New University of Missouri chancellor visits Jackson

Wednesday, July 2, 2014
University of Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, right, tours the garden at Jackson's South Elementary School with Larry Simon, a volunteer teacher with the school's "Eating from the Garden" program, and Mary Gosche, MU Extension county program director, Tuesday, July 1, 2014 in Jackson. (Fred Lynch)

On the job since February, University of Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin is trying to visit as many spots around the state as possible. On Tuesday, he visited the University of Missouri Extension Office in Jackson, where he spoke about his new post, university enrollment and programs that touch people's lives, such as extension and the Missouri College Advising Corps.

About 85 people attended a luncheon at the extension office, including legislators, extension officials, alumni, extension council members, supporters, volunteers and clients.

The Missouri College Advising Corps, Loftin said, is a program in which recent college graduates, the majority of whom are from University of Missouri, serve for up to two years at high schools to help create a college-going culture. Southeast Missouri high schools set to get the program are in Kennett, New Madrid and Sikeston.

"We try to find high schools that don't have a majority of their graduates going on to college and go there specifically to try to encourage more of those young people to do that," Loftin said.

Missouri College Advising Corps executive director Beth Tankersley-Bankhead said it targets schools with average or below-average college-going rates.

Last year, the corps was in 26 high schools statewide, and almost 6,000 students received help applying to college. This fall, Tankersley-Bankhead said, the program will be in 37 high schools with 41 advisers. Two advisers will be placed in four of the larger high schools -- two each in Kansas City and St. Louis, she said.

Loftin, a native Texan who received his bachelor's degree from Texas A&M University and his master's and Ph.D. from Rice University in physics, said the program also was successful at home.

"I've never seen a more impactful program in my entire 40-year career as something like this," Loftin said. He said many of the kids who go through the program have been told for years they aren't college material or can't go to college because their parents didn't enroll.

The University of Missouri Extension Service in Jackson connected with more than 300,000 people last year, taking what's learned through university research and translating it to people in the region and enabling them to deal with many different issues, Loftin said.

With specialists in a variety of fields, the Jackson facility serves a large area in sectors such as business development, agriculture, human environmental sciences, 4-H and food and nutrition, said Richard Proffer, business development specialist for the Southeast region.

Loftin began his university career during the 1970s. His most recent role was president of Texas A&M University, where he spent almost five years. He'd planned to return to the classroom at A&M, but was approached in October about the chancellor's job at University of Missouri.

"I thought about it and visited with the right people and decided I had one more job in me, so I could do it," Loftin said. "I enjoy students a lot, and one of the major factors was, as a teacher, I would certainly have students to deal with every day, but in small numbers. As a chancellor or president, I have them in the thousands, and I do enjoy working with students."

MU's Columbia campus has 35,000 students, and Texas A&M boasted 60,000 when Loftin was there. But Lofton said he doesn't see much difference.

"Actually, these are both large, public land-grant universities. The culture is very similar. My joke is if I talk to a student from Mizzou or one from Texas A&M [and] I can't see the color of their shirt, I couldn't tell where I was," Loftin said.

He said it's a joy to be around students, and it's important they have access to him.

"I'm a better leader by being able to see my university through the eyes of those we serve," he said.

During his visit, Loftin also toured the Eat from the Garden Program at South Elementary School in Jackson and the Glen Birk Farm, a longtime participant in MU Extension's Show-Me Select Replacement Heifer Program, which is an educational vehicle targeted at improving production efficiency through increased use of existing technology, coupled with a marketing component.

Eat from the Garden involves four classes of fourth-graders tending eight beds of vegetables. Students also learn about nutrition and healthy eating habits. Cucumbers, sweet potatoes, carrots and tomatoes are being grown, with pumpkins planted at the end of the garden.


Pertinent address: 648 W. Jackson Trail, Jackson

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