The importance of higher education can be looked at from both individual and societal perspectives, according to Dr. Lisa Toms, Missouri Southern’s new Provost/Vice President of Academic Affairs.
“From an individual perspective, I believe it’s the key to pulling people out of poverty,” she said. “I believe it’s the key to improving the quality of life, and I believe it’s the key to improving the quantity of life … the years that we have. More than that, it gives people a purpose and a sense that they’re contributing to society.
“From a societal perspective, all the improvements that have come along – economic and technological – would not be what or where they are without higher education.”
For Toms, who has been on the MSSU campus for about a month, the “individual perspective” is deeply personal. When asked if she’s seen firsthand the difference higher education can have in a person’s life, she raises her hand.
“Me … I was a first-generation college student,” she said. “My dad had a ninth-grade education. He was an only son, and when his dad got sick he had to quit school and go to work to provide for his mother and his sisters. That’s what you did back then.
“My mother was a high-school graduate. They were both from rural, southern Arkansas and life then was hard. They made sure (my siblings and I) did our best in school, but there wasn’t a lot of emphasis put on college.”
“But because I did very well in high school, my parents really wanted me to go to college, but I chose not to. I got married straight out of high school. When I was 24, married with two kids, I made the decision that I wanted better for myself and especially my children (and enrolled in college).”
After graduating from college and obtaining her MBA and doctorate in business administration, Toms found that working in higher education was her true calling.
She spent 12 years as Dean at the Rankin College of Business at Southern Arkansas University and the College of Business at Arkansas Tech University. Prior to coming to MSSU, she was Vice Provost for Academic Programs and Dean of Graduate Studies and Research at the University of Central Missouri.
Having served in staff and faculty positions in her career have helped shape Toms’ view of what her role should be at Missouri Southern.
“I hope to be able to contribute to supporting President Van Galen’s vision for the university and set our own vision for the Academic Affairs area,” she said. “The faculty need to know they are supported. While budgets may be tight, we need to make sure they have what they need and can do what they need to do for the benefit of our students.
“I cannot tell you how impressed I’ve been with the willingness of faculty members – and staff – to say, ‘What do we need to do? How can we help?’ (There’s a desire) to make Missouri Southern a stronger institution; not just for next year, but for generations to come. You don’t see that everywhere. The folks here are committed.”