Author Archives: tmiles

Compost Project Partners with Local Schools to Fight Food Waste

Truman and the Kirksville School District are partnering to reduce food waste and contribute to locally grown produce.

Since January, the Truman Compost Project has worked with students at Ray Miller Elementary to collect food scraps from the school. The materials are used at Truman’s University Farm to create finished compost, which in turn is donated back to Ray Miller Elementary for use in the school’s Outdoor Garden Classroom. The idea to expand the Truman Compost Project originated with Michael Seipel, chair of the Agricultural Science Department.

“I am passionate about reducing food waste,” Seipel said. “I thought that expanding the Truman Compost Project to include Kirksville public schools could help educate the community about the importance of reducing food waste through educating the community’s youth about food waste and composting.”

The partnership had been in the works since February 2020, but was put on hold at the onset of the pandemic. It was rekindled last fall when Tiffany Miller, the garden educator at Ray Miller Elementary, reached out to the Agricultural Science Department for some finished compost for the school’s garden in the fall. Representatives from both schools worked together to implement the program in January 2022.

Kelli Hunsicker, the outdoor education coordinator and a fifth grade teacher, hopes participating in the program will show Ray Miller students how they can limit their food waste by reusing it to help nourish new plants and vegetables.

“The best thing about our outdoor education program is that students get a new experience learning to grow their own food,” Hunsicker said. “Now that we have added the compost project, they can see the process of reusing our food to break down and make compost that will go back into the garden to grow new food.”

At the end of their lunch shift, children at Ray Miller Elementary separate compostable food scraps, napkins and paper towels from non-compostable trash. Twice a week Truman students visit the school to help with the process and pick up materials.

“The students were really excited when Mrs. Tiffany explained the project to them. They couldn’t wait to get started,” Hunsicker said. “It has been helpful that Truman students have been able to be here during lunch a few days a week to help students sort their lunch trays. Students are always willing to help other students figure out what needs to go where.”

Ray Miller Elementary will ultimately use the finished product in its Outdoor Garden Classroom, which grows different fruits and vegetables for use at the school. The district has a similar program at the primary school that might eventually join the collaboration.

“This is meant to be an ongoing partnership,” Seipel said. “If it is successful, and if the Compost Project has enough student labor and resources, we would like to expand it to other buildings in the Kirksville R-III District.”

Since its inception in 2004, the Truman Compost Project primarily collects food scraps from the campus dining halls and Student Union Building. The project also partners with Rot Riders, a student organization that offers to pick up food scraps from Kirksville residents for composting. A pre-pandemic student research project estimated the Truman Compost Project collected approximately 142,000 pounds of food scraps during the 2018 academic year. More information about the Truman Compost Project, including ways to get involved, can be found at

Truman Recognized as a Top Producer of Fulbright Students

Truman was one of the colleges and universities that produced the most 2021-22 Fulbright U.S. students.

Each year the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) announces the top-producing institutions for the Fulbright Program, the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program. The Chronicle of Higher Education publishes the lists annually.

Three students from Truman were named Fulbright finalists. They participated in English Language Teaching Assistantships during the 2021-22 academic year, serving as native-speaker experts in English-language classrooms in their host countries. The students and their host countries were: Karis Chapman, Germany; Ross Jones, Spain; and Taylor Libbert, Andorra.

Truman had seven Fulbright applications for 2021-22. In addition to three finalists, three other students – Peyton Bell, Chase Baker and Nick Puleo – were selected as alternates. This marks the third consecutive year Truman has been among the top master’s institutions for producing Fulbright students, and the seventh time in the past 12 years. Truman was the only Missouri school to be recognized on the master’s institutions list this year.

“Being a top Fulbright producer is a realization of Truman’s vision to develop educated citizens ‘through transformative experiences that foster critical thought, daring imagination and empathetic understanding of human experiences at home and around the world,’” said University President Sue Thomas. “It is a strong testament to our students’ excellence and the invaluable mentoring of our outstanding faculty.”

The Fulbright competition is administered at Truman by Jack Davis, associate professor of German, and Meg Edwards, associate professor of political science.

The Fulbright Program was established more than 75 years ago to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Fulbright is the world’s largest and most diverse international educational exchange program.

Since its inception in 1946, more than 400,000 people from all backgrounds – recent university graduates, teachers, scientists and researchers, artists and more – have participated in the Fulbright Program and returned to their home countries with an expanded worldview, a deep appreciation for their host country and its people, and a new network of colleagues and friends.

Fulbright alumni work to make a positive impact on their communities, sectors and the world and have included 40 heads of state or government, 61 Nobel Laureates, 89 Pulitzer Prize winners, 76 MacArthur Fellows and countless leaders and changemakers who carry forward the Fulbright mission of enhancing mutual understanding.

