More than 30 years ago, Pamela Fry was a student at the University Center at Tulsa.
Friday, she became president of Oklahoma State University-Tulsa, UCT’s successor.
Fry’s appointment became official during an OSU and A&M Colleges regents’ meeting in Oklahoma City, but had been rumored for some time. Howard Barnett, OSU-Tulsa president since 2009, announced his retirement in January.
Unlike Barnett, who came to the job from a career in business and politics, Fry is a career educator. She has an undergraduate degree in education from the University of Oklahoma and master’s and doctorate degrees from OSU. Fry has taught at both schools, and since 2001 has held a succession of leadership positions with the latter.
She’s been vice president and provost of the Tulsa campus the past three years.
But back in the early 1980s, Fry was a young teacher at Monte Cassino working on a master’s degree. Like countless other Tulsans before and since, she found it wasn’t easy.
“I commuted seven years from south Tulsa to Stillwater,” she recalled earlier this year.
UCT came into being at about the same time, which provided Fry and others some much-appreciated respite from their travels. A consortium of OU, OSU, Langston and Northeastern State, it offered undergraduate and graduate courses in business, education, engineering and other fields.
UCT broke apart in 1999, with OU and Northeastern State going their own ways and Langston setting up shop just down the street from what became OSU-Tulsa.
Fry takes over a campus that has never really fulfilled its original vision as a place where place-bound Tulsans could earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees without leaving the city limits.
Officials say that can be done, but in practice it seems to be rather difficult. OSU-Tulsa has about 2,300 students, most of whom still take some classes on the Stillwater campus.
Fry faces more or less the same political and legal obstacles she did as a graduate student 30 years ago. For the immediate future, she said, she’s going to concentrate on what OSU-Tulsa can do instead of what it can’t.
This includes working more closely with Tulsa Community College to create “transfer maps” that align TCC and OSU-Tulsa degree programs more closely. Fry notes that national surveys indicate 80 percent of students entering two-year colleges like TCC expect to eventually get at least a bachelor’s degree, but only a small fraction actually do.
“We’re trying to offer advisement for a four-year degree as soon as possible” to TCC students, Fry said.
Fry believes there is also room for growth in some graduate programs, including engineering and health-related fields. A master of business administration curriculum designed specifically for Tulsa is also in the works.
“We will be focused on being a truly comprehensive research campus,” Fry said. “As part of that, we have a responsibility to create more access.”