Reaching Higher Iowa is committed to advocating for a more effective Iowa K-12 public education system to provide opportunities for every child and foster long-term economic growth in the state.

Mark M. Jacobs Founder

Mark Jacobs came home to Iowa to give back to the state that gave him his start. Mark founded Reaching Higher Iowa to improve public education in Iowa and ultimately make it #1 in the country, just like it was when he was growing up here. He also teaches a capstone business strategy class to graduating seniors at Iowa State University. Additionally, Mark is seeking investment opportunities with companies that have a mission of improving people's lives, and where he can work with founders and CEOs in growing their businesses.

Prior to moving home, Mark was President and CEO of Reliant Energy. Originally joining Reliant as CFO in 2002 when it was near bankruptcy and under state and federal investigations, Mark was part of a team that managed a turnaround that saved the company. In 2007, at the age of 45, he was named CEO, one of the youngest at the helm of a Fortune 500 company. Mark successfully navigated Reliant through an unprecedented series of extreme challenges, including the financial meltdown of 2008 and the devastation caused when Hurricane Ike ripped through the heart of the company’s service territory. Earlier in his career, Mark spent 13 years in New York advising companies and business owners on high-level strategic and financial matters.

In addition to his leadership role in business, Mark continues his long track record of leadership in civic and social issues, especially public education. His fervent belief that every child deserves a quality education led him to KIPP Houston Public Schools, a high-performing charter school network serving over 9,500 economically disadvantaged students and one of the great success stories in education reform. He served KIPP as a board member for six years, most recently as board chair.

Mark graduated from Roosevelt High School in Des Moines in 1980. He holds a B.B.A., cum laude, from Southern Methodist University (1984) and a Master of Management, with distinction, from Northwestern University (1989). Mark and his wife, Janet, have three children: Clark, Christy, and Sam. The family resides in West Des Moines.

Betsy Shelton Communications Director

Betsy Shelton is a native of Lamoni, with a BS from Graceland University. She has spent her career working for non-profit organizations and for state and federal governments, serving in a variety of roles. She has worked as Director of Public Engagement at the U.S. Department of Education and as a communications consultant for the Colorado Department of Education, and served as Chief of Staff for former First Lady of Iowa Christie Vilsack. Betsy has recently returned to Iowa to be closer to her family.