A Heart for Student Success

Tim Parshall stands on the Quad.
Tim Parshall, the MU Fellowships Office’s first full-time director, retires with 32 consecutive years and 35 total years of service to Mizzou. Photo by Michael Cali

Trading good-natured barbs with longtime friend and colleague Walter Bargen, Missouri’s first poet laureate, is nothing new to Tim Parshall. As he took the podium to address the attendees at his retirement party May 6 in Memorial Union, Parshall recalled that Bargen once affectionately labeled him “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

“Think about the Missouri River before it was channelized and before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the levies,” said Parshall, director of MU’s Fellowships Office. “The river could flow widely, and it could take up space where it was supposed to go.”

“Tim, that’s not the same thing,” quipped Bargen amid a sea of laughter.

Like the Missouri River, Parshall’s 35-year career at Mizzou has traversed varied terrain and influenced many paths. Although he has spent only the past eight helming the MU Felowships Office, the top-flight students grateful for his guidance are myriad.

“We all have a story within us, and he helped me bring it all together,” says Janae Bradley, an MU bio-engineering PhD candidate and GEM Fellowship recipient. “I had applied for GEM three times. It taught me perseverance, and now I help other students as a fellowship ambassador.”

The Fellowships Office identifies high-ability and high-achieving students as early as possible in their college careers to assist them as candidates for nationally competitive fellowships and scholarships. Parshall took over for Vicky Riback Wilson when she retired in 2011, a year in which the office assisted with 67 fellowship applications. More than 200 applications came through the office in 2018–19.

“Sometimes somebody is tremendously well-liked because they go out of their way not to make waves,” says MU Law Professor Ben Trachtenberg, who worked with Parshall to launch the Mark Twain Fellowship. “But Tim manages to be tremendously well-liked while accomplishing things.”

After completing his undergraduate studies at Colgate University, Parshall’s Mizzou journey began in 1975 as an English graduate student and, later, a composition and literature instructor. Stints with the University of Missouri Press and Stephens College led him to a project manager position with MU Testing and Evaluation Services, now the Assessment Resource Center where he worked for 24 years.

“MU is here to serve the people of Missouri. What does that mean? Giving students a breadth of opportunities, but also giving them depth,” Parshall says. “We make connections between students and faculty. We provide the resources so they can compete effectively.”

Parshall and his colleagues constantly emphasize “the process” when describing the rigors of fellowship candidacy. The nature of highly competitive scholarships is such that most students won’t be selected for their target award. But Parshall believes crafting a personal narrative and streamlining goals always leads to a successful outcome — be it academically, professionally or personally.

“Tim is not only a great mentor, but he is also incredibly personable and packed with wisdom,” says Zach Parolin, a 2014 Mark Twain Fellow who studied at Oxford University. “He is a source of knowledge for obtaining a graduate school fellowship, keen insights about the True/False Film Fest or the hidden meaning of a John Berryman poem.”

For Jim Spain, MU Vice Provost of Undergraduate Studies, Parshall has been a senior advisor and trusted friend.

“I always knew his heart was in the right place,” Spain says. “Unselfish. Institution first. Team before self. That’s what has made him so valuable to Mizzou.”