Drover Alum Since Day One: R. Eugene Earsom

A selfie of Eugene Earsom in Independence Hall in Philadelphia
Earsom taught in the Oklahoma public school system for over 20 years and was named Oklahoma Teacher of the Year in 1990.

For fifth-generation Oklahoma educator R. Eugene Earsom, the choice to study at the University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma—then known as the Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts—came after visiting the institution with his father for an event not even related to the school.

“My father was a vocal music teacher who was asked to help audition students for the all-state chorus, and I accompanied him as his pianist,” said Earsom. “The audition site was the USAO campus, which had just become coeducational. As a prospective piano major, I was impressed with the faculty and staff we met that day before I was even aware of the challenging and experimental core curriculum for which the college was lauded.”

Though he was initially planning to study piano, Earsom ended up earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from OCLA in 1970, with minors in music and history. After graduation, he would serve in a number of staff positions in state government before deciding to continue his education. Earsom initially enrolled in the University of Oklahoma College of Law, but would instead go on to complete a master’s in social sciences from OU in 1981 and begin his vocation as a social studies teacher, serving in both the Moore and Yukon districts. He was named Oklahoma Teacher of the Year in 1990.

Thanks to the interdisciplinary education that Earsom received as an undergraduate, he was well-prepared to tackle this complex subject as a schoolteacher. The flexibility of thought that USAO teaches its students provides a clear model with how to deal with the intricacies of the human experience.

“Although I learned at home and in public school that there are always at least two sides of every issue, my exposure to an amazing assemblage of dedicated instructors, administrators and staff members convinced me to put aside (at least temporarily) many of my preconceptions about life,” said Earsom. “A liberal arts education, with exposure to a wide variety of academics, better prepares a student for the many twists and turns of life rather than specializing in a major field that excludes knowledge of the arts, languages, hard sciences, physical education, mathematics, social sciences, etc.”

After 20 years of teaching, Earsom received a call that led to one of the most difficult decisions of his life: the State Superintendent of Public Instruction asked him to leave the classroom in the middle of the school year to serve as the Department of Education’s social studies curriculum director. With Oklahoma’s curriculum due for a revision at the time, the superintendent wanted a classroom teacher to lead the effort, and, while Earsom was honored to be chosen, he found it hard to leave his students. Thankfully, after a few months, he found that his former students were under the care of a well-qualified replacement and soon began to relish his role crafting the curriculum for the subject.

Earsom retired as the program director for the Oklahoma Alliance for Geographic Education. He has been a member of, and has served on, the boards of the Oklahoma Council for the Social Studies, National Council for the Social Studies, Council of State Social Studies Specialists, Oklahoma Education Association, Oklahoma Council on Economic Education, Phi Delta Kappa, Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame, Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma, Oklahoma Institute for Teaching East Asia and the Black Heritage Committee of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Looking back on his time at USAO, Earsom can see how strongly the atmosphere on campus influenced his future career path, as well as the personal passions he has pursued in his own time. It is not only the broad range of intellectual abilities he cultivated as a student, but the artistic and interpersonal skills he developed through interacting with the diverse students and faculty who create that atmosphere.

“The accessibility of faculty/staff/administrators to students almost 24 hours a day was incredible, and the conversations that resulted from scheduled or serendipitous encounters were often far-ranging and always thought provoking,” said Earsom. “Also, developing my keyboard skills at the piano and organ opened many doors as church organist, as well as playing for numerous weddings, funerals and services in churches of many denominations over the years. I learned to be open to unexpected opportunities, whether those involved travel, volunteerism or advocacy.