Fulbright is active in more than 160 countries worldwide and partners with participating governments, host institutions, corporations and foundations in foreign countries and in the United States. Many of these organizations also provide direct and indirect support.

Bulldogs to Compete in Digital Realm

This fall a new Truman team will compete under the Bulldog banner with the addition of a University sponsored esports team.

A committee consisting of faculty and staff from around campus worked through the academic year, researching, visiting sites and attending webinars in order to determine how Truman esports should look and operate. An esports facility will be housed in Barnett Hall and will come together over the summer months.

Truman esports teams may compete in, but would not be limited to, “League of Legends” and “Rocket League.”

“Esports have become very popular among colleges across the country,” said Jared Young, director of academic affairs operations. “Schools are using them not only as an extracurricular opportunity, but also as a recruitment tool. There is student demand for an esports team, and we want to be able to provide them that experience.”

An esports student survey conducted in the spring semester helped determine some of the initial plans for the esports team. Many details remain to be determined, but approximately 16 students are expected to make up the inaugural team.

New Center Serves Students

A Student Government project several years in the making became a reality this year with the opening of the LGBTQ+ Resource Center. Located in Baldwin Hall 101, this community space is equipped with books with LGBTQ+ resources, health materials and volunteers. Student Government, SAB and the LGBTQ+ Resource Center advisory board hosted a housewarming party in April to celebrate the center being open.

Choose Wisely

Esther Lee picked Truman because she knew a smaller school would provide more opportunities for growth. She’s grateful for the support she has received and plans to pay it forward whenever possible.

Esther Lee is so involved on campus it’s easy to wonder how she finds time for all of her interests. She is the president of the Community of College Entrepreneurs. She previously served as a senior vice president for the co-ed business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi and is currently the organization’s diversity coordinator. Even though she is a business administration major, with a concentration in marketing, Lee is a member of the Clarinet Choir and has performed with the Wind Symphony. She’s also found time to mentor Kirksville High School students through the TRU-Leaders Next- Gen program.

All that might be overwhelming for some, but Lee came to Truman from Overland Park, Kansas, specifically to get more opportunities, or as she has put it before, “to be a big fish in a small pond.” On top of all those extracurricular activities, she’s also a full-time student and on track to earn a degree next May in four years. She could have graduated earlier, but chose to stay and make the most of her collegiate career.

“If I could go back, I would advise myself to lessen my course load,” she said. “Staying four years allows you to be more involved, make a bigger impact and have a more balanced life. If you take initiative to make the most out of your time at Truman, you won’t want it to end.”

Along with Lee’s generally ambitious nature, some of her drive can be chalked up as a byproduct of the pandemic. Every year of her college experience has been affected in some way by COVID, which altered many of the events and activities taken for granted by previous classes.

“The pandemic created a deeper appreciation for connections. As a sense of normalcy started to return, I saw that in all the organizations I was in,” she said. “Everyone was eager to form meaningful relationships with one another. In addition, I began to push myself to meet as many people as possible to make up for lost time.”

There was a lot for Lee to make up in her role as president of CCE. At the onset of the pandemic, meetings were moved to Zoom. Membership understandably waned, dropping into the single digits. As pandemic guidelines for organizations eased prior to the 2021-22 school year, Lee worked with members to brainstorm recruitment strategies, including tabling, participating at the activities fair and hosting other events.

“I did not know what to expect for our first in-person meeting in over a year, but the turnout was amazing,” she said. “It was definitely a memorable moment to see so many Truman students eager to get involved on campus and learn more about entrepreneurship.”

It’s fitting Lee heads up a student organization devoted to entrepreneurship. For more than five years she has run her own photography business, Esther Lens, and she took second place in Truman’s business pitch competition, Bulldog B.I.T.E., as a sophomore. Her pitch of Smarter, an automated study partner with voice recognition capabilities to enhance study time for students, netted her a $2,000 award.

Lee’s level of involvement could lead some to believe she is a hyper-focused, career-driven student with a clear vision of what she wants for the future. While she will certainly excel in whatever path she chooses, her overall plan is fairly broad and rooted in nobility.

“From a professional standpoint, I hope to be proud of what I do,” she said. “I also hope that I am able to be a mentor to anyone in my field within my company, as well as students at Truman, using my network to help others advance in their career. I hope that in my personal life I continue friendships and connections I formed in college. I also hope that I am able to give back to the Truman community in any way that I can.”

Lee does have one specific goal in mind. In addition to her career, she wants to create a nonprofit to help immigrant business owners by marketing their entrepreneurial endeavors. Both of her parents came to the United States for their education – her father hails from Malaysia, and her mother came to Truman from Taiwan – so supporting immigrants is an issue near to her heart. In fact, in the past year Lee started working as a cultural integration leader helping groups of new international students get acclimated to American culture.

