A Strong Mizzou Connection

Botswana Blackburn teaching to a room full of students.
Botswana Blackburn, Health Sciences department chair and teaching professor, has relished in educating the next generation of Tigers. An affiliate faculty member in the Honors College, Blackburn got her first taste of Mizzou through the Missouri Scholars Academy and later as an undergraduate and graduate student. Photo by Logan Jackson.

Botswana Blackburn got her first taste of how rewarding the collegiate experience could be – especially at the University of Missouri – through the Missouri Scholars Academy (MSA), a three-week residential program on the MU campus for 330 of Missouri’s academically gifted students who are ready to begin their junior year of high school.

That experience would set Blackburn on an academic journey that has been beyond rewarding – and kept her closely tied to Mizzou.

Along with earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, with a focus on broadcast news, and a master’s degree in health education and promotion from MU, Blackburn stayed in the UM System for her Ph.D., earning a degree in education and the social science consortium at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC). She has been teaching in the MU College of Health Sciences since 2011.

“The Missouri Scholars Academy was the best three weeks of my life,” said Blackburn, who is now the Health Sciences department chair and a teaching professor, as well as affiliate faculty in the Honors College. “It was amazing to live on campus, participate in unique and challenging coursework, and be among a community of peers who were just as motivated about learning as I was. I fell in love with the university during that experience, too. It’s been really amazing to stayed so connected. I love being a Tiger.”

While Blackburn said she thoroughly enjoyed her years as a student at Mizzou, she has relished in educating the next generation of Tigers even more. Although her current role includes increased administrative duties, Blackburn still interacts with numerous students throughout the academic year. Her efforts have been rewarded over the years, too. She has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the William T. Kemper Fellowship for Excellence in Teaching, the Faculty and Alumni Award from the MU Alumni Association, and the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Botswana Blackburn headshot
Botswana Blackburn

“Working with students is definitely the best part of my job,” Blackburn said. “I love seeing them grow and achieve their goals. I really enjoy playing a small part in making their dreams a reality.”

Blackburn said she never envisioned herself pursuing a career as a professor when she first arrived at MU as an undergraduate student. An interest in writing and sharing stories drove Blackburn to the School of Journalism, where she developed a variety of important skills that she still utilizes.

“I knew journalism would provide me with a lot of career options,” Blackburn said. “And while I didn’t go into a profession that is directly related to that degree, the rigorous coursework and expectations prepared me for the future. The public speaking, writing and graphic design skills I developed have been invaluable throughout my professional career.”

As Blackburn finished her bachelor’s degree, she found a way to combine her interest in journalism with another passion – health. She chose the health education and promotion program at MU to refine her skills in promoting a subject matter that was important to her. That work then led to a job opportunity with the Kansas City Health Department where Blackburn also finished her Ph.D. at UMKC.

“I knew I wanted to use my journalism skills, and I was always interested in health and health promotion,” Blackburn said. “My work with the Kansas City Health Department showed me all the opportunities within the health field, especially related to health literacy and health education. It allowed me to use everything I had learned at Mizzou to make an impact.”

After a couple more stops, Blackburn returned to MU where she found the perfect fit for her passions in the College of Health Sciences as a professor. Her courses touched on a variety of topics and helped prepare students as they entered the workforce.

“As a former Mizzou student, I understand some of those challenges they face,” Blackburn said. “I try to be understanding and offer my advice on how to navigate those highs and lows. A big part of that is letting them know about all the services MU has to offer. Those services are often underutilized, so I make sure to push them to take advantage of the great offices scattered throughout campus.”

In addition to her role as chair, where she leads a department of 40 people, Blackburn still teaches one course – “Health Care in Missouri” – which focuses on the application of general health concepts and tools specifically from the perspective of the state of Missouri.  

“Everything has definitely worked out very nicely,” Blackburn said. “My work as chair is challenging and exciting. The College of Health Sciences is the fastest growing academic unit at MU, and it’s a professional field that is obviously growing as well. It’s been exciting to see this growth and the impact we’ve had on the state. We’re meeting our land-grant mission and it’s rewarding to be part of that.”

Blackburn’s influence has gone beyond the College of Health Sciences, too. She has been incredibly involved with the Honors College, as an affiliate faculty member and as a member of various committees. She plays a role in several Honors activities, such as helping with the Stamps Scholars interview weekend.

Blackburn was actually involved with the college as a student. She took several Honors courses as an undergraduate and has enjoyed interacting with Honors students as an affiliate faculty member. Her “Health Care in Missouri” course has an Honors section as well.

“I loved the small classes within a large university community,” Blackburn said. “There were also multiple opportunities to participate in service learning and get involved in the Columbia community. I love working with Honors students now, too. They’re so eager to learn and challenge you to explore new projects and ideas.”

Blackburn added that she will gladly continue to accept those challenges and is thrilled to continue her important work as chair of the Department of Health Sciences. She is excited to see where the program can go in the future.

“I’m so fortunate to have been able to learn under great administrators and faculty,” Blackburn said. “I hope I’m making them proud and taking care of what they started. It’s an exciting time within our college and across this campus. I appreciate that I get to be a part of it.”