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Wichita State moving forward as Kansas’ urban-serving university

  • Published Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012, at 10:54 a.m.
  • Updated Friday, Feb. 24, 2012, at 9:51 a.m.

Since its founding as Fairmount College in 1895, Wichita State University has served a distinctive mission in Kansas. Of course, we continue to offer students exceptional learning opportunities, but we also serve Kansas’ largest urban community through research and public service. It’s a mission approved by the Kansas Board of Regents and one that makes WSU different from every other college and university in the state.

It’s no secret that our location helps define our difference. For example, nearly 80 percent of Wichita State’s student body is from south-central Kansas. WSU also has the most diverse population of students of any other Regents university. More than 15 percent of our students are identified as under-represented minorities. WSU will strive to maintain access to education for those students as our urban area continues to change demographically.

Being located in Kansas’ economic center also provides our students with distinct advantages not found elsewhere. Our experience-based learning programs are the largest in the state, providing Wichita State students with rich learning opportunities in area businesses and organizations.

More than 1,000 WSU students were placed in job-based learning environments last year alone, with the largest participation occurring in liberal arts and sciences, education and engineering. As a result, our students are often better equipped to enter the workforce following graduation. Further, more than 70 percent of these students end up working in the Wichita area and more than 90 percent in Kansas, evidence that we are retaining graduates through experience-based learning opportunities.

Our location also allows us to serve as an engine for research and development. Wichita State enjoys an active and engaged faculty committed to teaching and research. As a result, WSU is a leader in a wide variety of research fields.

CISCO and Palo Alto Centers provide service to global networking systems from our campus, offering Wichita State students opportunities to learn with the most current equipment in the industry. WSU’s National Institute for Aviation Research continues to help lead the aviation industry in remaining competitive in global markets. In fact, Wichita State is now ranked second in the nation for aerospace research investment.

This is all exciting news because Wichita State is well poised for a leadership transition when I step down as president this summer. Beyond this transition, the university will continue to aggressively pursue its urban serving mission. In the near future, expect a number of improvements and changes.

One key to our success has been a renewed focus on recruiting students working toward bachelor’s degrees. We’ve worked hard to improve student support to ensure their success. An early-warning system is now in place to identify students not meeting expectations. We are providing new support services to help students improve, which helps increase retention and graduation rates.

Technology continues to support Wichita State’s learning environment. A campus master plan for information technology is being prepared and will be available to the new president this summer. These efforts are intended to support learning and research environments for students, faculty and staff.

In addition, Wichita State is working on a facilities master plan for the campus with earmarked funds for deferred maintenance. The renovation of the Rhatigan Student Center will begin this summer, with completion due in 2014.

At the state level, the legislature and governor have committed funds to increase the number of engineering graduates by 60 percent in 10 years. Wichita State has committed to a recruitment and retention plan for students that will help us meet this goal.

Further, a Board of Regents task force is considering options to prepare more oral health care professionals. WSU’s Advanced Education in General Dentistry program and its new facility will be considered for involvement in this statewide initiative.

The future for Wichita State, as it is for Wichita, is bright. I firmly believe our best years are yet to come.

Being located in the heart of Kansas’ economic capital offers exceptional opportunities for learning and research. But our location demands a mission of service to the vibrant, diverse community we call home.

Wichita State University is committed to effectively serving the needs of the Wichita region. In doing so, we serve the heart of the Kansas economy.

Donald Beggs is president of Wichita State University. Reach him at don.beggs@wichita.edu.

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