Dr. Victor Wilburn is a professor and the chair of the Department of Child and Family Studies at Southeast Missouri State University. He works to improve the lives of people living in rural communities through his career and involvement with the Delta Regional Authority.

Aaron Eisenhauer

Even from a young age, Victor Wilburn knew he wanted to make sure whatever he does “counts.”

Currently, he is a professor and chair for the Department of Family and Child Studies at Southeast Missouri State University, but this wasn’t always the path he envisioned for himself. He ended up in the field of child development after years of education, research and experience in other fields before finding the “right role to serve.”

“Over time, I discovered my path just by navigating life and living life and seeing what the needs of people were,” Wilburn says.

Wilburn grew up in Bolivar, Tenn., and got his undergraduate degrees from Tennessee State, where most of his family attended school. He majored in agricultural engineering with an emphasis on rural community development. For his master’s education, he studied rural sociology at the University of Tennessee.

“Much of the work I do is on behalf of rural America. … I love it, and I love working with students who are from this region and students who are passionate about home,” Wilburn says. “I’m a product of the South, so I have always had a connection [to the region].”

After his undergraduate studies, Wilburn needed a job when he stumbled upon a position that involved working with children who had behavioral issues and violent tendencies. It was not a career he sought out, but he grew to love the work and remained in the position for 10 years. Wilburn says this job completely changed his career focus, as the children he worked with began to share their lives with him, and he learned of the abuse many had experienced.

“I decided to change my entire career focus and be an advocate for those children whose voices had been taken. Their aggression [and] their behavioral problems were because their voice had been taken. I wanted to be an advocate for them,” Wilburn says.

In 2002, he graduated with his doctorate in child development from the University of Tennessee and took his first job in academia at the University of Akron in Ohio, where he taught for five years before joining Southeast Missouri State University in 2008 to work in the Department of Family and Child Studies.

“I think that family is about finding the best way to amass the skills of individuals or the assets of individuals and project that to the next generation, so that they can be their best versions of themselves and best representatives of the family,” Wilburn says. “And therefore, [they can] be successful and healthy agents of the community.”

Wilburn says he does everything in his career with the children he met during his first job in mind. He also has a goal to do his job in a way that it “counts twice,” by helping his students learn, while also helping improve the community. Wilburn is a member of the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), a federal-state partnership that works to improve the quality of life for residents of 252 counties across the Mississippi Delta region.

In his downtime, Wilburn says he is a “student of music,” especially jazz and blues music. Wilburn says in high school, he could play every instrument at the introductory level except for the flute and tuba.

With everything Wilburn has been involved with, he is adamant about the idea that “nothing in life is ever wasted.” He believes his background, from agriculture to rural development and child development, all “come together” to help him serve others best.

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