“I know the amount of work my parents put in given the fact that English was their second language,” she said. “Their drive is what motivates me to always do my best and always help others.”

Here for the Students

A great first impression by students led Barbara Kramer to Truman. They are also why she’s stayed for more than 20 years.

It makes sense Barbara Kramer has found a home at Truman. A liberal arts institution is the perfect place for a woman of many interests. In addition to spending time with her twin 10-year-olds, she enjoys reading, crocheting, knitting and dancing. Kramer originally had plans of being a “scientist dancer,” with the hope working as a researcher while being part of a dance company on the side. Considering she was in a pre-professional ballet program with the Atlanta Ballet throughout high school, the idea is not as novel as it might first sound.

Science eventually won out, with Kramer going on to earn a biochemistry degree from Oberlin College and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Emory University. Although dance may have been put on the back (Bunsen) burner for a time, she eventually found her way to it again. During the pandemic, Kramer installed a barre and dance floor in her basement and started online ballet and tap classes. That ever-present quest for knowledge is at the heart of her teaching philosophy.

“I teach because I love to learn,” she said. “I like to work with students to help them discover how to solve problems and how to think critically about the material they’re studying.”

As a professor of chemistry, Kramer’s research interests have always revolved around environmental analysis. Under her guidance, students have examined the concentration of pesticides in soil, water and fish, as well as comparisons of contaminants in urban and rural water supplies. Other projects have explored phytoremediation, where plants can be used to remove heavy metals from soil.

“All of these projects came about in the same way – a student asked a question and I helped them find a way to discover the answer,” she said.

The caliber of students and their level of intellectual curiosity are contributing factors in Kramer coming to Truman, even though she never intended to move so far from her Georgia home.

“When I visited to interview, I was blown away by the students,” she said. “I had been on several interviews, but this was the first place where students seemed genuinely excited talking about research and classes and felt comfortable interacting with me as a potential faculty member. Something just clicked. I’ve stayed for the same reason. I really enjoy working with our students and how close of a community we have.”

After more than 20 years at the University, Kramer’s community has grown to be quite significant. In addition to introductory and analytical chemistry courses, she also team teaches a series of interdisciplinary STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) seminar courses where students learn about scientific research and plan and implement an invited speaker series.

On top of her course load, Kramer is the director of the STEM Talent Expansion Programs (STEP) Office in the School of Science and Mathematics. A campus fixture since 2005, STEP has served as the home for more than $6 million in grant funding from the National Science Foundation specifically targeted at increasing success and graduation in STEM fields for Truman students. Currently, the office supports two NSF-funded programs – STEP Scholars and MoLSAMP Scholars.

The STEP Scholars program provides up to four years of need-based scholarships for students pursuing degrees in agriculture science, biochemistry and molecular biology, biology, chemistry and physics. Along with scholarships of up to $7,500 per year, students participate in academic and professional development activities designed to introduce them to research and communication in the sciences.

MoLSAMP (Missouri Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation) is a statewide partnership which aims to double the number of graduates in Missouri in STEM for students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. Participants at Truman are supported by a full-time dedicated academic advisor, tutoring and prioritized access to travel and research opportunities with other schools in the state. 

Ironically, the joy of working with talented students can lead to mixed emotions.

“The thing I hate and love most about my job is watching students I’ve connected with graduate and move on,” Kramer said. “Graduation is so bittersweet. I’m so proud of them, but I know I’ll miss them.”

Graduation does not always signify the end of the road. Kramer remains in touch with many of her former students and enjoys watching them become successful professionals with families of their own. One of her more recent hobbies has been sitting in on Zoom Ph.D. defenses of former students.

“It blows me away to watch a student I knew when they were 18 and just starting out at college speak confidently about the work they’ve done as a graduate student, and I am absolutely honored to be there when they invite me to sit in,” Kramer said. “I don’t think students know how much it means to us when they tell us what we’ve meant to them.”

Ready for What’s Next

A proactive strengthening of Truman’s student-centered approach is essential for adapting to the massive changes in higher education. 

With its long and storied history, a lot of words could be used to describe Truman. The students and alumni are often labeled as “smart.” It’s always easy to throw out “beautiful” to describe the grounds. “Helpful” and “caring” are commonly invoked with regard to the faculty. Perhaps an underappreciated word to describe the University is “adaptable.” From its evolution as a normal school, to a regional teachers’ college and now a statewide liberal arts and sciences university, Truman has always adapted to meet the needs of the students it serves.

