Knowing what she knows now, if Lori Stinson had the opportunity to do her life all over again, she is like everyone else and there would be some small decision changes made here and there. However, in the overall big picture, not much would change, which makes it is easy to see why she usually has a smile on her face.
Yes, there have been the usual bumps and challenges along the way, but life has been a rewarding adventure for the Lewis-Clark State College Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. It’s taken her from Lewistown, Mont., to the Dominican Republic and two stints working at LCSC, including the last five years as the provost.
“It’s just really been a blessed experience,” Stinson says. “I’m finishing my 23rd year working at LCSC and I never felt like working here was a grind.”
Stinson is a perfect fit for the thriving college. She started as a nursing faculty member and with the help and support of others, rose through the ranks to Nursing/Health Science Division chair and then to provost.
“I have never felt like I was out of step with what the mission of the institution was,” she says. “Every day I get to work with people in the trenches who love this place and buy into the mission. We all do tasks that are undesirable – there is no job that doesn’t have that – but when you do it in an environment where there is such passion and commitment, it’s a daily blessing to be in that environment.”
Education has been a focal point in her life. She was born in Lewistown but her parents and four siblings moved quite a bit when she was growing up related to her father’s job in cooperative extension. She attended four high schools, including one in the Reno area her ninth grade year, and then moved to Twin Falls for two years, before she graduated from Vallivue High in Caldwell.
“I grew up not knowing what I wanted to do in life,” she says. “I didn’t have a vision. At one time, I thought it would be interesting to join the Air Force. My dad always wanted to be a pilot, but he is colorblind so he could never do it. I was too short for the height requirement. As a young kid, I couldn’t go on some rides at Disneyland because I was too short.”
During her senior year, she spent the mornings in the classroom and then worked as a unit secretary in the emergency room at a local hospital in the afternoons. She said the experience gave her the aspiration of enrolling in a six-week program to become a medical assistant. She said she was in love and wanted to settle down, and told those plans to a surgeon at the hospital whom she often talked with.
“He was so angry at me, which I thought was so interesting, because he got angry with me and my parents did not,” Lori says about her future employment goals. “But I really took that to heart and thought I had to think differently. I had to think bigger, so that is where his wife came into play. She encouraged me to apply for a scholarship through the hospital auxiliary. I got the scholarship and ended up going to the University of Idaho.”
She attended UI and was in the pre-nursing program. At that time, UI had a tight relationship with Washington State University with the nursing program so she wound up graduating from WSU’s campus in Spokane with a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
“When I got into nursing school I had this dream about being a flight nurse,” Lori says. “So the lesson so far is that I am totally not in tune with myself.”
Instead, she started working at Gritman Hospital in Moscow, but in 1984, an acquaintance of hers, LCSC nursing professor Alice Bevans, encouraged Lori to apply for a teaching job at the college.
“Of course I had never thought of teaching and I was only one year out of nursing school,” Lori says. “But I applied for the job and I got it. I taught in the practical nursing program and the associate degree nursing program because at that time, the BSN program was barely getting started here. This obviously had a big impact on my life. It introduced me to another career path option.”
By then, Lori had married her husband, Ken. She says Ken always had a dream of being a Peace Corps volunteer or going overseas. Both Lori and Ken grew up in church families and had a heart for service. They wound up joining the Peace Corp and served two years in the Dominican Republic.
“Through that experience, which honestly was one of the most formative experiences of my life, I learned a lot,” Lori says. “It didn’t so much drive me the way that experience drives a lot of people because I actually have never gone back to the Dominican Republic.
“But what I really learned is that if we were going to do something sustainable to solve any problems, it’s got to happen with the people in the community. I think it really opened my eyes to what needs to be taken care of where I was. I really got on the public health bandwagon because so much of what I did as a nurse in a third world country was just about disease, disease prevention and education.”
