By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
CANTON, Mo. -- Kelly Thompson says she's looking forward to becoming the first female president in the 161-year history of Culver-Stockton College.
"It's very humbling for me," she said. "But I've had some great mentors along the way and believe that my skills and abilities will serve Culver-Stockton well."
Thompson will begin work July 1 as the 26th president since C-SC was founded in 1853. The college's Board of Trustees recently selected Thompson to replace Richard Valentine, the college's first alumnus president, who is retiring.
In a telephone interview from her office at Barton College in Wilson, N.C., where she has been vice president for external relations since July 2008, Thompson said she fell in love with the Culver-Stockton College campus as soon as she arrived for a 1 1/2-day visit with her husband, Clarke Schneider.
"During that visit, we both so enjoyed meeting with students and learning about their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations. We were also in awe of the sheer physical beauty of the campus," Thompson said. "I'm excited about building upon President Valentine's many successes. I'm amazed by the commitment that alumni and friends have made to the campaign, ĎA Vision for Our Future,' and those commitments are really going to enhance the student experience."
Thompson said she likes what she has seen so far at Culver-Stockton. She was particularly impressed with C-SC's 12-3 semester format and "absolutely" plans to continue it. Under this format, students attend regular classes the first 12 weeks of the semester and then take part in a variety of enriching travel experiences or internships during the remaining three weeks. Students earn graduation credits for both phases of study.
"The faculty is superb, and the focus on experiential learning and what Culver is doing with travel study -- not only in the United States but abroad -- provides experiences that are so meaningful and powerful for students," Thompson said. "What Culver is doing now is distinctive and amazing, and I want to continue that momentum. In higher education, we have the power to change a life. That's why I do this work."
Thompson, a native of Chicago, started her educational career as a teacher. She received a bachelor's degree in theater from the University of Illinois at Champaign and spent the next seven years teaching theater while also performing as executive director of a literary theater company.
"My dream was to be a Broadway actress, but luckily, I fell into higher education," she said.
Thompson has held a variety of administrative roles in higher education. At Barton College, she has been heavily involved in fundraising. Thompson said she expects fundraising will be one of her major duties at Culver-Stockton.
"I see the president as being the chief fundraiser for the college," she said.
However, she also plans to be involved in many other aspects of the college community.
"President Valentine has been able to balance those many different areas -- fund raising but also really staying connected to the students and connected to the admissions process," she said. "I've got a great role model in President Valentine, because he seemed to do it all really, really well."
Thompson said one of her first duties as president will be to "get to know the campus community and begin developing personal relationships with students, faculty, staff, alumni, the Canton community, the tri-state business community." She also plans to and listen to what others have to say about the college and where it should be heading in the future.
"What Culver-Stockton is doing is providing what I would call a rigorous and creative education, and I think more students should have the opportunity to experience it," she said. "I really believe Culver-Stockton is a college that's on the move. I'm ready to work with all the C-SC community to take this wonderful college on the hill to new heights."