Dean of Polytechnic Studies closing SEMO career

Friday, May 20, 2011
Randy Shaw is assistant provost of extended learning at Southeast Missouri State University. (Laura Simon)

The man known as "the innovator," a sharecropper's son who went on to help change the face and the direction of Southeast Missouri State University, is calling it quits after a career in education that has spanned more than four decades.

Randy Shaw, Southeast's dean of the School of Polytechnic Studies and Extended Learning, plans to retire at the end of July after a 23-year administrative career at the university.

"You couldn't have scripted it any better, as far as having an outstanding career here," Shaw said, reflecting on tenure marked by change and tremendous growth. "I would have never have dreamt it would have worked out as good as it has."

Shaw, on the verge of turning 64, said it was just time to bring his academic career to an end. His wife retired a few years ago, and he said he was ready for a new chapter in his life.

He began in education 42 years ago, graduating from college and directly moving into a public teaching post at a school in his home state of Nebraska. Five years later, Shaw joined Nebraska's Wayne State College, where he spent nearly a decade and a half as a teacher and administrator.

In 1988, Shaw came to Southeast, where he was named chairman of the Department of Industrial Technology, including engineering and agriculture.

Shaw led the department through its transformation into the broader School of Polytechnic Studies, serving as its founding dean.

"These were radical changes," he said. "It was a very small program at the time. It wasn't interacting that well with the region."

The university secured additional funding, enhanced the mission of its technology and agriculture divisions, and built the Otto and Della Seabaugh Polytechnic Building, a $10 million facility with more than 80,000 square feet of classroom and lab space. Shaw was at the helm of all the changes.

He's modest about it all.

"It was a great opportunity to work with lot of great people," he said. "Southeast has such great leadership for all their programs, great faculty and great staff."

Others are more effusive about Shaw's accomplishments.

"He moved the technology department from an old shop program to a state-of-the-art department, with robotics and advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity and construction management," said Southeast president Dr. Ken Dobbins, who has worked with Shaw for 20 years. "Those are vital programs for our university and our clients and businesses we work with."

When Shaw first stepped onto campus, Southeast's industrial engineering department had about 155 students majoring there. Today there are some 600. The ag department has doubled over the past two decades, from about 130 to 250, a recognition of Southeast Missouri's critical role in Missouri and national crop production.

Al Spradling, a member of Southeast's board of regents, called Shaw "the innovator" of polytechnic studies.

"That was new for us and the area, and it has been a major driver for the area," he said. "This was his knowledge and ability and brainchild. It is going to be hard to replace him. You hate to lose all that knowledge."

Shaw went on to lead Southeast's reorganized extended learning program, a position he was asked to take on for a year. Eight and a half years later, Shaw continues to preside over a department that has doubled, serving some 2,000 students in Cape Girardeau and at Southeast's regional centers. He also helped lead the creation of the Partnership for Higher Education, a cooperative effort between Southeast, Mineral Area Community College and Three Rivers College. The institution of higher education in its first year at the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center, enrolled about 200 students in each semester, and anticipates enrollment between 300 and 400 in the fall.

"Those regional campuses in Perryville, Sikeston, Malden and Kennett were losing over $1 million a year when we asked him to take it over," Dobbins said. "We're now making a modest amount of money at those campuses."

Shaw looks back on his life in higher education with a sense of fulfillment and a little surprise.

"It was a great career, really," he said. "For a sharecropper's son from Nebraska, I couldn't have asked for more."


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