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Harris-Stowe's new president aims to attract more students, push for STEM programs

Latonia Collins Smith.jpg
Harris-Stowe State University
Dr. LaTonia Collins Smith, Harris-Stowe State University's new president, says one of her goals for the university is for it to speak for itself. "I desire for us to be talked about in rooms when I'm not in the room, positively thought of, positively talked about for the accomplishments and for us to receive the just do," she said. "We have some phenomenal educators here, who are just as vested in Harris-Stowe as I am."

Harris-Stowe State University’s new president, LaTonia Collins Smith, plans to recruit and retain students, attract more donors and focus on STEM education.

Collins Smith has served as Harris-Stowe’s interim president since June, when former President Corey S. Bradford left for another opportunity. Since then, Collins Smith has helped secure more than $3.5 million in scholarships, grants and donations.

The St. Louis native takes on the university’s top role after serving for 12 years in other university roles. She wrote grants, supported students interested in STEM studies, taught and served as the university’s provost and vice president of academic affairs.

Fundraising has been a challenge because many donors questioned the university’s leadership stability, Collins Smith said.

“The opportunity to be able to fundraise and raise that will actually help stabilize some of those private donations and also those gifts from individuals who wanted to just see some stability,” Collins Smith said.

She said the university also needs to do a better job of engaging its alumni.

Collins Smith also wants to make donors and lawmakers aware of the historically Black college, which she said could help secure more state appropriations and donations that could fund more programs for students.

“It's just going to take us really developing working relationships with our legislators and making sure that our voices are heard,” she said.

As the university’s president, Collins Smith is expected to form relationships with lawmakers and company directors to propel the university forward for decades.

“Dr. Collins Smith exemplifies Harris-Stowe’s core values of personal growth, respect, innovation, diversity and excellence,” Michael McMillan, chair of Harris-Stowe’s Board of Regents, said in a statement. “She has demonstrated her extraordinary ability to connect with all of our stakeholders and to catapult Harris-Stowe forward in these critical times.”

Collins Smith is looking forward to opening Harris-Stowe’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the fall. She said it will prepare students for jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Collins Smith also wants to continue developing the university’s bioinformatics certificate program to introduce students of color to the field.

“We want to make sure that we continue to contribute to the regional STEM agenda by making sure that we provide an education for minorities in order to go into rewarding STEM fields,” Collins Smith said.

Finance junior Brice Dean is looking forward to using the center. The Chicago native wants to someday own a real estate and property management business and wants to see if the program can help prepare him.

“The entrepreneurship center will be a huge move to continuing the establishment of Black businesses in St. Louis and across the nation,” Dean said.

Dean also wants to see Collins Smith expand the university’s technology program with data analytic degrees and to see that the university acquires more advanced technology.

“It is very fitting that she has made history here at Harris-Stowe, being its first Black woman president,” Dean said. “Her gender aside, [her selection] shows that Harris-Stowe will be a trailblazer in the state and other institutions should be looking at what Harris-Stowe is doing … and what Dr. Collins Smith is going to do in the future.”

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.

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