Higher education is in the midst of a monumental change. Circumstances from the last several years have forced colleges and universities around the country to alter their plans as fewer students are opting to attend. An article published by Inside Higher Ed earlier this year reported fall 2020 saw 20.7% fewer students enroll in college directly from high school compared to 2019, and total undergraduate enrollment declined 6.6% from fall 2019 to fall 2021. While the pandemic played a roll, this was part of a decade-long enrollment decline of 13%. More than 30 states have seen at least one closure or merger of institutions since 2016, and with the number of high school graduates projected to decrease from 2027 to 2037, more change is in store. Fortunately for Truman, years of proper planning have the school on remarkable financial footing, and the foresight of administrators and faculty members in regard to curriculum means the University is ready to meet the challenges ahead.

“Enrollment challenges are real, but they will not be solved solely by amplifying recruitment efforts,” said University President Sue Thomas. “An enhanced focus on retention, completion, student success and strengthening our value proposition are essential to increase our appeal to tomorrow’s students. Truman is currently implementing a number of new initiatives in these areas to bolster our appeal.”

Don’t Break the Bank

Among the top-of-mind factors for many students and families when making their college choice is price. Like other industries, fixed costs in higher education have increased faster than most family incomes, pushing the price of a degree higher and higher and causing decisions to be all the more strategic. Truman has long been known for its affordability, a characteristic that will continue to bode well in the coming years.

“Truman has a history of wanting to empower students by helping them get their education without taking on tremendous debt. That’s important now more than ever,” said Marla Fernandez, director of financial aid. “There are multiple avenues that can be taken to minimize educational expenses, and we take pride in helping our students take advantage of every possible opportunity.”

In addition to attractive financial aid packages, eligible students can earn generous scholarships through the Truman State University Foundation. The Financial Aid Office also assists students in finding and applying for private scholarships and fellowships, as well as specific opportunities through the Missouri Scholarship & Loan Foundation. Even prospective students are eligible to seek the office’s services before they have formally committed to Truman. The University estimates as many as 97% of students earn scholarships, a key factor in why half graduate with no student loan debt.

Quality Counts

Lots of schools try to maintain reasonable tuition, and Truman has been very successful in that regard. It’s a key factor in why the University has fared well in numerous national rankings and is often cited for its affordability. More importantly, what makes Truman unique is the caliber of education in relation to the cost. The graduation rate remains the best in the state, and Truman students perform well on certification exams, graduate and professional school placement rates, and in the percentage of students who are employed after they earn their degree. By any measurable standard, graduates leave well prepared for wherever their careers may take them. Continuing to attract and retain students in the coming years is contingent on Truman providing the education students will need to fill the jobs of the future.

To that end, Truman has added 18 new programs in the last five years, with more offerings still in development. Nearly half of the new programs are in graduate education, including master’s degree offerings in mental health counseling, school counseling, and data science and analytic storytelling. New bachelor-level programs include applied linguistics, and biochemistry and molecular biology. Many of the programs build off of existing Truman courses and have been developed to expand to new pools of prospective students while not requiring significant additional investments on the part of the University.   

“We have tried to be very strategic and data driven in how we create additional program options for students,” said Kevin Minch, associate provost. “We use economic data to look down the road and see what the job market needs from graduates and then evaluate how we can meet the needs of students with the resources we already have available.”

Embracing the new does not mean abandoning the old. The University remains true to its liberal arts core, with students receiving a distinctive blend of broad foundational perspectives and highly specialized academic programming. Truman has added programs that allow students to be successful after graduation, and their experience is enhanced because it is built upon a liberal arts and sciences foundation.

“All of these new programs have been created with the needs of students in mind, including what support students might need in a particular field to be most successful,” Minch said. “Helping them complete their degree and find employment in a rewarding job has always been the goal.”

What’s in it for Me?

Spend any amount of time with a prospective college student and their level of pragmatism might be surprising. Gone are the days of picking a school simply based on family legacies or name recognition. Discerning students of today are less concerned about a school’s reputation for parties and more interested about what they can get out of their time on campus. Internships, research opportunities, career readiness and transformative experiences carry more weight.

“Students want college to be an experience – collectively, one that entails much more than what they did in high school,” said Tyana Lange, vice president of student engagement, enrollment and marketing. “They want to engage in one or more transformational experiences that match their interests and help them meet their goals. Our job is to help students see that these experiences are fun, important to learning and a significant investment in their future.”

A perfect example of Truman encouraging resume-building experiences is the Student Research Conference. Hailed for its innovative approach to showcasing student work, this year marked the 35th anniversary of the undergraduate version of the conference and the 20th year graduate student work was included. Nearly a third of all Truman students participate in research during their time on campus.

One recently implemented program is not only giving Truman students an opportunity to develop leadership skills, it is simultaneously cultivating prospective students who may not otherwise have considered attending the University. TRU Leaders Next-Gen builds on the University’s established TRU Leaders program. Currently enrolled students serve as mentors to Kirksville High School students identified by the district as having great potential who would be the first in their families to attend college or who come from underserved populations.

