Students at Oklahoma State head back to class Monday and there’s a new president in place to welcome them. From a small-town girl to president of a major university, Dr. Kayse Shrum’s journey is quite a story.
Shrum remembers the first time she stepped onto the campus of Oklahoma State University. She was 13 years old, attending a softball camp. She stayed at the Atherton Hotel next to the student union.
"When I got the job, one of the first things I thought about was me at 13, looking out that window, I'd have never thought I'd be here today,” Shrum remembered.
Dr. Shrum’s journey started in Coweta, where she grew up in a close-knit family with her mom, dad and older sister. She admits she was a tomboy at heart.
"I spent a lot of time with my dad when I was younger, we lived out in the country, we rode motorcycles,” said Shrum. “I was right there with all the boys, whatever athletic event was going on, and that's what I was doing, played a lot of different sports."
Softball led Shrum to Connors State College in Warner. Her career’s path began to take shape when a professor asked her to stay after class one day.
"He asked me if I was going to medical school, which was very odd that he would stop and ask me that,” Shrum recalled. “He said, you know, you have the highest grade in my class. I want you to go and visit a medical school and talk to your physician and see."
Shrum took his advice and pursued a career in medicine, but she knew she wanted a family, too. After first meeting in high school, she married Darren Shrum during her second year in college.
"I got the advice that you were either going to have a family or you were going to have a medical career, you couldn't have both,” Shrum said. “And I've never really accepted when people tell me I can't do something.”
Shrum and her husband began planning for a family, but after several miscarriages, they considered adoption. That's when Shrum found out she was pregnant. Her son was born while she was in medical school, a daughter while in residency and another daughter before she started her practice.
When the kids were older, she and her husband reconsidered adoption. They were able to adopt three boys from Ethiopia.
"Boys over there that are up for adoption, if they're not adopted by the time they're four or so, the likelihood of them finding a home is very low,” Shrum said. “They end up aging out depending on where they are in the country, minimal education, back into poverty, with no family.”
Now, Colton, Kyndall, Karsyn, Kason, Kilientn and Joseph make up the Shrum family. Two are enrolled at OSU, two just graduated from the university and one is playing soccer at college in Arkansas.
All of them say they're proud of their mom.
Even though Shrum hasn't been on the job long, she said there's one thing that's really surprised her. It's how often she gets recognized, not just on campus, but across the state.
"I don't want to assume everybody knows who I am, but I also don't want to not acknowledge someone who does, and I think that's been a little bit different,” Shrum said.
Dr. Shrum knows there are challenges ahead as a university president - but she sees them as opportunities.
"It's rewarding to me if it's making a difference,” Shrum said. “And when you can see either that it's making the difference for an individual, or it's making a difference for the state, that's what makes me want to get up every day and be excited about what I'm doing."