Ideas are essential to the human experience. Without them, knowledge couldn’t be transferred and applied, and revelations would never occur. But growing an idea into tangible reality takes more than just a thought; in many instances, it takes hard work, dedication and discipline. Dr. Gerald T. Brouder’s career can be summed up as the culmination of many ideas — ideas that, with a lot of hard work, became reality.
Dr. Brouder’s foray into higher education was not his original plan, although serving others has remained a career constant. After graduating high school he joined the military with an eventual plan to become a highway patrolman.
“It grew me up,” he says of his experience in the Army. “I became a much more disciplined individual than I was going in. It taught me how to stay on point, and to treat those subordinate to you in a way that is respectful and in a way that is helpful.”
Brouder served in the medical corps in the Army and, once his duties were fulfilled, went to work in an operating room at a children’s hospital in Chicago. He explains a series of “epiphanies” led him to steadily build his educational credentials in the nursing field. He first obtained his associate’s degree, then his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“I knew if I went on further with my education, I could make a better life for myself,” he said. “And with the master’s degree, I knew I could do any of three things: practice, research and teach. That got me off into the teaching venue.”
With the idea in mind that pursuing higher education would lead to more open doors, Brouder came to his next opportunity almost by happenstance. “There was a tear-off ad in the Rush Memorial Hospital where I worked that talked about a Ph.D. program in nursing at the University of Texas,” he says. “I pulled it off and sent it in for more information and that got the ball rolling. By that time, I was married and had two kids, so Bonnie and I decided to give it a try. We threw all the kids and everything in the truck and drove down to Austin and, as they say, the rest is history.”
At the University of Texas, Brouder met Dr. Bruce Rouse who served as the chairman of Brouder’s dissertation committee. Brouder explains working with Rouse had a tremendous impact on his professional development. “He really had me on a glide path that was bound to succeed, even when I doubted myself,” Brouder says. “He saw something in me that was going to blossom at some point. While I didn’t agree with him necessarily, especially after some exams,” he says with a laugh, “he had a great, great influence on my life.”
In 1977, Brouder was hired as a faculty member in the School of Nursing at the University of Missouri. He spent 17 years at the university and served as interim chancellor, deputy chancellor and provost. He also held other various positions within the administration and at the medical center.
When asked what intrigued him about becoming the 16th president of Columbia College in 1995, Brouder’s answer is unwavering. “The impression I had was there was an enormous challenge. Bonnie and I discussed it quite awhile and decided we were up for the challenge and went ahead and signed on.”
In his inaugural address, Brouder cited three major goals for the institution: increasing the endowment, advancing technology and deepening and strengthening the sciences. Eighteen years later, his ideas have become reality: the endowment has increased to over $110 million, the department of technology services has grown from four employees to 44, and a brand new, 52,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art science building will open this fall on the main campus.
Brouder also realized early on the importance of cultivating a culture at the college that honored civility and respect, explaining a qualitative shift among faculty and students had to take place.
“When I got here we had open admissions, and it became clear to me early on that that wasn’t going to work, not if we wanted to establish a quality institution to which students would aspire to come,” he says. “One of the things we did was impose admission standards in our Day and Evening campuses. You had to have an ACT, you had to have a class rank, and you had to have a GPA out of high school, and you had to meet other criteria at the institution. So at the very same time we were improving the quality of faculty, we were improving the quality of the students that they would teach. That resulted in a major shift in the organization.”
The shift in culture is evident everywhere on campus. “We respect teaching and learning,” he says. “You can see it in the quality of the teachers we hire; you can see it in the grounds. The sidewalks are edged, the flowers are beautiful … that’s not to spend money on horticulture, that’s to show people you respect the venue in which that awesome responsibility takes place where teaching turns into learning. You’ve got to honor the fact that what we do is grow intellects. We change people’s lives. It’s an awesome responsibility.”
He explains how teaching is transferred into tangible learning: “I’m a fan of the analogy of the hammer and the anvil. When you strike the anvil, something occurs: there is a spark. That’s what I view as teaching turning into learning. That spark is the transfer of knowledge. We are about the transfer of knowledge, and we are about the expansion of knowledge.”
Although Brouder is proud to see his initial ideas regarding the institution come to fruition, he’s quick to deflect praise. “It’s the good people you hire that make the operation work,” he says. “By virtue of the good people I have hired in my career who make everything happen, we have been quite successful.”
Brouder has high hopes for the college to soon become a model institution. “How do you know when that vision is realized?” he asks. “It happens when others come to us and say, ‘How did you do this? How did you develop that?’ The other is when we get accolades from outside the institution — U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, GetEducated.com — all of those things, that’s validation that this hybrid that we’ve created here is something others emulate or want to emulate.”
“I’ll miss it,” he says of Columbia College. “I’ll miss the people, I’ll miss the opportunity, I’ll miss the challenge. I set out goals 18 years ago and, I think, achieved them. If I could be remembered for sticking to the vision and succeeding, I think I’ll be happy.”