It’s been a long time since Dr. Myron Pope, The University of Alabama’s new vice president for student life, has been on campus.
The last time he visited the Capstone – his alma mater and initial employer – was in 2012 when the No. 1 Crimson Tide defeated Ole Miss 33 to 14.
His return then was also for the 20th reunion of the 1992 championship team; he played outside linebacker under head coach Gene Stallings.
This time, his return to UA and to higher education was unexpected.
He had been working less than a year for the state of Oklahoma as chief of strategic engagement for the department of human services when he received a recommendation from a search firm to apply for vice president for student life at UA. Initially hesitant to leave a job he enjoyed, Pope nevertheless felt the pull of home.
“It was a great opportunity to serve in a place that gave so much to me in so many ways. I didn’t know I would be back in higher education after being out for less than a year, but as Bear Bryant said, ‘Momma called,’” Pope said.
Pope earned a bachelor’s degree in history from UA in 1993, then a master’s degree in1994 and doctorate in higher education administration in 1997.
While a student, Pope was a staunch academic, an athlete and was socially active. He played football as a walk-on for head coach Bill Curry and Stallings from 1989-1992, and pledged Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. in the fall of 1989.
Upon graduating, he was hired as the University’s director of recruitment programs/alternative certification and a clinical assistant professor in the higher education administration program. He served in those positions until 2000 when he was hired by the University of Oklahoma, where he worked as a tenure-track assistant professor in adult and higher education. He worked there for a total of 15 years, his latter time as vice president of student affairs.
Pope has been married to his wife Shanna for 12 years, and has three children: Michael, 19, Alison, 16, and Isaiah, 9.
Since the 48-year-old Sweet Water, Alabama native’s April start date, he’s tried to re-acclimate to campus and Tuscaloosa culture. As a barbecue lover, he didn’t waste any time sinking his teeth into the smoky ribs of familiar favorites and new restaurants.
Outside of the familiar comforts of popular T-Town cuisine, things have been a bit surreal on campus and in the city due to the coronavirus.
“Being from here I know a lot of people on campus and in the community, but I haven’t had a chance to connect with them because of COVID-19. I’m also not used to campus being so quiet.
“I’m back home, but I’m still waiting for that familiar energy and vibrancy of Tuscaloosa and the campus to pick up; come fall I’m sure it will.”
While the coronavirus has been a large obstacle and altered his initial plans as vice president for student life, he said his goals for moving the division forward will be achieved.
“It’s changed the nature of our work for sure,” he said. “Our activities focus on student engagement with peers, faculty and staff and people outside the University. To think we can come in and do business as usual for the fall semester is unrealistic because it’s changed the nature of engagement.
“We have to shape our work with social distancing and educating students about being safe in the environments that they come into. We have a lot of work to do, but we’re in a good place.”
Pope said the goals of the division are to promote student success and provide co-curricular learning opportunities that help students to achieve learning outcomes to complement their in-class learning.
“The question I’ve asked over and over is ‘who is not successful here? What students come and don’t do well?’ We don’t need to bring students here and let them be unsuccessful.
“We need to do the best we can to ensure that all students are successful. This is something that is very important to me.
“I am certainly very happy to be back at The University of Alabama and there’s a lot of ground to cover because I’m never content. We need to continue to make this institution a better place where students can learn, build problem-solving skills, team-building skills, leadership skills and be successful in and outside of the classroom.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.