Drury appoints Dr. Steven Combs as Vice President for Academic Affairs

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., Dec. 8, 2014 — Drury University has appointed Dr. Steven C. Combs as its next Vice President for Academic Affairs. He begins January 26.

“Dr. Combs has accumulated a breadth of academic experience that is complemented by a depth of knowledge and implementation achievements,” said Drury president Dr. David Manuel. “I am particularly pleased that he fully grasps and believes in the mission of Drury University and he will be a great asset to help Drury integrate the liberal arts and professional studies in the 21st Century.”

“Drury University has a tradition of excellence that I have been aware of since I was a graduate student at the University of Kansas,” Combs said. “From its exceptional faculty and staff to its committed alumni, administration and Board of Trustees, Drury has strong organizational DNA. I am delighted to stand shoulder to shoulder with this community, working together for something they love.”

Combs comes to Drury from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, a public comprehensive university, where he has spent the past year as founding dean of the College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences. Prior to that, Combs was at Hawaii Pacific University from 2006 to 2013, where he served as dean of the College of Communication and later, founding dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. While in that role, he oversaw a 20 percent enrollment increase from 2009 to 2011 in the wake of the Great Recession. He led efforts to revise the curriculum to emphasize program relevance and distinctiveness. Combs worked closely with faculty to help them achieve their goals as scholars, and he helped secure more than $2.7 million in grants – accounting for nearly 70 percent of HPU’s externally funded projects.

Dr. Steven Combs

Dr. Steven Combs

“My approach to leadership focuses on people and the organizational culture.  We all have differing gifts,” Combs said. “I hope to work with the faculty and administrative staff to bring forth their unique talents in ways that make them excited to come to campus every day.”

Combs holds a Ph.D. in Communication Arts & Sciences from the University of Southern California and a master of arts in communication studies from the University of Kansas.

Combs succeeds longtime VPAA Dr. Charles Taylor, who will return to teaching communication and rhetoric full time in fall 2015 following a spring sabbatical. The VPAA position is the top academic post at the University, reporting directly to the president.


Alum’s tech company makes holiday shopping a little easier

An up-and-coming technology company co-founded by 2001 Drury alumnus Nathan Pettyjohn is making holiday shopping a little easier for many this year.

Aisle411 is an in-store mobile marketing platform that allows shoppers to search and navigate products and offers within a store. It also helps retailers and brands by decreasing the number of store walkouts by frustrated customers who cannot find the product they are looking for. Pettyjohn says that retailers can lose a substantial amount of sales from these walkouts.

“The light bulb moment came when I was in a home improvement store — I was looking for a surge protector — and 3 associates sent me in 3 different directions,” Pettyjohn said. “I became so frustrated at the wasted time and thought, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be cool if I could create Google Maps in retail stores?’”

Aisle411 received early support from the Springfield Angel Network through the Edward Jones Center for Entrepreneurship at Drury University, as well as other angel investor groups. Since its 2008 founding, the company has raised more than $10 million in venture capital. Toys ‘R’ Us and Walgreens are two of the retailers currently working with aisle411.

Pettyjohn said he has had an “entrepreneurial buzz” since he was a kid, and even had his own lawn mowing business when he was a teenager. His college professors also encouraged creativity and innovative thinking.

“My professors always said that you need to think about the next wave of marketing—it’s all going to change,” Pettyjohn said. “My background and education played a critical role in molding me into this thinking.”

The future of aisle411 looks bright. A growth plan is in place for the company to expand globally and use more retail analytics about shopper location, which will allow retailers to understand aisle traffic and establish the value on every shelf.

“The vision is to create this whole new, in-store media network,” said Pettyjohn.

Pettyjohn, who was honored with a Distinguished Alumni Award in October, credits his three years on Drury’s AD Team to helping him assess real world problems and find creative solutions with marketing.

“Starting this company has been really fun,” said Pettyjohn. “Drury definitely played a role in my success now.”


Story by Kaleigh Jurgensmeyer, a senior English and writing major at Drury. A version of this story first appeared in the Springfield News-Leader. 

Works by African-American artist Synthia Saint James on exhibit in December and January

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., Dec. 2, 2014 — Works by artist Dr. Synthia Saint James will be featured in a joint exhibition from Dec. 5 through Jan. 30 at the Pool Art Center Gallery, 940 N. Clay St., and the Drury on C-Street Gallery, 233 E. Commercial St.

