Pittsburg State University - Pittsburg, Kansas
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News and information from Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Career was all about providing opportunity

As she completes a 29-year career at Pittsburg State University, Teresa Massa talks most about people – those with whom she has worked and those she helped as the person primarily responsible for the university’s equal opportunity and affirmative action efforts.

Massa, who retired this week as EOAA director at PSU, recalled that when she arrived on campus in the summer of 1978, the university was working to meet federal equal opportunity guidelines established in the early ‘70s. Academic programs were being evaluated, she said, to ensure that the university was providing equal access to all students.

Massa said most people are aware of the Title IX provisions that have been applied to athletic and extracurricular programs, but pointed out that the initial push behind the federal mandates was to make education available to women, minorities and eventually persons with handicaps.

Over the next decades, Pittsburg State made a lot of progress, Massa said.

“When I first got here,” Massa said, “the university didn’t have many faculty openings, but there was a push to diversify whenever an opening occurred. We have diversified, especially in the area of gender.”

Massa said the list includes a female vice president, deans and department chairpersons.

“There are more females in the sciences – mathematics, chemistry, physics and biology, which is an important issue nationally,” Massa said.

The university has also worked hard to accommodate persons with disabilities, Massa said. She remembers early days when accommodating persons with disabilities meant things as simple as looking for problems with sidewalks or access to classrooms.

“Larry Nokes (Physical Plant director), Gary Carlat (university architect) and I all worked together,” Massa said. “Sometimes we would go out on the campus to look at sidewalks and other things that needed to be changed.”

When the lack of elevators in some buildings made access to classes impossible, classes would be moved.

“At one time,” Massa said, “half the Social Science and History classes (which are normally taught in Russ Hall) had to be taught in other places because the building at that time didn’t have an elevator.”

Providing equal opportunities for persons with disabilities goes well beyond removing the obvious physical barriers, however. Massa said that having Dr. Nick Henry as the university’s learning disabilities coordinator helped Pittsburg State serve disabled students in a wide variety of ways.

“It was my privilege to work with him,” Massa said. “He was source nationwide. A lot of people didn’t realize the knowledge he had. Because of his work, Pittsburg State became well known for the individual way we treated students with disabilities.”

Massa acknowledges that issues of color have been more challenging.

“I wish we had made more inroads into hiring more African-Americans and more native Americans,” Massa said.

Because it can be difficult to recruit qualified minorities to areas that are not as diverse as those they are accustomed to, the only option is sometimes to “grow your own,” according to Massa.

“We’re the only industry that trains its future employees,” Massa pointed out.

Although Massa says there remains much to do, she is clearly proud of the successes of the past three decades. Those successes have names and faces. Massa recalled the student who was referred to her office by her employer. The student was struggling academically and was in danger of failing. Testing revealed that the student had a learning disability. After accommodations were made, the student raised her grades from C’s and D’s to A’s, eventually graduating with honors.

Another student in a similar situation went on to get her Ph.D., Massa said, and is now a college professor. A third has a leadership role in a state agency and the list goes on.

“It’s all about giving people opportunity to achieve what they are capable of,” Massa said.

For Massa, retirement won’t mean sitting still. She said she looks forward to spending more time with family and her husband, Richard. Massa loves to travel and she has a long list of places she wants to visit. The National American Indian Museum, the San Francisco Ballet and the Westminster Dog Show are all on her list as is a return trip to Italy, France and England. There are books to read and maybe even time for a special treat -- high tea with friends at her home.

---Pitt State---