Columbia College–Lake of the Ozarks academic advisor, Thelma Arthur, featured in Lake Today

From Feb. 2, 2011 edition of Lake Today by Dianne Steingrubey:

‘Addicted to learning’
Thelma Arthur enjoys challenges she faces as academic adviser

Thelma Arthur participates in a radio interview at the Columbia College-Lake of the Ozarks 20th anniversary celebration. Arthur has been a member of the staff for 14 years.
Thelma Arthur participates in a radio interview at the Columbia College-Lake of the Ozarks 20th anniversary celebration. Arthur has been a member of the staff for 14 years.
If you would have asked Thelma Arthur 20 years ago if she would ever be a college professor or academic adviser, she would have said “no way.”
Over the last 15 years, she has gone from working in a factory without a high school diploma to completing her associate (1997), bachelor’s (2001) and MBA (2005) at Columbia College. Arthur now serves as the senior academic adviser at Columbia College in Lake of the Ozarks, and is proud of the educational route she traveled to where she is now. Arthur is the perfect example of the power of a quality education and the strength of family.
Courtesy of Thelma Arthur
Thelma Arthur is shown at a Columbia College event. For the past five years, she has been advising students in undergraduate and graduate programs.
Arthur was working at the Dixon Ticonderoga pencil manufacturing plant in Versailles in 1996. Her husband, Vernon, was attending the Columbia College’s Lake campus. He kept talking to her about going to college. She had low self confidence, was not a high school graduate and had not earned her GED. So she really had doubts she could do it. It had been 27 years since she’d been out of school.
Her husband kept pushing her to get a GED, and a few months later she did it.

She started college in January 1997, planning to just get her associate degree. She also began working for Columbia College in Laurie as an administrative assistant. She received her associate of arts, and she continued taking classes to get a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Courtesy of Thelma Arthur
Thelma Arthur, center, poses for a family photo with her husband and kids. Thelma’s family, pictured from left to right, is: Travis, Vernon, Onja, Kathy and Renee.

Master of learning
“I became addicted to learning,” she said. “I loved it.”
She continued to work for the college but moved over to the Lake campus’ financial aid department, taking on a whole new set of responsibilities. After earning her bachelor of science in business administration, she decided to enroll in classes for another degree.
“After a few sessions of not taking classes, I was missing it bad,” Arthur said. “I would watch the students go to class and hear them talk and I thought, ‘I am missing this. I want to go back to class. So what am I going to do?’
“I thought of going back for another bachelor degree, but Dr. Keeney and Cathy Whitfield really encouraged me to go get my master’s. So then I started my master’s program.”
She said Keeney and Whitfield were her mentors throughout college. They were always a source of encouragement to her.
Classes were not available online then for the master’s program, so she had to travel to the Jefferson City campus for the first six classes and then to the main campus for the last six. She said she was exhausted from working every day and driving that far for class, but she enjoyed it so much.
She remembers (from 2005) the feeling of driving home that night (around 11:30 p.m.) from the college. “Knowing that I had earned my MBA and that was my last trip I had to make for class. Words cannot express how I felt.”
Courtesy of Thelma Arthur
Thelma Arthur is a grandmother of nine. Her entire immediate family includes, pictured are: (Front row): Zach and Garrett; (Second row): Breonna, Onja, Chelsea, Katelyn, Melanie and Melissa; (Back row): Richard, Vernon, Thelma, Kathy Renee, Isabella, Travis and Carrie.
She was still “addicted to learning,” so she enrolled to teach business classes. And that takes care of her addiction.
Finding the right path
Over the last five years, Arthur has been advising students in the undergraduate and graduate programs. She monitors about 300 students, advising two out of the three most popular majors at Columbia College. She advises students pursuing business degrees and students on the path to entering in the nursing program.
“Nothing on her desk is more important than a student walking in,” said Lyle Sybert, co-worker and academic adviser for Columbia College in Lake of the Ozarks. “She’s wonderful. She makes everyone feel comfortable real quick. There’s a line that waits just for Thelma, and she always has time for all of them.”
Arthur enjoys the challenges of advising. She works with students to bring out their strengths, making sure her students are pursing the degree that suits them best.
“I want to make sure they are going to be happy with the degree they earn. I think it is so sad to hear that people got a college degree and realized that they didn’t want to do that, they just thought there would be a job market and make more money.”
Arthur takes pride in her graduates coming back to visit with her, letting her know what they pursued after college.
She is fond of teaching business classes at the college level because of the combination of life experience in the classroom. “You put kids right out of high school in a classroom with older people with life experience. When you put those two together, it’s a wonderful learning experience,” she said.
“The younger people have tremendous respect for the older ones who bring life experience, and the younger ones share their knowledge of technology. It’s amazing and I think this setting helps the learning atmosphere with both ends of the age spectrum.”
Courtesy of Thelma Arthur
Thelma Arthur is the 12th child out of 13 in her family. Pictured are Annabel, Ron, Patti, Bob, Carol, Sandy, Othur (her father), Queen (her mother), Judy, Jeannie, Debbie, Thelma and Kathy.
Wearing many hats, Arthur also is the point person for organizing the graduation ceremony. Last year, the Lake campus had nearly 100 graduates attend the ceremony held at the Lodge of the Four Seasons. She is also the face for the college in the community at events such as career fairs, college fairs and speaking to high school juniors and seniors.
“Thelma is a poster gal for a large segment of our student population,” Keeney said. “We’re about half traditional, 18-23 year olds, and the other half our population is older. She is self-motivated, and she does above and beyond her academic advising.”
Arthur said the most rewarding part of her job is watching a new student with little self confidence change as they pursue their degree. She said proudly, “kind of like me.”

Seeing students blossom

“I have seen new students, that even I had doubts about, turn their life around and blossom into some of our best students. To see students’ confidence improve through the four years of college and then to see them walk across the stage at graduation with their heads held high with self confidence, always brings on the tears.”
“I have been to every Lake campus graduation, and we always have at least one of these students that make me cry. I am very proud of all of our students because I know the hard work and sacrifices they have faced to earn their degree. However, just like my own children, I am proud of all of them, but there is always one that pulls on your heart strings a little harder.”
Arthur said she is right where she wants to be and it’s the atmosphere that keeps her at Columbia College in Lake of the Ozarks.
Arthur met her husband through mutual friends at church. After they started dating, he joined the Army. He came back when she was 17, they got married and started a family. She and Vernon celebrated their 39th wedding anniversary this January. Her husband also is a faculty member at the Lake campus.
They have two daughters, one son and nine grandchildren — “the joys of our life,” she added.
The Arthur’s enjoy spending time together at home when they both aren’t teaching and look forward to the spring so they can work out in the yard and attend as many of the grandkids’ ball games as they can. Her husband is pastor of Brumley Baptist church, and she enjoys teaching Sunday school to children there.
Born in West Virginia, she is the 12th of 13 children. Her mother graduated high school, but her dad only went to the sixth grade. No one in her family had gone to college. She is proud to be the first generation college graduate.
The moment in her life she is the proudest of is the decision to not live her life to please other people, but to live it through her faith and convictions.
“I know if I continue to do that, my life will be what God intends it to be.”