Saint James is a painter, author, speaker and educator. She is best known for her work featured as the original cover art on the hardcover edition of Terry McMillan’s book Waiting to Exhale and for designing the first Kwanzaa stamp for the United States Postal Service.

"Juneteenth" by Synthia Saint James

“Juneteenth” by Synthia Saint James

The joint exhibit is titled “The Creative World of Synthia Saint James” and will open with a reception on Friday, Dec. 5 at both galleries (6-8 p.m. at Drury on C-Street and 6-9 p.m. at Pool Art Center). A Skype artist talk with Saint James will be held during the opening at the Pool Art Center from 6-7 p.m.

After the reception, viewing hours for the Pool Art Center are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Viewing hours for the C-Street Gallery will be 1 to 5 p.m. Thursday and Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays Dec. 6-13 and Jan. 20-30.

Artist website: http://www.synthiasaintjames.com

Media contacts: Leah Hamilton – Director, Arts Administration Program, (417) 873-6359 or lhamilton@drury.edu; and Greg Booker – Assistant Professor of Art, (417) 873-7203 or gbooker@drury.edu.

Display of Medieval documents draws parallel to today’s Information Age

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., Dec. 1, 2014 — The Medieval and Renaissance Studies program at Drury University will hold a public viewing of medieval and early modern documents from noon to 1:45 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 3 in the Rare Book Room at Olin Library.

The collection of documents includes manuscript leaves on vellum and paper, as well as early printed books, some of which are in their original leather bindings. The oldest item on display is from the mid-13th century, and the oldest book in the display was printed in 1492. Campus and community members are welcome to come and go at their leisure. The display will be a learning experience for students to compare these documents to today’s world of texting, tweeting and updating.

William Garvin, university archivist and interim director of the Olin Library, says viewers will get a sense of the sweeping change that took place during the span of time represented in the display.

“Those changes are similar to the digital information revolution that we’ve lived through over the last thirty years,” Garvin says. “Think of it this way: to a great degree, the Protestant Reformation was possible because the printing press allowed the ideas of Luther and other reformers to ‘go viral’ throughout Europe. The technology of the printing press made that revolution possible, in the same way that social media technology has aided the revolutionary movements in the Arab Spring uprisings.”

Dr. Shelley Wolbrink, director of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program, says evidence suggests new and more visual methods of print and book making aided European dialogue on touchstone issues – for better or worse.

“I don’t think we take the same care with communication today, and I wonder where this will leave historians of the greats — like presidents — and the ordinary — like husbands and wives,” Wolbrink says. “I hope witnessing an artifact firsthand will help others understand this period of history.”

Media Contact: William Garvin, university archivist, (417) 873-7482 or wgarvin@drury.edu.


Merle Haggard & Marty Stuart coming to O’Reilly Family Event Center Feb. 24

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., Dec. 1, 2014 — Country Music Hall of Famer Merle Haggard will headline a concert in Springfield for the first time in more than 40 years when he takes the stage with his good friend Marty Stuart at the O’Reilly Family Event Center on Feb. 24, 2015.

Tickets start at $54 and go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 5 online at www.drurytickets.com or by calling (417) 873-6389. Tickets may also be purchased in person at the OFEC box office, which is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard

Haggard is one of the architects of country music, with more than 40 No. 1 hits and scores of Top 10 singles. He helped create the twangy, stripped-down “Bakersfield Sound” in the 1960s and was one of the key voices in the Outlaw Country movement of the 1970s. Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994, Haggard has influenced generations of songwriters in a career spanning decades.

Stuart broke out with a solo career in the 1990s after years as a stellar instrumentalist and sideman. Like Haggard, Stuart is a modern performer who carries on the tradition of classic country music. A member of the Grand Ole Opry, Stuart tours today with his backing band, the Fabulous Superlatives.

Touring as twin headliners, Haggard and Stuart have been playing sold-out shows and giving audiences what the Fort-Worth Star Telegram recently called “a satisfying one-two punch of traditional country music.”

For more information, visit www.merlehaggard.com and www.martystuart.net.

WATCH: Haggard performs “Workin’ Man Blues” with Stuart


Panel discusses impact of Ferguson grand jury decision

As release of the Ferguson grand jury’s decision loomed last Monday night, students and faculty gathered at Drury’s Diversity Center to have a dialog about the issue that has torn apart the St. Louis suburb and captured the nation’s attention.

