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While Looking Toward Retirement, Greife Challenges Students to be “Doers”

By Jeff Murphy, May 20, 2021

Alice Greife, Ph.D.

WARRENSBURG, MO –  As she looks to a new chapter in her life, soon to retire as dean of the University of Central Missouri’s College of Health, Science and Technology, Alice Greife, Ph.D., has a few simple but powerful suggestions for UCM graduates. While she encourages them to dream big, even more important, she challenges them to become “doers” in pursuit of their dreams.


That’s something Greife knows a lot about. Her vast knowledge in this area comes not only from 25 years as a faculty member, mentor and academic administrator at UCM, but also through about 20 years of other management-level professional experiences. This includes working with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and other organizations where she put her UCM education to good use long before her career as a dean.


On May 9 she spoke to new undergraduates, their families and friends in what was to be her last commencement remarks in her UCM role. While looking forward to a change of pace upon her June 30 retirement, the longtime academic leader spoke at three commencement ceremonies, where she reflected on a few simple lessons that she carried long into her career. Her message, as she put it, was not to give advice but to “give students something to do.”


“When I was a young girl, I always dreamed about making my family’s sweet potato casserole – you know the ones with lots of butter, lots of brown sugar, toasted with roasted marshmallows – but not just any marshmallows, the little ones that were spread so evenly that they browned to just the right shade of golden deliciousness,” she told the audience.


“Finally, the day came and my mother told me it was my turn to make the casserole,” she continued. “I got it ready, I put it in the oven and I waited as the marshmallows began to brown. I closed my eyes and I dreamed of how wonderful that casserole was going to be,” she recalled. “The next thing I knew, I smelled smoke. Those marshmallows had rushed past golden delicious, straight onto charred and they were beginning to burst into flames. I had just stood there -- and I had just dreamed.” 
Greife then circled back to what she wanted graduates to take away from her remarks.


“That ‘something to do’ is to stop just dreaming and to start doing,” she said. “The world has plenty of dreamers. While ‘dreamers’ are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged and powerful people are busy doing. So today, you need to start doing, too.”


Greife shared something in common with the spring 2021 graduates, having earned a UCM education. She received a Bachelor of Science in Biology in 1975 and a Master of Science in Industrial Hygiene in 1976 from UCM. This was followed by a doctoral degree in environmental health with a major in toxicology from the University of Cincinnati in 1986.


She began her professional career in 1976 as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service assigned to the CDC. From field work to advanced position moves that included opportunities to work temporarily for the Surgeon General’s office, she retired in 1996 as director of the Division of Training and Education for NIOSH, which is part of the CDC.


The same year as Greife’s retirement from her federal position, she returned to her alma mater, this time as a professor of industrial hygiene. She climbed the professional ladder to become chair of the Department of Safety Sciences and Technology in 2000 and interim dean of the former College of Applied Sciences and Technology in 2002. In 2003, she became dean, and provided leadership through her academic unit’s reorganization as the College of Health, Science and Technology (CHST). CHST today is the largest academic college on campus, having the greatest number of students who study within schools that cover Computer Science and Mathematics; Nursing;  Geoscience, Physics and Safety; and Nutrition, Kinesiology and Psychological Science; and Technology.


Through the approximately 18 years Greife has spent as dean, she has seen a lot of changes at UCM. Some cover the physical campus, for example, the addition of facilities such as state-of-the-art James C. Kirkpatrick Library and the Crossing: South at Holden student living and retail complex. But she has also witnessed and participated in increased efforts to collaborate with outside organizations. The Missouri Innovation Campus in Lee’s Summit is an example of a cooperative effort that continues to involve individuals in her college, many of whom teach classes in areas such as computer science, cybersecurity, and nursing. It also includes opportunities to interact with business and industry that may hire CHST graduates, provide internships, serve on advisory boards and assist the university in many other ways. 


“Whether we think about industry from an industrial hygiene, athletic training, or nursing, or a dietetics point of view, industry helps inform our curriculum. It gives us opportunities for our faculty to interact with people in industries and the professionals who are on the front line of change. It also gives our students the opportunity to engage with professionals in a real-world situation, frequently with state-of-the-art equipment. So it has been very helpful in that regard,” Greife said. “Industry gives us their time and money and their expertise.”


Greife said she is proud of the way CHST faculty members have embraced technology to deliver a quality education to students. This was very helpful amid COVID-19, when it was necessary to adapt quickly to change to help keep education flowing.


“So while it was a struggle for some of our faculty in courses that were primarily laboratory based to give students the experience that they needed, the faculty provided the best experiences they could.  The faculty were awesome,” she said, noting the challenges of scheduling opportunities such as labs and making all courses available online when the pandemic struck in early spring 2020. “Many of the faculty were also thinking two or three steps ahead…The faculty’s biggest concern that first spring semester was what could they do to minimize the disruption to their students in order to get them through.”


Greife said she will greatly miss the interaction with her colleagues once she has retired. While she has served as dean, she has also taught graduate courses throughout her tenure in areas such as toxicology and epidemiology in the ABET-accredited Master of Science in Industrial Hygiene program. She is proud of the university’s ABET accreditation that, as of July 2021, will cover all four of the ABET commissions: engineering technology, computing, applied and natural science and engineering, effective in June 2021. This is in addition to Greife having had opportunities to serve as a member of the Applied and Natural Science Accreditation Commission of ABET and on the Executive Board. She plans to continue working with ABET after leaving her dean’s post.


UCM Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Phil Bridgmon said he will announce an interim dean to serve CHST soon. He expressed his appreciation for Greife’s many contributions to the College, the university and its students.


“Dean Greife will be missed for her leadership among her colleagues and at UCM. Her lengthy tenure as Dean of Health, Science and Technology is not commonplace among executive leaders, but it speaks to her constant focus on the well-being of her colleagues and students,” he said. “She always balanced planning with action, and has always looked for ways to advance her College. We certainly wish her all the best in her well-earned retirement.”


While the longtime dean and professor currently has no plans to continue teaching, she said being in the classroom is a passion she may return to in the future. First, however, she looks forward to a more flexible schedule that will allow her to spend more time with family. Her husband, Professor Emeritus of Safety Science John Zey, retired two years ago after a long teaching career at UCM in the CHST. Continuing the family’s long tradition in education is daughter Sarah Zey, who works in International Student Services at Missouri State University in Springfield. Their daughter, Kathleen Johnston, an occupational therapist, and her husband, Ryan, reside in Lee’s Summit and are the parents of a six-month-old daughter, Reese.


While flashing a smile in talking about her baby granddaughter and family, she added that she hopes to travel in retirement, possibly to places like Spain, a destination she had to forgo last year due to the pandemic. “My passport is getting very lonely,” she laughed.


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