Video by Katlin Younts
It would be easy for a newly appointed administrator at the University of Central Missouri to feel like they need to change things, or fix things, or at least amend certain things.
Phillip Bridgmon, who began working as the provost and vice president for academic affairs on July 15, said he would rather just allow the faculty and staff at UCM to continue to work and that he views his role largely as one of support.
“I think the culture here is strong,” he said. “The programs are strong, the faculty, the staff, all of that is in place, and the university is recognized for its strength, and doing things very well.
“Where I can help is in gathering the resources my colleagues identify to do their work. Their perineal challenges become my to-do list. So, if I’m a problem solver and a resource gatherer, those are the kinds of things I’ve got to do well for my colleagues.”
As much as Bridgmon said he admires the university and the people with whom he’s now working, he is not content. He is motivated by the university’s mission and is actively pursuing avenues for meaningful evolution, and seems genuinely excited to help cultivate that growth.
The university is currently focused on enrollment. Bridgmon said it’s something he’s focusing on as well, and said he believes focusing on enrollment is a way to look at several things at once.
“Enrollment is affected by the entire university, so in many ways it’s not just one thing I’m focused on,” he said. “Within that, investing in faculty, investing in the kinds of high end practices that are meaningful to the student experience within their academic programs that help them stay in school and persist and complete, and then go out and be professionally successful. That’s connected to enrollment, them being able to tell our story.”
Bridgmon said he’s interested in taking a close look at technology on campus in his first year and seeing how it can enhance student experience, both in developing online programs for better degree access and in advancing educational capabilities in on-campus courses.
“(It’s) more of a broader conversation about where do we need to strategically go with expanding access to information technologies – distance and educational – so we can expand our mission and meet some of those goals, including the president’s enrollment goal,” he said.
He referred to “those goals” several times. A few times, he was talking about the institution’s goals and how he wants to help achieve them. But more frequently he seemed concerned with the goals of students and how he might better help foster an environment that truly drives them.
“Whether or not a student is successful really depends on his or her goals,” he said. “And then, ‘How did we as an institution help the student meet those goals?’
“We know the students come here with particular professional objectives, and we need to make sure we have those programs. But, also, once they’re able to leave, and graduate, and go and begin their professional work, are they able to be successful?”
Bridgmon took that idea a step further and said he’s committed to making sure UCM continues to graduate students who have not only met their own goals but who have done so in a way that allows employers in the community and the region to succeed as well.
“My vision is that each of our programs has a connection to our community, our region and the state,” he said. “Our service role, our public mission, obligates us to make meaningful contributions to the daily work and life of our community and our region. … I view it as a moral obligation in addition to a professional obligation that we take what we know and problems we can solve and we engage with our communities on helping achieve the goals that we have collectively set for ourselves, and that we be meaningful partners in that.”
Bridgmon said he’s excited by what’s already being done and is encouraged to continue to build on those successes.
“I’ve been thrilled, really, with the work we’ve been able to do over these first couple of months. UCM is a wonderful institution – wonderful colleagues, terrific community,” he said. “(There are) so many opportunities for us to explore collectively. I think the university is clearly a strong one, and can get stronger, and I do believe we’re identifying some opportunities where we can make some meaningful contributions to growing the learning environment while paying attention to the… evolution of the university’s programs.”
Bridgmon is both soft-spoken and energetic, approachable and driven. When he speaks of goals, he’s not using a vague buzzword but is referencing a specific obligation. And when he talks about improvement, he’s talking about advancement and not repair.
He seems to be a leader with a vision that acknowledges the need to adapt to the changing landscape of higher education without failing to recognize the contributions of the people throughout the years that have led the institution to where it is now.