Dr. Mun Choi, who became president of the University of Missouri System March 1, 2017, enjoyed getting to know some of the nearly 40 freshmen attending the sixth annual student send off sponsored by the Great River Tigers Chapter of the Mizzou Alumni Association.

Dr. Mun Choi, who became president of the University of Missouri System March 1, 2017, enjoyed getting to know some of the nearly 40 freshmen attending the sixth annual student send off sponsored by the Great River Tigers Chapter of the Mizzou Alumni Association.

The send off at the Jackson Park Golf Course in Palmyra included former and current Mizzou students and their families.

Before speaking to the students attending, Dr. Choi said the university has made a great comeback after experiencing a difficult time in November 2015. “While many point out the students' protests as being difficult,” that's not the difficulty, he said, explaining he does not blame the students, because the problems were caused by senior leadership. “I joined a year and a half after that.”

Enrollment was down then, he said, but there's been a renewal, and freshmen enrollment “is up by 14 percent this year” over 2017. He added “This is the largest increase we've seen in a year in our history. … This year nearly 4,700 freshmen are enrolled in Columbia, compared to 4,150 last year.”

Choi asked to express his thanks to the Mizzou supporters who stood by the university through its difficult time. “They really supported us, and with that support we are coming back strong.”

He emphasized that “leaders have to listen to the perspective of students.”

He said Mizzou is demonstrating to everyone “we are a university focused on student success. Our challenge is to keep supporters and keep us accountable. … Let us know what we are doing right and how we can improve. … I'm accessible. We learn a lot from students about how to improve teaching.”

Choi noted he is grateful that Missouri's new governor, Mike Parson, has re-instated the state budget's funds for the university. He also is glad the university is restored to being a land grant university and a flagship campus.

Choi came to Mizzou from the University of Connecticut, where he was provost and executive vice president. “I was looking for new challenges,” he said. “I found people in Missouri genuine, hardworking and very dependable people.”

Choi later challenged the new students to “step outside your comfort zone. Engage with people, and don't be afraid of making a mistake.”

One new grad attracting attention was Jordan Frericks of Quincy, Ill., a Mizzou Tigers basketball star who will soon become a professional basketball player. Frericks explained she also is looking forward to her career, after majoring in architecture with an emphasis on interior design.

Mizzou students present included senior Tanner Nix of Palmyra, who is majoring in hospitality management and aiming for a career in sports and venue management. Another senior was Alex Bross of Palmyra, who is studying forestry. Emily Albright of Hannibal is a sophomore nursing student.

Freshmen and their career goals included Delanie Fohey of Palmyra, sports medicine; Shelby Epperson, Center, business; Natalie Spalding, Monroe City, human development and family science; Evan Wallace of Hannibal, radiologist; and Ian Mast, Quincy, engineer.

Attending the student send off for the first time was Mizzou alumnus James Haley Williams of La Belle, with his wife, Marilyn. He received a bachelor's degree in geology in 1951, a master's degree in 1952, and later a Ph.D in geology and engineering. His wife was a school guidance counselor. The couple lived in Rolla for 40 years before retiring to the family farm at La Belle. He will soon be honored for “50 years of flying” when the Federal Aviation Administration presents him a Wright Brothers Award.

A barbecued pork loin dinner was served to the more than 200 people attending the student send off, with the meal being free to the Mizzou students and one guest each.
Al Kennett, chairman of the event and former Alumni Association president, reported the number attending “was the most we ever had,” with a total of 46 Mizzou students, including nearly 40 freshmen.

Kennett also was pleased with Choi's positive outlook and desire to visit with the students, commenting, “he is an outstanding public relations person.”

 

Scholarships presented

 

Sarah Bockhold, president of the sponsoring Great River Tigers Chapter of the Mizzou Alumni Association, explained eight names were drawn for $500 scholarships from the Mizzou Alumni chapter. She said “around 1,500 Mizzou alumni live in the Hannibal and Quincy area.”

The names were drawn after the dinner was served and Choi's speech was heard.

Bockhold added that three Truman level donors from the Alumni chapter were honored when the first three names were drawn, with the awards presented in their names. These donors were Jared and Gina Pontius, County Market and Rachel Bringer Shepherd.

When eight names had been drawn, Dr. Choi asked to have two more names drawn, stating, “It's on me.” After two were drawn, he repeated this offer, resulting in Choi himself presenting four $500 scholarships.

The 12 $500 scholarship winners were Cassie Hancock, Josh Arnold, Delanie Fohey, Amy Jones, Tanner Nix, Jessica Taylor, Emily Albright, Abbey Laws, Shelby Epperson, Rachel Meyer, Lauren Bauer and Halli Karr.

Bockhold reported merit-based scholarships had already been presented, including a $4,000 scholarship to freshman Emily Dehner and several $1,000 scholarships. These were presented to current students Andrew Fauble and Allison Pearl; and freshmen Regan Ragsdale, Gavin Booth and Barley Koslowski.

Reach reporter Bev Darr at bev.darr@courierpost.com.