To celebrate, Towner and his staff prepared a special assembly on March 16, ostensibly to commemorate the U.S. News award. Katie Jenner, Indiana’s Secretary of Education, made the trip up from Indianapolis to give the opening remarks. At first, everything was going precisely as Towner had planned, but then Jenner introduced a guest from California, someone he was not expecting: Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards.
As Foley spoke, it gradually became clear that she was announcing the fact that a winner of a prestigious Milken Educator Award was in the room. The prize is both prestigious and lucrative, carrying with it a $25,000 check. Before long, Towner realized that he was to be the recipient.
The students celebrated his achievement, as did visiting dignitaries including other leaders in Indiana education as well as Indiana State Representative Dale DeVon and Senator David Niezgodski.
IU South Bend has been, and continues to be, a major part of Towner’s life. He graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and added a master’s in education administration in 2016. He currently serves on the university’s advisory committee for elementary education and visits classrooms, sharing his real-life perspective.