timely manner. Myra contacts and communicates with these families to ensure they are aware of the program expectations and specific guidelines for the program and courses. Myra works closely with our Excel team to provide excellent service and communication to our Excel families.
Myra resides in McMinnville, TN, with her husband and their six children. Before becoming a stay-at-home mom and homeschooling her children, Myra was an Applied Behavioral Analysis Consultant for children with developmental disabilities. Myra earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology at William Carey University. As a Senior Behavioral Consultant and treatment specialist, Myra created and managed home programs for children with varying disabilities.
In her spare time, Myra loves spending time with her family, watching her children play soccer, and is an avid runner. Myra is thrilled to be a part of the Excel High School team to support students in fulfilling their educational goals.
Mr. Joseph G. Williams, B.A.
Joe joined the Excel team to help support our students with their challenging math courses. Mr. Williams has years of tutoring support experience at the college level and received his training and certification as a level 1 & 2 tutor through CRLA. Joe earned his Bachelor's Degree in Applied Mathematics and a BA in Music Composition from St. Cloud State University.
In his spare time, Joe enjoys spending time with family and friends. Joe can often be found composing and pursuing his love of music.
Special Projects Coordinator
Ms. Sara Good, B.S., M.S.
Sarah is a state-licensed educator who taught 18 years in the public school arena. She believes that education is the path toward positive individual growth and opportunity. Sarah believes in the importance of providing educational services to students from all backgrounds and life experiences, so she is excited to serve as the Dual Enrollment Lead, helping students earn both their high school diploma as well as college-level certificates to aid them on their path of success.
Sarah earned both her B.S. in Secondary Education and her M.S. in Education from Indiana University.
In her spare time, Sarah enjoys reading, hiking with her dogs, crocheting, and spending time with family and friends.
Dean of Faculty
Mr. Brett Fechner, B.A.
Brett came to Excel with over 26 years of experience in the educational industry. Brett began his teaching career as a 4th-grade teacher in Minneapolis, MN, and eventually was moved into a leadership position. Brett has been blessed to work with outstanding educators and students across America. Brett has held the positions of Math Director and Lead Math Director, where he managed and supported math various department members. Under Brett’s leadership, students increased their math understanding and state math testing scores by over 20%.
Brett served as a school principal in Duluth, MN, where students grew their love of reading and raised state reading scores by over 18%. In his most recent position before coming to Excel, Brett was the Executive Director of a large private school in St. Cloud, MN.
Brett has a Bachelor’s degree in Education from St. Cloud State University and is currently working on completing his Master's degree in Educational Leadership from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.
Brett grew up in Andover, MN, and currently lives in Elk River, MN. Brett and his wife have been fortunate to raise two beautiful children. Brett’s daughter is currently a successful paralegal, and his son is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, preparing to complete the LSAT to attend Law School. Brett and his wife enjoy their grand-daughter, spending time with their family, warm beaches, and gardening.
Brett has had the opportunity to be part of many educational communities that promote student success and identifies the importance of collaboration among parents, students, staff, and community members. Brett strives to create environments that value creativity and distinction within students, staff, and families.
In the role of Dean of Faculty, Brett will support and inspire Excel’s instructors to deliver the highest quality instruction for Excel’s students resulting in greater academic success.
Director of Curriculum
Ms. Kim Unger, M.A
Kim received her bachelor's and master's degrees in philosophy from San Diego State University. While in college she worked in the instructional technology department and found a passion for online education and helping faculty use e-learning technologies. Since then she has developed online courses in a variety of fields and loves the opportunity she has to learn something new every day. Kim enjoys spending time with friends and family and watching cooking shows with her two adopted birds.
Kelly Bredesen, B.A., MBA
Kelly is a higher education professional with 11 years in admissions and university management. He believes education is essential for society to evolve and creates opportunities for each individual. Kelly believes every person deserves a quality education and is dedicated to serving students in his role as Account Manager. at Excel Education Systems.
Kelly earned an Associate of Applied Science in Liberal Arts at North Hennepin Community College and completed his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at Minnesota School of Business. Kelly went on to complete his Master of Management and Master of Business Administration degrees at National American University.
