Eagle editorial: Strengthening Wichita State

A year after Wichita lost Velma Wallace at age 95, the “First Lady of Cessna” keeps on giving to her beloved honorary alma mater, Wichita State University, strengthening and furthering the institution during a time of both impressive momentum and sharply reduced state funding.

This week the public learned that the WSU Foundation received a $6 million estate gift from Wallace. It’s the latest in a long and inspiring legacy of generosity toward WSU that has included the Wallace Scholars program and the Dwane L. and Velma L. Wallace Endowment Fund. Half of the gift will be added to that fund, to benefit engineering students and the College of Engineering. The WSU School of Music in the College of Fine Arts and the College of Education each will receive $1 million for scholarships and departmental support, with the remaining $500,000 earmarked for athletic scholarships.

“You’re recognizing people that are doing things for the future. Your child, your grandchild – if these people can be successful, it will be a brighter future,” Wallace told The Eagle in 2006 about why she and her late husband, 40-year Cessna Aircraft executive Dwane Wallace, believed so strongly in funding scholarships.

Even before the $6 million estate gift was announced, WSU had been busy this summer dramatically implementing the vision of president John Bardo. Last month WSU broke ground on its first new residence hall in decades, a $65 million home and dining center for first-year students to be ready for the fall 2014 semester. Because the dorm is displacing 750 parking spaces south of Cessna Stadium, a new lot for 400 cars is under construction on 21st Street near Corbin Hall. An expansion of the Rhatigan Student Center also has been underway, to further upgrade the campus amenities for students at a university that has been perceived by many over the years as a commuter school.

Just a year into the job, Bardo also has grand plans to expand undergraduate research and someday create a technology park where businesses could develop and test products, building on the National Institute for Aviation Research model that enables WSU to rank second nationally in aviation research.

Of course, Bardo also just got a rare and powerful student recruiting tool in the recent Final Four appearance of the Shocker men’s basketball team.

And all of this activity comes as Bardo has had to cut $1.8 million in planned spending, delay expansion of a “technology transfer” program and increase tuition by 8.1 percent to offset the 2013 Legislature’s ill-considered cuts to funding for Kansas Board of Regents institutions.

Bardo’s aggressive leadership will test people’s notions of WSU (and the patience of those looking for places to park). And he will need the help of many champions in the private and public sectors. Both he and Wichita can be grateful that the Wallaces put so much of their money where they knew the community’s future would be – in higher education.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman