Retiring provost: 'Pursue your future aggressively'

Sunday, December 20, 2009
Dr. Jane Stephens delivers the commencement address Saturday at the Show Me Center. (Fred Lynch)

Bonnie Stepenoff remembers the advice she received from Jane Stephens on arriving at Southeast Missouri State University in 1993.

"She would make sure I went to receptions and official functions because I didn't know anyone," said Stepenoff, a professor of history at Southeast. "She explained that you needed to present yourself and let administrators know who you were."

As the speaker at Southeast's commencement Saturday, Stephens, who is retiring as the university's provost this month, offered other advice to graduates.

"Pursue your future aggressively," she said. "Don't settle for the easier or more accessible choice."

In her time as provost, she has pursued Southeast's future.

Stephens said she knew being provost would allow her to make the campus a better place. She said two of her biggest accomplishments as provost were the construction of the River Campus, which houses the university's departments of art, music and theater and dance, and the construction of the Information Commons in Kent Library.

The Information Commons was a project initiated by Stephens and the former library director, Sarah Crom. Wooden chairs were replaced with rolling, padded ones, computers were moved from a side room to the middle of third floor and study rooms were constructed.

"Before we renovated the library, it was a very traditional library that was a very old environment and not very welcoming and friendly," Stephens said in an interview.

Ed Buis, the director of Kent Library, said one of Stephens' main strengths as provost was being able to juggle many projects at the same time. For instance, he said, the Information Commons and the River Campus were being constructed at the same time.

"It's easy when so many other projects are going on to kind of drift along," Buis said in an interview. "Dr. Stephens gave a portion of her time every week, month after month, for many years, of trying to move this thing forward."

Buis said that without Stephens, it would have taken more than just five years for the Information Commons to open. It opened in 2008.

Stephens is also responsible for initiating the Southeast Health on Wheels Mobile, a van that travels around Cape Girardeau and the Bootheel providing medical services and educational opportunities to people with medical needs.

While Stephens was provost, the River Campus was completed. She also helped establish international partnerships with two Chinese universities, Hunan Normal and Sichuan Normal, and helped develop the Center for Strategic and International Studies project, which sends Southeast students to the center's Washington, D.C.based think tank for seminars and lectures with people who advise the U.S. government.

From 1978 to 1994, Stephens worked at Southeast as associate provost, director of the Honors Program, professor of history and academic associate. In between 1994 and 2000, she was executive vice chancellor at the University of South Carolina at Spartanburg.

Since 2000, Stephens has been provost at Southeast. The provost is responsible for academic developments and functions at the university.

"It's been my dream job," she said.

Dr. Ronald Rosati will follow Stephens as Southeast provost.

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