When the couple came back to the States, they wound up in the Seattle area where Lori obtained a master’s degree from the University of Washington. She studied community health nursing with a cross-cultural focus because she was interested in the cultural piece. She got a job at the King County Health Department and worked with area Native American tribes. While she really enjoyed the work, she says she had a heart for returning to LCSC and teaching.
So after about a decade in the Seattle area, she returned to LCSC in 1997. She started a cross-cultural nursing class and taught a variety of other classes. She said it wasn’t that surprising that she started looking into leadership at the college because she had always been “the bossiest” of her siblings.
“I like organizing and coordinating things, so the Nursing/Health Sciences Division provided me an opportunity to do that, whether it was coordinating a course or being responsible for how courses fit together,” she said. “I was really enjoying that.”
In 2004, her division brought in a new chair, Mary Ruth Hassett, who wanted to have an assistant to the chair.
“Unbeknownst to any of us in the division, she kind of gave us little tests,” Lori says. “She did things like ‘Hey, I was thinking about sending this email to faculty. What do you think?’ I was just myself and gave my opinion. She later told me that was the reason she chose me over the others, and you have to know that I worked with very, very capable people. But I gave her my opinion when others would just tell her it looks great because they were afraid to hurt her feelings or what not. I was just thinking ‘Hey, wait a minute. This represents us so it needs to look right.’ So I owe a lot to Mary Ruth for having faith in me.”
When Hassett retired as chair in 2007, Lori was a natural choice to replace her. It was a great time for the division because of the construction and opening of Sacajawea Hall, a new Nursing/Health Sciences facility with the latest technology. She also continued to teach a couple of classes, including the cross-cultural class she developed.
“At the time I was pretty excited about the prospect of kind of contributing at a bigger level,” Lori says. “It’s a hard balance, teaching and being a division chair. Students do deserve and demand time, and when you are a chair, you are kind of on call for everybody all the time. I’ve always said being a division chair is the hardest job at LCSC. It is right smack in the middle of the organizational chart. You have the demands from above and demands from below, but you really have to be a team player at that level. It’s very unique in that way. I enjoyed it.”
Near the end of her sixth year as division chair, Lori was thinking about making a change. There was a need for an interim chair in another division so Lori decided she wanted to take on the additional duties. She felt she could handle it, especially with a strong division staff and assistant chair Mary Lou Robinson.
Soon thereafter, the provost position came open.
“I was aware of the opening but I was thinking that was way too big of a stretch, from division chair to provost,” Lori said. “I mean how do you report to your boss one day (Dean of Academic Programs) and then the next day have that boss report to you?”
Lori wound up meeting with LCSC President J. Anthony (Tony) Fernandez and told him she was willing to help any way she could, and that she was looking for a change. The president stunned her when he asked her if she had any interest in being the provost.
“I was telling myself that I cannot fall out of this chair but I was just so shocked,” Lori said. “I told him no, I had not thought about it, but tell me more. What is your thinking? At the time he needed an interim so he wanted to keep talking about it.”
Eventually the president offered her the interim position.
“It was pretty freaking cool to have him believe in me and get that opportunity,” Lori said. “I had some angst because when you do an interim thing, you throw other people in turmoil, and I feel in a way they (her division) took one for the team.”
After about six months, the President did a vetting process with the deans and chairs, and then offered the provost position without the interim title to Lori.
“It was a good choice for me,” Lori said. “I feel very indebted to President Fernandez. I love being the provost. I love this job.
With five years under her belt as provost, Lori is looking ahead to what the next five years could look like at LCSC.
“I believe what will happen in the next five years is that the college will more firmly define itself,” Lori said. “And we have a remarkable history. We have such a strong, strong foundation now.
“It’s good to see the institution on a broader level. That is something that the provost’s office really affords you the opportunity of seeing the whole, and it’s good to work toward the whole. Not every level of the institution is charged to do that. This job is all the time, looking out for the institution and the greater good of the institution and that’s really a privilege.”