NSU president welcomes new freshmen class, marks 10 years at university


Source: Northeastern State University

Late summer showers did not dampen Northeastern State University President Steve Turner’s excitement to welcome hundreds of students on the annual Freshmen Coin Walk on Aug. 9.

The NSU tradition started in 2010 by taking the incoming class of students from the “Be the Change” fountain through campus, where they are greeted by cheers from faculty, staff and upperclassmen officially welcoming them to the university. Each freshman student is also given a commemorative coin to mark the occasion.

“It’s always a pleasure to gather together to welcome the next generation of RiverHawks to our campus,” Turner said. “Starting college can be a daunting experience for some; that’s why showing our support is so important to give those students that extra encouragement they need and let them know their NSU family is here to ensure they succeed and thrive while with us.”

Turner also marks his 10th anniversary as the lead administrator for the historic institution this year.

A nontraditional, first-generation graduate, Turner began college in his late 20s after nearly a decade of oil field work. From his first campus job as a police officer to his current role as NSU’s 19th president, Turner exemplifies how higher education can advance individuals, communities, businesses and our state.

Throughout the last decade, Northeastern has focused on student-centered academics, immersive learning, workforce development and record-breaking fundraising to support student scholarships, faculty research and facility improvements.

Turner began his career in higher education at East Central University in 1989, where he served as vice president for administration and finance and executive assistant to the president for governmental relations and economic development at ECU. Turner assumed his presidential duties at Northeastern in January 2012, succeeding Dr. Don Betz, who served in the role from 2008 to 2011.

“I am forever grateful for the opportunities higher education opened up for my family and me,” Turner said. “This past decade at Northeastern has provided me a chance to pay it forward to others like me as the institution seeks to ensure everyone who gathers at NSU can achieve their dreams and be successful no matter how their academic journey began.”

During his tenure, NSU has been strengthened in virtually every area of the institution. Beginning with Destination 2023—a 10-year roadmap of distinction through degree completion, Turner has made student-centered academics one of the top priorities for NSU.

As a strong advocate for creating workforce-ready professionals, Turner has worked to ensure all NSU programs provide students with much-needed experiential learning opportunities through research opportunities, community service, internships, clinical experiences and more.

Having experiential learning and workforce development at the core of NSU’s everyday mission assures graduates and employers that a degree from NSU truly enables them to go far.

Turner has also made keeping higher education accessible and affordable for everyone a focus of his administration.

Under his leadership and vision, the institution has set new fundraising records as it continues to seek the expansion of scholarship assistance for NSU students. As part of the Preserve our past. ENSUre Our Future fundraising campaign launched in 2017, NSU raised more than $27 million to support student scholarships, faculty research and facility improvements. To put that historic total in perspective, that was 60% more than the previous three fundraising campaigns combined.

Even after the successful campaign’s conclusion in 2020, NSU continues to make strides in securing scholarship monies for students. In 2021, the Northeastern State University Foundation awarded an all-time record of more than $1 million in privately-funded student scholarships, eclipsing the previous record of around $988,000 set in 2020.

“When we work together, barriers to postsecondary degree and life betterment can be overcome,” Turner said. “I am always so proud of our faculty, staff, alumni and community support of NSU students’ academic journey. It is truly life-changing for many, and we remain committed to helping as many as we can achieve success once they gather here at NSU.”

Other measures NSU has employed over the past decade to help students save time and money include providing support for accelerated bachelor’s to master’s degree programs. The institution also created the Smart Choice Program that helps students make a seamless transition from earning an associate degree to a four-year degree.

The university has also expanded access to education by working with regional and state employers to structure programming to better meet the in-demand skills they need for their employees. This includes the development of certificates and micro-credentials so students and employers can have confidence in skills learned. The university also works with international partners, such as the Guangzhou College of Technology and Business in China, to provide study abroad opportunities to students. The GCTB-NSU Joint Institute of Technology at Guangzhou College of Technology and Business is one of only two programs in the United States approved by the Ministry of Education in China.

In addition, Turner has grown the institution's online infrastructure to better meet students' needs, whether an individual is a traditional 18-year-old directly out of high school, a nontraditional student, a transfer student or just a full-time employee looking to upskill.

Turner also oversaw a number of major renovations on campus, including Wilson Hall, Seminary Hall, the RiverHawk Shoppe, Beta Pond, the John Vaughn Library and Circle of Excellence Plaza, and has shepherded several new construction projects. 

This includes the construction of the NSU Event Center, RiverHawks Wellness Center, Isabel Cobb Hall, the NSU Academic Success Center, the Innovation Discovery Education Academy, the Battenfield-Carletti Investment Lab, the NSU veterans monument and the River’s Edge Coffee Shop.

Turner’s leadership while at Northeastern has also earned him a number of accolades, including being named to Education Magazine’s 2021 Top 10 Most Influential Educational Leaders in the USA, the Journal Record’s 2022 Most Admired CEOs in Oklahoma and the 2018 Dr. Isabel Baker Award from the Tahlequah Chamber of Commerce.

“As I reflect on the past decade at NSU, it makes me extremely hopeful for the future,” Turner said. “Our best days are still ahead of us, and I am excited to see what the coming years will bring.”

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