“This accomplishes two distinct goals,” said Rashmi Prasad, dean of the School of Business and creator of the program. “Our students develop leadership skills that will serve them throughout their careers, and the mentored students are able to assess, learn and practice time and stress management, as well as their communication skills. Students also participate in high-impact experiences that broaden their thinking about future career opportunities. That will better prepare them for college, and hopefully many of them will choose to attend Truman when the time comes.”

One of the most transformative experiences possible is studying abroad, and this summer Truman resumed the practice for the first time since the pandemic began. The Center for International Education Abroad is a campus resource that helps students navigate the wide variety of academic opportunities available to explore the world. Truman also offers some scholarship packages that include a stipend specifically for study abroad.

In terms of preparation services, the Career Center is another valuable resource for students. It provides help with choosing a major, exploring career paths, finding internships, prepping for interviews, graduate school research and securing a job. In recent years its Career and Graduate School Expo has expanded from a single-day event to a weeklong affair taking place in both the fall and spring semesters.

The Career Center boasts a state-of-the-art career data management system, #HireTruman, that allows students to search and apply for vetted jobs, as well as create their own profile complete with resume and portfolios for documents. Students can elect to allow employers to view their profile and the employer can reach out directly. The #HireTruman platform is also used to facilitate virtual meetings between employers and students, and the Career Center provides virtual drop-in services available to all students and alumni.

“These drop-in services are popular with individuals who cannot come to our office, such as alumni who do not live in Kirksville, students who commute to school or those who feel more comfortable meeting virtually for whatever reason,” said David Lusk, associate vice president for career development.

For anyone on campus that needs access to proper resources while conducting their job search, the center recently created two new virtual interviewing suites, complete with technology and lighting appropriate for professional interviews.

“We know that students have appreciated these suites as they have referred their friends to reserve such services,” Lusk said. “Students will often talk about not having a place to do virtual interviews that is free of distraction, so many have chosen to reserve our interview rooms.”

Help Make it Happen

One significant sign of the University wholly investing in student support is its ambitious plan to renovate the Kirk Building (page 2). With financial assistance from the state of Missouri, Truman will revitalize one of the campus’ oldest buildings into a new Student Success Center. Comprised of the Career Center, Tutoring Services, the Student Health Center, Counseling Services, Student Access and Disability Services, the Center for Academic Excellence, the Communication Lab and the Writing Center, the new facility will be a centralized location for many of the services students need throughout their time on campus.

“Having all of these resources under one roof will not only be convenient for students, it will allow the University to amplify the amount of support we can provide, bolstering student retention efforts,” said Jonathan Vieker, director of retention and student success. “By using a collaborative service model, departments will be able to coordinate with one another more effectively to best meet the needs of the student.”

Support can come in many forms, and sometimes it originates with students. The more than 230 organizations on campus provide outlets for students to be themselves and connect with others with similar interests, whether it be through Greek Life, service organizations, affinity clubs or identity-based groups. Recently, the University allotted space for the creation an LGBTQ+ Resource Center and will be sponsoring an esports team for the first time in the fall (page 7).

“These are ideas driven by student interests. They are important to them, so it’s important for the University to understand that and be supportive if we want to continue to attract new students,” Lange said. “Prospective students need to be able to see themselves at Truman, and being open to the types of services and experiences they want enables us to make it a reality for them.”

The Future is Bright

For those schools willing and able to adapt, the future is bright. Truman is poised to rise as the higher education landscape evolves. Liberal arts cornerstones like critical thinking and problem-solving skills become more valuable every year. Learning simply for the sake of knowledge does not have to be put to the side in the name of career readiness. Those two pillars can and should coexist, and schools like Truman are adept at fostering both. Only good things come from knowledge and enlightenment. As Truman continues to empower students to reach their full potential, society at the local, state, national and even global levels will continue to reap the benefits.

Kirksville: A Place to Call Home

When Dick and Edie Erzen started dating, Truman was the last name of the president of the United States, not of the college they both attended. Their courtship began more than 70 years ago when they met as students at what was officially Northeast Missouri State Teachers College, although most on campus referred to it as Kirksville State Teachers College. Their story is adorably sweet. Dick, a native of Bethalto, Ill., played basketball and was a member of many organizations, including K Club and Blue Key. A local girl, Edie was a cheerleader and Sigma Sigma Sigma sister who was also active on campus and selected as the Carnival Queen in 1948.

“I’m not really sure how we met,” Edie said. “I know my friend said she kind of liked the looks of Dick and I said, ‘ick’.”

