Excel High School Staff
Chief Executive Officer/Chairman
Rod Clarkson, B.S., MBA, Ed.S.
Rod Clarkson is the founder, Chairman, 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 children and close friends.
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 Candidate
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 Financial Officer
Muhammad Raheel, B.S., MBA., Ph.D.
Vice President of Operations
Ms. Lori Applegate, B.A., M.Ed
Lori has been with Excel Education Systems for over a decade and has worked through the ranks to become our Vice President of Operations.
Lori lives in North Carolina with her husband and three children. She received a Bachelor of Education degree from William Carey College and earned her Master's in Education from Southeastern Louisiana University. Lori taught school in Mandeville Louisiana for seven years. She worked and served on various curriculum committees within the school district to improve Language Arts and Social Studies teaching methods. Lori assisted with coordinating several Social Studies World Travel Days and served as a committee member for an event that helped local teachers enhance their teaching practices. Lori also mentored and trained high school students toward future teaching careers.
She has fond memories of playing college soccer with her twin sister. She continued with her interest in soccer by coaching at the local high school and select soccer travel leagues.
In her spare time, Lori enjoys jogging, reading, family time, and church activities. Lori is excited about mentoring and encouraging people for Excel High School. She truly enjoys each family with whom she comes in contact and provides “online” support and motivation for a successful Excel High School experience. Lori serves our students and team members with excellence and loves being part of the Excel Executive Team.
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.
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. Tim Elliott, B.S., MBA
Tim grew up in Plymouth, MN, and now resides in Ramsey, MN. Tim is married and has two daughters. One attends Winona State University majoring in education and the other will be attending Augustana College in Sioux Falls next fall to continue her softball career and study Exercise Science.
Tim received his Bachelor's degree in Business from Augsburg College, where he also played Hockey. Tim earned his MBA Degree from Capella University in Minneapolis.
Tim has 20 years of higher education experience working with career colleges in Minnesota as a Director. Tim has a passion for helping students and guiding them towards making a better life for themselves.
In his spare time, Tim spends time at his cabin in Wisconsin with his family, hunting, and fishing. He also spends a lot of time at the softball fields watching his daughter play softball all over the country.
Math Lead - Special Projects
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.
Ms. Jill Arendt B.S., M.Ed
Jill is a Minnesota licensed educator and administrator who taught for 17 years and worked 13 years in school administration. With 30 years of education behind her, she is so excited to be a Success Coach and continue her work guiding students through their academic path. Jill earned her B.S. in Elementary Education from Minnesota State University, Mankato, a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Bethel University, and her K-12 Principal Licensure from St. Mary’s University.
In her spare time, Jill enjoys spending time with her two adult-aged children. She also enjoys gardening, walking, and reading a good mystery novel. Traveling is a passion of Jill’s and she hopes to get to Italy one day. She has three dogs at home that keep her active and busy.
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.
Ms. Kelly O'Dell, B.A., M.Ed.
Kelly Odell first served as an instructor for Excel High School before transitioning to a role in curriculum development. Kelly has over twenty years teaching experience in both the public and private school settings. Her diverse instructional experience includes social science, English, math and exceptional education in grades 6-12.
Kelly received her B.A. degree in History, from Rutgers University and earned her M. Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction, from Virginia Commonwealth University. Kelly believes in lifelong learning and continues to participate in professional development coursework. She is passionate about education and the opportunities online learning provides for students.
Kelly grew up in New Jersey and made Richmond, Virginia her home after college. She enjoys practicing yoga, all things water-related, camping, and applying self- care strategies.
Kelly is excited to begin supporting her son in Cub Scouts, as well as, volunteering in the organization.
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.
Ms. Kelsey Brown, B.A.
Kelsey received B.A. degrees in both Neuroscience and Psychology from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Since graduation, Kelsey has worked in a variety of schools and loves working in the field of education. She particularly enjoys working individually with students to help them succeed academically. In her free time, Kelsey enjoys running, doing crosswords, and being in nature. She also loves spending time with family, friends, and dogs whenever possible.
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.
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 28 years in the public school arena. She is passionate about education and believes in empowering students to be the 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. Marissa Caskey, B.A., M.Ed.
Marissa recently graduated from South Dakota State University with an M. Ed. in Education in Administration of Student Affairs. During her time at South Dakota State University, she found her passion working with students to find their path while working as a student success advisor, instructor, and career coach. Marissa is excited to work with students and families to be successful with online learning. In her free time, Marissa enjoys reading, spending time with family and friends, going to concerts, and attending sports games.
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
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.
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.
Ms. Shoko Kalista, B.S.
Shoko was born and raised in Japan. She studied abroad back in 2008 and earned a bachelor's degree in Marketing Communications from the University of Wisconsin - River Falls. Before coming to Excel High School, she traveled overseas to recruit international students to a language school in Japan. She was in charge of completing admission paperwork and processing immigration visa applications. Shoko has a passion for assisting students in pursuing their academic goals. In her spare time, Shoko loves spending time with her family.
Ms. Amy Palzkill, B.S.
Mr. Michael Waldnerl, 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.