Skip to Main Site Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Back To Top

Published on March 02, 2022

Eastern alumnus leads his own campus

UW-Stevens Point embraces new chancellor

Eastern alumnus Thomas Gibson '96

When Thomas Gibson ’96 took over as chancellor at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point on Jan. 11, 2021, he hit the ground running with three key goals in mind: to enhance academic excellence; to expand diversity, equity and inclusive excellence; and to increase enrollment and growth. A year into the job, Gibson has been embraced by the supportive Stevens Point community and is spreading his energy and enthusiasm around campus to advance those goals.

The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is home to approximately 8,100 students. Gibson describes the campus as vibrant, with students representing a cross-section of the state’s population. Many are from lower income communities, rural and urban, or first-generation college students.

Gibson with University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point mascot, Stevie Pointer.
Gibson with University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point mascot, Stevie Pointer.

“The students are resilient, genuine and compassionate,” said Gibson. It is important to him that they don’t just show up to class but fully participate in the university community. “I want them to experience it, to grow personally and professionally, and to leave with confidence that they can be successful.” It is his job, he said, “to facilitate experiences that prepare them for life after Stevens Point, so they can go on and make a difference in their families, communities, the state and beyond.”

A first-generation college student himself, Gibson didn’t set out to work in higher education. When he was a student at Eastern, he majored in communication with a focus on television and video production. He loved his Eastern experience and considered his major a home away from home, spending his days in the television and radio studios. A STEP/CAP student, Gibson also worked as a peer advisor in the learning center, which was then located in Winthrop Hall, and as a resident assistant and peer advisor with the STEP/CAP program.

“I loved my Eastern experience,” said Gibson. “I took the small learning community for granted while I was there.” Gibson started working professionally in television while he was still a student. He spent four years in the industry and enjoyed the work, feeling that Eastern prepared him well. Still, the work grew less fulfilling over time and Gibson began to reflect on when he felt the most fulfilled, the most content and the most energized. “It was when I was at Eastern,” he concluded. With this realization, Gibson shifted gears and returned to higher education, attending graduate school at the University of New Haven while working as a residence hall director.

“The experience was transformative. It cemented that I made the right decision,” said Gibson, who went on to receive his doctorate in educational leadership in higher education from Johnson and Wales University. He is now in his 25th year working in higher education, holding a variety of positions in that time.

Gibson most recently served as vice president for student affairs and vice provost at Bowling Green State University. There he advised the president and provost on student issues and developed policies aimed toward student success. He held previous administrative positions at Ball State University and at York College, a member of the City University of New York system, and taught at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Gibson is also a full professor with tenure in the School of Education at Stevens Point.

Gibson interacting with a graduate at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point commencement.

Gibson speaks to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point community.

Even with such a resume, Gibson concedes that nothing can quite prepare someone for the role of chancellor. His past employment does help him to lead through a student-centered lens, while his years of teaching aids in his understanding of the faculty.

Most importantly, he is not easily shaken by challenges, such as taking over a university in the middle of a pandemic.  “Taking over during COVID has been eventful and challenging,” said Gibson. “This is a time when we need leaders to step up.” For Gibson, he and his team try to make the best choices possible based on the information available. They remain flexible and make new decisions as things change, keeping in mind how their choices affect both the university and the cities of Stevens Point, Marshfield and Wausau. With that in mind, the university was able to extend their testing resources to the surrounding community.

When Gibson first became chancellor, students were not back fully on ground. His interactions with the campus community were limited, and he had to be more intentional with his outreach. His team produced a series of “Get to Know Chancellor Gibson” videos, each allowing him to answer questions on select topics. When the campus opened up this past fall, it permitted Gibson to increase his visibility. The new chancellor could be spotted taking in athletic games and theater productions, visiting classes and club meetings, and greeting students in the university center, where his signature warmth and kindness was returned by all.

Gibson speaking at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point commencement.
Gibson speaking at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point commencement.

“The university has been very welcoming. It is a supportive institution,” said Gibson. Stevens Point is a college town, and Gibson and his family — his wife Brigette and their young daughter Kennedy — have made their presence known. Over the summer Gibson made sure to attend events and meet people, connecting with city and business leaders. He also serves on community organizations and boards. “I want to be accessible and part of the community.”

When Gibson started his new job, his team shared their desire to foster a stronger relationship between the university and one particular segment of the community —  the local tribal nations. The university is built on the ancestral lands of the Ho-chunk, Menominee, Ojibwe and Potawatomi tribes, and members of the university’s administration saw a need to recognize this in a respectful way. A commission of campus, tribal and other community members was formed. Together they are working toward the installation of a permanent memorial on campus to recognize Native ancestors. They are also developing opportunities to integrate tribal history into the curriculum and to increase educational access and scholarships to tribal members. “The commission will continue after the installation, though the purpose and charge will look different,” said Gibson, who added that working on the committee has been informative and productive.

Looking back at his first year, Gibson has much to be proud of. The university is open, providing the in-person campus experience that Gibson knows is important to success. He is focused on providing the appropriate resources to deliver on the promises made to students and parents during the recruitment process. After five years of declining enrollments, the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point has seen an increase over the past two years, and Gibson aims to continue that trend. “Recruitment and retention are key to my work.” Perhaps most impressive is the $96 million in funding that Gibson was able to secure for a new library and academic success center. “The entire community rallied and supported this need,” he said. “The building will serve students for years to come.”

Thinking of those who wish to follow in his footsteps, Gibson advises that they seek out institutions that share their values and purpose. He believes that students who had amazing undergraduate experiences want to share that experience and shape it for others. “It is rewarding work that impacts lives. Don’t take that lightly,” he said. “I really enjoyed my time at Eastern. The liberal arts education prepared me well for life post-Eastern,” said Gibson. “Part of my ‘why’ is to ensure students have vibrant curricular and co-curricular experiences similar to mine.”

Written by Meghan Carden