When Mike LaFerla graduated from Missouri Southern State University with a degree in biology in 1989, it was only the beginning of the Joplin orthodontist’s relationship with his alma mater.

He received his DDS from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and his master’s in orthodontics and craniofacial biology before returning to Joplin to open his own practice 20 years ago – LaFerla Ortho.

“After I got back from doing my doctorate and residency, the first connection I made with Missouri Southern was getting involved with the Alumni Association,” he said. “I served on the board and after that, I was asked to serve on the Lionbackers board.”

Over the years, he has also served on various committee, attended countless sporting events with his family and even sponsored university events. He has also played an integral role in fundraising efforts such as the Lion Icon statue and now the Reynolds Hall renovation project.

Giving back to his alma mater, whether through campus service or fundraising,

“I think Missouri Southern is an integral part of our community,” said LaFerla. “I got a great education when I was in college. Now I’m back here and some of my employees, friends’ children and colleagues are getting an education there. I think it’s important to stress our local schools.”