Dick and Edie Erzen

Her opinion changed over walks downtown to get coffee and after taking in a number of movies at the Kennedy Theater. Although they eventually left the area, Kirksville is where Edie and Dick met, got married and welcomed their first child. They have returned countless times for University events and to see old friends and teammates.

The Erzen family tree now spans an additional three generations and has grown to include six grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Whether those descendants realize it or not, they are here today, in part, because of Kirksville.   

“Even though I’m not from there, it’s kind of a second home for me, and same as the first home as far as I’m concerned,” Dick said. “It’s sort of a home base for both of us.”

Time rolls on with no regard for the eras it covers, and a college campus is not immune to the changes it brings. Buildings are constructed, only to be torn down years later or destroyed by fire. Students form lifelong bonds with others they meet on campus, yet remain total strangers to those who studied just a few years later. Adjustments in curriculum are made, schools are added, the University name evolves and a liberal arts institution emerges. The one constant through it all – the common denominator of past and present – is Kirksville.

Senator Harry S Truman on campus in 1943

Throughout its history, tens of thousands of people have graduated from the University. The first classes were comprised of individuals seeking to become educators. As time passed, more fields of study were added. Truman now offers 48 undergraduate majors along with seven graduate programs, and options abound when it comes to professional preparation. With majors such as interdisciplinary studies, a student can essentially tailor their degree to whatever career they choose to pursue. Graduates of the University have the potential to be as vastly different from one another as night and day, however, there is one universal connection among all alumni. Whether it is the teacher who graduated in 1889 or the biochemist who earned a degree in 2018, at some point in their educational experience, they called Kirksville home.

Maxwell’s in downtown Kirksville

In the lives of many alumni, Kirksville is the little surprise they never knew they wanted. They did not plan to make the town such a huge part of their lives, it just kind of worked out that way. Yes, it is where they earned a degree that most use for their livelihood, but it is so much more. It is where many learned how to be adults – to live on their own and realize the safety net of home and family will not always be present, their terror turning to excitement when they eventually discover they “really can do this!”

Kirksville is the metaphorical ground where countless family trees have been planted. Students who were strangers in a class they signed up for only because the time slot fit their schedule can meet and ultimately fall in love. When visiting campus years later, they bore their children with stories of “where it all started” in Violette Hall, and then spend some time in the Sunken Garden, the site of their wedding just a month after they graduated.

In some ways, a trip to Kirksville is almost like traveling through time. Visiting alumni would not trade the lives they made for themselves to go back, but Kirksville will always tug at their hearts for some reason they can’t fully explain. Their college years, which often seemed stressful at the time, are now quaint and comfortable in their minds. They long for the days of everything being within a five-minute drive, sharing a house with seven friends and having to get up “early” for a 9 a.m. class twice a week.

Laura (Boyd) Roeseler (’03) has fond memories of frequenting downtown businesses and even spending one Friday night engaged in a scavenger hunt at Walmart with her suitemates. The big-city native grew to enjoy the small-town vibe and the homey touches that came along with it, like when a professor would work with her outside of class, or when another called to check on her following an illness to make sure she was feeling better.    

“As an alum of Truman, I have an even deeper appreciation for Kirksville,” said Roeseler, who has since returned to St. Louis. “It is a wonderful community to be a part of, and I miss it.”

The DuKum Inn

Obviously, there is no universal opinion on Kirksville. Depending on who is asked, as well as when the question is posed, individual results may vary. For the most part, the alumni who wistfully recall late-night hijinks in the dorms, or celebrating their 21st birthday at the DuKum Inn, scarcely remember the trepidation they had prior to move-in day.

“I was a little apprehensive about living in a much smaller town than St. Louis,” Roeseler said. “While Kirksville was quaint, I worried about not being close to amenities that I was used to at home. As I got to experience the town during my time at Truman, I found that Kirksville had everything I needed, and the community welcomed and appreciated students, which made it feel like home.”

Rainbow Basin in 1982

Firsthand experience has a way of offering perspective. Kirksville does not have a professional sports team, or a stadium capable hosting a concert by the most popular performers of the day, but the town is not without its appeal. Over time, many students come to realize the benefits of the area, and most alumni have pleasant memories of the place where several of their formative experiences took place.

For proof of the growing affection alumni feel toward Kirksville, look no further than the pilgrimage that is Homecoming. Each year, visitors brave the cool autumn morning to run in the 5K, or line Franklin Street to watch the parade. In the afternoon, some alumni are thrilled their children are finally old enough to bring to the football game, and they eagerly hand over their keys so the future Bulldogs can jangle them at kickoff for a tradition they still don’t quite understand themselves. It’s not unusual to see a KSTC sweatshirt in the stands at Stokes Stadium on that special day. The alumni who wear them are not disrespecting the University, but rather giving a nod to the way things were. They will proudly be Bulldogs Forever, even if they haven’t completely warmed up to this new name that has only been around for 22 years. As the sun goes down, the restaurants in town buzz with excitement. For old times’ sake, alumni happily wait twice as long as usual for their local favorites, with Pancake City, Rosie’s Northtown Café and Pagliai’s Pizza among the most popular haunts. By late night, the bars are filled to capacity. They don’t always look like they used to, and in some cases might not even be the same places, yet they somehow feel familiar.

