The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point “Pointers” recently gained a new leader.
Thomas Gibson started his role as the 15th chancellor of the UWSP on January 11. His goal as chancellor is to guide the university through the aftermath of a global pandemic, while increasing accessibility, growth and enrollment.
He told Madison365 that his desire to be a leader in higher education was spurred from his own college experience. He was a young adult with a financial barrier for out-of-state tuition. He went to Eastern Connecticut State University and unlike high school, where good grades came easy to him, Gibson said the university forced him to apply himself.
“That experience really taught me the importance of an investment in yourself and in your academic studies and the rewards that are presented as a result of that investment,” Gibson said.
Although after college Gibson initially worked in a newsroom as a technical director, he said he missed the education community. He went back and received his graduate degree before working as a residential hall director at a private university in Connecticut.
From there Gibson worked at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana; York College in New York City and most recently at Bowling Green State in Ohio as the vice president for student affairs and vice provost.
Nearly 25 years after graduating from ECSU, Gibson accepted the position as the chancellor at UWSP.
He said after a long and intense interview process, he was in the car on the way back home to Ohio when he got the call from UW-Systems president Tommy Thompson offering him the position.
“I needed to quickly pull over so I could process what was happening and make sure that I fully understood what was taking place,” he said. “The first person I called was my wife, Brigette, and we just had a good moment there on the side of the road — just filled with excitement and really looking forward to this new leadership journey.”
He said his hobby is running the university, and when not spending time with his wife and four-year-old daughter Kennedy, he is reading.
His most recent read was titled “Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities” by Craig Steven Wilder. It is about “race, slavery, and the American academy,” Gibson said.
“It reminds us that one needs to be aware of their institution’s history and what vestiges still remain and what opportunities one has to move beyond and better serve each and all students. So it’s a healthy reminder of how far we have come and the work that still needs to be done,” he said.
GIbson said he has three priorities as chancellor: academic excellence, inclusive excellence and enrollment and growth. Those priorities, Gibson said, rely on the university’s commitments to ensuring that the faculty and staff have the tools that they need to continue to deliver a quality education to students; the institution’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion by fostering a place of belonging; and to expand access to UWSP.
“There are nearly 815,000 Wisconsinites with some college credit, but no college degree. So there is opportunity for UW-Stevens Point to capture some of that market share. While traditional-age students are declining at institutions across the country projections suggest that there is growth in the Hispanic and or Latinx populations. So there’s an opportunity for us to capture some of that market share as well.”
At UWSP, Gibbons has already created new initiatives to further his priorities.
For instance, a group of campus, tribal and community members will continue working together to acknowledge native burial grounds on the UWSP campus and expand the educational opportunities for Indigenous students, families and communities through a Commission on the Ancestors Buried Below Us, according to a Feb. 26 university news release.
Gibson has established the Chancellor’s Commission on the Ancestors Buried Below Us to coordinate efforts, leverage university resources and ensure timely progress and momentum.
The fall 2021 semester is expected to restore a familiar campus experience with a vast majority of courses held in-person; a return to live entertainment, including music and theater; in-person recreation and intramural sports schedule and In-person student organizations, according to a Feb. 19 university news release.
“The recent report that I have for UW-Stevens Point suggests an increase in total number of applications, an increase in (admissions), an increase in acceptance and increase in our housing deposits,” he said.
Gibson said in Wisconsin he looks forward to adjusting to the midwest habit of using Kwik Trip as a restaurant, and certain Wisconsin terms like “bubbler.”
But he is most excited to make higher education accessible.
“UW Stevens Point is an asset to each and everyone who wants a UW Stevens Point education,” he said. “Our institution is open to all who would benefit. I largely accepted this leadership role to help more students succeed. And that’s my singular purpose as a higher education leader.”