Published on June 26, 2023
This year’s Missouri Scholars Academy (MSA) has been a special one for Tonya Keyser. A participant of the first Academy in 1985, Keyser returned this year as a faculty member, teaching a metalsmithing major course.
“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to come back after so many years,” Keyser said. “I love being here. Even with the changes and how the program has evolved over the years, I still have the same feeling as I did when I was a scholar.”
Keyser wasn’t sure what she was getting into when she was originally accepted as a scholar in 1985. Growing up near New Madrid, Mo., a town of less than 3,000 people, Keyser said she was excited but also a bit nervous about the Academy before she made the trip to Columbia, Mo.
“I definitely took a chance,” Keyser said. “There was obviously very little information; I couldn’t just go talk to someone who had been there before because it was the first year of the Academy. I’m so thankful that I did make the decision to attend, though. I fell in love with the program right away.”
Keyser returned to the University of Missouri a couple years after her three-week MSA experience, this time as a college student. With a desire to stay connected to MSA, she made the decision to spend the beginning part of each summer as a residential assistant for the Academy. She helped scholars explore their passions from 1989-92.
“I just loved the program so much and wanted to help provide that opportunity to other scholars,” Keyser said.
Keyser said the friendships she forged during MSA made the decision to attend MU much easier. Several scholars who attended the 1985 Academy found their way to Columbia, too. Keyser earned a psychology degree at Mizzou, with a focus on educational and counseling psychology.
“Coming to Mizzou after being at the Academy was really like coming home,” Keyser said. “I had a built-in support group already there that I could lean on.”
After earning her undergraduate degree, Keyser moved to Philadelphia, Penn., for graduate school at Drexel University. After working in the field of human services for a few years, Keyser made the decision to go back to school and get her teacher certification.
“I specifically worked for organizations that provided services to adults with disabilities,” Keyser said. “I saw firsthand what it was like for those individuals who had been excluded from their community, how it affected them and their families. That drove me to go back to school to focus on education. I became very passionate about promoting inclusion and that is still a big focus for me in the classroom.”
Keyser’s teaching journey has extended well beyond the United States. She found an agency that connects teachers with schools across the globe and has spent three years in Austria, three years in Hong Kong and two years in South Korea.
“It’s been a really great opportunity,” Keyser said. “The discussions are so interesting, as the schools I have taught in offer very diverse programming and are very global-minded.
“I honestly don’t think I would have explored teaching internationally if not for my experiences in MSA. Along with creating a great sense of community and friendship, the Academy gave me the courage to try new things. I’ve carried that with me throughout my life.”
Keyser added that she and her husband were interested in living abroad after retirement. Their travels have allowed them to essentially sample potential places to call home one day.
“I never dreamed my career would take this trajectory,” Keyser said. “It just never occurred to me. It’s been such a blessing to immerse myself in other cultures. I’ve learned so much throughout this journey.”
Keyser has added to her teaching resume this summer with her MSA metalsmithing major class. As one of several major options, metalsmithing is a hobby that Keyser has had for more than a decade.
“I love taking the raw materials and creating something new,” Keyser said. “I enjoy taking an idea that I’ve dreamed up and putting it on a piece of metal. There’s also an important mindfulness part of the exercise. You really must immerse yourself in the work and everything else just kind of melts away.”
After her reunion with MSA ends at the end of the month, Keyser will pack up and head to Romania with her husband for another teaching assignment. While she is excited to resume her international exploration, she has relished her time back with the Missouri Scholars Academy.
“This experience has been such a great reunion,” Keyser said. “It has been fun seeing everything through a different lens. I just really appreciate how that sense of community is still there, even after being away for 30-plus years. It’s been incredible to see these students and know that they are making friends who will be with them the rest of their lives.”