It was as much a celebration as a convocation.
Eastern Kentucky University President Michael Benson, speaking at the annual event, recounted a litany of recent achievements at the institution and discussed some ongoing campus improvements, thanking faculty and staff for their contributions.
In fact, an EKU student opened the convocation to express his gratitude. Knate Bartosch, a senior anthropology major and Honors Program member from Triangle, Virginia, who was one of two winners nationally of the 2017 Award for Academic Achievement Abroad presented by The Forum on Education Abroad, said he had been “given incredible opportunities” at EKU, adding that he “would not have been successful without the hard work all of you do.”
In a lighthearted moment, Benson brought Dr. Nathan Jasinski to the stage to present the music professor a gift certificate (bought by the president) for an oil change at a local business. Jasinski, who Benson called a “road warrior extraordinaire,” and his family logged 8,000 miles in their minivan this summer, traveling all across the nation.
The EKU president, beginning his sixth year at the helm, went on to cite numerous accomplishments and improvements during what he called a “maroon-letter year” at the University:
- the opening of Phase 2 of the Science Building, now the largest facility of its type on any college campus in Kentucky. In September, the second phase will receive the prestigious LEED Gold award from the U.S. Green Building Council. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.) “We now have the facilities to match the quality of our faculty, staff and programs,” Benson said.
- the opening of a new parking garage, the first such facility on the Richmond campus.
- the opening of a new (stand-alone) dining hall, which has proven to be a popular hub of activity.
- continuing construction of a new, much larger, recreation center and ongoing renovations to the adjacent student union (Powell Building). While the new rec center is under construction, the president announced that all full-time, benefited EKU employees can sign up for free individual memberships (with a small fringe benefit tax applied) at the existing center through June 2019.
- various physical improvements inside and outside Model Laboratory School.
- a new faculty center in the Keen Johnson Building and a new Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning in the John Grant Crabbe Main Library.
- a $250,000 Faculty and Staff Innovation Pool, sponsored by the Board of Regents.
- a four-year graduation rate that has more than doubled in eight years. “It’s something to be proud of,” Benson said, “but we can do even better.”
- the highest freshman retention rate among Kentucky’s regional universities.
- private giving that is running well ahead of pace as the University prepares to enter the public phase of a capital campaign.
- numerous nationally prestigious honors for EKU students, faculty, staff and academic programs.
- the launch of a faculty-in-residence program in the new Martin Hall, with Dr. John Strada of the Department of Communication faculty serving in that role initially.
- the return of the Marching Colonels after it had briefly appeared that the activity would be eliminated due to budget cuts at the University.
- the Ohio Valley Conference Commissioner’s Cup for overall athletics excellence.
Benson also noted that finalists to become the University’s next provost will visit the campus for interviews this fall, probably in late September. It is hoped that the position will be filled by no later than January.
Move-In Day for EKU’s freshmen will be Friday, Aug. 17, with the first day of fall classes on Monday, Aug. 20.