When Searcy Leadership Institute members were asked to nominate a classmate who most fulfilled the group’s mission by becoming involved in the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce and the community, the No. 1 name listed was Kerry Mix.
The 38-year-old Mix, provost of Arkansas State University-Beebe since February, was honored in November with the first Leadership Searcy Leadership Award at the 71st annual chamber banquet.
“It was shocking,” he said. “Actually, they kept it from me, as much as I’m involved in the community and chamber. When they said my name, I was bewildered, and I was actually really thrilled. It was embarrassing. To me, what it really was, it was just … a testament to the work we had done at the college over the past year. What we’re trying to do is to be part of the community.”
Mix, who moved from Texas to Searcy in August 2016, said he realized that the majority of the 25 members of the Searcy Leadership Institute class didn’t know that ASU-Beebe, a two-year college, has a campus in Searcy.
He doesn’t intend to let anyone forget.
One of his leadership institute classmates, Searcy Fire Chief Andy Woody, said Mix made a positive first impression.
“Dr. Mix was really, from the first day of class, you could tell he was just a magnetic person who is just a perfect fit for what he’s doing at ASU and the class in general, an immediate leader and friend and somebody you just really felt comfortable with discussing challenges at work and opportunities that may lie ahead,” Woody said. “He’s somebody you can collaborate with. He’s somebody you can bounce ideas off of, just an out-of-the-box thinker who you can tell makes great contributions wherever he goes.”
Mix grew up in Beeville, Texas, a town of about 13,000 — named for a colonel, not the insect. Mix’s mother, Kay, retired as a school nurse; his father, Keith, retired from the U.S. Postal Service.
Kerry Mix is related to Tom Mix, an iconic star of Western movies, who died in 1940. Tom Mix’s grandfather and Kerry Mix’s great-great grandfather were brothers.
Kerry Mix said his mother is an avid genealogist.
“I grew up in graveyards with butcher paper and crayons doing gravestone rubbings. We didn’t have good cameras then,” he said.
Mix said his parents are smart and hardworking, but neither has a college degree.
A top student in high school, he took dual-credit courses through Coastal Bend College, which was then Bee County College, in Beeville. His senior year, he took a “shop” class in electronics.
He recalled that a high school guidance counselor handed him a catalog called a Compendium of Colleges and asked Mix if he knew what compendium meant.
Mix said he replied that the book was an alphabetical listing of colleges, but he didn’t know the word compendium. The counselor told him he’d never go to college if he didn’t know that word. Instead of deflating him, it motivated him.
“I said, ‘Let me try this education thing and see where it takes me,’” Mix said.
At Coastal Bend, students in the top 10 percent of the senior class could receive $500 a semester for four semesters.
“I decided, ‘Well, I like that electronics and shop class.’ I started college through the technical side in electronics. Frank Anzaldua — he is retired Army, and he was the faculty member there, and he kind of took me under his wing. He said, ‘You’ve got good potential.’”
Mix said Anzaldua was his “formal and informal mentor.” He said Anzaldua and his wife, Ellie, didn’t have children and sort of adopted Mix and his sister.
“They’ve been there from my bachelor’s through my doctorate,” Mix said. “He’s always been there for me and calls to check on me to this day.”
Mix refers to the “power of faculty,” which has overwhelmingly been positive in his life. He named his sixth-grade teacher, Coralee Gibson, as someone who taught “inclusion, acceptance and care,” as well as others who inspired and encouraged him. “They all wanted to give back, develop something bigger than themselves,” he said.
Mix was a part-time electronics instructor at Coastal Bend College for two different stints, and he took a position at the University of Houston-Victoria, where he was ambassador coordinator of Letting Education Achieve Dreams, an empowerment program for children in more than 30 schools. He said the program served 13,000 to 16,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade students per year and included a boys academy and a girls academy.
Before that, he was a student ambassador for Letting Education Achieve Dreams at a junior college, and he participated as a puppeteer in a show for the kids, voicing characters such as Professor Profound.
“The overall theme was that … to do all these jobs requires special knowledge, so you need to go to college,” he said.
Prior to coming to ASU-Beebe, Mix was vice chancellor for academics and provost for the San Jacinto Community College District in Houston, where he was also dean of enrollment services and dean of business and technology before being promoted.
When Mix was a research assistant at the Center for Community College Student Engagement, he got to know Karla Fisher, who was at the center and later was chancellor at ASU-Beebe. She has since left for a position in Tempe, Arizona. Fisher told Mix about an opening for vice chancellor for academics at ASU-Beebe, and he was hired.
In addition to the campuses in Searcy and Beebe, ASU-Beebe has campuses in Heber Springs and at the Little Rock Air Force Base.
“Searcy doesn’t get as much attention,” he said.
Mix said Fisher told him he needed to live in Searcy and encouraged him to apply for the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce Leadership Institute class of 2016-17.
Mix, who is engaged to Zina Smith of Houston, Texas, moved to Searcy in August 2016, and the leadership class started a few weeks later.
“I said, ‘Man, this is crazy,’ but there’s never a perfect time for anything to happen,” he said. “Life is full of unique and wonderful things.”
He said the leadership institute gave him a good overview of Searcy and helped him get to know leaders in the community.
“One of the best learnings I had from that experience was how many folks were really invested in the success of not only Searcy as a community, but also in the state of Arkansas,” he said. “I know you think that’s everywhere, but it’s just a little bit different. It’s not a feeling I had in Houston. There are some pockets of excellence, but not everybody is saying they want Houston to be successful. There’s a lot of energy of family first, and how do we do economic development here.”
Mix got involved with the chamber and served as a co-chair for the Workforce Development and Education Committee.
“That’s been kind of my way to get in and serve on the education side,” he said. Mix said he looks at what ASU-Beebe can do to support business and industry needs.
“The leadership award is a testament to that, the impact we’re starting to see about our work,” he said.
He will become a chamber board member in January.
The Leadership Institute award is not his first honor. In addition to accolades for his past work, in 2014, Mix received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Coastal Bend College and spoke at commencement in the gymnasium where he’d graduated 12 years earlier.
“I was really nervous because it’s your hometown, and you saw people in the audience you went to high school with or college … former instructors.
“I used that as a platform for a couple of things — really to thank those people in my life. I called out several faculty members from K-12 to higher education … and it was a challenge and call to action.
“I told them that up until now, it had been about them. … ‘Now it’s about your community and the lives you touch,’” he said. Mix said he used a quote from Yoda: “Do or do not, but do not try.”
“I challenged them to be involved in the community,” he said.
A good example was standing in front of them.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.