As a first-generation college graduate, Steve Rook is “exactly what walks through these doors every day.”
Rook, one of two finalists for the presidency of State Fair Community College, addressed faculty, staff, trustees and community members Wednesday morning in SFCC’s Thompson Conference Center.
At 9 a.m. today, the other finalist, Joanna Anderson, will have her turn to share her vision for the college and answer questions.
In introducing Rook, Gary Noland, president of SFCC Board of Trustees and co-chair of the search committee, referred to the quest for “just the fifth president in our college’s 46-year history” as “a very important and historic event.”
Rook, vice president for academic and student affairs at Rich Mountain Community College in Mena, Ark., shared his personal and professional background, as well as his vision for SFCC should he be selected. Along the way, he peppered his remarks with humor.
“I was born on Highway 65, the same highway that runs through the middle of Sedalia,” he said, adding that his childhood home of southeast Arkansas is “not nearly as pretty as Sedalia.”
Rook said his family values education and his grandfather, whom he called his “guardian angel,” told him: “Education is the one thing they cannot take away from you. Get as much of it as you can.”
Rook broke up the room in noting that as he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and began pursuit of his doctorate, he thought his grandfather might be saying, “I wonder if he’ll ever get out of school.”
At community colleges, Rook said, “that feeling of class and elitism is not there, we are all in this together to help our students succeed and to change lives.” He shared five words that he sees as defining the role of a college president:
• Guardianship: “The president has to put on the cape and put the ‘S’ on the chest and be the protector of the institution’s fiscal, physical and human resources.”
• Relationships: “It is imperative that the president ... walk around campus. ... It also is important to build relationships off campus.”
• Stewardship: “The board and the president have a responsibility to the taxpayers of our counties, of our state, and we have responsibility to the folks who pay tuition to spend that money wisely.”
• Leadership: “It all boils down to one thing, and that is genuinely caring about your people and making sure there is two-way communication.”
• Citizenship: “I think it is a very important role for the president, to be out in the middle of the community, especially when it comes to economic development.”
Rook said he would want SFCC to be on the cutting edge with technology; continue to foster growth on campuses outside of Sedalia, such as Lake of the Ozarks and Boonville; be able to adapt quickly to provide appropriate training for local employers; and prepare students for the global economy.
“My vision,” he said, “is I want to promote an environment where students want to learn, where employees want to make a difference and where two-way communication is the norm.”
Vice president for academic and student affairs
Rich Mountain Community College, Mena, Ark.
Rook has 24 years of experience in higher education administration, the last 12 in the community college setting. Since 2011 he has served as vice president for academic and student affairs at Rich Mountain Community College, a rural school of about 1,000 students in Mena, Ark. From 2000-11 he served as vice president for student affairs and then vice president for academic affairs.
Before holding those positions, Rook served six years at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock as both assistant and associate dean of students, and six years at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla., as director of student activities and organizations. He has served as an adjunct instructor at all three schools.
Rook received a doctorate of Education in Higher Education Administration in 1998 from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock; a master of science degree in education in guidance and counseling/student personnel in 1987 from Eastern Illinois University; and a bachelor of science degree in marketing from the University of Arkansas-Monticello.