Columbia College–Lake of the Ozarks' Rona Prater featured in Lake Today newspaper

Rona Prater
Rona Prater, Columbia College–Lake of the Ozarks alumna and academic advisor, was featured in the July 13 edition of the Lake Today newspaper:

Still a familiar face
Rona Prater has become a fixture at Columbia College–Lake of the Ozarks

By Dianne Steingrubey
Photo detail
Rona Prater stands with husband, Joe, and her daughters, Sidney, left, and Cassidy, during the graduation ceremony for her master’s degree in May.

 For the past nine years, Rona Prater has been a familiar face at the Columbia College-Lake of the Ozarks campus. Having worked the past six years as the administrative assistant, Prater is now an academic advisor.

The Eldon native started her journey at Columbia College in 2002 as a student and began working on campus in 2005. She graduated with an associate’s degree in business administration in 2006, and completed her bachelor’s degree in 2008 and her master’s degree in May.

As a high school student, she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father, who is in the Marine Corps. She decided to join the Army and scheduled to begin bootcamp after graduation. Somewhere between deciding to join the Army and graduating high school, she became pregnant with her first child.
“After graduation my friends went off to college, and I was at home raising an infant,” Prater said. “A couple years passed, and I began to think about our future high school reunions. I did not want to be remembered as the one who was pregnant in high school and had not done anything with my life. It was at that moment I decided to get my college education.”

She chose to enroll at Columbia College because the campus was close to her home and classes were only eight weeklong sessions. While getting her associate’s, Prater worked early mornings as a cashier, then could be found in the commons of old building, studying until class began. Cathy Whitfield, assistant director of Columbia College, offered her a position at the school during one of her afternoon study sessions.

“Being a student, I kind of knew how the process worked, and I was still pursuing a degree, so I think she knew I would be around for a while,” Prater said. “She taught a lot of my business classes, and I pretty much followed her all the way through my business courses, because you could see how passionate she was about it. I thought, ‘I would like to be like that one day.’”

As an administrative assistant, Prater helped her peers apply for admission, register and get text books, and helped handle financial aid. Between work, school, being a wife and mother of two, obtaining her degrees was a challenge, but she knew the payoff would be worth it.

“It was tough, but I have an awesome husband,” she said. “He was always there. He supported me and he alleviated some of my duties at home, but there was a lot of times where I had to give up some the fun stuff we wanted to do on the weekends because I really needed time to study.”

Prater and her husband, Joe
Prater was the only student to receive her master’s degree during the commencement ceremony in May. She was overwhelmed with good feelings as she stepped down off the stage, and fellow staff members gave her a thumbs up while wiping their eyes. Her family was very proud and even her all of extended family came to show support. Prater is the first member of her family to earn a master’s.

“All of the staff was real proud of her and was choked up, because we’ve seen how hard she’s worked,” John Keeney said. “At the end of the work day she would be getting in the car to drive up to Columbia to take classes and still have to come home later at night and take care of her family, do homework and be at work the next day. She is a dedicated person, and we are real proud of her.”

Keeney also said the college is fortunate having her come on board as part of the crew, because she can really identify with what students with families are going through.

Prater now advises most new students who come in for a general studies curriculum and those earning a criminal justice degree. Her favorite part of the position is meeting all the different people.

“New students come in and their scared,” she said. “I tell them, ‘You know what, I’ve been there, too, but after a few sessions you get the hang of it and then the fears are gone. You get used to it and then it goes by so fast.’”