Dakota Ioanis: A Beloved and Remembered Geography Grad Student

Dakota Ioanis

Unexpected passing leaves void in the halls of Stewart and hearts of those who knew and loved him.

When Dakota Ioanis walked into Stewart Hall for the first time before the Fall 2020 semester began — his first year as a grad student and teaching assistant in geography — he expressed his thrill to be here.

Fresh-faced and eager, he smiled as he walked down the halls, looking at the grad offices, geography library and the rest of the facilities. His excitement was infectious; his enthusiasm real; and his fears rational — at least to him, but perhaps not to the professors and department chair who accepted him into the program. They believed in him perhaps more than he did himself.

Mainly Ioanis had anxiety about his age entering Mizzou, nearly 30. He also said he was slightly scared of the “Intro to GIS” class he was taking with Clayton Blodgett, as he was more interested in the political, human, and cultural aspects of geography and didn’t have the technological background he felt needed for the class.

He expressed he had many doubts about returning to graduate school. “It took me nearly seven years to earn my undergraduate degree from Drury (University), which is a time frame many in academia complete their bachelor’s and master’s degrees,” he wrote for an interview the department did on incoming masters students. “Basically, I suppose, if as an ‘old man’ I can produce quality work, and can show effective and fruitful results from my efforts throughout this year, I will consider that a successful school year.”

He did successfully complete the 2020-2021 school year, as hoped. But tragically passed away in his sleep on Thursday, May 20, the week after finals. He is greatly missed among this geography family, as well as others who knew and loved him. A memorial service was held May 29, and despite the two-hour drive each way to Independence, near Buckner where he lived, many faculty and some students were in attendance.

Picture of Mizzou flag at half staff in memory of Dakota Ioanis.

Learning for Life

Dakota, originally from Independence, Missouri, said Missouri had been his home for most of his life. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree (magna cum laude) in history from Drury in December 2016 and a Master of Arts in teaching from the University of Central Missouri in May 2019. 

Before arriving at Mizzou, he was a social studies teacher (6th through 12th grades) in the Calhoun R-VIII School District, a small (less than 100 students total), rural district located between Sedalia and Clinton. There he taught everything from world geography to world history; from American history to American government; from psychology to sociology to economics.

He loved sports and traveling. A huge Chiefs (football) and Royals (baseball) fan, he even had a vanity plate for the Royals on his car. Road trips were also a favorite. The summer before his death, he and wife, Linley, went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

“I love road trips,” he said. “Nothing is more relaxing in my opinion than just hitting the open road, music blaring out of the speakers, and just seeing the landscape change little by little as the hours trickle on by.”

He also said, like any proper geographer, he had an unhealthy obsession with maps and flags. In addition, the trivia buff, said he would be content to watch ‘Jeopardy’ all day.”

Nothing is more relaxing in my opinion than just hitting the open road, music blaring out of the speakers, and just seeing the landscape change little by little as the hours trickle on by. - Dakota Ioanis

In fact, trivia, in part, was one of the reasons he dreamed of attending Mizzou. “When I was a 5th grader, way back in April of 2002, I participated in the Missouri State Geographic Bee,” he wrote. “I remember very vividly my first impression of Memorial Union and how beautiful the campus looked as the flowers were about to bloom.

“I remember meeting Dr. Kit Salter (former department chair) and his wife, Cathy. I think that year there was a story one of them may have published about Lewis and Clark and the Missouri River in National Geographic, and I had them autograph the magazine that I just happened to have with me the day of the competition.

“I distinctly recall when Dr. Salter said how perhaps one day, a student in the room could call themselves a student of geography at Missouri’s flagship university. Although it took nearly 20 years, his prediction proved to be accurate.”

Ioanis said he had always loved geography. “I think my favorite thing about geography is how it can be incorporated into just about any other subject,” he wrote. “I was constantly reminded of that in my undergraduate work, of how intertwined geography and history are. It is those geographic and historic influences that have molded and shaped the world and society in which we live in today, for the better and for the worst.”

The Mizzou flat was lowered on May 26 at the Student Center in memory of Dakota.

