Leaving a Lake Legacy: Making a campus a home for higher education

By Dianne Steingrubey
The Lake Today

At age 50, Shirley Watkins enrolled at Columbia College-Lake of the Ozarks. She has been a fixture at the campus as a student, earning a bachelor’s degree in both psychology and business administration in 1996, and a faculty member since 1998.

She furthered her education and earned a master’s of arts in counseling from Webster University in 1998 and doctorate in clinical psychology from Forest Institute in 2002. She graduated summa cum laude from Columbia College and was honored as a distinguished graduate by Webster University. She is also invested in the Lake of the Ozarks community as a practicing clinical psychologist in Versailles, and also teaches psychology as well at Webster University in Rolla.

She continues to educate students of Columbia College because she recognizes how the college plays a significant role in her community.

“To me this college is the center of the whole area. What they do for people who didn’t think they could go too far away and get an education now they have a full four-year university here. I love the faculty and campus here,” Watkins remarked.

Born in Los Angeles, Watkins grew up in the St. Louis area. After high school, she studied pre-journalism at Missouri University. She left at the end of her junior year for a job opportunity in marketing with TWA.

“I would have graduated with my bachelor’s degree in journalism in ‘66 but I left to work for TWA. I started off as a reservationist and went up to account executive,” Watkins said. “I loved working for TWA when I was younger. It was a good learning experience.”

For Watkins, her educational path was put on hold while she began additional adult responsibilities such as marriage, raising children and other career opportunities. She moved to the Lake in 1982 and after her husband’s passing in 1990, Watkins was then able to return to higher education. She decided to enroll at Columbia College’s new Lake campus.

Watkins said she was amazed at how the faculty members really cared about the students. Her intentions were to go to school for one year and earn a business degree and go for her MBA, however, she fell in love with psychology.

“I had to take an organizational psychology course for my business degree and I just wanted to know everything there was to know about behavior and mental process,” she said. “So instead of staying a semester or two, I stayed two years and finished two degrees and then went for my masters And, I thought, ‘Well I want to go for my doctorate but since I’m aging maybe I better stay with my master’s. Shoot, you can go for your education; it doesn’t matter how old you are.’ So I kept going.”
After earning a master degree, Watkins was offered a position as a professor of psychology at Columbia College. During that time, she was also earning her doctorates degree, which required her to participate in internships all over the country.

“Each time I kept coming back to the lake and telling the students, ‘there there’s life on other blocks. Get your education, go see what’s going on to complete your education, and then come home. There’s a lot to offer out there, and bring it home to us,’” Watkins said.

Watkins teaches a variety of psychology classes at Columbia College, and she is dedicated to making sure her students are prepared for the next step in their careers when they leave Columbia College. Liz Cady, alumni of college, said Watkins ability to apply real-life situations in the classroom helped later on in her career.

“Dr. Shirley Watkins not only makes learning fun, challenging and creative but applies what you are reading in a text book to real life situations that will help you years down the road,” Cady said.

“Without her encouragement and that of the entire Columbia College staff and faculty I would not be where I am today; words cannot express the gratitude I have for everyone there.”

In September, Watkins was named the lead faculty member for the campus. She was the first faculty member from the Lake Campus to be named to the post.

“Dr. Watkins is an invaluable member of our faculty and her student-centered focus is evident every time she walks in the classroom,” Dr. John Keeney, director of CC-LOTO said. “We are fortunate to have a psychologist, instructor and person of her caliber as a member of our faculty and we are proud to call her an alumna of our campus as well.”

As a lead faculty member, Watkins assists with reviewing all class syllabi, coordinates peer faculty evaluations, monitor the quality and accessibility of campus technology available to students and faculty and assist new and current faculty members grow and improve their teaching skills among several other duties.

“I was a student when we were in that little building across the way and it really was a close family atmosphere, so that spirit has come over to this new building,” Watkins said. “With growth, we wanted to be sure that we still maintained that spirit of family here so this my first semester to do that ¬– bring new faculty in and helping them really feel comfortable as part of our faculty.”

Watkins said if she and other faculty can demonstrate to students what their strengths are, then they can grow so much more rapidly as students.

“I think that’s a real key in our campus here,” she said.

Watkins is also a member of several professional associations including the American Psychological Association, the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development and the Missouri Psychological Association. She said she is on the go about 40-60 hours a week and her second husband, Chuck , is her backbone.

“My husband really takes care of me so I can go the number of hours that I go,” Watkins commented. “You’re going to be doing something somewhere, so may as well do it to be able to help someone else. So he’s my back up and he keeps everything going at home.”

Watkins said her spirit is also what keeps her so involved in her community.

“I am a Christian and that has been an important part of my life as far as I can remember. Since I was a small child I can remember that my family instilled the importance of valuing others I know it sounds kind of cliché but that’s truly important to me,” she said.

In their free time they enjoy kicking back at home and enjoying their beautiful view of the lake. She enjoys spending time with all of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren when she can. Her and Chuck also enjoy their two 90-pound dogs named Biscuit and Gravy that are a combination of Australian Shepherd and Border Collie.

Watkins recently celebrated her 50th class reunion with 180 of her classmates and is motivated by what others have done through their path through life as well.

“I just had my 50th high school class reunion in October. There were over 500 students in my graduating class in 1962, and 180 of my classmates were at this reunion,” Watkins said. “I was so proud of the people that I went to school with who have had families and had been inspiring to other people; that was motivating to me.”

Watkins and her husband are greatly involved in all activities and support Columbia College and its mission of helping all people reach their educational goals.

“Columbia College is like home and family to us. I think what this college means to this community is really special,” she said.