Kansas is a big state. It’s easy to see that on a map, but only when you start to travel do you fully appreciate its size and diversity.
That’s what I’ve spent many days doing these first two months as chancellor – traveling the state that our university was founded to serve. These trips not only help me get to know Kansas but also serve as an opportunity to help Kansans better know KU.
That latter point, informing Kansans about the work we do at KU and why it should matter to them, is vitally important. But this mission is made more challenging by simple geography. Let me give you an example.
When I met with local education leaders in Liberal, they pointed out that the two Big 12 schools closest to them aren’t in Kansas – they’re in Oklahoma. And Boulder, Colo., is closer to their community than Lawrence is.
For students from western Kansas, Lawrence can seem a world away. So we must work that much harder to connect with the people and students from every corner of the state.
That’s important, because we want to attract accomplished students from throughout Kansas. We also want to ensure KU is open to students from various economic backgrounds, as well as welcoming to students who reflect Kansas’ increasingly diverse population.
Fortunately, we start with several advantages. The first is that KU is held in high regard throughout the state. Everywhere I’ve gone, from Pittsburg to Greensburg, people are proud of KU and believe we’re an asset to the state.
They’ve also noticed that KU and its affiliates have been more active throughout Kansas over the past several years, particularly in the western part of the state, and they appreciate that.
Secondly, there is a strong desire for greater partnerships and collaboration between KU and local educators, business leaders and elected officials. Many of these opportunities are in the area of workforce development, as there are significant shortages of skilled workers in a number of fields that KU can help meet.
If we can help Kansas students come to KU – whether from high school or a community college – earn their degrees, and then return home to start successful careers, that would benefit them, their communities and the entire state.
Ensuring the University of Kansas is truly the university for the entire state doesn’t mean we will not maintain our broader focus as an international research university. It simply means that we should seek additional opportunities for partnerships and meaningful collaborations with institutions and individuals throughout Kansas. There are many models to follow, some examples of which you can learn about at www.kuworks.ku.edu.
I’m going to continue my travels. In fact, I’m in Salina today to welcome the latest member of the Midwest Cancer Alliance and to visit assistant professor Raquel Alexander’s tax research class, which is holding a seminar for non-profit organizations as part of its service-learning work.
In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be visiting Colby and making a second trip to Garden City, as well as visiting KU alumni in Texas as part of our nationwide outreach.
As I travel, I plan to continue learning about this great state and to continue spreading the message that KU is not only the University of Kansas, but also the University for Kansas.