With his wife Clara and daughter Kaliah, Kelly enjoys the lakes of Minnesota, fishing, golf, and community service.
Kenneth Auger, B.S.
Ken developed a love for teaching and learning spending 6 years in K-12 education after graduation. First serving as a special education paraprofessional and high school social studies teacher, Ken later helped launch a middle school serving as both 5-7th grade social studies and physical education teacher. Ken transitioned to higher education spending 2 years as an academic coach and 2 years as an enrollment counselor for adult graduate students. Ken now supports students' academic journeys in his role as Account Manager at Excel Education Systems.
Ken received his Bachelor of Science in Social Studies Education with a Minor in Bible from University of Northwestern, St. Paul.
In his spare time, Ken loves hiking and camping with his wife and new puppy. Ken is an avid outdoorsman but also enjoys board games and movies. He also serves as coach and director of an ultimate frisbee non-profit he helped establish for high school students.
Jodi Alama, B.A.
Jodi discovered her love for teaching and supporting students early in her career. Jodi's biggest reward has been watching her students progress and grow as learners and individuals. Before joining Excel, Jodi's most recent experience includes working as a school paraprofessional and substitute teacher for the past eight years.
Jodi is married with two children and lives in Victoria, MN. In her spare time, Jodi also enjoys walking her two dogs, traveling, and spending time with family and friends. Jodi has traveled to 33 states and is hoping to visit all 52 states and territories in the future.
Academic Success Coach
Ms. Mary Ditter, B.A., B.S., M.A.
Mary is a state-licensed educator who taught for twenty-eight years in the public school system. She is passionate about education and believes in empowering students to be leaders in their own learning. She is a lifelong learner with a heartfelt mission to be of service to others. It is an honor and a great pleasure for Mary to serve as an Academic Success Coach, assisting students and families to navigate the online learning world.
Mary earned her B.A. in Psychology and her B.S. in Education from the University of Minnesota and her M.A. in education from the University of Minnesota as well.
In her spare time, Mary enjoys reading, hiking, working out, spending time with family and friends, and visiting small privately-owned businesses. Mary is married with two children and two cats.
Student Services Specialist
Ms. Stacy McNeilly, B.A.
Mrs. McNeilly is a valuable member of our school system. In her role as a Student Services Coordinator, Stacy is responsible for assigning courses for all new students. When a new student enrolls at Excel, Stacy works diligently to quickly assess student files and assign online courses in a timely manner. Each student's program is individualized and is unique, so Stacy takes the time required to review transcripts to ensure accurate course placement.
Stacy works closely with the Excel team to provide excellent service to our students. Stacy is relentless when it comes to student success! Stacy works tirelessly to ensure that all students get access to their online courses in a timely fashion. Stacy says that she is proud and honored to work for Excel Education Systems.
Stacy received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from William Carey College. Before coming to Excel Stacy spent many years in Business Management; directing and leading a club with over 40 families. She later worked for an insurance company as a Licensed Agent; coordinating and organizing training material for over 50 agents. Stacy was responsible for overseeing the handling of court documents and research for a successful lead program. Stacy consistently receives exceptional work reviews.
Stacy lives in North Carolina with her husband and two children. Stacy was a collegiate athlete, playing soccer with her twin sister. She still enjoys playing today and is also a committed referee of all ages at various talent levels. In her spare time, she enjoys walking her dog, church activities, jogging, fellowship with friends, and lots of family time.
Academic Success Coach
Ms. Alicia Loe, B.A., M.A.
Alicia recently graduated from the University of Minnesota with an M.A. in Education, Curriculum, and Instruction with a focus on TESOL. After finishing her undergraduate degree, Alicia found her love for students and educational growth while doing an Americorps year of service at an Adult Basic Education school. Since then, she has committed her work, life, and free time to providing educational and career support to students. Nothing is more rewarding to her than seeing students overcome challenges and being a part of their support system.
