Corey S. Bradford Sr. chose a tough time to come home to the St. Louis metro. The native St. Louisan took office as president of Harris-Stowe State University on May 4 — an unprecedented time for higher education, which is grappling with both funding shortages due to the economic downturn and complications from the coronavirus.
And, indeed, the coronavirus complicated his move. On St. Louis on the Air, Bradford recalled living at a near-empty Chase Park Plaza Hotel for a week. So many people working remotely, he said, “delayed us from getting our furniture here in St. Louis.”
But Bradford feels up for the challenge.
Bradford described his background as “very humble.” In answer to the all-important high school question, he said he graduated from the Academy of Math and Science, now known as Gateway Tech High School, before earning a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s in applied math and statistics from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
The father of twins (his wife is an East St. Louis native), Bradford worked for the SIU System, including as assistant vice president for financial and administrative affairs, before spending nine years at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, most recently serving as senior vice president for business affairs.
Bradford credits his lifelong interest in math to a teacher he had as a child in University City. Harris-Stowe’s origins are as a teachers’ college, and Bradford said that training the next generation of teachers of color remains part of its mission.
“I think Harris-Stowe can help meet the needs of teaching shortages for minority teachers in our local school districts,” he said. “We have programs to grow your own teachers, we have accelerated teaching certificate programs for professionals who wish to become a teacher, and we have an urban training institute for professional development of school teachers so they know how to better deal with minority students and address the special needs they may have.”
Bradford also said he is passionate about expanding higher education access for local students. “I want to see more people, particularly the underserved, obtain a college education,” he said. “We will work with students where they are.”
Historically black colleges and universities like Harris-Stowe have produced many notable graduates, despite serving a population that often faces challenges in earning a degree.
Those are challenges Bradford understands on a personal level.
“A lot of our students, they don’t come from a traditional background,” Bradford said. “My kids, they came from two parents that have Ph.D.s, they were able to graduate college in three years. They had every advantage possible to them. But another student, who comes from a poor background, [whose family has] never been to college before, they might find college difficult to navigate. You have to have that understanding … I had to navigate my way through college. It wasn’t set up for me to just fly through college like my kids did. And so you have to have that understanding and that empathy to help students overcome a lot of barriers.”
Harris-Stowe announced in May that it will reopen in the fall for in-person instruction. Bradford said he’s fully aware the coronavirus could have other plans.
“There is worry there, but we’re depending on our state and local authorities to keep us informed,” he said. “But that possibility does exist for a second wave in the late fall, and we might have to adjust our calendar.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.
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