Memories Shared

Doug Hurt, professor and director of undergrad studies, said he was fortunate to have worked with Ioanis. “He was one of my TAs for ‘Geography 1100.’ We’ll miss his calm demeanor, even in stressful situations, as well as his constant dedication to helping students learn. During a difficult COVID semester, he embraced teaching online, in-person, and even juggled classes that had both online and in-person learners at the same time.”

Grad student Sarah Kammeyer had equally good memories of Ioanis: “Dakota was my favorite kvetching partner,” she said. “I could always count on him for a good venting session about the frustrations of TAing, assignments due tomorrow that had yet to be started, and the general exhaustion of grad school.

“But after we’d finished throwing proverbial gas on the fire of each other’s exasperations, he would always end our chats with unprompted but much-needed words of kindness, humor, and encouragement.

“I left every conversation I had with Dakota feeling valued, less alone, and re-motivated to get back into tackling whatever problems I was facing. He was an unendingly kind soul, and his cat-loving, travel-hungry, vexillology-enthusiastic presence will be deeply missed in the halls of Stewart.”

Master’s student, Seth Kannarr, said Ioanis was someone who placed high value in the power of education.

As a fellow graduate student and TA, it is a shame that Dakota will no longer be a physical part of our journey at Mizzou. However, Dakota will live on in fond memory for each of us. We will miss him, and we feel deeply for his family and friends who have lost him too young. May his soul rest. - Seth Kannarr

“From his experience teaching high schoolers to serving as a TA for ‘Regions & Nations,’ he always put his faith in the students and their ability to learn and research.

“Dakota’s passion for geography was obvious to all, and came across in his stories and experiences he would share. It is heartwarming that he got the opportunity to pursue the discipline further at his favorite university, here at Mizzou.

“As a fellow graduate student and TA, it is a shame that Dakota will no longer be a physical part of our journey at Mizzou. However, Dakota will live on in fond memory for each of us. We will miss him, and we feel deeply for his family and friends who have lost him too young. May his soul rest.”

And grad student Samuel Frimpong stated: “I really only saw Dakota during Zoom meetings in our ‘Geographic Thought’ class, as well as our ‘Research Design’ class, but every time he talked, I could tell he was genuinely happy discussing whatever he had to say. It all seemed to come from the heart, and I enjoyed hearing him laugh to himself as he discussed his ideas.”

Soren Larsen, department chair, stated: ”Dakota and I collaborated to create the first online discussion section for ‘Regions and Nations,’ which was a lot of work! We worked well together, but we operated on totally opposite timetables: I would tinker on the online modules in the afternoon and pass them off to Dakota, who would send me an email the next morning at, say, 3:58 a.m., saying he was done. Then he went to bed! Night owl, to say the least — by his own admission. Also, a huge Chiefs fan, a lover of travel and adventure, and a passionate Mizzou Tiger. We will miss him dearly.”

Dakota Ioanis Tribute Tree outside of Stewart Hall

In Memory of Dakota

In Ioanis’ honor, a MU flag was lowered on May 26 by the Graduate Professional Counsel on the south side of the Student Center in his memory, and a Tribute Tree is dedicated to him outside of Stewart Hall.

But perhaps his own words his first week of school will be engraved in the hearts of those who knew him.

 “My name is Dakota Ioanis, and I am really excited to be a part of the geography community here at Mizzou. I’m not sure what to expect or to achieve this year at Mizzou – to be frank, I am excited to be around others who are as enthusiastic about the topic as I am. I am looking forward to being around individuals who genuinely want to learn more about the world. I am also looking forward to examining the discipline more vigorously, to go more in-depth into topics that I find fascinating.

“Most importantly for me, however, is that I want to prove to myself that I am capable of quality, graduate-level work…. I was positively influenced and disposed to geography at a young age, and that has helped put me where I am today: a graduate student in this worldly topic at the University of Missouri.”

Ioanis was 30 when he passed. In addition to being survived by wife Linley; he also left behind is mother and father, Mary and Andy Ioanis; father-in-law and mother-in-law, Ben and Susan Tate; brothers, Dillon Ioanis and Brenon Tyzbir, and more.