The epitome of selflessness

dean debbie mercer

Dean Debbie Mercer’s leadership of the College of Education has brought countless advancements.

“The epitome of selflessness.”

That’s how Lee and Barbara Harris, founders of the Tomorrow’s Teacher Scholarship Program, describe Dean Debbie Mercer.

For more than a decade, Dean Mercer has boldly advanced the College of Education at Kansas State University. During her tenure, she has made strides in a variety of areas, earning national acclaim for the college.

Mercer’s selfless leadership does not go unnoticed. While she’s had a hand in dozens of important developments, here are a few notable ones.

Academic Initiatives

The master of arts in teaching is a 12-month program that allows students to complete a master of elementary or secondary education degree in modern languages, social studies, English/language arts or agriculture education. Structured as a 31-credit digital curriculum, the program emphasizes inclusive learning environments that facilitate individual and collaborative learning.

The Virtual Summer STEAM Academy is a partnership between the college and Manhattan-Ogden USD #383. The program, previously known as the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) Summer Institute, has provided fifth through ninth graders with an opportunity to learn about STEAM-related concepts and participate in experiential learning activities since 2011. However, with school building closings in 2020, the 10th anniversary of the Summer STEAM Institute took a digital approach and became the Summer STEAM Virtual Academy. Teachers in the program quickly adapted to online learning, providing the widest scope of offerings yet. Helping students build skills in topics ranging from animation to exploring the relationship between music and STEM, the virtual academy pushed boundaries and reached new levels of success.


Student teacher scholarships have become a top priority under Mercer’s leadership. Because student teachers work full time in the classroom, it limits their ability to pursue outside work. The College of Education now offers many support scholarships for student teachers in both secondary and elementary education. The scholarships not only offset the reduced ability to work, but also provide support for additional expenses such as travel to a school and professional clothing.

Mercer said, “Student needs during this semester were increasing. For example, student teachers were returning to campus to visit our food pantry. We began telling the story of student teaching. The long hours, the intensive workload and the emotional pressure of assuming more and more student-learning responsibility.”

Read more in Supporting Tomorrow’s Students Today.

K-State: An Alphabet Journey Across Campus is an alphabet tour of the K-State campus co-written by Debbie Mercer and Lotta Larson. The book illustrates the Wildcat family, and the proceeds directly benefit scholarships for College of Education students.

Learn more or purchase the book.


Under Mercer’s leadership, the Department of Curriculum and Instruction has instituted the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Fair. The fair takes place each semester and creates a space for students to present their research.

The NACADA Center for Research at Kansas State University is a pioneering global think tank and serves as a means to research academic advising and student success.

Communications and Branding

The Crash the Class video series was launched in 2018 as way to celebrate early-career teachers. With monthly videos, #crashtheclass honors teachers who are pursuing excellence in their field. View the series.

EDCATS is a College of Education branding initiative that serves to recruit new students to the college and build pride amongst education students, faculty and alumni. EDCATS stands for:

  • E: Exceptional Experience
  • D: Dedicated Faculty & Staff
  • C: Connected Community
  • A: Advocates for All
  • T: Technology & Innovation
  • S: Student-centered

EDCATS apparel is sold with 5% of proceeds supporting the College of Education scholarship fund. Visit the EDCATS apparel store.

Pandemic and Digital Programming

Remote Learning P-12 is a digital resource community for schools, teachers and parents. The platform was created as a public service by K-State faculty. The community created a space for contributors to share resources and ask questions about student learning during COVID-19.  Learn more here.

The Art of Online Teaching and Remote Learning Summer Workshop was offered for undergraduate students in the summer of 2021 as a response to remote learning. The six-week course provided students with skills and resources to aid in their ability to teach digitally. Learn more about the workshop.


Establishing an e-textbook initiative allowed students to collectively save more than $1.5 million on textbooks. Read about how Textbooks 2.0 helps the College of Education.

Through a collegewide technology plan, College of Education students have a 1:1 iPad ratio, made possible through philanthropic gifts.


  • 2021 U.S. News and World Report rankings for online education programs
    • 10th – Curriculum and instruction online master’s
    • 12th – Special education master’s
    • 27th – Adult learning and leadership
    • 46th – Overall ranking for online master’s degrees in education
  • 2021 Billy G. Dixon Award Distinguished Teacher Program Award — Association of Teacher Educators
  • 2017 Outstanding Services to Underserved Populations Award for the Integrated Language Skills Program — Association for Continuing Higher Education

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The Call Me MISTER program, established in 2015, seeks to increase the pool of male teachers from diverse backgrounds. MISTER stands for Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models. Call Me MISTER participants are primarily selected from underserved and educationally at-risk communities. Read more about Call Me MISTER.

The Social Justice Education Graduate Certificate instructs students in the principles to create change within communities and workplaces, both in formal and informal education settings. The 15-credit hour online certificate focuses on creating equal-opportunity resources while combatting inequity. Learn more here.

A Word of Gratitude

When asked about Mercer’s role in the College of Education, alumni and donors Dan and Cheryl Yunk said, “She has the ability to think outside of the box, and at the same time, she can see the big picture for both the present and the future. She is excellent at building relationships with students, faculty and alumni, which strengthens the College of Education as an institution.”

Mercer’s hard work not only impacts those within the College of Education, but also serves as an inspiration within her own family. Her husband, Jim Adams, says that throughout the past 20 years, he has had the honor of watching Mercer grow from dean of the College of Education and Technology at Fort Hays State University to associate dean at K-State to dean. Through her discipline, Jim says he has learned how to work with others toward a common goal while collaborating with a multitude of personalities, philosophies and backgrounds.

Mercer empowers people to think about what has not been done before. This trait has led to results such as the implementation of the Masters in Arts in Teaching program and partnerships with teachers in different countries. Jim says Mercer works constantly to amplify the assertion that, next to parents, teachers are the most important influencers in a child’s life. She works to show teachers their importance and help them share that with the world.

“When she advocates for the university, the college, and the faculty and staff, etc., the lift in her voice and face makes me feel so honored to know who she is, what she does and that I am in her life,” Jim said. “She is truly one of the most transformative people I have ever met and I can’t imagine my life without her in it.”

In addition to encouraging those she works with to reach new benchmarks, Jim says that Mercer is great strategist, looking at a variety of approaches and choosing what will be most advantageous.

“Both of those strengths are solidified by the fact that Debbie is never looking for accolades or notoriety for herself,” Jim said. “Sometimes, I think she would prefer that the attention not be focused on her, but rather on the others who have helped accomplish what has been done. By doing this, she encourages those within the College of Education to collectively work to advance the purpose and mission of the college.”

*First published in April 2022

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