In communities all over Missouri, Southeast Missouri State University alumni are working on making differences. Some of these graduates are elected officials, some are hired, but all have the same passion for working on their Missouri homes. Tameka Randle of Cape Girardeau and Matt Winters of Poplar Bluff are just two examples of this.
Making Cape a Home
Tameka Randle isn't from Missouri originally. She's from Cleveland, Ohio. Things eventually led her to Southeast and Cape Girardeau, and she's been here making a home and a difference ever since.
She currently serves on the Cape City Council and as commissioner for the Missouri Housing Development Commission.
However, she ended up in Cape Girardeau through another passion: basketball. After finishing her time as a player at Eastern Michigan University, she wanted to step into coaching. Randle moved to Cape Girardeau for an assistant coaching position with Southeast Missouri State University women's basketball.
"I told myself, I don't know who could live in a small town," Randle recalled. "I stepped off the plane and I just knew, this is the place for me. When I moved here, I didn't have any family or friends. And so, over time, I have friends that are more like family. I've created a family, so it's been a pleasant place to live and to work."
As she got to know her community, Randle decided she wanted to be a bigger part of it. She eventually ended up starting graduate classes, earning her master's in public administration.
"I'm glad I did," Randle said. "It's been a very worthwhile experience. Everything I do, I relate back to education."
She wanted to make a big impact in Cape Girardeau, which had become her home. She decided to run for City Council, taking over the council position for Ward 2. Here, she helps with a number of community projects. She serves as a liasion with the Council and Old Town Cape and works on downtown projects. She's helped implement job shadowing programs with the Cape Chamber of Commerce. She's currently focused on updating a neglected park in her ward.
"The most fulfilling part is people know that I'm here to assist and support, and most importantly listen," Randle said.
She's moved her passion for community service into her full-time career as well. Professionally, she currently serves as executive director for People Organized to Revitalize Community Healing (PORCH). PORCH focuses on south Cape Girardeau neighborhoods, uniting the community and helping the residents succeed.
For her, it's all about giving back.
"I had a wonderful track coach in the City of Cleveland," Randle said. "He always encouraged this. He said, you have to make it out by getting your education, getting your scholarships. And I did. From that time, I remember that I want to help other people because he helped me. That's been a driving force to some of the things I've been able to do."
Building From Within
Matt Winters is the city manager for Poplar Bluff, Missouri. He's from a family full of Southeast alumni, and he credits his experiences for how his life turned out.
Even though college was something Winters knew was in his future, he wasn't exactly sure what that meant. When he started at Southeast, he was living at home in Sikeston and debating what careers his education may lead him to. At one point, he almost quit college to work in retail.
"I had a professor, I remember him telling us, it's not just about what you learn in class," Winters said. "It lets you expand your horizons, it lets you look at things from different perspectives, and take other people's points of view into account."
Winters listened to his professors and mentors at Southeast and buckled down, eventually graduating with a business administration degree from Southeast. From there, he did some retail work before landing a job with the Ozark Foothills Regional Planning Committee doing community and economic development.
Eventually, he saw an opening with the City of Poplar Bluff and jumped at the opportunity.
For him, it was a career move that meant making a difference.
"You have to have a servant's heart," Winters said. "It's a rewarding and fulfilling career where you get to see the impact you make on the lives of citizens that live in your community."
Poplar Bluff has had major infrastructure and business growth over the last few years, including work on drainage systems, streets, demolition and revitalization of downtown buildings, a huge project with the Missouri Department of Transportation, and small businesses opening. Winters gets to be a part of all of that.
Southeast continues to be a place he looks back on as a launchpad. Not only did he get his career jump start on campus, but he met his wife while a student here, marrying her the August after he graduated. They have two sons, one of whom is a Southeast alumnus as well.