Oliver leaves legacy of hands-on learning

The founding dean of the School of Health Professions will step down at the conclusion of the spring semester.

Receiving his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees at MU combined with 27 years of experience on staff, a significant part Richard Oliver’s long-time relationship with the university will soon be coming to an end.

However, he's far from letting go.

“I’m a Mizzou guy through and through,” Oliver said.

Oliver will be stepping down as the first and only dean of the School of Health Professions at the end of the spring semester, according to an MU news release.

Oliver said stepping down allows him to pursue other projects that he has not had time to do while juggling the responsibilities of dean.

One project includes focusing on his duties as president-elect of the Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions. This organization represents 127 institutions that aim to "promote high quality education among health professionals," according to its website. Oliver said he plans to endorse a shift toward teamwork among health professionals.

“We tend to be in our own silos and that is not going to work anymore as health care moves under major reforms,” Oliver said.

For Oliver, stepping down does not mean slowing down. He said he will also continue teaching an honors class in the Department of Health Professions.

“I think it’s important to teach,” Oliver said.

Another endeavor Oliver said he plans to take on involves working with corporate partners to expand the virtual learning tool he had previously developed.

Under Oliver’s guidance, the School of Health Professions has been the fastest-growing school at MU. Since the school was founded in 2001, it has grown from 600 students to more than 2,500.

Expansion in the form of clinics and partnerships has transformed the way the school operates, Oliver said.

He said students are able to get hands-on experience at the country’s only school-run adult day center as well as at a preschool lead by seniors in speech pathology.

“We are not just an ivory tower school, we are out in the community and out in the state providing critical services,” Oliver said.

Oliver attributed timing as the reason for his departure.

“It’s a really good opportunity now for us to attract a leader for this school,” Oliver said. “We’ve had this exceptional growth. We are well respected. We’ve got some unique things going on in our school that it’s a national model. I think it’s a good time for me to transfer to something else. And this will give the university more time to find the next dean.”

When asked about his legacy, Oliver took his time to think before responding.

“If you think about all the thousands of students that have walked across the stage while I’ve been dean and all the services they are providing across the state, the region and the nation, it’s phenomenal the impact we’ve had on the people we serve,” Oliver said.

Hal Williamson, the vice chancellor of the MU Health Sciences Center, said he believes Oliver’s lasting impact has not yet been completely felt.

“Dean Oliver leaves a legacy that goes far beyond teaching, research and service,” Williamson said in the news release. “Though Oliver’s role as dean nears its end, his leadership in health professions will continue well into the future.”

As he glided through the different clinics in Lewis and Clark halls, smiling as he watched seniors and preschoolers receive care, Oliver was able to define his legacy.

“These programs are our legacy,” Oliver said. “How could you not be proud of them?”

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