Nearly 50 years have passed since Steve Justice (’70, ’81) was an undergraduate, but he tries to return from his home in League City, Texas, as often as he can. His love of Kirksville’s small-town charm and his desire to reconnect with friends he met years ago have led him to attend the last 23 Homecomings in a row.

“Besides being able to spend time with friends, I enjoy seeing changes on campus and hearing about all of the new and exciting things going on at the University,” Justice said.

Whether it is nostalgia or a genuine sense of school pride, many alumni hold the University in such high regard they gently point the next generation of prospective students in the direction of northeast Missouri when conducting their own college search. The Admission Office estimates roughly 25 percent of beginning freshmen applicants have a family connection to the University or first learned about Truman through a graduate.

“Every year we are thrilled to have a significant number of Truman alumni bring their children or other relatives to visit campus during the college selection process,” said Melody Chambers, director of admission. “Nothing beats the sheer joy of proud graduates reminiscing about their time in Kirksville as they share their alma mater with the next generation.”

Thousand Hills State Park

Even if Uncle Rico might be trying to relive part of his youth by suggesting his old school to his nephews, that does not discount the fact Truman has remained a great institution for decades. Prospective students tend to be pragmatic when selecting a school, as well they should. They are calculating, and rarely share the same warm and fuzzy feelings about Kirksville that alumni have come to know. However, countless people have made the transition from skeptical student to gleeful graduate, further proof of something special taking place during their matriculation.

“We did encourage both of our kids to look at Truman for their higher education, however, we did not push them to Truman because we went there,” said Todd Rohler. He and wife Stefanie graduated in 1989 and their two sons also chose to attend. “Both of our boys felt like Truman was the place for them right away, and they were sure to tell us that they didn’t choose Truman simply because we are both alumni.

“Seeing Truman from a parent’s perspective brought back many memories of ‘NMSU’ for Stef and I. Although there have been many changes, there are still many things that have not changed, like the family atmosphere and the fact that the faculty really get to know the students.”

North side of the square in 1895

Every town has a story. Kirksville’s may not be well known, but it is certainly unique. “Village of churches” is supposedly the literal meaning of the name, but the folktale of how the municipality became Kirksville is much more interesting, albeit, somewhat less holy. Local legend claims the moniker is actually the result of the town’s first postmaster, Jesse Kirk, essentially bribing the surveyors working in the area to name the city after him in exchange for some whiskey and a Thanksgiving dinner. How true that story is remains up for debate. Kirk was the head of a prominent family. He also owned a tavern and served as the county treasurer, so he was most likely a respected member of the community. It would have been a logical choice to name the town Kirksville without the need for an arrangement over drinks, but the fable may have outgrown the facts.   

Like many similar towns, Kirksville has deep roots in agriculture and a history of manufacturing, but its amenities belie what census data or maps might indicate. Located in a rural area, with a population that remained steady for close to 40 years, it serves as a cultural and intellectual hub for the region. Few, if any, towns its size can boast of even one high-quality institution, let alone two, but Kirksville is also the birthplace of osteopathic medicine and the home of A.T. Still University.

North side of the square today

With thousands of students flocking to Kirksville annually, along with the industries and human resources to support them, the town gets an influx of energy others its caliber might not see. In addition to University activities, Kirksville hosts several special events, like the Red Barn Arts and Crafts Festival and the Round Barn Blues Festival. There is a plethora of cultural options offered year around, including theatre productions and art gallery exhibits. For those who prefer to be outdoors, the area is home to Thousand Hills State Park, as well as numerous hiking and biking trails. Other off-campus attractions include two wineries in the area, an aquatic center and an eight-screen movie theatre. The philanthropic endeavors of the many local clubs and civic organizations also offer avenues for entertainment while spreading goodwill throughout the community.

After Zac Burden graduated from Truman in 2003, the native of Kansas City, Mo., had come to like Kirksville so much he got a job at the University. He is still a ‘townie’ today, and in addition to his job as director of Missouri Hall he serves on the city council and plans to run for re-election in April.

“When my parents first brought me to college, they predicted I would fall in love with Kirksville. They were right,” Burden said. “Two decades later, I love being a member of this community and giving back in any way I can.”

