Transformational experiences. The phrase that students, staff, faculty, and nearly anyone who met or watched Pittsburg State President Steve Scott would most closely associate with him. An intriguing expression when you consider the challenges that Pittsburg State and Kansas’s five other state universities faced during Scott’s 13- years in the role at PSU President.
Even with the immense head wings throughout his presidency Pittsburg State continued to move forward with major projects like the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts, completed in 2014. The continued collaboration between the city of Pittsburg and Pittsburg State with projects like Block22 in 2019. And the Robert W. Plaster Center, the 13-million dollar indoor track facility, that is used in various capacities and opened its doors in 2015. The creation of the Plaster was due in part to PSU, the city of Pittsburg, and private donors.
When asked about the timing of stepping down as Pittsburg State President, Scott says now is just the right time.
“It’s really pretty simple. I’ll be 70-years old this fall. I’ve been very open about that. And I just think there’s a time. There’s a time to let the next group take over. The next person takes over. And I feel really good about what we’ve done. The accomplishment we have. And I think now is the right time.”
In many ways, President Scott was the face of Pittsburg State with perhaps the exception of Gus the Gorilla. Operating a Four-year university is a 24-hour operation, especially one that is so embedded as a part of the community of Pittsburg. Scott was not only the President he was a tireless ambassador for both the university and the region. However, he says working in a university setting is part of what kept him so enthused about life.
“Well, first of all, this place (Pittsburg State) is in and of itself energizing. So I’m with 20-year-olds and 18-year-olds. I’m inspired by them, their aspirations, and their hope. And this weekend, I was with a former executive of Conoco, a person who owns a strength and conditioning company in Houston. And so I see it from 18 year old to 75-year-olds. And I feel this affinity for Pitt State that they have. And this belief in Pitt State that they have. And so I don’t have to do anything in the morning to get fired up.”
For most of us, when we find a job, it’s professional gesture to give our employer two weeks’ notice so that they can be prepared for your departure and look to rehire. When you’re the President of a college or university, you have to make the announcement nearly a year prior. It’s common for national job searches to take nine months. The Kansas Board of Regents and other groups worked together to find the individual who could lead Pittsburg State. Both immediate challenges, such as the national downturn in enrollment at four-year universities and planning for the future, which could include paring down of degrees throughout Kansas.
Scott says the long runaway of goodbyes has been emotional.
“I’d say, there’s been moments. There’s no moments of sadness, but there’s been moments that have been emotional. The art gallery that they put together as photos of me with different individuals throughout the years and it really focused on the relationships that I built; that was a really emotional moment to walk in and see that. I had some really emotional moments at the retirement celebration. And I’ve had a few other times its just kind of surprised me.”
Scott himself is not calling it a retirement though he says he’s going to take some time off, noting that since he became Pittsburg State President in 2009, he has not had more than a week off at a time. He says it’s important to him to hand control of the university and its leadership off to Pittsburg State’s 10th President, Daniel Shipp.
“I am going to take a little bit of time off, but I also have people talking to me about doing some work for them. And one thing that is very important for me to do is to support Dr. Shipp and not be in Dr. Shipp’s way. So I’m really going to step back from university things. I’ll go to games. And I’ll be able to watch them because I do a lot of visiting in this role at athletic events. So I’ll do that, but I really need to step back from being very visible.”
While Scott will step back from his work at the university, he says that he’s already making plans to transform the career that he’s developing in higher education and apply it to other sectors, such as improving healthcare in southeast Kansas.
“I’d like about six weeks (off). You know I’ve never had more than a week off. In this job, it’s really hard to take much time off, so I’d really like to disconnect. And I want to do some reading, some studying on a few things, with helping and learning about, coaching and coaching at a leadership level, at a senior leadership level, because I’ve been doing it, but how do you apply that to other sectors of the economy? And so I won’t work in High Ed, but I’ll tell you the area that really intrigues me is healthcare.”
Scott’s timing couldn’t be better to move his attention and bandwidth from higher education to healthcare. According to a nationwide survey conducted by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, southeast Kansas is the least healthy region of all of Kansas. Crawford County, where Pittsburg State is located, ranks at the very bottom in Health Outcomes and Health Factors. In addition, 19% of children in Crawford County live in poverty, compared to Kansas at 13% and the US as a whole at 9%. Scott continues.
“You can’t have a vibrant community without strong healthcare. There are some gaps here. The Community Health Center is just awesome; they do a great job. But I think there are some ways that I can help in that regard, so I’m talking to some folks about that. I’m not really to make an announcement. But I’ve lived a life of purpose. I’m going to continue to live a life of purpose, and I’m anxious to apply my skills in a different space in a different area and see if I can help.”
Our two guests on this week’s episode of KRPS Presents have never met and reside on opposite sides of the Kansas/Missouri border, yet both have so much in common. They both have strong ties to universities located in or on the edge of the Ozarks. Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas, sits on the outer western fringe and artist’s Judith and Jon Fowler have spent their careers (now retired) between Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, MO, and Missouri State in Springfield, MO. Scott. The Fowler’s have something in common, a calling to their professions.
The Fowler’s latest gallery, titled A Retrospective, opened at the Spiva Center for the Arts on Friday, May 27, 2022, with a reception and an artist talk held by Judith Fowler the following day.
Long before 100’s millions of people Tweeted, made Tic-Tok videos, or updated their Facebook profiles to tell the world how they felt about what they saw in the world; they painted and created bronze statues to mark a period in history. The Fowlers continue that work with A Retrospective on display now through July 16.
KRPS’s Fred Fletcher-Fierro recently spoke with Judith Fowler at her studio in Joplin, and she revealed that she works on more than one painting simultaneously.
“And so I may have five going at the same time. So all of the ones that you see in the studio here, I’m working on them at the same time. And these are all acrylic. Even the oils, I’ll have two or three going, and so that’s probably why I use the same pallet.”
The Fowler’s Retrospective exhibit is work that the couple has created throughout their long careers as artists. Judith explains that when she was raising his four children; she had a different frame of mind and could only paint part-time. As she matured as an artist and her kids got older, her art became more defined as she was more attuned and what she was creating. She explains her process this way.
“When you’re painting, you’re going through different mindsets. So you might be kind of playful when you start. You know when you’re drinking your coffee, and you’re starting work. And then you get a little more serious, and pretty soon you get tired of the image, at least I do, and so if I start working on another one, then I’m fresh when I come back to the other.”
Painters and their designs are as varied as the individuals who make them, including Judith Fowler. While some artists create small works with lines similar to a coloring book, Fowler creates large life-like paintings that are often larger than the person viewing them. Also, instead of bold, bright colors or rustic scenes of the Ozarks, Fowler primarily uses pastels. In particular, in A Retrospective (on view at the Spiva), you can see the playful side of her personality with works focused on fairy tales, princesses, and angels. Her works rarely have a singular focus which is how Fowler works on as many as five paintings or charcoal drawings at one time.
“When I work on several at the same time, it’s like my brain is thinking about a problem on the other one. And I may run across a real problem situation thing, well I don’t know how I am going to solve this. We’ll I start working on something else, and then pretty soon I can turn around on go right to the problem and solve it.”
Jon and Judith Fowler’s A Retrospective is open to the public at the Spiva Center for the Arts in Joplin, MO, from May 28 through July 16, 2002. The gallery is open to the public, and donations are accepted.
(This is just a slice of my interview with Mrs. Fowler. We’ll air our more complete interview including her work as art therapist in a future episode)