Missouri Southern launches Lions Forward campaign

When Dr. Dean Van Galen arrived on Missouri Southern’s campus in 2020, he knew that it was time to look to the future of the university and begin making changes for the betterment of the students, faculty and supporters of MSSU. 

“When I came to Missouri Southern, I really believed that the time was right for the institution to launch a major fundraising campaign,” Van Galen said. “It’s something that I am very excited about. I know our board, our campus leadership, our alumni and friends, are excited about helping Missouri Southern move to the next step.”

Dr. Dean Van Galen, University President

July 1, 2022, Missouri Southern officially launched a comprehensive capital fundraising campaign, calling it Lions Forward. It is the first comprehensive campaign since 2004 and only the second in Missouri Southern’s history. 

In 2020, after arriving on campus, Dr. Dean Van Galen began with internal and external constituent groups to discover different priorities to focus on and improve. Using information from faculty, staff, students, alumni and the community, it was determined there was an opportunity to raise private funds to make some of those priority areas a reality. 

In the spring of 2022, after a nation-wide search, Missouri Southern hired the JF Smith Group, a consultant firm out of Alabama, to conduct a feasibility study.

“It answers three questions: Is the university ready for a campaign? Do you have priorities that would be of interest to prospective donors? Do you have donors that have the financial capacity to help you achieve your goal?” said Dr. Brad Hodson, executive vice president of MSSU and point person for the Lions Forward campaign.

Over 600 stakeholders were interviewed either in person, over the phone, or through a survey over several weeks to answer those three questions. Afterward, the JF Smith Group concluded that Missouri Southern was ready for a comprehensive capital campaign, and also provided a list of projects that tested the best with the stakeholders, as well as a total fundraising goal. 

“You want to pick projects that donors are going to be drawn to, and they’re going to want to support financially. You want to pick projects that will be the most impactful to the institution,” Hodson said.

Of the projects tested, 21 areas were identified and from there, seven priority areas were chosen.

“What we did was look at the data from that feasibility study and see which priorities had the greatest level of interest from donors with the highest capacity to give,” Hodson said.

Hodson broke down those seven areas into three groups: enhancing the student experience, fostering academic excellence, and building the campus of the future. 

Enhancing the Student Experience

Students are at the center of what we do. They are the reason we exist. A campaign will provide new opportunities and even better experiences for Missouri Southern students in the future.

— Dr. Dean Van Galen

The first of the seven priority areas, in the group for enhancing the student experience, is student scholarships. For a university like Missouri Southern, Hodson said scholarships should always be a priority. The university has set a goal of $10 million to fund scholarships, which would allow Southern to increase a $500,000 increase to the already over $1 million the Missouri Southern Foundation awards students in private scholarships each year.

“Scholarships tested really well with alums,” Hodson said. 

Dr. Brad Hodson, Executive Vice President and Executive Director of the Missouri Southern Foundation.

The second priority in enhancing student experience is a centralized Student Success Center. Missouri Southern provides a variety of services for student success, including academic advising, tutoring, career services and other offices that contribute to the retention, persistence, graduation and future employment of students. However, these areas are not highly visible to the campus.

“Moving them to a more visible, central location where students would more readily identify them is a priority of the institution,” Hodson said.

Funds raised for the Student Success Center will support renovations in a part of campus to unify available services. 

Improvements to the first floor of the Billingsly Student Center are also a priority. As a ‘91 Missouri Southern alum, Hodson recalled how the first floor used to look. Currently, the lower level of BSC houses the Card Services office and the textbook rental office, but Hodson remembers a time where the first floor looked quite different.

“That [first floor] was one big, giant room and it was full of pool tables and ping pong tables and booths and tables, and there was a grill where you could get hamburgers. There was music playing and it was packed when I was a student,” Hodson said. “That was the place you went if you had an hour break between classes or you were just hanging out. It was so much fun.”

After Billingsly’s renovation in 2000, the first floor was modified. Hodson said they plan to create a space like the one he remembers on the first floor where it was previously located.

The Billingsly Student Center is scheduled to be renovated as a part of the Lions Forward campaign.

“We lost something there when we didn’t keep that in the lower level of the building. That’s my favorite project of the seven because I have really fond memories of hanging out down there and just being a monster at Spades.” 

Athletic excellence is an area that always has needs for equipment, travel and student support services, which is why it, too, is included in the list of the seven priority areas the campaign is funding. Engaging donors in the sport they are most interested in and the needs of the sport is a priority of the campaign that goes toward enhancing the student experience. 

“Students are at the center of what we do. They are the reason we exist. A campaign will provide new opportunities and even better experiences for Missouri Southern students in the future,” Van Galen said. “The impacts in terms of scholarships, academic programs, and facilities will transform this university in wonderful ways.”

Fostering Academic Excellence

“If you’re a college or university and you’re not raising money for academic excellence, what are you doing?” Hodson said. The campaign is also working to find donors who will donate to both current and future academic programs, as well as provide donations that will create endowed faculty positions, provide money for student and faculty research, equipment and the renovation of facilities. Missouri Southern hopes to raise money especially to go toward new programs and immersive learning opportunities. 

Design by Deidre Brown














Building the Campus of the Future

The final priority area is the creation of the Health Science Innovation Center. The estimated cost of this entirely new building is a total of $30 million, half of which will be provided by the State of Missouri through a grant proposed by Governor Parson. MSSU is promised $15 million if it can raise matching funds through private donations.

“We are in the same community as two major medical centers, and a medical and soon-to-be dental school, so this is a health-care hub for the region,” Hodson said. 

The all-new facility will include a simulation hospital, an expanded cadaver lab, as well as other labs specific to different areas of study. 

“It puts front and center Health Sciences, which is becoming the signature center of excellence for Missouri Southern, right at the front door,” Hodson said. 

The new building is predicted to take three years to complete once all funds are raised. 

The total fundraising goal for the Lions Forward campaign is $31.5 million, which Hodson predicts will be surpassed, as the campaign has had early success thus far. 

“It’s important to note, we are in month three of sixty… this is really just the beginning,” he said.

The campaign, as a whole, is projected to last five years.

“We need to do this all together; not only as a campus community, but also as alumni, friends and a broader community,” Van Galen said. “One of my favorite quotes is an African proverb that says ‘If you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together.’ I think this campaign is a great example of what is possible if we travel together.”