Leading the way

In the span of 50 years, the College of Liberal Studies has impacted the lives of thousands of students. Each student’s reason for enrolling in the college is unique, and after leaving the CLS nest, many alumni have gone on to accomplish exceptional things. While much has changed in half a century, the college’s core mission has remained steady. For this golden anniversary, we meet two tenacious graduates – one from the first graduating class of 1963, and another fresh from the class of 2011.

J. Leland Gourley. CLS grad.J. Leland Gourley – Class of 1963

“A civic leader”

After winning the gubernatorial election by a historic margin, J. Howard Edmondson was sworn in as Oklahoma’s 16th governor on Jan. 8, 1959. J. Leland Gourley, who officially began his job as Edmondson’s chief of staff that day, hadn’t exactly planned on a career in the political world until it literally showed up at his door a couple of years earlier.

Gourley, owner and publisher of the Henryetta Daily Freelance, had written an editorial encouraging Edmondson’s run for governor.

“About a week later, Edmondson walked through the door of the Henryetta Freelance and said, ‘If I do it, you’ve gotta go with me.’ And I was with him practically every minute of the campaign,” Gourley said.

Voters liked what they saw in Edmondson, who campaigned on the pledge to send a proposal to repeal prohibition to a vote of the people.

By the time Gourley and his family had moved to Oklahoma City for this new endeavor, Gourley already had numerous accomplishments under his belt. At age 19, while working as state editor for the Associated Press, he was drafted into World War II and served as a field artillery combat officer. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and received the Bronze Star and five combat battle stars.  After the war, he and two partners bought the Henryetta paper in 1946, which Gourley bought outright from them three years later.

Eliminating unfinished business

But something Gourley lacked was a college degree. Gourley had taken some classes at OU but never finished.

In 1961, Gourley enrolled in the inaugural classes at the newly formed College of Continuing Education (later named the College of Liberal Studies in 1970) – a program that would allow him to earn a degree while working full time.

“I thought everybody ought to have a degree, and this college made getting it quicker and faster,” he said.

Gourley said he remembers how motivated and intelligent his fellow classmates were.

“They sent off our test scores to the Princeton Review, and we were in the top 5 percent in the country,” he said. “It was a highly motivated group.”

“I was impressed with the quality of the faculty because when we first started, the professors were putting in extra time for us. We got the cream of the crop.”

Helping lay the foundation

A few years before this first class ever opened a book, Gourley played a major role in the formation of the college. Gourley was the nephew of Herbert Scott, director of OU’s Extension Division when Thurman J. White came to OU. White, who later became the division’s director and who was the visionary behind the Oklahoma Center for Continuing Education, approached Gourley in fall 1959. White knew that OU would need to ask the state Legislature to appropriate $650,000 to complete construction of the university’s proposed Center for Continuing Education. And White saw Gourley – Scott’s nephew and Gov. Edmondson’s chief of staff – as a potential advocate. Gourley liked the concept of the OCCE – an avenue for working adults to obtain a degree.

While Edmondson initially indicated little interest in the project, he changed his mind after studying the matter and listening to his advisers. White would later credit Gourley as one of these key proponents. On Dec. 2, 1959, Edmondson announced he would support legislation to appropriate the funds for completion of the OCCE.

Completing his goals

With a full-time job in addition to his responsibilities as a husband and father of two kids, Gourley’s experience as a liberal studies student parallels many of today’s students. On May 26, 1963, he became a member of the first class to earn a Bachelor of Liberal Studies degree at OU. When asked what advice he would give to students who are now in the process of earning their degrees, Gourley said, “Just do it. It’s worth the time and effort.”

The same year Gourley earned his degree, Edmondson was appointed to the U.S. Senate. Gourley decided to keep his family in Oklahoma City, so he founded State Capitol Bank, now known as Arvest Bank. A reporter at heart, Gourley saw the need for a newspaper in the Nichols Hills and The Village area of Oklahoma City. In 1974, he established OKC Friday, a weekly newspaper covering this area. Since then, OKC Friday has received numerous awards, including 14 sweepstakes awards from the Oklahoma Press Association.

A civic leader

Gourley, who said it was always his mission to be known as a “civic leader,” has consistently stayed active in the Oklahoma City community. In addition to his service on numerous non-profit boards, he was a member of the city’s Chamber of Commerce board for 27 years, and he served as president of both the Oklahoma City Rotary Club and Oklahoma Press Association. In 2008, he and his wife Vicki were honored by Gov. Brad Henry with the Bill Crawford Media Award, a Governor’s Arts Award sponsored by the Oklahoma Arts Council.

