Most children have a ready answer for that age-old question, “What do you want to be, when you grow up?” For Jim Spain, MU vice provost for undergraduate studies and associate professor of dairy nutrition, that dream was to be a veterinarian. Looking back, he didn’t know that instead he would take on many roles, all meaningful in different ways.
Spain went to college at North Carolina State for his bachelor’s in animal science. There, in 1981 during English class, he met the woman he would later marry in 1985. He went on to earn his doctorate at Virginia Tech and started working at the University of Missouri as an assistant professor of animal science and state extension dairy specialist in 1990.
In the coming years, Spain’s energetic teaching style and engaging personality would make an impact on hundreds of individuals, including MU animal sciences professor Bryan Wiegand.
Spain met Weigand in 1991 when Wiegand was a freshman and Spain was his professor in the introductory animal science class.
“I was sitting in the front row of S147 Animal Sciences and he had asked a question about the number of dairy farms in the U.S.,” Wiegand recalled. “He was walking around S147 and was carrying around this stick, using it to point to the screen, and he walked up behind me and he thought I was asleep, but I had distinctly heard the question. He hits the desk and says, ‘What do you think Wiegand?’ and I couldn’t believe that he knew my name, my first day in school — and I answered his question.”
That is where Spain and Wiegand’s relationship began. Although Wiegand already had an official academic adviser, Spain became his mentor. Wiegand often went to him for advice as someone closer to his own age. That relationship continues even today, according to Wiegand. And even though now they are colleagues rather than student and professor, he still seeks out Spain for advice.
Adam Cohen, sophomore at MU, met Spain this past year during Summer Welcome where Spain was one of the speakers giving the professor perspective. Cohen thought every professor at Mizzou would be like him, but found out Spain is one of a kind. Cohen is currently studying music composition, but he is considering student affairs, so he has been meeting with Spain to discuss what classes to take.
“He says he has the open door policy, and that is 100 percent true,” Cohen said.
In recent years, Spain’s role has become more administrative. But no matter what position he has, he has always been a professor and he loves it.
“He is very charismatic,” said Dylan Westcott, an MU sophomore and one of Spain’s advisees. “I love it. It makes me love it, care about what I’m learning, and I think that’s what matters more as a teacher.”
In addition to working at the University of Missouri as a professor, adviser, and friend, Spain is also a husband, father and grandfather. He has two daughters and a son. His wife and daughters all attended Mizzou. He held high expectations for his kids growing up and was very involved with their lives. Spain went to every dance recital, show-and-tell, and field trip, even while juggling responsibilities at work.
Recently, another granddaughter joined his family. When she had to have open heart surgery in Boston, Spain stopped everything to go to Boston and help his daughter and her baby.
“He helped us with money, emotionally, and finding housing all while he still had stuff going on here,” said Emily Critchfield, Spain’s daughter.
In every aspect of his life, everyone notes that Spain is a very caring person. He goes beyond what is expected of him. He didn’t have to take on many of these roles, but he loves what he does.
“I want to be the very best I can be at my role,” he said.
Adviser, professor, administrator, father, and more.