Like the town where it resides, Truman has morphed dozens of times over to become the institution it is today. The Homecoming parade may have always made its way down Franklin Street, but the view from the floats has certainly changed. At one point on the route, a spectator can see West Campus Suites, The Ruth W. Towne Museum and Visitors Center and the Student Recreation Center, all relatively new additions to campus. From the same spot, a glance to the southeast offers a glimpse at the Del and Norma Robison Planetarium, one more sight that might be unfamiliar to anyone who has been absent for the last dozen or so years. A school that started with the mission to train teachers, and opened 63 years before Pluto was discovered, now has a facility capable of letting visitors experience what it would be like to travel through the stars.


Change does not always come with desired results, and several things alumni associate with their alma mater can slip away. Thousands of folks would love to stop in at Elaine’s for a cinnamon roll, but sadly, the local favorite was lost to fire in 1978. Bulldogs of another era would be more inclined to venture up the narrow staircase at Too Tall’s and grab a seat at the oversized table on the third level. That establishment also burned, but rose from the ashes to become Too Tall’s Two. When a second fire almost destroyed it again, a new owner attempted to reopen it and, in a sign of good humor, dubbed it The Inferno. Unfortunately, the third time was not the charm. Two Tall’s closed its swinging mirrored doors for good and is now open only in the minds of those who loved it.

Thankfully, things in Kirksville seem to be moving in the right direction. The population is trending up, businesses are coming to town and support from the community is resulting in improvements to local roads and parks.

To a certain segment of graduates, Kirksville will always be synonymous with The Bulldog Inn or socials at Kirk gym. Years from now others will have fond memories of laser shows at the planetarium, the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings and the first time they experienced the train bridge. What their most memorable college moment may be is less important than the fact they had it and that Kirksville was a part of it. It is their small patch in the quilt of memories constructed by alumni for generations. Town and campus may change, but their ability to create lasting impressions will always remain. Wherever they may roam, in a certain sense for many alumni, Kirksville will always be home.


Navigating the Future

Coming to America put Huan Truong on a path to a better life and a rewarding career.

Prior to studying at Truman, Huan Truong was a college dropout in his home country of Vietnam. Today, the computer science alumnus has a Ph.D. and works for one of the most technologically innovative companies on the planet. 

Truong (’11) always wanted to come to the U.S. for his education, but did not know if it would be economically feasible. With encouragement from some friends, including two who were already at Truman, he took a leap of faith and enrolled at the University. Growing up, he viewed the U.S. as a land of opportunity, which to him meant wealth and fame, but his views changed upon arrival.

“The opportunity here is the second chance that many people like me might not have in their home country. In that regard, Kirksville is my American Dream coming true,” Truong said. “Kirksville was the place that picked me up as a broken-hearted, and literally broke, 20-year-old who didn’t know what to do. Part of what makes Kirksville so special is that it is kind and inclusive for me and many others.”

Although Truong made it to America, his journey to success was not always smooth sailing. By his own admission he was a mediocre business administration student. After three semesters, he took a computer science class. It was a subject he enjoyed, but he wasn’t sure it would be right for him.

“I didn’t know if I wanted to go hardcore computer programming as a major since everyone who does CS seemed boring to the arrogant me at the time,” he said.

After a faculty member pointed out he had a long future ahead of him and he should spend it doing what he enjoys, Truong made the switch to computer science the very next day.

While pursuing his Ph.D. in informatics at the University of Missouri, Truong worked on a side project called Crankshaft. It was an open-source, free software that anyone could install in a traditional vehicle to make it a smart car. With Crankshaft, drivers could have convenient, voice-controlled maps and music without having to physically handle their cell phone. It made the roadways safer, and earned Truong the attention of a little company named Tesla.

Once his studies were completed in the summer of 2018, Truong packed up and moved to Mountain View, Calif., and he now spends his days writing code for a company considered by many to be the trailblazer of the American automotive and energy industries.

“I am honored to be working with people who are so smart and work so hard to make great products,” he said. “The work makes me feel like I live 10 years in the future. There are problems that can only be solved by the collaboration of thousands and thousands of people. I think making great cars that are safe, smart and fun to use is one of those problems.”

As a software engineer, Truong is more problem solver than gearhead. Ironically, for a guy who works at one of the most groundbreaking tech companies in the world, he gets to the office many days by a very old-school means of transportation: his bicycle. He does, however, get to ride in a Tesla car to work on the other days.

“To me, cars are like giant toys,” he said. “I love it, to be able to contribute my part in making technology trustable, friendly and helpful in people’s eyes. I feel not all tech companies are heading that way, so I feel fortunate to work for a company that seems to have a mostly positive impression on people. Lastly, nothing compares to helping the Earth and humanity while having fun and doing exactly what I love.”

In the future, Truong hopes to apply his skills at some of his boss’ more ambitious companies. He would love to work for SpaceX on projects like CubeSat satellites or a spaceship.