Lifelong learning fuels her leadership style
As Dean of the Agriculture, Business, and Personal Services division, Kim Zant says she enjoys the best of all worlds. Programs in her division run the gamut from accounting to cosmetology, computer systems to business administration, with agriculture traditional and experimental thrown in for good measure.
“In this division, I continue to learn on a daily basis,” Zant said. “When I sit in on classroom observations, I might come away knowing a new way to do my hair, plant a garden, or make a web page.”
Any of those pursuits would be feasible for Zant, who grew up on a family cotton farm in the west Texas town of Anton. Like many of the students she’s helped educate during her 12 years at Seward County Community College, Zant was the first in her family to pursue higher ed.
“That’s one of the things I love about this college. When parents voice questions or say, ‘I didn’t go to college, why does my child want to do this, and how will we afford it?’ I understand where the questions come from,” she said. In the heartland of America, small town farm life means you pitch in, learn multiple skills, stick with family, and, many times, stay close to home. That created a dilemma for a bright, curious girl who wanted to do something more with her life.
For Zant, the answer was to find the closest college to attend without moving too far from home. That was Texas Tech University in Lubbock, where she earned her first bachelor’s degree. She started a career immediately with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, where she worked for more than a decade.
“There were so many opportunities for me,” she said. “They moved me to a post in Kansas, then to one in Georgia. They paid for me to earn my MBA, and all this helped me continue to grow and learn.”
Along the way, Zant met and married, and she and her husband had three children, Holden, Hattie, and Hollis Fitzgerald. Her husband at the time was a physician, and needed to log years in a community in Kansas in repayment for the financial aid he had received as a student.
“That’s why we moved to Liberal,” Zant said, “and it was a very welcoming, friendly place. That was 20 years ago, and the community has been good to me and my children.”
As befits a small-town native, Zant has done her share of giving back as well. She took a job as adjunct business, marketing and economics instructor for the business division at SCCC, and quickly moved on to serve as the faculty sponsor for the student business club, SIFE (Students In Free Enterprise). She recalls those years as full of spirited interactions with students, victories large and small for her club, and ultimately, the realization that higher education was the place for her.
“It can sound like a cliche, but I really did have the experience of seeing my students have that lightbulb moment. It’s the most satisfying thing you can imagine,” Zant said. “It’s the same in my work as division chair and now dean. I love to coach people, present new ideas, and then let them directly apply that knowledge to the situations at hand. Good leadership in academics is a lot like good management in business: Hire good people and watch them excel.”
Zant too, has followed hard after excellence. Though she held two degrees when she arrived on the SCCC campus, she didn’t settle for that.
“I earned a bachelor’s degree in business education from Fort Hays State University, and did post-graduate work at Wichita State. Now I’m working on my doctorate in high education leadership, through Southwestern College,” she said. “It’s one of those things, where once you’ve gotten a taste of lifelong learning, it’s hard to stop.”