The event featured a panel of three speakers, but it was also a chance for students to ask questions, vent frustrations and talk about how communities – including Springfield – can work toward meaningful change when it comes to race, justice and equality.

It starts with honest dialog, most agreed. That’s not easy.

“We’re still not very good at talking about race,” said English professor Dr. Peter Meidlinger, who moderated, “but we need to get better at it.”

Panelists Ron Hartman, Greg Booker and Katherine Gilbert discuss the Ferguson issue at Drury's Diversity Center.

Panelists Ron Hartman, Greg Booker and Katherine Gilbert discuss the Ferguson issue at Drury’s Diversity Center.

Panelist Dr. Katherine Gilbert, an assistant professor of English, agreed. Having these conversations is extremely difficult – but the only path to understanding.

“It’s worth it,” she said. “It’s worth taking that step

The fatal shooting of Michael Brown was tragic, but certainly not unique. That unfortunate fact is likely why this case has sparked such a backlash, said Assistant Professor of Art Greg Booker, who is African American. He specifically cited the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012.

“I think it was set up and ready to catch fire because of the Trayvon Martin situation,” he said.

Students such as Max Accardi, a political science and chemistry double major, pointedly questioned the use of military-grade vehicles and equipment by local law enforcement agencies before protests had even begun, suggesting they helped increase tensions rather than defuse them.

Panelist Ron Hartman said such equipment is justified in order to protect police officers, but conceded that the use is likely too widespread when even the smallest jurisdictions have access to it. Hartman is a retired major with the Springfield Police Department who has consulted for law enforcement across the world – including recently in Ferguson.

Booker said his greatest frustration was with the lack of known facts in the three months between the shooting and the grand jury decision.

“I think because we don’t have all the evidence people are pushing for this to go to trial so that we can know what happened,” he said, only minutes before the news that there would be no such trial.


Story by Mike Brothers, Drury’s director of media relations. A version of this story first appeared in the Springfield News-Leader.


Kids get free admission and special cheering section at basketball games

Wigs, boas, crazy hats, fake mustaches, pom poms and sunglasses are just some of the props that kids can use in the new Kids Corner section at Drury Basketball games. Not only is it fun, but’s also free.

Children 12 and under get into all Drury sporting events for free this this season, emphasizing Drury’s family-friendly environment. They must be accompanied by adult upon admission.

Similar to the Drury student section, the Kids Corner is a reserved area in the O’Reilly Family Event Center dedicated solely to kids ages 6 to 11, who are invited to cheer, hang out with friends, and even hold some of the giant posters of the players. Kids Corner allows parents to watch the game freely from their own seat and engages some of the younger audience members in their very own fan section.

Kids Corner

“As a parent, the biggest benefit for me is seeing the kids have fun and seeing a new and younger generation getting to enjoy the sport,” said Emily Givens, who supervises the section along with two other O’Reilly Center workers.

Janel Nibert, whose husband is a former DU basketball player, recently brought her two sons to a basketball game and they enjoyed the fun environment the Kids Corner.

“They had a great time — they dressed up in wigs and mustaches and, during a time out, they got to go on the court and shoot baskets,” she said. “I enjoyed watching them feel like they were a part of the game. I hope the 12 and under promotion brings in even more kids.”

Kids Corner D fence

The kids never have to worry about being too loud or “wild.” In fact, that is something the section encourages. They help with cheers and even get to go out on the floor and high-five the starting players. During the time outs, Drury cheerleaders will bring kids on court to dance to songs like “Shake It Off” and “Jump Around.”

“We want the whole event to be fun for kids and adults alike. The fun environment helps the players, too, and gets the team excited and more people in the stands,” Givens said. “It gives us a spirited stadium.”


Story by Kaleigh Jurgensmeyer, a senior English and writing major at Drury. A version of this story originally appeared in the Springfield News-Leader. 

Two Drury music ensembles will perform at statewide MMEA conference

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., Nov. 21, 2014 — Two Drury ensembles, the Drury Wind Symphony and the Springfield-Drury Girls Choir, have been selected to perform at the statewide Missouri Music Educators Association’s annual conference in January. Both will hold free local performances in December.

“Being selected to perform for the Missouri Music Educators Association is one of the highest honors for ensembles in the state of Missouri,” said Dr. Allin Sorenson, chair of Drury’s music department. “It is a highly selective process that allows only the very best performing groups to be chosen.”

