The American Dream Dean
In 1960s rural Illinois, the Truman family’s life centered around farming. Kevin Truman and his four older sisters spent their summers plowing fields, picking corn, baling hay and managing livestock. Kevin’s parents had not attended college, and the family subsisted solely on hard work.
But in 1974, Kevin broke the mold and enrolled in Monmouth, Ill.-based Monmouth College. He didn’t know it then, but this marked the beginning of an engineering career that would lead him to the University of Missouri-Kansas City and an appointment as dean of the School of Computing and Engineering in August of 2008.
“The fact that Kevin went to college was something that his father was extremely proud of,” said Katina Truman, Kevin’s college sweetheart and wife of 31 years. “It was a little rural town, and he’s still kind of a low-maintenance farm boy at heart. He loves the outdoors, he has a strong work ethic and he likes taking care of people.”
In 1979, Kevin graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics from Monmouth and a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from St. Louis-based Washington University.
When Kevin went on to pursue his master’s degree in civil engineering at Washington University, he caught the attention of Dr. Phillip Gould — the then-chairman of the school’s civil engineering department.
“He is a rare combination of intelligence, integrity and humility,” Dr. Gould said. “In a way, Kevin personifies the American dream of a boy from a farming family in rural Illinois who was perhaps the first member of his family to attend college.”
Seeing such potential, Dr. Gould offered Kevin an opportunity upon obtaining his master’s degree. If Kevin would become a part-time faculty member at Washington University, the school would pay for him to earn his doctorate in civil engineering at the University of Missouri-Rolla (now Missouri University of Science and Technology). Kevin accepted, and graduated with his doctorate in 1985.
Meet Me in St. Louis
After graduation, Dr. Truman became an assistant professor of engineering at Washington University. He went on to become an associate professor in 1988 and a full professor in 1996. He also received an endowed professorship, becoming the Albert P. and Blanche Y. Greensfelder Professor of Engineering.
In 1998, Dr. Truman was asked to chair the Department of Civil Engineering. Nine years later, he continued as chair of the newly-formed Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Structural Engineering. The department was formed by combining the civil engineering and mechanical engineering departments.
Despite the difficulties of leading a new department, Dr. Truman’s colleagues said he succeeded.
“At the end of his first year as chairman, Dr. Truman received a nearly unanimous approval vote from the diverse faculty in the combined department — a fairly impressive achievement,” said Dr. Thomas Harmon, who serves as the Clifford W. Murphy Professor of Civil Engineering at Washington University. “Truman has the right combination of obvious integrity, intelligence, calmness, decisiveness and fairness to make a truly gifted administrator.”
Throughout his years at Washington University, Dr. Truman became known as conversational, considerate, fair, structured and calm under pressure. People also recognized him for his cake-baking skills, as he often shared lava cake and chocolate flan with his department.
By giving organized lectures and sometimes repeating information, Dr. Truman simplified complicated subjects, said Dr. Mi Geum So, who took steel design courses from Dr. Truman in 2003 and 2005. Dr. So works as a graduate engineer for the Structural Diagnostics Services Group at Walter P. Moore and Associates, Inc. in Kansas City, Mo.
Dr. So said she didn’t just learn about engineering and steel design from Dr. Truman — she learned important life skills.
“I learned what it takes to work as a chairman and his dedication when I saw him working at school on Saturdays and/or Sundays,” Dr. So said. “More than anything, I learned what a person needs to become a great leader. I learned the value of integrity, patience and honesty, and the importance of being involved in professional and research organizations.”
A New Chapter in Kansas City
After serving as chairman of Washington University’s civil engineering department for 10 years, Dr. Truman said becoming dean of UMKC’s School of Computing and Engineering is a great next career step.
“This is a wonderful opportunity. UMKC’s School of Computing and Engineering has tremendous potential,” Dr. Truman said. “It sits in one of the more notable engineering communities in the nation. It’s a school that’s poised to grow and flourish. With the right strategic plan, we can make that happen.”
As dean, Dr. Truman said he plans to accomplish the following three goals:
- establish a reputation for academic excellence
- strengthen alumni and community relations
- grow research and entrepreneurial operations
“If we do these three things, UMKC’s School of Computing and Engineering will be known locally, nationally and internationally,” Dr. Truman said.
Dr. Truman said his family supports his decision to become dean, considering that he is commuting to UMKC from St. Louis. His wife, Katina, continues to serve as director of marketing and admissions for University College at Washington University.
Their 22-year-old son, Zane — named after Truman’s middle name — recently graduated from Washington University with a degree in civil engineering. He works at St. Louis-based Alberici Constructors, Inc. as a project engineer.
Their 14-year-old daughter, Kameryn, is beginning high school. Kameryn skates on the Intermediate Team for the Saint Louis Synergy Synchronized skating program, and she has achieved the gold level in ice dancing and senior moves-in-the-field through U.S. Figure Skating.
When Dr. Truman began the interview process and realized UMKC was a great fit, he discussed what it would take for them to make his appointment as dean work for everyone. Katina had successfully built the adult and evening division of Washington University and Kameryn had established herself in school and in her sport. Because of this, the Trumans decided it wasn’t the right time for Katina and Kameryn to move to Kansas City.
“Katina reminded me that we did this (commuted long-distance) for six years while I attended Rolla working on my Ph.D.,” Dr. Truman said. “That was six years,” she said. “This is only four — we can do that! Once Kam graduates from high school, we hope to move the family base to Kansas City.”
Until then, Dr. Truman said he will drive or fly home on weekends and his wife and daughter will visit him in Kansas City.
“Kameryn heard there’s great shopping at The Plaza during the holidays and a pretty good ice rink in the area,” Dr. Truman said. “She’s looking forward to visiting both of them!”