by Bob Hart
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It’s more than a job. It’s a mission.
When Stephen M. LaNasa, Ph.D., stepped into his new role as the sixth president in Donnelly College history on Sept. 2, it was the culmination of more than a decade of passionate research on college access and opportunity for disadvantaged students.
“The success of low-income students has been a major thrust of my interest,” said LaNasa, who came to Donnelly from his position as associate dean and assistant professor of higher education in the School of Education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
“Many of the students here are first-generation college students, and they haven’t been exposed to the necessary steps and activities for college preparation that others may take for granted,” he said. “They may come from high schools that don’t do a great job of preparing them. Here at Donnelly, because that’s a component of our mission, we’re up front about it. It’s really a unique institution.”
A self-described “Army brat” (born in Hawaii, attended high school in Germany), LaNasa settled in the Kansas City area five years ago when his wife Rebecca was transferred here for her job with Cerner Corporation. They have two sons — Charlie, 8, and Joe, 4.
Prior to working with UMKC’s School of Education, LaNasa was assistant vice provost for academic planning at UMKC. He earned his doctorate from Pennsylvania State University.
He has been active in several local education initiatives, including the UMKC charter schools advisory board and the Institute for Urban Education’s Partnership Consortium. He is also a member of the research advisory board for the National Research Center for College University Admissions.
Building on past success
LaNasa said he looks forward to continuing to build on successful programs initiated by his predecessor, Ken Gibson, Ph.D., who retired in August 2007. Among them are a new bachelor’s degree program in Organizational Leadership and programs for both Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA).
“It’s a real challenge in urban areas for hospitals to provide nurses who look like their patients,” he said. “We’re in a unique position to help with that. The nursing programs have generated a lot of excitement and interest. It’s a chance for us to help facilitate good careers, and ones that are critical to our region.”
An outreach program with Lansing Correctional Facility has also met with success and will be continued, he said. “Of all the participants in that program, there has been just one individual who found himself in trouble again,” LaNasa said. “It’s been very successful.”
LaNasa also plans a “proactive marketing campaign” to increase awareness of Donnelly’s importance to the community.
“What I’ve had in talking to people in Kansas City about Donnelly is two distinct experiences — a fantastic, enthusiastic response from those who know about us, and, on the opposite end, those who’ve not heard much about Donnelly at all,” he said.
“Donnelly is an important regional resource, and there are some truly exceptional things going on here,” he added. “Because there are ingrained perceptions and biases in all of us, people don’t necessarily recognize the excellence that exists. We need to get the word out.”