Dr. Carlos Vargas was inaugurated as the 18th president of Southeast Missouri State University today in a ceremony steeped in tradition that also highlighted and celebrated the University’s 143 years of service to the region.
Vargas, who began his presidency at Southeast July 1, was presented with the chain of office and presidential medallion by Southeast Board of Regents President Jay Knudtson.
“It truly is overwhelming for me to be here,” said Vargas. “I come from a poor family, very limited in resources but very rich in the desire to improve ourselves.”
Vargas recognized his family members on hand for the occasion, including his wife, Pam, who he said provides him with strength, advice and wisdom.
He said the desire to improve and grow was instilled in him by his parents and with the maturity of age he recognized the potential of learning and the power one has from knowledge.
“One of the reasons I’m so committed to students’ success is because I see that potential in every one of them,” said Vargas.
At the core of every goal is the need to be student centered by reimagining the campus in their eyes and taking action for their and the University’s success, he said.
The ceremony featured a processional with a number of dignitaries, including members of the Board of Regents, presidents of several area higher education institutions, former Southeast presidents, the 2015-2016 Student Government president, Southeast Alumni Association president, faculty and staff. More than 1,300 were in attendance at the Show Me Center.
Presenting the keynote address was a mentor of Vargas, Dr. Tomás Morales, president of California State University-San Bernardino. Morales said Vargas, who he has known for more than 20 years, has a deep understanding of student success and is intrinsically committed to the success of students and faculty at Southeast.
“In his 10 months here, he jumped into this community and dedicated himself to learning everything about it,” he said.
Morales said Vargas’ years as a faculty member and chief academic officer have provided him with a sound foundation, adding that Vargas has a valuable perspective on the college-bound population, is committed to this region, and to enhancing access to and affordable higher education.
He is “a man who will carry on the legacy of this great institution,” Morales said. “The best is yet to come.”
The celebration featured remarks from several University representatives.
Dr. Willie Redmond, chair of Faculty Senate, said “Dr. Vargas has challenged us to step up the pace. He has encouraged us to pursue our core missions of creating and disseminating knowledge that will make the world a better place … and more than anything, he has stressed time and again that our scope should be student-centered, as we carry out that mission.”
Redmond pointed to Vargas’ student centered approach as the cornerstone of his presidency. He recalled serving on the search committee for President Vargas and that the Vargas’ answers during his interview were consistently interspersed with the word “students.”
“And the wonderful addendum to that story is that nothing has changed in the 10 to 11 months that he has been here,” Redmond said. “Students certainly are the focus of his vision.”
Knudtson said Vargas brings “an incredibly unique sense of humility, accessibility, and a ‘student centered’ dedication that all comes together to create, what we believe, is a wonderful package.”
“The challenges that lie ahead for our president will require wisdom, conviction, experience, optimism, and above all, a vision for a successful and endearing University into the future,” he said.
Vargas said he sees the world changing rapidly and the need to adapt and react, but Southeast is poised at the forefront to tackle these challenges.
“We need to be innovative and entrepreneurial,” said Vargas. “We need to explore new ideas.”
He said he hopes to continue to build upon Southeast’s mission and to use the University’s tools and strategic plan as a guide to its continued success.
Vargas said he hopes to focus on retaining and graduating students; enhancing the University Studies general education program; strengthening academic departments, programs and faculty; investing in the regional campuses; promoting institutional pride; and promoting the Redhawk Athletics program and student athletes.
Peter Jacobsen, a senior economics major and the 2015-2016 president of Student Government, said he has been impressed with Vargas’ involvement with students.
“Dr.Vargas is truly a champion for our students,” Jacobsen said.