ADA –East Central University has been Pamla Armstrong’s life for nearly 35 years as a student and career choice.
On Friday, Jan. 31, Armstrong stepped away from that portion of her life and into retirement as ECU’s Director of Admissions and Records/ Registrar.
“Ms. Armstrong is the most knowledgeable registrar in the state of Oklahoma. She knows the essential academic rules and regulations better than anyone on campus and possesses ‘institutional memory’ that is so critical to us,” said Dr. Duane C. Anderson, ECU provost and vice president of academic affairs. “She is greatly respected by peers and everyone who works with her for her professionalism and dedication to her role as protector of institutional academic integrity. My job here, these past 24 years, has incredibly easier because I have always known that Ms. Armstrong could be relied upon for good advice and guidance. The ECU community will miss her more than I can express.”
Armstrong has served under six ECU presidents (both fulltime and interim), worked through gradual technological advances and has been a part of what is believed to be 77 commencement ceremonies.
“East Central has really been my life. I’ve worked with so many people who are dear friends,” said Armstrong. “I can’t begin to count the number of student workers that have worked in here. The relationships and watching these students grow is something I will always cherish. I’ve told many students that an education can’t be taken away from them.”
That’s why each graduation ceremony means so much and is such an emotional experience for Armstrong.
Of the commencement ceremonies, nearly all of them mean so much, according to Armstrong.
Perhaps a couple of those meant more than the others. One of her two sons, Jeremy, obtained two bachelor’s degrees from ECU in biology and chemistry.
But another one of her most meaningful ceremonies took place in 2004 when her father, Paul Alford, graduated from ECU at the age of 84. Alford was unable to complete his degree at a younger age due to his dedication and service to the country in World War II and Korea.
After years, which included military service, getting married, raising a family and working as an auctioneer, Alford took 16 hours and earned a bachelor’s of general studies degree. He passed away two years later in 2006.
“It was something he always regretted, not completing his degree, but he was able to come back and do that. That is a graduation I will always remember,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong’s long ECU trek began in 1976 as a beginning 17-year-old freshman, working in the registrar’s office for two years. In the midst of that she was away for 18 months, but ultimately came back. Armstrong earned her ECU bachelor’s and master’s degrees while working on a fulltime basis, serving as a beginning freshman admission’s officer in 1980.
“Merle Boatwright, who was registrar here for 18 years, hired me. She, still to this day, is my mentor,” Armstrong said. “That year, when they hired me, they had just implemented the first computer system.”
Armstrong later served as a computer information auditor on campus until 1988 and then came back to work as assistant registrar and degree requirement auditor. In 1989, she was named interim director of admissions and records/registrar and eventually assumed the duties on a fulltime basis soon after.
“I have pretty much worked every position in here (registrar’s office),” said Armstrong. “I did V.A. certification up until about four years ago. I did a couple of years (of athletics) with the NCAA eligibility and I did all of the certification while were in the NAIA. I remember when we had dual memberships in the NAIA and NCAA, I kept the NAIA and the NCAA compliance went down the hill (to the athletic department) when they hired a compliance officer.”
Through her many years of service, Armstrong has seen distinct differences in the generations that have passed through ECU.
“First, came the Baby Boomers then Generation X and now the Millennials,” Armstrong said. “Service is probably one of the things that have changed the most. We deal with a lot more parents than we used to and the students are such much more technology-savvy. They have no problems adjusting to computers.”
That technology has helped expand the opportunities for students, according to Armstrong.
“We now have blended classes, online courses and weekend classes. Opportunities that meet their needs,” said Armstrong. “Another thing I’ve seen with students is that so many of them work now, so they now have to balance work and school.”
Armstrong has seen many faculty come and go, many of which she valued their friendship. But at the same time she has experienced a bit of downside to the technological improvements.
“Our faculty is so much younger and so few are left from when I first came here. But I used to have one-on-one relationships with faculty,” Armstrong said. “The faculty had to come to my office to turn in grade reports. Now everything is done by computer or email. I think that’s sad because I always enjoyed working with faculty and knowing who they are.”
ECU’s physical growth is something that she has seen and experienced over the years.
“There have been lots of new buildings. It’s neat watching it grow. It’s been fun seeing several new buildings go up,” she said.
New facilities that have gone up since Armstrong has been on campus include: the Physical and Environmental Science Center, Linscheid Library, Bill S. Cole University Center, Tiger Commons, Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center, Pat O’Neal Strength and Conditioning Center and the Chickasaw Business and Conference Center. Along the way have been several remodeling projects to the older buildings.
As a boss, Armstrong is described as a ‘rock’ in the office, according to Stephanie Cooper, assistant registrar and computer information auditor.
“If we didn’t have the answer, we went to her and she almost always knew it. She has taught us a little something about everything and has always emphasized doing what’s right – write a procedure for everything, take good notes and keep lists,” Cooper said. “As registrar, she’s leaving a legacy that we’ll never fill. She takes with her a wealth of information and knowledge that can only come from someone who has been here as long as she has and that can’t be replaced. Her work ethic is definitely one to model after. She was committed to her work and always wanted to know the why and what of every aspect of her job. I can truly appreciate that.”
Cooper is grateful for Armstrong’s mentorship toward her and the personal relationship they had together.
“As a person, it’s like a family member is leaving and I’ll only see them from time to time when I’ve been seeing them every day,” said Cooper. “It’s been almost 20 years since that young kid, fresh out of college and unsure of what she wanted to do with her life, was given the opportunity to work. Pamla took me in under her wing and I’ve been there ever since. She may be leaving, but it will be a while before I leave from under her wing.”
First and foremost, the thing that means the most to Armstrong is the commencement ceremony. Her office assists the Office of Academic Affairs with the setup, making sure programs are printed and getting ushers for the event to name a few tasks.
The ceremony itself is an emotional time for Armstrong.
“Watching the students at commencement and watching them graduate is my highlight. I still tear up every time we have graduation. I really get emotional,” Armstrong said.
Her hopes, while serving ECU, were making a difference in people’s lives, particularly with the students.
Armstrong thinks about The Starfish Story, an original by Loren Eisley:
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” The man said “Son, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!” After listening, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then smiling at the man, he said “I made a difference for that one.”
“It’s been rewarding working with students and faculty,” said Armstrong. “I love my job and love the people. It’s just time to go. East Central has really been my life. I’ve worked with so many people and dear friends.”