Dr. Joe Wilferth may be 1,800 miles away from Cape Girardeau in McMinnville, Oregon, but he carries fond memories of Cape into his new career as the inaugural dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Linfield University.
Wilferth is a “proud graduate” of Cape Girardeau Central and Southeast Missouri State University. After graduating high school, he received a bachelor’s degree from DePauw University before coming back to Cape Girardeau for a master’s degree in English at Southeast.
Wilferth thanked Dr. Dale Haskell, Dr. Nancy Blattner, Dr. Harvey Hecht, Dr. Jake Gaskins and Dr. Mike Hogan as wonderful mentors, having prepared him for doctoral work in English at Bowling Green State University.
“I’m also grateful for my time at SEMO because that’s where I met my wife, Anna. I’m proud to be a SEMO alum, as is Anna, and both of my parents are SEMO alumni. We’re deeply passionate about SEMO and the opportunities it provides for students,” Wilferth said.
In his role as dean, he’s responsible for 22 academic departments and nearly 100 faculty. Linfield College became Linfield University in July 2020, adding the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Nursing and School of Business.
“Leading a College of Arts and Sciences is probably the best job on the planet. I get to experience the outstanding, innovative, and creative work of our faculty and students. That includes everything from musical and theatrical performances to student-led research in Chemistry and Biology. No two days are the same, and it’s always exciting,” said Wilferth.
Wilferth also works as a public and outspoken champion for a liberal arts education, which he believes is ideal preparation for life and work after graduation.
“Linfield University students, like those at Southeast, are well-educated, responsible, interesting, and interested adults who, upon graduation, enter public life and their respective communities with a passion for lifelong learning,” he said.
Wilferth has become a successful fundraiser, which includes cultivating relationships with alumni as well as community and regional partners. His work includes supporting current faculty as well as recruiting and hiring new faculty; reviewing, updating, and/or developing new academic programs; and advancing faculty research, particularly funded research.
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The Wilferths have two sons — Turner is at Loyola University Maryland, and Jude is studying at the University of Tampa. As empty nesters, and after teaching at UT-Chattanooga for the last 18 years, they packed up and headed west to Linfield University, located in the Pacific Northwest and just 40 minutes from the Oregon coast, and the wildfires.
The wildfires resulted in poor air quality on the Linfield campus. Four or five students lost their homes in the fires but Wilferth said the university was very generous in providing assistance by way of lending laptops to complete schoolwork, housing, and meal plans being discounted or free.
Wilferth gets back home three to four times a year but wishes he made it back more often to visit with friends and family — his parents are Rock and Judy Wilferth and brother Jimmy also resides in Cape; sister Jill lives in Colorado.
“In addition to the SEMO faculty who mentored and supported me, I’m grateful to have had parents and siblings who set (and expected that I follow) high and ethical standards. Similarly, Anna pushes me forward every day. She’s an advocate for higher education and my perfect partner,” Wilferth said.