What most students at St. Vincent de Paul School in Cape Girardeau don’t know is that “The Jell-O Man,” who serves Jell-O once a month at the school, is a construction engineer who teaches in the School of Polytechnic Studies at Southeast Missouri State University. Most wouldn’t care much, though, just so long as he’s around to brighten their days. The lighthearted, fun-loving person who makes laughter ring through the hallways of the elementary school, is at their service once a month, every month, serving the jiggly concoction to hundreds of kids.
Whether he’s helping small children get their Jell-O or assisting college students in their drafting classes, Kevin McMeel of the Department of Industrial and Engineering Technology, is sure to be a favorite on students’ lists.
Ever since his own son was a student at St. Vincent de Paul (he is now a sophomore in college), McMeel has volunteered once a month to help serve lunch, and his experience has given him the nickname “The Jell-O Man.”
“A while back, the ‘lunch ladies’ determined that while I was yakking with the kids going through the lunch line, I couldn’t spill Jell-O out of the cups like I did with soup and other foods,” he said. “So, they put me exclusively on Jell-O. They made me a sign to wear on my apron that said ‘Jell-O Man.’ The next year, I got a personalized apron with ‘Jell-O Man’ on it along with all sorts of different colored smiley faces, representing the various flavors of Jell-O. When the kids see me, they tend to get a little wound up (not that I have anything to do with that), but I have fun walking around talking with them while they are eating. There’s no denying, kids are cool.”
McMeel brings his energy to all of his classes at Southeast, keeping students interested and involved.
“What I believe is that learning should be fun and relaxed,” he said. “So I try to keep the atmosphere light and interactive and try to engage the students as much as possible. I also try to keep the students visualizing and believing that they are budding young professionals, in whatever field they are pursuing. I feel that teaching is a great way to pass on my experience and excitement to a new generation.”
A self-proclaimed Cape Girardeauan, although he was born in Milwaukee, Wis., and grew up in Alma, Mich., McMeel has lived in Cape Girardeau for about 19 years. In his second year of teaching construction management and a few technical graphics (drafting) courses at Southeast, McMeel believes in helping students believe in themselves and in their goals.
McMeel’s courses allow him to speak from his experience. After receiving his bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from Michigan State University and his master of science in civil engineering/construction management from the University of Missouri – Columbia, he worked in construction for 28 years as a licensed professional engineer. For the last nine years, he was a part of the Facilities Management team at Southeast. He was asked to teach a class in the new construction management and design program in Southeast’s School of Polytechnic Studies until a full-time position became available.
McMeel has made many good memories at Southeast, one of his proudest being the construction of Vandiver Hall.
“I was project manager on the construction of New Hall,” he said. “It was a $13.5 million project that came in under budget, and it was completed on time even though it was a ‘laser-track’ project of 14 months from start of design to move in. Having that complete in time for move-in was a giant relief and a proud moment for the team involved.”
McMeel has several hobbies outside of his teaching experience. His main hobby is being involved with the Boy Scouts of America.
“I am affiliated with all levels of Scouting, but seem to spend a lot of my time, lately, training adult leaders. I really enjoy being able to work with youth in a non-threatening atmosphere that encourages positive interaction with adults, while instilling in them the values necessary to make moral and ethical choices throughout their lifetimes.”
His other hobbies include reading and traveling. McMeel is on the 13th book in the Aubrey-Maturin Series by Patrick O’Brian, the basis for the movie “Master and Commander.” He enjoys sea-faring tales and his favorite book is The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz, to which he jokingly asserts, “no, it’s not a weight-control book.” He has backpacked in New Mexico and enjoys Colorado, with plans to go to Ireland in a few years.
Don’t be fooled, though. While McMeel’s energetic lifestyle and fun-loving ways make him an engaging teacher all on his own, he still expects the best from his students, and strongly encourages feedback.
“I have high expectations of my students because I think they should have high expectations of themselves,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that I can’t help them achieve those goals; that’s what faculty are for. As much as we like to tout our knowledge, our purpose is to give the students what they are paying for, and to give back to them what someone gave to us earlier in our lives.”