May 13, 2020
For the University of Missouri’s Jim Spain, his various roles in education have one purpose: to serve others. In recognition of his service, Kansas City’s Ingram’s Magazine named Spain, MU’s vice provost for undergraduate studies and eLearning, an “Icon of Education” in its 2020 educators feature.
“Education is really about serving the institution at whatever level you are at or whatever position you are in,” Spain said.
The feature is in its 12th year and honors 10 educators at all levels. The annual list includes top administrators, researchers and professors in Missouri and Kansas. Spain joins the list among other MU professors such as Don Ranly, Wendy Slutske and Jerry Taylor, who have been honored in the past.
“I’m honored to represent Mizzou and to highlight the work that Mizzou does with regard to student success and teaching undergraduate students, in my case,” Spain said. “And so, it’s really not Jim Spain that’s an icon, it’s Jim Spain representing an icon of public higher education.”
As MU adapts to online classes for the semester during the COVID-19 pandemic, Spain has found himself missing his students.
“I miss the in-class discussions we were able to have about the issues, our collective ideas and individual perspectives,” he said. “The change has been significant, but their responses have been positive. They are engaged in the online discussions, and I have really appreciated their work.”
Missouri Students Association President Jennifer Sutterer said Spain is one to always put his students first.
“He is truly an amazing leader in action,” Sutterer said. “I think especially during the times that we are going through right now, we are incredibly lucky to have him at MU.”
Spain first joined MU in 1990 as a state extension dairy scientist and assistant professor. The longtime Tiger then became a professor of animal science in 1999.
After serving eight years as assistant dean for academic programs for MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, Spain was named the university’s vice provost for undergraduate studies in 2007 and added vice provost for eLearning to his title in 2011.
Today, Spain continues to teach and serve as an advisor in CAFNR while also serving in his current administrative roles. Spain oversees MU’s Honors College, Career Center, Campus Writing Program, Fellowship Office, multicultural certificate program and several other programs.
The best part of his job, Spain said, is the relationships he has built with students, faculty and alumni.
“I’m proudest of being part of the Mizzou family and having the opportunity to work with folks who are incredibly dedicated and passionate about Mizzou.”
Sutterer and Spain, along with other MSA officers, meet biweekly to discuss new ideas and student body business.
“He’s taught me a lot about being passionate and the importance of being passionate about the work that you do,” Sutterer said. “It should be something you’re excited about every day, and he proves that every day.”
Additionally, Spain has earned many awards, including MU’s Kemper Teaching Fellowship in 2001 and the Excellence in Advising Award at MU in 2000. He also earned the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in Higher Education in 2002 and the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2007.
Spain said his focus is student success not only at MU but beyond graduation.
“Success isn’t just limited to whether you stay at MU or graduate in four years, but it’s our students having the opportunity to take full advantage of the power of a place like MU,” he said. “And we are doing everything we can to remove barriers and improve opportunities to be successful.”
Spain graduated from North Carolina State University in 1984 with a bachelor’s of science degree in animal science. He earned both his master’s in dairy science in 1987 and a doctorate of philosophy in animal science in 1989 from Virginia Tech.