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Wichita State aiming to become international model for applied learning, research

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, April 25, 2013, at 9:51 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, April 25, 2013, at 10:20 p.m.

With goals of gaining international recognition and maximizing the educational experience of its students, Wichita State University on Thursday unveiled a strategic plan outlining its first steps toward making the school an international leader in applied learning and research.

A few hundred WSU faculty and students as well as community members gathered Thursday afternoon in the university’s Hubbard Hall for the first look at the plan, which will be used to guide decision-making and planning at the university.

Its overarching vision, those involved in the process say, is to transform WSU into a school others around the world will model their own programs after.

“We want to be internationally recognized as the model for applied learning and research,” said Kansas Leadership Center president and CEO Ed O’Malley, co-chair of the committee that spearheaded the community-wide planning effort and drafted the resulting document.

“It’s a pretty audacious plan,” WSU President John Bardo said. “It wouldn’t be speaking to the status quo. It’s speaking to the future of the university.”

The plan was written using thousands of suggestions submitted since September by those on campus and in the surrounding communities.

Among goals set forth are proposals to strengthen WSU’s reputation as a research university by increasing projects under way and to increase activities that keep students on campus longer.

The plan also seeks to embed an applied learning or research experience into every student’s academic career, O’Malley told Thursday’s crowd.

While departments encourage students to use classroom skills in the workforce while they are still in school, he said most applied learning takes place through internships or the university’s cooperative education program, an elective course that pairs students with employers. But only a small fraction of the university’s 15,000 students enroll annually.

WSU psychology professor Alex Chapparosaid that, like many students, he didn’t have the chance to apply what he learned in the classroom until after earning his degree.

“It would have been useful to develop and apply those skills,” said Chapparo, part of the 30-member committee that devised the plan.

He added that applied learning should be the responsibility of the entire university rather than a single program.

“I think we can achieve that,” he said.

Other goals of the strategic plan are to:

• Further integrate learning across disciplines to enhance students’ ability to think critically about their fields and society.

• Tie new educational initiatives to emerging or existing trends in society, business, technology, policy, demographics and the economy.

• Shift WSU’s reputation as a commuter university to one that gives students a more traditional college experience and encourages them to spend more leisure time on campus.

• Increase gender, race and cultural diversity among faculty, staff and students to mirror the variety of people found in society and the workforce.

• Rework how faculty and staff are evaluated and develop incentives and rewards for teamwork across departments to achieve each of the plan’s goals.

Following the plan’s presentation Thursday, officials asked those in attendance to share ideas to help WSU gain an international presence in the applied learning and research fields. Suggestions included building state-of-art classrooms and research labs, partnering with other universities, hiring internationally recognized faculty and modifying recruitment practices.

“Somehow we have to get known out there internationally,” said Barbara Morrison, an associate professor of nursing.

“We have to start saying our name again.”

University officials continue to seek community feedback and input on its strategic plan at www.wichita.edu/wsustrategy. Comments may be made by clicking “Talk to Us.”

The latest draft of the plan also is available on the website.

Bardo is expected to present the plan to the Kansas Board of Regents in June. The university will take its first steps to implement the plan this fall, pending the board’s approval.

“We’re not in this plan moving to be something we’ve not been,” Bardo said. “We’re moving to make it better.”

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amyreneeleiker.

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