Alicia is originally from Kansas, but spent part of her childhood living in Dubai, UAE before moving to Iowa and then Minnesota. She loves learning about new cultures and meeting others from all over the world. In her free time, she enjoys listening to books on Audible, exercising with her dog, and trying out new restaurants with her husband.
Academic Success Coach
Molly Franczyk, B.A.
Molly has always possessed a strong desire to partner with others as they work towards achieving their goals and pursuing holistic development. Earning a Bachelor's Degree in Youth and Family Studies from the University of Northwestern - St. Paul, Molly went on to work in residence life for 5 years. Right after finishing her degree, she moved to Soldotna, Alaska where she served as a Resident Supervisor at a Christian college for two years. After wrapping up her commitment in Alaska, Molly transitioned to a Resident Director position at her alma mater, cultivating Christian community within the student dorms.
Wanting to still support college students without living on campus, Molly eventually pivoted to an Academic Coach position for an online university. This role effectively-prepared Molly for her current position at Excel where she is a Success Coach and aims to provide students with the tools they need to succeed in their academic pursuits.
Molly has always been a Northerner having grown up near Superior, Wisconsin. Some of her interests include hiking in state parks with her husband and yellow lab, reading a variety of books, and binge-watching British period dramas.
Academic Success Coach
Derek Finneseth, B.A.
Derek is an educator with years of teaching experience. Originally from North Dakota, Derek earned a degree in Spanish and Education from North Dakota State University. For the past four years, Derek has taught in both public and private schools and has enjoyed coaching boys basketball. Derek has had the privilege of taking students abroad for Spanish trips and has explored many countries. Derek enjoys teaching foreign languages and coaching. In his free time, Derek enjoys the outdoors, rock climbing, listening to music and watching movies.
Academic Success Coach
Noah Buggs, B.A.
Noah has always had a passion for working with and helping people achieve their dreams. A Minnesota native, Noah earned a bachelor's degree in Digital Video and Media Production at IPR-College of Creative Arts. Noah has since spent several years as a filmmaker and sound designer for documentaries, commercials, and feature films. He then transitioned into college admissions working for a small creative arts college, helping other brave souls start on a path in the arts. Noah still enjoys working in the film industry, reading, writing, being with family, and spending as much time as possible with the dog and horse that he shares with his better half.
Ms. Nicole Drilling B.S.
Nicole is Excel's Registrar and she has one of the busiest offices in the school. Nicole is in charge of student records and processes graduations, transcript requests, proof of enrollment requests, proof of graduation requests, and helps to manage the school office. Nicole has a bright smile and loves to serve our students.
Before coming to Excel, Nicole worked for a career college where she served as the Campus President, Dean, and Registrar. Nicole has over a decade of experience as a Registrar.
Ms. Drilling earned her bachelor's of science degree in Child and Family Development from San Diego State University.
In her spare time, Nicole enjoys spending time with family and friends.
Brittanie A. Kruegel, BA, MA, MSOL
Brittanie comes to Excel with 20 years of experience teaching in K-12 schools in PA, NJ, and VA with the last 10 teaching high school students. She holds a BA in English, MA in Spiritual Theology, and an MS in Organizational Leadership with a concentration in HR Management. As an educator, she has always had a passion for learning and helping others achieve their greatest potential. In her position as Registrar, she hopes to be able to help Excel fulfill its mission “to become the world's most respected provider of accredited, distance learning products.”
Brittanie is originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia and is new to Minnesota. She enjoys spending time with her husband and twin daughters whenever possible. For fun, she likes to explore new sights, go to the beach (now lakes), cook, and look for bargains.
Ms. Amy Palzkill, B.S.
Mr. Michael Waldner, B.A.
Michael attended Trinity Bible College & Graduate School in Ellendale, North Dakota. There he received his B.A. degree in both General Studies and Biblical Studies, with a Minor in Theology, graduating in 2018. During his studies, Michael developed an appreciation for education and its power to change lives. Since graduation, he has worked in a variety of roles in public education, from substitute teaching to special-education support services.
In his spare time, he enjoys watching movies or playing board games with friends, cross-country jogging, and reading a good book.