A firm foundation in life and work
Thomas H. Powell, EdD’82, currently in his 10th year as president of Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmetsburg, Md., has led the nation’s second-oldest Catholic university to new heights. The school completed its first new residence hall in 30 years, built a new soccer and lacrosse stadium, a new baseball field, Founder’s Plaza and a peace plaza. He has overseen improvements in student life and the development of new academic majors. Overall, he has laid a foundation for Mount St. Mary’s to go forward, and he credits his time at Peabody as giving him the foundation for what has been a remarkable career.
“All that I have done is a direct result of the wonderful mentoring I had from the very talented and dedicated faculty,” he says.
Powell earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in special education from Montana State University–Billings. “I asked people at Montana the best place to go for a doctorate, and they recommended Peabody. I knew some Peabody graduates already. Peabody was the first name in the country for special education and it still is today. I got to Peabody during the first year of the merger with Vanderbilt,” he recalls. “It was a great move for Peabody and Vanderbilt and improved on the strengths of both. They had such great histories and respected names.”
“All that I have done is a direct result of the wonderful mentoring I had from the very talented and dedicated [Peabody] faculty”
—Thomas H. Powell
Much of his research focused on the social interaction between children with disabilities and their siblings. He joined the faculty at the University of Connecticut where he was a professor of education and the first director of the Program of Excellence on Disabilities. “It was not quite the Susan Gray School, but it is a special education program that continues today.” He also turned his efforts to the corporate world to find job opportunities for adults with disabilities. “Children grow up, and we have to address the question, ‘How do we support them in their lives?’ ”
His transition from research to administration happened naturally. He was named dean of the College of Education at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. “Winthrop was a lot like Peabody,” Powell says. “[Robert Charles] Winthrop and [George] Peabody were both industrialists who funded these schools at about the same time.” In short order he was named president at Glenville State College in Glenville, W.Va., where he was credited with completing a major campus renovation program, increasing the endowment and initiating a program focusing on the virtues of academic integrity.
He and his wife, Irene, have three adult children. Their oldest child has autism and lives on his own in Billings, Mont., through a supported-life program. Their second son earned a Ph.D. at Notre Dame, and their daughter is working on a master’s degree at the University of West Virginia. The Powells are in the process of adopting four orphans from East Timor.
“I owe a great debt to Peabody,” he says. “We all do. The dean needs us to support her work.”