Making the Most of Every Opportunity

Teddy Farias speaking at a podium during his keynote address.
Teddy Farias served as the keynote speaker during the opening ceremonies of this year’s Missouri Scholars Academy. Farias is an MSA alum, who later attended the University of Missouri. He is currently the dean of health and natural sciences at San Jacinto College in Texas. Photo by Logan Jackson.

Standing in the Walmart checkout line just an hour after earning his biological sciences degree from the University of Missouri, Teddy Farias – who was still wearing his cap and gown – struck up a conversation with the person in line behind him. Farias was gearing up for the next step in his academic journey. He had been accepted into a pharmacy school in Chicago and was preparing to make the move.

Farias would put his plans on hold, though. The checkout line conversation led to a job offer, which Farias was happy to accept. He spent the next year as a technical scientist, running a variety of experiments for analytical and biochemical laboratories.

“While continuing my education was important to me, the opportunity to earn money right out of college was so enticing,” Farias said. “My father worked extremely hard for years just to make ends meet. Earning that first paycheck, it felt like I had officially made it. Plus, I always knew I would eventually find myself back in the classroom.”

Not only did Farias head back to the classroom to collect a couple more degrees, but he also now aids others on their academic journeys. For the past six years, Farias has served as the dean of health and natural sciences at San Jacinto College in Texas. He is also adjunct faculty at Wichita State University in Kansas.

Teddy Farias talking with two students.
Along with his keynote, Farias shared more about his profession with scholars. Photo by Logan Jackson.

“When I officially made the decision to pursue a career in higher education, I chose the community college route because I feel their stories,” Farias said. “I can relate to so many of these kids. I knew I could have a major impact.”

Throughout his childhood, Farias found fulfillment from learning environments that challenged his thinking and allowed him to ask meaningful questions. That passion for education grew tremendously during his three weeks at the Missouri Scholars Academy (MSA). He was one of two students from his rural high school in St. Clair chosen for the academy.

Not only did MSA introduce Farias to peers who were just as motivated to learn as he was, the experience showed him that he could be successful as a college student.

“Had I not gone to MSA, I really don’t know if I would have gone to college,” Farias said. “My mother only had a fifth-grade education, and my father didn’t graduate high school until he was almost 20 years old. So even though I always enjoyed school, I didn’t know how I could really make college work.

“My time with MSA taught me so much about the college experience and made me even more passionate about education. It also introduced me to Mizzou, which I quickly fell in love with. MU was the only school I applied to, and I was thrilled to later attend and earn a degree as a Tiger.”

While MSA helped lead Farias to MU, getting to Columbia a couple years later was another story. His parents didn’t own a car; however, Farias’ uncle cosigned on a loan so Farias could buy a vehicle.

“I had saved up $3,000 but needed $5,000,” Farias said. “I was so thankful my uncle decided to help me out. Without that small act, my story probably changes.”

As a first-generation college student, Farias said he enjoyed the college experience but there was definitely a learning curve.

“Coming from rural Missouri, college was the first time I met people who had completely different experiences than I had had,” Farias said. “I was a responsible kid, but I still had a lot of maturing to do. Being on my own and having to be on top of paying bills or cooking dinner wasn’t new for me. Social maturity was where I grew the most.”

It helped that he already knew a few professors, such as Ted Tarkow, a professor emeritus of classical studies, who Farias met during MSA. Tarkow helped found the academy.

“I really enjoyed my time at MU, and it helped to have someone like Ted in my corner,” Farias said. “I was able to get involved in the Humanities Sequence, which were some of the first non-science courses I took. I still have several of my Humanities Sequence books, actually. Those classes were some of favorites and were incredibly important for me even though I was more focused on the hard sciences.”

One thing that Farias was sure of when he arrived at Mizzou was that he was interested in a career within the medical field. One of his first off-campus jobs in Columbia was in the candy story at the University Hospital.

Teddy Farias speaking at a podium during his keynote address.
Farias said his experience at MSA made him realize he could be successful as a college student. Photo by Logan Jackson.

“I was always pretty good at math, and I had a knack for remembering people’s preferences and likes,” Farias said. “The same people would stop by the store and after a bit I was able to have their stuff ready to go right when they walked in. One of the individuals who I saw quite often was apparently pretty impressed. He asked me to apply to work at the pharmacy. I was able to get a job there and soaked up so much knowledge over the course of a couple years.”

That work is what led Farias to originally apply to pharmacy school. While he took a job instead, he thought about reapplying the following year. Instead, he decided to go to chiropractic school. Farias eventually earned his Doctor of Chiropractic from Logan University.

“My dad had three failed back surgeries and was scheduled to have another surgery,” Farias said. “He saw a chiropractor and finally saw a bit of relief. The profession was always on my radar, so when it came time to choose a new path, I decided to go that route.”

After earning his degree, Farias opened his own practice which he led for eight years. Another chance encounter just a year into his practice opened the door for him to finally get involved in higher education.

“My practice was close to St. Louis Community College and every so often I would work with some of the baseball players,” Farias said. “The athletic director took notice and asked me to help during a weight training class after someone stood him up. I started to get more involved after that. That work was definitely a fun way to get introduced to working at the college level.”

Farias was adjunct faculty with St. Louis Community College for seven years. He also spent time as a department chair at Kaplan University – where he earned his master’s degree – and served as dean for two health sciences programs before making the move to San Jacinto College.

Farias was able to share his passion for higher education, as well as his chiropractic work, with scholars during last year’s academy. It marked the first time he had been back to Columbia in years, and he said it was incredible to be back on campus. Farias was invited back to MSA this year, not only to share about his work but also to kick off the academy as the keynote speaker.

“I never thought I would have the opportunity to change this many lives,” Farias said. “I’m still fulfilled every day. I really wish I could help every student. As dean, you sometimes have a student’s future in your hands. I don’t take that for granted. There’s nothing more rewarding than helping someone else.

“These past two opportunities to interact with scholars at MSA have been incredible. I was so glad to be asked to participate last year and was blown away to be asked back as the keynote speaker. It’s been great to give back to a place that holds some many special memories. Mizzou and MSA will always be tied for me. Both opened so many doors for me to succeed.”