Dec 6, 2011

Man for the ages --Renaissance man?

The term "Renaissance man" is vastly overused.

But the term fits Dr. Arlin Epperson, associate professor of business administration, Columbia College Computer and Mathematical Sciences Department.

Here's a partial list of some of the hats he's worn in his 70-some years:

  • Computer information systems, business administration instructor.
  • Father of the Columbia College Online Campus (more on that later).
  • Certified Financial Planner.
  • Columbia College Travel Department head. This department, which boasted 250 students in its 1970s heyday, furnished all the travel agents for mid-Missouri, says Epperson, and many of the flight attendants for TWA, which then had headquarters in Kansas City, St. Louis and other U.S. cities.
  • University of Missouri state extension specialist to school boards, city councils, park boards, not-for-profit agencies, motels, resorts and attractions on planning, financing, and managing facilities and services. He was also a founding board member of the Missouri Community School Association. 
  • Bus driver for the Columbia College Cougars volleyball team, unpaid.
  • Parks and recreation guru, publishing "Leisure Counseling : An Aspect of Leisure Education," "Private and Commercial Recreation," "Tennis Courts, Planning and Construction," and "Christian Leisure," among other books, monographs and research papers. Epperson was the first executive director of the Missouri Park and Recreation Association and the director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Division of State Parks, managing 66 state parks and historical sites with a budget of $15 million and more than 400 employees.
  • CFO and CEO, mostly in Minnesota with Thayer Management Inc., a resort development, marketing and management firm.
  • Collections officer (yes, we find this hard to picture too).
  • Lay ordained minister to the public and to pastors and blogging about it from such locations as Vellore, India; Taiwan; Katmandu, Nepal; Lilongwe, Malawi; even Columbia, Mo. Epperson has taught over 10,000 pastors in nearly 50 African cities in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and Botswana and spends three to four months per year in Africa.
Sometimes these roles merge beautifully. "A couple of years ago," he says, "our star volleyball player, Luana Branco, was engaged to marry one of the star basketball players, Michael Fields. Luana was asking me about a justice of the peace that could marry them, so I offered my services and the church I attend. There were about 200 people there, including 20 or more of Luana’s relatives from Brazil. It was a good time."

There you have it: Globalism, volleyball and ministering in one fell swoop.

"They seem to come in sequence," Epperson says of his multiple, overlapping vocations. "I don’t do much with recreation and tourism now … volleyball [he was a serious player for over 25 years] and ministry to African pastors are my two main passions. I also am very excited about the Missouri K-12 online consortium we’re developing."

This is a proposed initiative to make available to high school students the kind of online classes now available to post-secondary students.

"There will be a similar explosion in K-12 online as there was in post secondary education 10 years ago," Epperson predicts. "Only this one will affect many more people. There are several factors causing this, including more pressure to save funds [in general, online courses can be provided for about one-quarter the cost of in-seat courses] and the need to raise completion rates. "

As radical as grade schools kids taking classes online may sound, Epperson's last wild initiative resulted in the Online Campus, which now offers 23 degrees and more than 800 courses. There are now over 80,000 enrollments per year.

"One of my talents is to be able to spot trends in education,” he says. “I realized in the mid 1990s that there would be an explosion in post-secondary online education. Then at the 1999 annual fall faculty conference, I heard Dr. Brouder say the college was going to look at some additional directions. He was not specific, but nevertheless, I made a beeline to Dr. Smith's office [Smith is executive vice president and dean for Academic Affairs] and told him if he would give me one course release, I would develop an online program.

"In January 2000 he [Smith] did so, and I began doing research. I had to get an Internet Protocol Multimedia Subsystem running to handle the courses, hire instructors, get courses developed and we were ready and offering courses in October 2000." Epperson then directed the program for its first four years.

As vital as online education is to the college’s future, much of it also lies in developing countries.

"Since I often end up in African countries," Epperson says, "I have talked to a number of potential players. While in Egypt in 2008 I recruited Ola Nosear, who plays middle for the current volleyball team and who is a computer science major. I am presently recruiting an African girls basketball player and two volleyball players, and one, now a junior, we hope will come in fall 2012."

Add recruiter to that list.