Drury’s Wind Symphony, led by Dr. Christopher Koch, will perform at MMEA for the second time. The Springfield-Drury Girls Choir, a new ensemble founded in 2012, will make its first appearance at MMEA under the direction of Mr. Mark Lawley.

“We are thrilled that we will be represented this year by two groups,” said Sorenson. “It is an honor to work with such gifted and talented students and faculty, and it is a great achievement for both the music department and indeed all of Drury.”

The Springfield community can see both ensembles perform this December at the groups’ annual Winter Concerts. The Drury Wind Symphony will perform at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 2 in Clara Thompson Hall. The Drury-Springfield Girls Choir will perform at 3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 14 in Stone Chapel. Both events are free and open to the public.


Drury hires Mark Fisher as next Director of Athletics

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., Nov. 19, 2014 — Drury University has selected Mark Fisher to become its next Director of Athletics. Fisher will begin his duties at Drury on July 1, 2015. Fisher is currently the Director of Athletics for Springfield Public Schools, where he has been AD since 2003.

“We are delighted to bring Mark on board,” said Drury President Dr. David Manuel. “I like both the leadership and management qualities he brings to the table. He has a breadth of experience dealing with a wide array sports and administrations during his career. Mark has deep local and statewide connections at both the collegiate and high school levels, and a proven track record in fundraising and managing high-profile events.”

Mark Fisher

Mark Fisher

“I want to thank Dr. Manuel and the Board of Trustees for the opportunity to serve at Drury University, where academics and athletics stand for excellence,” Fisher said. “Drury has a great group of coaches and I’m excited to be able to assist them in continuing the outstanding tradition of DU athletics, and helping student athletes fulfill their goals through their academic and athletic experiences.”

Fisher’s 12-year career with SPS includes success both on and off the field. In addition to overseeing all athletic activities for Missouri’s largest public school district, he also spearheaded a $3.5 million campaign for stadium improvements and implemented systems to continually evaluate the progress of student athletes and coaches. Fisher is the director of the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions, one of the highest profile high school basketball tournaments in the nation. A former Missouri Basketball Coach of the Year, he has mentored 18 former players or assistant coaches to careers as head basketball coaches.

Beginning Jan. 5, 2015, former DU athletic director Edsel Matthews will return to campus to serve as interim AD until Fisher’s full-time arrival in July. Scott Puryear, associate athletic director for marketing and communications, has served as the interim AD for the past five months.

“I want to thank Scott for his hard work in these dual roles during the past few months,” Dr. Manuel said. “We are thrilled that Edsel can step in and fill the gap next year so Scott can return to his AAD post and lay the promotional groundwork for our slate of home basketball games and, we hope, another deep postseason run by both teams.”

Matthews was Drury’s AD from 2002 to 2010, then served in an athletics fundraising role for two years before retiring in 2012. He will return to many familiar faces in the coaching ranks and across campus.

“I’m pleased to come back and help in any way that I can,” Matthews said. “I’m certainly thrilled that Mark Fisher will take over. He’s a great hire who will do a great job. I’ll work very closely with Mark in the interim and try to set the table as best I can for what he and the University want to accomplish.”

Media Contact: Scott Puryear, Associate Director of Athletics for Marketing & Communications; (417) 873-4097 or spuryear@drury.edu.


SBU comes out on top in inaugural CatFight Giving Challenge

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., Nov. 18, 2014 — Alumni and supporters of Drury and Southwest Baptist universities raised a total of $21,535 during the inaugural Highway 13 CatFight Giving Challenge. SBU came out on top in the friendly competition, raising $13,161 to Drury’s $8,375.

The fundraising event was a new addition this year to the longstanding on-court rivalry between the Panther and Bearcat basketball teams. The schools sought to raise $13,000 each over the course of six days. The final push for donations took place during tonight’s CatFight double-header at the O’Reilly Family Event Center.

“We’re excited about this new event and plan to do it again, so look for the rivalry to continue next year,” said Andrea Battaglia, director of annual giving and alumni relations at Drury. “This is a great competition between the two schools and, in the end, students at both universities will benefit.”

Money raised by Drury will support students through the Drury Fund and the athletics fund. Money raised by SBU will go to the university’s annual scholarship fund.

For more information about Development & Alumni Relations at Drury, visit alumni.drury.edu.