It was 1999, and I had been President of Bay Path for five years. The first vision plan of my presidency included launching graduate programs and attracting adult students. In order to reach those goals, I had just recently hired Dr. William Sipple as Provost (read my Inspire! Interview with Bill). I still remember the moment when Bill and I had a conversation that would change the destiny of Bay Path. He knew an educator who was passionate and committed to providing access to college for adult women. Her name was Dr. Vana Nespor. At the time, she was in Indonesia, but after our first telephone call and preliminary interview, I knew she was the person I had been looking for to make our vision become reality. Vana arrived in the summer of 1999. Within a few months, she launched the One-Day-A-Week Saturday College on the Longmeadow campus. The One-Day Program began with an idea, a brochure, and a billboard on Route 91. Contrary to other continuing education programs at the time, Vana confidently believed that adult working women would embrace earning their degrees only on Saturdays and in an accelerated year-round format. From the beginning, it was overwhelmingly received, with over 100 women attending the first information session. The One-Day-A-Week Saturday College was transformational for Bay Path, propelling the University to enter the growing adult student market. From then on, we never looked back, and even today, of our current student population (fall 2019) of 3,324, 36% are adult women achieving their bachelor’s degree. In 2013, Vana was instrumental in the research, formation, and leadership of The American Women’s College (TAWC) at Bay Path—the first all-women, all-online bachelor’s degree program in the country. Serving as the Chief Learning Officer, she oversaw the development of more than 27 new and existing degree programs at TAWC. In 2017, Dr. Vana Nespor officially retired as Vice President of Special Initiatives at Bay Path University, and in 2018, I was pleased to bestow on her an Honorary Degree from Bay Path. Words cannot express the gratitude, respect and admiration I have for Vana. She is creative, bold, hardworking, and dedicated. Throughout her career, she has believed that education should be shaped to meet the needs of the student. Moreover, Vana taught me that we must meet students where they are in life. It is at that intersection of learning and dreams where great things happen. Vana made great things happen at Bay Path!
Could you share a bit about your life journey and career?
I was born in Tulsa and lived in the tiny towns of rural Oklahoma. I spent my early years on a pecan farm. Deep down, I have always been very much a farm girl trying to act like a grown-up city woman. I found that I adored college learning, and earned a BA, MEd, MS, MA, and an EdD. In the summer of 2020, I will complete Bay Path’s MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Along the way, in fact 40 years ago this past March 22, I fell in love with a handsome geologist. I followed him to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Indonesia. In 1981, I stumbled into my life's mission of helping adult women to earn a college degree. My passion for educating adult women led me to Bay Path University in Longmeadow, MA. Today, my geologist and I are retired on a beautiful half acre with a large colonial house in Springfield, MA.
What are you most proud of in your career?
In 1999, I arrived at Bay Path and created the One-Day-A-Week Saturday program. It led to other initiatives that I am equally proud of including the off-campus centers in central Massachusetts and eastern Massachusetts, the American Women’s College, a sculpture on the Longmeadow campus, and even a MOOC! What fun I have had!!
What is one regret that you have in your career?
Always, I wish I could have found more ways to help and support our adult women and the faculty and staff that served them with such dedication.
What advice would you give to students at Bay Path who are setting out on their own life journey?
Do not pass up a single chance to learn and grow, to travel and meet new people, and to embrace the different, the unusual, and the challenging.