College honors Lou Watkins with a Hall of Fame induction
Thursday, November 4, 2021
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Lou Watkins’ connections to Oklahoma State University run deep.
She is a two-time graduate of the university, past member and chair of the Oklahoma A&M Board of Regents and even met her husband of 57 years, former state senator and U.S. Rep. Wes Watkins, at the OSU library. Most recently, Watkins was inducted into the 2021 OSU College of Education and Human Sciences Hall of Fame, the highest honor bestowed by the college.
The recognition celebrates her lifelong commitment to empowering others through education and public service and honors her significant contributions to the college and the university.
“As a student, alumna, donor and Regent, Lou Watkins has touched Oklahoma State University in a variety of ways and made an incredible impact,” said former OSU President Burns Hargis. “I particularly appreciate her vision and support as a member of the OSU Board of Regents during my time as president. There is no finer example of ‘loyal and true’ than Lou and her husband, Wes.”
Raised in Cushing, Oklahoma, her first passion was political science, which took her to Washington, D.C., to enroll at American University. However, she soon returned to her roots, transferring to OSU for her bachelor’s degree in political science. With her husband’s encouragement, Watkins went on to pursue a master’s degree in secondary education so she could share her passion and shape young minds as a classroom teacher.
Her first teaching position at Wilburton (Oklahoma) High School brought both challenges and triumphs as she taught government, history and economics to students facing real learning barriers.
“I found there were many ways that I could help those students in overcoming those obstacles to learning,” Watkins said. “In some cases, it was an obstacle to even functioning very well in school or in society.”
One such student, a 15-year-old named Don, confided in Watkins that he couldn’t read. She took it upon herself to enroll him in OSU’s reading lab, where instructors spent hours with him, analyzing why he was unable to read and developing a strategy to help him learn. Over the next two years, Watkins and a fellow teacher diligently worked with Don to advance his reading level.
“When Lou sees a need in our community and state, she doesn’t just wait for someone else to do it. She takes the initiative, garners support and makes it happen!”
Toni Stone, Hall of Fame Nominator
This was not an isolated event. Over the course of her career, Watkins personally invested in her students and made her decisions with their best interests in mind.
“Lou has such a giving and caring attitude toward students as an educator,” said Calvin Anthony, an OSU/A&M Board of Regents member. “She went above and beyond when students needed individual help.”
In 1971, Watkins was recruited by the academic vice president at East Central University, where she enjoyed a 14-year career teaching political science. She chaired the department for five years, and the university established the Lou Watkins Endowed Lectureship in her honor when she left.
Watkins has also remained passionate about supporting and advocating for rural Oklahomans. As a member of the board for Leadership Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Academy for State Goals, she pushed for statewide representation to ensure rural Oklahomans were provided the same opportunities as ones in the larger metropolitan areas.
“When Lou sees a need in our community and state, she doesn’t just wait for someone else to do it,” said Toni Stone, who nominated Watkins for the college’s Hall of Fame. “She takes the initiative, garners support and makes it happen!”
Perhaps her most impactful and rewarding work was the 23 years she served on the Board of Regents for the OSU system and the Agricultural and Mechanical Colleges of Oklahoma. Student-centered most appropriately describes her appointment. From advocating for additional need-based student scholarships to supporting the construction of state-of-the-art facilities such as Boone Pickens Stadium, the Spears School of Business building and The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts, Watkins prioritized providing a life-changing experience for Oklahoma State students.
After retiring from the board in 2019, her legacy lives on through an endowed student fund established in her name by fellow board members. The fund helps meet students’ emergency needs such as a doctor’s visit or a vehicle failure that might have otherwise caused them to leave school.
Together, Lou’s and Wes’ impact can be seen across the OSU campus. They have endowed a chair within the School of Global Studies and Partnerships; they were inducted into the Proud and Immortal Society of million-dollar donors with the OSU Foundation; and they have endowed 17 individual student scholarships. Many of those scholarships support students seeking to improve communities in the U.S. and throughout the world through hands-on service, such as building homes, developing hydroponic food or bringing potable water to remote communities.
Whether supporting students’ educational endeavors in and outside the classroom, improving society through volunteer work or investing in the lives of those around her, this loyal and true Cowgirl has certainly secured her legacy at OSU and beyond.
“Each and every endeavor improves the lives of those her efforts touch,” said Oklahoma Sen. Tom Dugger. “We have enriched lives because of Lou.”
Story By: Diana Haslett | College of Education and Human Sciences