Blake Slutz ’15 had finished an associate’s degree at Illinois Valley Community College and was ready to complete his undergraduate studies in special education. He chose to be a Redbird because of the University’s reputation as the best training ground for teachers in the state.

Blake began his education classes eager to maximize every opportunity. His ability to do so improved significantly during his senior year as the recipient of the Ashby-Lockman Family Future Special Education Teacher Scholarship.

“I was surprised to get the scholarship. The Department of Education had so many awesome candidates and students,” Blake said. The award was given just as he was ready to start working with students in a clinical setting.

“The scholarship helped me buy supplies to teach. The money was a big help for me with living expenses, books, and what I needed for the classroom.” Even more meaningful than the financial assistance was the support Blake received from the family that established the endowment in 2009.

Dana Ashby ’85, M.S. ’87, partnered with her sister Dianne Ashby and Jack Lockman, Dianne’s husband, to provide funds for special education majors. The scholarship is one of many across the division, which works to enhance student engagement, inclusion, and pride in the University. Numerous scholarships allow students to engage in a variety of programs that enable them to reach their potential.

This was the motivation of the trio who created the Ashby-Lockman fund for the college, where both sisters had ties. Dianne served in many leadership positions at ISU, including as the College of Education dean and vice president of University Advancement. Dana, who along with her sister was a first-generation college student, worked in special education.

Blake made a personal connection with Dana from the time the scholarship was awarded until her untimely death at age 51 in December 2015, which was the same month he graduated. Dana had served as the director of special education for Morton District 709 in Illinois.

“It meant so much to have someone with such an important position in the field supporting me,” Blake said. “I had a one-to-one connection with her, and she was absolutely my mentor. The two kept in contact, making the scholarship “so much more than just a check” for Blake. “She was an important part of my support system.”

He is also grateful for others who helped him pursue his passion, including his clinical supervisors. He worked with students at Bent Elementary in Bloomington, in a Peoria school and another near LaSalle before graduating.

A full-time substitute in the spring, Blake started a teaching position this fall at LaSalle-Peru High School near his home community. He is also director of the school’s program for students with emotional disabilities.

He has no qualms about taking a leadership role so early in his career. His confidence and skills are strong because of all who invested in him while at ISU, including Dana and her family.