At age 92, Gourley still comes to the office every day and attends civic events. A perpetually driven individual, it doesn’t look like he’ll slow down any time soon.

Lindsey Roberts – Class of 2011Lindsey Roberts, CLS grad

“An entrepreneurial spirit”

As a certified prevention specialist with the Muskogee, Okla., Community Anti-Drug Network (CAN) and a mother to a 4-year-old son, Lindsey Roberts is used to putting others’ needs before her own.

But earlier this year, Roberts accomplished a personal goal that also proved to be historic by being the first person in the nation to graduate with a Master of Prevention Science degree, which she earned from CLS.

Roberts began her collegiate studies at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. She completed her Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration from the University of Phoenix. Soon after graduation, she began working in prevention.

“I am extremely passionate about positively impacting my community so that it is a better place to live and so my son can be proud to say he is from Muskogee,” Roberts said. “I really enjoy being involved in the community and working closely with our community members.”

At CAN, Roberts helps parents, schools, employers and community leaders prevent substance abuse issues before they begin. CAN sponsors community events such as medicine cabinet clean-outs for proper prescription drug disposal and all-night after-prom parties. At this year’s after-prom party, karaoke and laser tag were among the highlights.

“It was great to see high school students having fun and making the choice to be there and not be out drinking and partying. I was proud of the event and that we were sponsors,” she said.

A proactive approach

CLS Graduate Programs Coordinator Julie Raadschelders said the idea of the MPS degree developed in the midst of emerging concerns about health care and health-related issues. Also, attention increasingly focused on prevention as opposed to treatment.

“Being the first to have an MPS is a good feeling. I work hard to do my best in every aspect of my life, and this was no exception,” she said.

“The idea for the MPS was really initiated by Joe Wiese, former director of the Southwest Prevention Center,” Raadschelders said. “Joe noticed that while there were a number of continuing education or training programs available for the increasing number of individuals working in prevention, there were no academic degree programs in prevention.

“The most respected credential in prevention is the Certified Prevention Specialist credential, which is offered through the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium. We based our academic program on the various subject areas tested for the CPS credential so that while individuals are studying for the credential exam, they can earn academic credit and ultimately an academic degree at the same time.”

The core area of study for the OU MPS degree, which was approved in 2009, focuses on substance abuse. Other critical applied areas in prevention include HIV prevention, obesity prevention and suicide prevention. The goal of the program is to enhance the knowledge, professionalism and effectiveness of individuals currently working in prevention science and those who are preparing for a career in the field.

Pushing herself to a higher degree

Roberts knew she wanted to pursue a graduate degree, but she was unsure of which direction to go. After a year in the OU Master of Public Health program, CLS began offering the MPS degree. Roberts transferred, and the courses were a perfect fit with her line of work. The college’s online course options enabled her to keep working full time and be there for her family. Although there were many responsibilities to handle, Roberts persevered.

“I would have to work on homework and reading late into the night and read textbooks at my son’s practices,” she said. “But, I knew that it wouldn’t be forever. I just had to push through and make the necessary time.”

Roberts said her writing greatly improved as the result of her CLS experience. This has helped her grant-writing ability and overall communication skills.

Roberts said she also learned that she could handle more than she ever thought.

“I learned to keep a calendar, write everything down and to make lists. This became absolutely necessary when I had to write my comprehensive exam essays and write a federal grant both due on the same day. This was the culminating moment that taught me, ‘OK, I can handle just about anything!’”

A national first

On May 14, Roberts’ balancing act paid off when she received her Master of Prevention Science degree – a first for anyone in the country.

“Being the first to have an MPS is a good feeling. I work hard to do my best in every aspect of my life, and this was no exception,” she said.

“It doesn’t really feel like I am the first because there are so many great prevention professionals that I have studied and worked with, I just happened to have finished first. We are all in it together, all working to create safe, healthy, drug-free communities. My everyday motto is, ‘We are all on the same team,’ so I don’t think it makes a difference who is first; the more important aspect is that prevention science is starting be recognized as a reputable field and people are starting to understand the need for it.”

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The College of Liberal Studies is a fully accredited academic unit of the University of Oklahoma, offering 100% online, hybrid and onsite bachelor's and master's degrees for working adults and non-traditional students.

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