Five years ago, I hung up the phone. I’d just had a warm and enjoyable conversation with some friends. Friends I hadn’t met before. The car was outside, running, waiting for me to finish so we could leave for a family trip. I opened the door and slid, surprised, into the passenger seat. “Well?” Kristin asked how the interview went. “Really well,” I answered. “It’s like I’ve known them my entire life.” And from that conversation as well as the position I was eventually offered and accepted, I did in fact gain several friends that I expect to have for the rest of my life.
This has been my last year at Ozarks. Today is my last day. For the last 5 years I’ve had the pleasure of living in Northwestern Arkansas and working as the Director of Outdoor & Environmental Experiences at University of the Ozarks, a small liberal arts college. I came here with long hair, am leaving with short. But my ears are still pierced, I hug trees and worship dirt.
Defining moments in this position have always been working with others in a way that expand either their capacity for leadership or my own. Frequently both. I’ll share a few.
- A friend in higher education once remarked that you don’t do this job for the ungrateful many; you do it for that one student who gets it. I’m fortunate to have had so many at Ozarks who get it. There’s not room to name them all.
But one training exercise I do with new staff is to intentionally get them ‘lost’ in the woods with only a small tarp, paracord, water, knife and the clothes on our back. One hot, muggy, buggy August, four of us survived the night wide awake, slapping mosquitoes, miserable. The next morning Kirk Ross went a short distance away to relieve himself in the morning twilight. He looked up and screamed angrily, “There’s a house RIGHT THERE!”
I always make good by taking everyone out for breakfast. And I ask what reasons–beyond my being sadistic–might I have for doing this. “Being uncomfortable but still surviving expanded our comfort zones,” one answered.
Kirk was thoughtful. And it was he on our next trip, while everyone else was building up mini-nylon-sided-condominiums in the woods, who threw down a sleeping bag beneath the trees and said, “Done!”
- Collaborating with Ozarks’ Board of Trustees was one of the highlights of my time here. My experience was that this board was comprised of people who were fundamentally good and invested in what’s going on. One moment that will forever define me was when an eldest trustee extended the invitation to join them for a nightcap. I was new to Ozarks. The social current against Wal-Mart was at a furver then, and I had my own reservations about living in a region and working at an institution where the Walton family held such tremendous influence. This trustee must have intuited this. He’d known Sam and Helen quite well. As we sat together in a small group, he told story after story from his memories about these old friends of his. Finally, he turned toward me to say that despite what people might say about Wal-Mart, “Sam was a good person.” I believed him. And I started thinking about how a good legacy can be hidden behind bad headlines.
- There has been no faculty member I have ever worked with here or elsewhere who demonstrably cares more for the success of her students than Dr. Kim Van Scoy. I had the pleasure to work with her on the Ozarks Abroad trip to Colombia. On that event a mild infection moved through the group. Having the most medical training, it was agreed that I’d take point on treatment. But Kim and I disagreed about how best to handle the situation. Away from the students, in a cedar-walled, tin covered hostel room we argued until Kim turned and walked out the door in anger. But halfway down the walkway, she turned around and came back. We then remained there, talking through things until we found a common point and agreed on an outcome. The reason Kim and I collaborated together so successfully on everything from advising students to establishing the Ozarks Nature Preserve is because we can disagree, knowing we’ll both put the effort into arguing until we agree.
- Steve Edmisten was just recognized for his 20 years’ service to Ozarks. When I accepted this position 5 years ago, I told Kristin that he was a person on my selection committee from whom I expected to learn much. I had an office next to him in the Advancement Wing, and I heard unsolicited from many of his staff that they’d take a bullet for that man. I found out why. Steve has worked tirelessly for the integrity and financial well-being of University of the Ozarks, leading campaigns that raised over $140 million dollars. What most impresses me is that when he walks into the room, in the highest of Arkansan ways, he leads with what’s happening in your life, how members of your family are doing, your success or his failure during that hunting season. It’s you that’s most important at that moment. He consistently demonstrated in his administrative decisions that his priority is the wellbeing of the students, employees, and alumni of Ozarks.
- We invited a number of interns, toward the end of their education at other colleges, to develop their professional skills in our program. In return, they helped keep us fresh and our heads out of a void. I met Bendex Stevenson while a guest instructor for Indiana State University. He demonstrated a lot of leadership as a student, so I invited him to do his required internship at Ozarks. He accepted. All summer he worked to develop our program for that following year. When he left for graduate school that Fall, he’d come to love it here. He kept returning to visit or help with on-campus training. Then we created an Area Coordinator position, split-time between Ozarks Outdoors and Student Life, and it was Bendex who applied and was eventually offered the position. Now it’s both my pleasure and utmost confidence that Bendex will be filling my vacancy as Director of Ozarks Outdoors.
There’s been many more, and many more names I could mention who represent the best that University of the Ozarks has to offer. I am deeply thankful for everyone who supported and assisted me the past 5 years.
It’s with these examples in mind–
- Students willing to push their boundaries,
- The belief and support of good people,
- Teachers who can work through hard issues,
- Selfless people in leadership, and a
- A new generation that inspires you…
–that I hope the best for this campus.