By Drew A. Bennett, Chancellor
Missouri State University-West Plains
The following op-ed article was originally published in the West Plains Daily Quill, Feb. 5, 2013.
As Missouri State University-West Plains begins its year-long Golden Anniversary celebration, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the community on behalf of all of us at Missouri State-West Plains for its support over the past 50 years. In 1963, a group of area residents, spearheaded by local state representative Granvil Vaughan, embarked on a mission to bring higher education to south-central Missouri to give area residents the opportunity of a better life for themselves and their communities. The result of their efforts is what we now call Missouri State University-West Plains. The community has continued to support the campus with time, money and resources over the years, which is why we like to say we are "the community's college."
Thanks to overwhelming community support and the diligent efforts of faculty and staff, past and present, Missouri State-West Plains continues to thrive. If you walk around campus this semester, you will see the landscape changing. Three recently purchased properties are being removed to provide for more green space and a more cohesive physical campus. Demolition work is already underway and it will continue on several sites across the campus. Additionally, Gohn Hall is nearing completion and we expect it to be fully operational sometime during the 2013 fall semester. This facility will provide a permanent home for Missouri State-Springfield's growing outreach program, which offers bachelor's and master's degree programs on the West Plains campus. It is only fitting that 50 years after we started offering classes, a new classroom building will be opened, making it easier than ever before for students in the area to complete an advanced degree.
We continue to add full-time faculty as our budget allows and, again, thanks to the generosity of many individuals, businesses and organizations, two endowed professorships were recently established. These are the first endowed professorships in the history of the campus and will help in recruiting and retaining quality faculty. We also implemented the Education Guarantee program during the 2012 fall semester. Its premise is based on educational practices that have been proven to work and are already being used on campus. The program points out each student's responsibility for his or her education, identifies "10 Steps to Success" and gives students a list of resources available to help them achieve their goals. This initiative is designed to encourage students to focus on the techniques that will make them successful in college.
All of these efforts are a result of our mission to serve students by providing quality post-secondary educational opportunities. But then, that is what the West Plains campus has been doing steadily for 50 years. When we began as the Residence Center in 1963, 111 students enrolled in our evening classes at the high school. Today, we have over 2,100 students, many of whom would not have been able to continue their education if this campus did not exist. And that doesn't count the additional 165 students working on bachelor's or master's degrees through the Missouri State University System at the West Plains campus.
As we reach this major milestone, we invite all of you to join us in the celebration! The kickoff event will be the 50th Anniversary Reunion and Concert Feb. 15 at the West Plains Civic Center. A social hour is planned from 7 to 8 p.m. and Ha Ha Tonka, a nationally known band with local ties, will take the stage at 8. This will be a great opportunity to meet with former students, faculty, staff and supporters to reminisce about the past and look forward to the future! The next day, Feb. 16, is our homecoming basketball game against Three Rivers College at 7 p.m. at the civic center. We will have our Annual Auction April 5, our Alumni & Friends picnic on May 2, a 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner on Sept. 12 and an Anniversary Celebration at the Smith-London Centennial Bell Tower on Sept. 16. You can learn more about these events at the anniversary website, 50th.wp.missouristate.edu. The site also includes information about the campus' history and ways you can support the campus to ensure that we can continue to serve students in the future.
Let me close by saying that, after 50 years, everything Missouri State-West Plains has become has only been possible because of the dedication and perseverance of our many friends and supporters in the community. The relationship between the campus and the community has been the key factor in its success because both are committed to the importance of providing higher education options in this area. We are honored to continue to work together with you to keep that tradition alive!