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Outlook 2013: Langston president strives to move Oklahoma university forward

Langston University President Kent J. Smith says students must be prepared for opportunities when they arise.

by Bryan Painter Published: April 28, 2013

LANGSTON — Narrow the focus to expand the vision.

That’s the perspective of Langston University President Kent J. Smith.

Smith leads a university that spans campuses in Langston, Oklahoma City and Tulsa with more than 2,500 students.

When asked to look 20 years into the future of Langston, the community and the state, Smith narrowed the focus. He provided an example of how a nurtured vision can expand and bring great possibilities.

“It comes down to one opportunity,” said Smith, 42. “You have to be prepared and have a skill set, a certain outlook to accept that opportunity.”

Before coming to Langston in 2012, he served in academic positions at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio; Auburn University in Alabama; Case Western Reserve University in Ohio; and Cleveland State University.

Smith also served as assistant director of black student services and adjunct professor of education at Colorado State University.

What it doesn’t show is the one opportunity — or, rather, one couple — who held a greater vision for Smith than he had for himself. But the Baton Rouge, La., native believed in their vision and has followed it all the way to the president’s position at Langston.

‘More diverse than people realize’

Langston University is recognized for several programs, including biology, biotechnology, chemistry, entrepreneur studies, goat research, international education, physical therapy, rehabilitation counseling and urban education, Smith said.

Founded on March 12, 1897, under the second Morrill Act of 1890, Langston University was officially designated as the Colored Agricultural and Normal University by Oklahoma Territorial House Bill 151.

On Sept. 3, 1898, with an initial budget of $5,000, the school opened in a Presbyterian church in Langston, northeast of Guthrie, then the capital of Oklahoma Territory.

Eighty years later, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education assigned an urban mission to the university that resulted in the establishment of campuses in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

“We’re more diverse than people realize,” Smith said.

He said clearly his predecessors have done a good job in establishing great programs. Now, he will strive to move the university forward.

That, in turn, will be important for Oklahoma, Smith said.

“The reality is we are a public institution and we can’t afford to be on an island as a university,” he said. “The truth is universities are economic engines. Some people don’t understand how we affect the economies of the state. When you think of the graduates, even if you bring in a large proportion of your students from out of state, believe it or not, many will wind up staying in the state, contributing tax dollars and contributing to the greater good of the state.”

Smith, who praised the instructors, staff and students of Langston, said he would like to see the university grow to about 4,000 to 5,000 students.

What will it take? Maybe one opportunity, he said.

Their vision, his commitment

Norman St. Amant was the dean of the junior division at Southern University in Baton Rouge during Smith’s undergraduate studies. But they’d known each other since Smith was a child. They didn’t talk that often.

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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