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Spring 2019 Campus Message

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Dear EKU Students, Faculty and Staff,

 As another semester comes to a close, it’s time to celebrate the ultimate Eastern Experience: graduation. It is one of my favorite events as an intersection of opportunity, academic success, campus experiences, lifelong relationships, students, faculty, staff, friends and family all come together. I always look forward to the feelings that permeate campus this time of year — the overwhelming sense of pride, the impressive celebration of accomplishment, and the excitement and anticipation about what the future has in store. 

Commencement is a campus event that truly includes everyone at EKU and beyond. Regardless of your race, gender, orientation, social status, economic standing, age or creed, everyone shares the Colonel Pride when one of our EKU family receives their diploma. 

I commend and applaud those who will walk across the stage very soon. Always remember, your degree from EKU does not take a back seat to any degree, from any college, anywhere in the world. Display it with pride. You have earned it and you deserve all the opportunities it will afford you in life.

For those who will be returning to EKU next semester, we are all extremely excited to have you back on campus to continue your education. I know it will feel like a blink of an eye until I will be shaking your hand as you receive your diplomas in the near future.

Every semester at Eastern is similar but also unique. The 2019 spring semester was no exception. This particular semester, we have enjoyed much success while facing our share of hardship as well.

In April, one year ago, the Board of Regents passed the budget recommendations presented by the Budget Advisory Committee. The breadth and depth of actions taken represented a perfect storm of budget cuts, performance funding contributions and pension obligations. I know this has been difficult for the entire campus. All departments and offices have felt the impact. Sobering as it is, I am both humbled and inspired by the ability of our faculty, staff and students to come together, focus on our mission and provide students with the best possible campus experience and education.

As you have undoubtedly heard, a decision about the pension obligation still looms on the near horizon. It is a reminder that we must continue to be vigilant about money and continue to increase institutional efficiencies and reduce redundancies. Our Budget Implementation Team is working successfully to realize the budget recommendations ratified in April 2018. Beyond the work of the committee, I implore you to call upon your EKU associates and find ways to partner with each other. It is crucial that we realize savings and develop unique initiatives that position the institution as a leader in educational innovation. One important way to do that is through teamwork.

Aside from its pertinence to our agriculture program, I would prefer the word “silo” to be omitted from our institutional vocabulary in reference to our University work environment. If we as an institution and as individuals look to partner with colleagues outside of our silos, I am positive we will discover many opportunities to save dollars and enjoy outstanding accomplishments. Working together helps our employees and students to be better people, and EKU to be a better place.

A good example of this occurred April 24. We held the first EKU Giving Day. Getting the operation off the ground required many areas of the University to work in tandem. The result was well beyond the initial goal. In the end, we had more than 740 donors in 24 hours! It shows the power and willingness of our Colonel Community to support the University. This work serves as a call to action for all areas of campus to do everything they can to make a difference at EKU. I mention events like this in order to set a work expectation for 2019-2020.

Enrollment

As the main artery of financial stability for EKU, we must foster our ability to attract and retain students. The educational excellence that EKU offers is second to none. We must become the first choice for Kentucky citizens and beyond. Our first step is to be a champion for EKU. 

Most of us know a high school junior or senior. Take the time to talk to them. Let them know that EKU is a great choice for their educational advancement and future career. Word of mouth is very powerful. We are all recruiters. 

Use your personal experience to help new students realize their potential at Eastern. During the past two weeks, Coach A.W. Hamilton of our men’s basketball team and I have been visiting local high school students to try and encourage them to pursue educational opportunities — a certificate or degree program or any type of post-secondary training — as a way to prepare for whatever lies ahead.

Coach Hamilton has shared his own story of how his lack of focus on academics in high school limited his scholarship opportunities. His ACT score as a junior at Scott County High School was 16 and, despite being one of the top five players in the entire state of Kentucky, he was not getting any scholarship offers. