Story and photo by Julie Bauer, director of Communications
Northwest Mississippi Community College’s Board of Trustees has officially named the college’s newest building project in honor of Northwest President, Dr. Gary Lee Spears, in recognition of his years of service to the college, his faithful dedication to its students and staff, and his outstanding contribution to higher education in Mississippi.
The Gary Lee Spears Center for Nursing and Health Sciences—which encompasses both the current building for the Division of Nursing and the near-complete adjacent facility—was approved by the full board after a unanimous decision by the Special Recognition Committee, the board sub-committee responsible for making recommendations involving the naming of college facilities. A state Bureau of Buildings project, the facility is slated for completion this fall and should officially open for classes in the spring of 2018.
“I am humbled and honored to have buildings at Northwest that will bear my name,” said Dr. Spears. “When I began my tenure as president, constructing a new nursing building was the first item on our agenda. We also set in motion the plans for an additional building located adjacent to the nursing building that would house other health care programs. With the nursing building having been in use for seven years and with the new building nearing completion, we firmly believe that this health sciences center will be recognized as one of the finest health care training facilities in the Southeast. Thus, the honor becomes even greater knowing that this center is a place of hope for our students as they embark upon exceptional health care careers and a place of healing for all those who will be the recipients of the care and attention given by our graduates. I am extremely grateful to the Board of Trustees for bestowing upon me this incredible tribute.”
The center includes the state-of-the-art home of the Associate Degree Nursing program, which was completed in 2010 and features one of the most advanced hospital simulation labs in the state, in addition to classrooms, computer labs and faculty offices. An attached covered walkway connects the nursing building to the new facility, which will house Career-Technical programs in health sciences including Practical Nursing, EMT-Paramedic, and future programs. Amenities will include classrooms, faculty offices, computer labs, and a hospital simulation control lab.
“We are very pleased to have the honor of naming one of our campus buildings after Dr. Spears,” said Board of Trustees Chairman Mike Moore. “His dedication to Northwest has played a major role in the success of this great institution.”
Dr. Spears’ dedication to Northwest began when he was a student, where he earned both an Associate of Applied Science and Associate of Education. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from Delta State University before receiving his doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Mississippi.
He began his educational career at the Leland Consolidated School District, where he taught American history, before joining the staff at Northwest in 1975. During the years leading up to his being named president, Dr. Spears served as instructor, vocational counselor, assistant to the DeSoto Center director, vice president of Student Affairs, and registrar and director of Admissions and Records. He was named president on July 1, 2005.
During his career, Dr. Spears has garnered many distinguished honors. He was named 2014 Alumnus of the Year for the School of Education at the University of Mississippi, and in 2007 was honored as Northwest’s Alumnus of the Year. He was selected chairman of the Phi Theta Kappa All-Mississippi Steering Committee and chair of the Mississippi Corridor Consortium. He is past president of the Senatobia Rotary Club, where he was honored as a prestigious Paul Harris Fellow, and has served as a board member for the Tate County Economic Development Foundation.
In honor of his lifelong dedication to education and the college, the Northwest Foundation Board of Directors, along with his wife, Marilyn and friends of the college established the Dr. Gary Lee Spears Endowed Scholarship in May 2011. This scholarship, awarded each semester, assists Northwest students studying education with college expenses.
While he is proud of all of his accomplishments, he is particularly proud of the college’s expansion—especially on the Senatobia campus—in which he has played a major role. Vice President for Education Richie Lawson, in his presentation of the motion to the Special Recognition Committee, expressed the impact of Dr. Spears’ leadership in this area: “Since Dr. Spears became president over 10 years ago, the landscapes of all of our campuses have changed. There are those who say that the Senatobia campus looks like the campus of a university. We contend that it looks better than most universities. It is obvious what his emphasis has been, and that is to promote the well-being of our students through facilities that match the excellent academic and career-technical programs already established at our college and that have been proven to be excellent by those from the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.”
“One of the very first programs begun by Dr. Spears when he became president was the ‘Building on Tradition’ program. The results have been nothing short of amazing. The first phase of this program was the construction of the nursing building, which has been hailed as a health care training gem throughout the Southeast. The last phase of the program is under construction with the addition of a health sciences facility to the nursing building. Every single one of these programs assures its graduates jobs that are meaningful and that pay well.”
Dr. and Mrs. Spears have two adult sons, Jared and Daniel, who are also Northwest graduates. Jared, a member of the University of Mississippi Fine Arts faculty, and his wife, Brooke are expecting their first child. Daniel, a teacher with the North Mississippi Regional Center, and his wife, Julie have two sons and one daughter—Jack, Samuel and Phoebe Joy.