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2015 Convocation: Dr. Ransdell highlights successes, discusses challenges

President also presents annual awards at WKU’s opening session

WKU President Gary Ransdell celebrated achievements of the past year, discussed challenges of the upcoming year and presented annual faculty and staff awards Friday morning (Aug. 21) at the 2015 opening convocation.

WKU President Gary Ransdell addressed faculty and staff at the 2015 opening convocation on Aug. 21 at Van Meter Hall. (WKU photos by Clinton Lewis)

WKU President Gary Ransdell addressed faculty and staff at the 2015 opening convocation on Aug. 21 at Van Meter Hall. (WKU photos by Clinton Lewis)

Achievements include an improving ACT average for incoming freshmen (up from 21.5 four years ago to more than 23 this year), an increase in four-year graduation rates (from 25 percent three years ago to more than 30 percent last year), an improving student/faculty ratio (17 to 1 now), a 5 percent increase in number of tenure track and full-time faculty and the anticipated reaffirmation of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges as a Level VI institution. (More: A video recap of 2014-15 achievements.)

In his 18th convocation address, Dr. Ransdell also thanked faculty and staff for their work in WKU’s shared success since 1997 – 38 percent growth in enrollment, 66 percent growth in degrees conferred each year, improved retention rates, 93 new degree programs including 27 at master’s level and four doctoral degrees, physical transformation of the campus, two capital campaigns, establishment of the Honors College and The Gatton Academy and expanding international reach that is redefining student composition and broadening global citizenship of WKU students.

“None of this has come easy,” he said. “We have had to fight for our position in Kentucky’s higher education landscape. We have had to fight for and we have earned national recognition. Our vision – A leading American university with international reach – is being achieved. We have built a brand of value and relevancy and quality and strength.”

Dr. Ransdell said WKU is at a crossroads this year and faces challenges in three key areas – enrollment (recruiting and retaining traditional students, international students and adult learners), state funding (Kentucky’s 2016-2018 budget will be key for higher education) and faculty/staff compensation (salary increases are WKU’s top priority for next year).

“We are fortunate to be part of a very special institution. We do have a special spirit here, and that spirit is making masters of our students,” Dr. Ransdell said. “It is as much about the heart as it is the head. Let’s live that WKU spirit. Let’s embrace it, and let’s use it to attack our challenges.”

Dr. Ransdell and Board of Regents Chair Freddie Higdon also presented the annual Spirit of Western, diversity and sustainability awards and recognized other faculty and staff award recipients. (For Dr. Ransdell’s remarks and more about the award recipients, visit www.wku.edu/convocation)

14th annual Spirit of Western Award

Robin Ayers, an instructor in the Department of Mathematics, received the 14th Spirit of Western Award, which recognizes an individual who represents enthusiasm for WKU, loyalty to the institution and principles of the WKU experience and its motto “The Spirit Makes the Master.”

Ayers, a WKU graduate, has been in the department for 24 years and never fails to go over the top with all-things WKU. Her office is covered with WKU decorations and team posters signed by players she has had in class. The pride and commitment she has for WKU shows on her face, in her voice, in her classroom, and in her office.

15th annual President’s Award for Diversity

The award recognizes recipients who advance diversity and is intended to encourage creativity, dialogue, and action through advocacy, role modeling, scholarship, or service.

  • Employee: Dr. Lacretia Dye, assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Student Affairs. Her goal in everything she does is to practice Ubuntu, an ancient African concept that translates as “I am because we are” or “a person is a persona because of other persons.” In all of her activities, it is her intention to model and promote wellness for all ethnic, racial, religious, socio-economic groups.
  • Student: Salvador Hernandez, a sophomore studying International Business who is a member of the WKU Chinese Flagship program, WKU HOLAS (Hilltopper Organization of Latin American Students) and other campus and community organizations. He has supervised the coordination of projects that promote and celebrate diversity on campus and in the community.
  • Community: Lawrence White of Bowling Green who is known for paying it forward. He has been affiliated with mentoring groups such as Black Men United, Why Try and West Side Camp, each program directed toward young men of ethnic diversity.

5th annual President’s Award for Sustainability

The award honors individuals who exhibit excellence in supporting WKU’s commitment to sustainability by demonstrating exemplary practices and sharing solutions, incorporating sustainability into existing programs, and implementing innovative ideas.

  • Employee: Dr. Jane Olmsted, head of Diversity and Community Studies. Dr. Olmsted has advanced sustainability at WKU by emphasizing social justice and more subtle but equally important qualities of sustainability such as connectedness, community and place into sustainability programs and related courses that she has developed, including the master’s in Social Responsibility and Sustainable Communities and the Global Pathways to Sustainability graduate certificate.
  • Student: Alex Hezik, a senior from Campbellsville who is majoring in Sustainable Agriculture and is a member of the Chinese Language Flagship. Her commitment to promoting sustainability led her to develop her own academic program; and to serve the campus and community by promoting sustainability through the campus community garden, the Climate Action Committee and the Community Farmers Market.

Faculty Awards

Dr. Ransdell formally recognized the following faculty award recipients, who were announced during May commencement ceremonies: Dr. Eve Main, associate professor, School of Nursing, University Award for Public Service; Yvonne Petkus, professor, Department of Art, University Award for Research and Creativity; Dr. Martha Day, associate professor, School of Teacher Education, University Award for Student Advisement; and Dr. Alison Langdon, associate professor, Department of English, University Award in Teaching.

Staff Advising Awards

The first recipients of Staff Awards for Student Advisement to honor professional staff who exhibit excellence in supporting the success of and support to WKU’s student population were Dr. Pat Jordan, coordinator of Undergraduate Student Services and Academic Advising for the Gordon Ford College of Business, Staff Academic Advising Primary Role; and Christian Ryan, sustainability coordinator in the Office of Sustainability, Staff Award for Student Support Services.

New department, program leaders

New department heads and program leaders for fall 2015 include: Marc Archambault, Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations; Brent Bjorkman, Director, Kentucky Museum; Ray Blankenship, Chair, Information Systems; Dana Bradley, Associate Director, Honors College; Erika Brady, Acting Department Head, Folk Studies and Anthropology; Linda Brown, Chair, Agriculture; Stuart Burris, Chair, Chemistry; Michael Carini, Interim Department Head, Physics and Astronomy; Neale Chumbler, Dean, College of Health and Human Services; Terry Dean, Interim Director, Dental Hygiene; Michelle Elkins, Director, Kelly Autism Program; Vijay Golla, Associate Dean for Research, College of Health and Human Services; Brad Kissell, Director of Adult Learner Service, University College; LTC Thomas MacMillin, Department Head, Military Science; Mary Lloyd Moore, Executive Director, Suzanne Vitale Clinical Education Complex; Paula Potter, Chair, Management; Jill Sauerheber, Department Head, Counseling and Student Affairs; Larry Snyder, Interim Associate Provost for Research and Creative Activity, Office of Research and Creative Activities; Jean Neils-Strunjas, Department Head, Communication Sciences and Disorders; Harvey Wallmann, Interim Department Head, Allied Health; J. Christopher (Chris) Watkins, Executive Director, Training and Technical Assistance Services; Travis Wilson, Interim Department Head, Family and Consumer Sciences.

Contact: Public Affairs, (270) 745-4295

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