Welcome to our "Get to Know Blackhawk" series, which uses a Q&A format to showcase the diverse and talented individuals within the college community.

Get to Know Denise VanFleet, Administrative Chair for Allied Health

February 7, 2024


Welcome to our “Get to Know Blackhawk” series, which uses a Q&A format to showcase the diverse and talented individuals within the college community.

What is your name and where did you grow up?

Denise Garr VanFleet. I grew up in Machesney Park.

What is your role at Blackhawk Technical College?

Administrative Chair for Allied Health, overseeing the Diagnostic Medical Sonography & Vascular Technology, Radiography, Surgical Technology, Medical Assistant and Central Service Technician programs. 

What was your journey to this role? Where did you go to school? What did you study?

I got my baccalaureate degree at Illinois State University and my master’s at Cardinal Stritch University. I worked in the Health Information Management field for more than 15 years – in Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin. I am a registered health information administrator (RHIA), certified by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). I also worked in higher education both online and in the classroom. I worked at public and private colleges and had the following roles: Assistant Professor, Program Coordinator and Department Chair. As a department chair, I got to work as a subject matter expert and began working directly in course development. It was stimulating, challenging, exciting and rewarding.

Is there something that drew you to this career?

I strive to be a lifelong learner, so I enjoy new challenges. After working in acute care hospitals for years, I yearned to venture into higher education to gain experience and expand my skill set. Working in higher education has brought me the greatest rewards because of student interaction and mentoring. Students are like sponges – they are enthusiastic and energetic! They enjoy the benefits of my professional work experience and are complimentary of what I can highlight and share in the classroom. Working in higher education has been a worthwhile experience that has brought immense joy to me.

What motivated you to apply for this position at Blackhawk?

At the time this new position opened, I was back to teaching full-time. The challenge of developing a completely new program in Health Information Management at Blackhawk was very appealing to me. This position offers me variety and an exciting new prospect to work within program development and deployment.

What is something Blackhawk offers its students that you feel other colleges do not?

The number of degrees and programs available to our students is very impressive, of course, but the resources and support available to students in the Teaching and Learning Center are priceless to student success. The Teaching and Learning Center is so much more than a collection of books because of the professionals there who bring support and guidance directly to the student. Connecting to the right resource in a timely manner can propel the student forward to meet course challenges and advance learning, as well as earn the students’ respect and admiration.

What is your life like outside of work? Family? Community involvement? Adorable pets?

I have two adult sons who are responsible, respectful and loving. They are the highlight of my life. I enjoy a very close family with five siblings who all live in a 30-mile area of me. My home is shared with two dogs, Vega and Lido, as well as a cat named Bravo – all three are rescues.

I have volunteered for 6+ years with the Golden Apple Award program in Illinois, which strives to identify and acknowledge excellence and leadership in education. In addition, I am a regular and resolute volunteer at the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin (HSSW) with hopes that all domestic animals will once have a loving, forever home. Finally, I am a new supporter and volunteer of the Nikolas Ritschel Foundation. It is dedicated to bringing hope and joy to young adults, ages 18-24, who are battling cancer by granting them their own wishes since they are overlooked by other wish-granting organizations. It is a beautiful organization.

Tell us something about yourself you think people would be surprised to know.

My youngest sibling was born while I was a freshman in college. There are six of us, with a 24-year span between the oldest and the youngest. I am the fourth of the six children.

If you had to pick one season to live in all year round, which season would you choose?

Spring – the season of new growth, life and hope.

Who is your biggest influence?

My dad, Daniel, who died at the age of 32. He was working three jobs at the time of his death and taught me that hard work brings rewards.

What was your first job?

I started working in retail at the age of fifteen at a Ben Franklin variety store.

What is your favorite book?

“The Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell. I read it as a young child, and it profoundly affected me in its demonstration of determination, perseverance, overcoming fear and acceptance.

What was your favorite cartoon as a kid?

My favorite childhood show wasn’t a cartoon but rather the show “Captain Kangaroo.”

Who is your favorite Muppet?

Big Bird

What is your favorite pizza topping?

Pepperoni, bacon and all the veggies.

What/who is your favorite sports team or pro athlete?

Fred VanVleet, a Rockford native who plays for the Houston Rockets. While Fred is an exceptional athlete, he is my favorite for his efforts in social justice and his approachable personality. (He once stepped in and played basketball with my 12-year-old nephew and his friends at a tiny Rockford playground!) Fred is the first Rockford native named an all-star in the NBA, but he has never forgotten his local roots. He sponsors and participates in an annual youth camp in Rockford. He also sponsors and coordinates a back-to-school drive that impacts so many local children, among many other contributions to the community. There would be a profound impact in our country if all pro-athletes followed the example of Fred VanVleet. (BTW, although I am asked regularly, he is no relation to me. 😊)

If you could learn any language, which one would you choose?

I would like to be proficient in sign language.

What is your dream vacation destination?

I am fortunate in that I just went on my dream vacation this past October when I visited multiple Hawaiian Islands.

What’s one thing on your bucket list?

Going to more national parks - Yosemite is at the top of my list.

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