By Kathleen Swift
Photo by Artistic Expressions Photography
Dr. Dean Van Galen began his tenure as the sixth president of Missouri Southern State University July 1 with a welcome breakfast with faculty and staff. Later that morning, Van Galen hosted a roundtable discussion with a group of Joplin and regional business leaders.
“Connections are important, and these business and community leaders provided me with a sense of the strong history between the university and regional businesses,” Van Galen said. “We want to build upon these positive relationships. Missouri Southern must provide high-quality education, developing engaged citizens and the talent that will support regional businesses and economic growth.
“I already see some potential areas for greater collaboration with partners within the region to support a future-oriented, innovation economy. An obvious opportunity is in health care. Joplin is a health care destination, with outstanding providers and facilities, as well as the KCU medical school. Missouri Southern has opportunity to further build our partnerships in this, and many other areas.”
Van Galen brings to Missouri Southern a history of academic and leadership experience. His personal philosophy emphasizes student learning, and he believes student success must be at the heart of the university’s mission.
“I believe deeply in the value of higher education,” he said. “Missouri Southern is a place of great opportunity, with outstanding faculty and staff. In leading MSSU, I will strive to prioritize what best supports the success of students, including those who must overcome significant challenges in attaining a degree or other educational credential.”
Van Galen and his wife, Mary, like 60 percent of MSSU students, were first-generation college students. He earned a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry at Kansas State University and conducted post-doctoral chemistry research at the University of California at Berkeley.
A Wisconsin native, Van Galen graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and began his academic career as a chemistry professor at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, where he was named the university’s 1988-89 Educator of the Year and the State of Missouri’s CASE Professor of the Year for 1991. His experience includes being named an American Council on Education Fellow in 1994-95 and serving as vice president for university advancement at Truman.
From 2003-2009, Van Galen served as vice president for development/university advancement at the University of West Florida (Pensacola).
According to his bio, prior to coming to MSSU, “Van Galen served as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls for 11 years where he led the successful completion of the Pathway to Distinction strategic plan. This plan included the implementation of high-demand distinctive academic programs and increased high-impact practices for students including undergraduate research and study abroad. Additionally, he has served on numerous civic and higher education leadership boards.”
Rolling up his sleeves at Missouri Southern, Van Galen has had the opportunity to get to know some students as they have led him on tours of their home towns.
“I’ve seen some interesting places such as the Jasper County Courthouse in Carthage, and the classic Randy’s Drive-In in Carl Junction,” he said. “Experiencing these towns from the perspective of a Missouri Southern student, where they live, has given me a sense and flavor of each community, the people and the great traditions of those places.”
As a faculty member at Truman State University, Van Galen developed and led an environmental science study abroad course in Norway. He noted the international theme at MSSU is unique among Missouri’s universities and within higher education, and was among the reasons he found leading Missouri Southern such a great opportunity.
“I always encourage students to consider study abroad, and to engage with international students,” he said. “Also, Missouri Southern has done a great job of internationalizing the campus in other ways, including the themed semester (this fall, the focus will be on the Caribbean). The pandemic will bring challenges to MSSU in fulfilling its international mission, but the university will continue its commitment to bringing the world to Missouri Southern, and take Missouri Southern to the world.
“My wife, Mary, and I have previously lived in Missouri for 16 years, and have been familiar with the Joplin region for decades. We are excited to be here, living in a wonderful area and serving a wonderful university.”