Story by Erik Potter
Bill Stackman was in high school when his dad asked, “Son, what are you going to do with your life?”
His father was a professor. His mother taught kindergarten. His two older sisters were also teachers. With all those educators in the family, Stackman was certain of only one thing for his career: He wanted nothing to do with education.
So it’s no small irony that, in the decades since, Stackman has earned four university degrees and spent his career working in higher education.
His path took him to Mizzou as a student and has now brought him back as an administrator. He started July 15 as vice provost for Student Affairs.
Parks and rec
Stackman loved the outdoors, so he majored in parks and recreation at the University of Kentucky, then applied to graduate programs in the same field.
He narrowed his choices to Mizzou and one other university. He toured both, even registered for classes at both, but couldn’t decide between them. Then he visited Columbia one more time. Sitting on the Columns, staring out over Francis Quadrangle, he had a feeling: “This is where I belong.”
He walked to the Mark Twain residence hall, which had a floor just for graduate students, and took out an application. That decision would have lifelong significance.
At that time, Mark Twain was privately owned, and its dining hall was open only to building residents, so students saw the same people every day at meals and in the halls.
“It was almost like being in high school,” recalls Neal Tasch, a friend of Stackman’s at Mark Twain. “You saw the same people constantly, so it was easy to form friendships.”
Tasch, BA ’82, JD ’91, says Stackman was unique in the way he cared about his friends’ personal lives.
“He was the first person I ever knew who, if you were not having a good day, would express genuine interest,” Tasch says. “He would want to know what was wrong and talk about it one-on-one to see if there was a way to resolve whatever was bothering you.”
The friendships Stackman made at Mark Twain still endure. When Stackman got married, he asked Tasch to be a groomsman and his Mark Twain roommate, Brian Roselle, MS ’82, to be his best man. Even now, a dozen of his Mark Twain friends meet for occasional reunions and correspond regularly.
A fresh alternative
After graduating from Mizzou with his master’s degree, Stackman searched for jobs with the National Park Service or a city parks department.
But the country was in recession. No one was hiring park rangers. After receiving rejection letters from every parks department he could think to write to, Stackman looked for alternatives.
He found a job listing for a student activities director at Glenville State College, a small school in rural West Virginia. Though Stackman was not trained in student affairs, he had experience working with students in the recreation departments at Mizzou and the University of Kentucky. He got the job.
Stackman remembers a moment during his first few weeks. He was working late in his office planning activities for the school year. It dawned on him that he was working where he said he wouldn’t — and he enjoyed it. That same feeling on the Columns came back to him.
“I loved planning programs, but I loved the educational framework in which I was operating, helping students make connections, learn about themselves, find their place,” he says. “I realized this is where I belonged.”
The next semester, he started taking classes at West Virginia University toward a master’s degree in higher education administration.
On the rise
Stackman stayed at Glenville for five years. Personal and professional moves took him across the country, to small liberal arts colleges and large land-grant universities. Along the way, he earned a doctorate in leadership, administration and policy studies from Boston University.
In addition to student activities, he began to oversee student health. He responded to crisis situations and learned firsthand the importance of student health and well-being for college students.
In 2012, he became associate vice president of student services at Notre Dame. His main job was to combine programs into an integrated health and wellness program. The experience was rewarding, but he knew he’d want to return to a role that involved more student activities.
He wanted more than just the right job description, though. He was looking for the right place. The right fit.
“When I went back to Columbia, it just felt like home,” Stackman says about his candidate visit. “Even though everyone I knew is gone, the culture is the same. People are authentic, down to earth, real. I love it. It’s really special to be able to give back to a place that gave me so much.”
Kerry Karaffa is the only MU Counseling Center member who is fully embedded in an academic college.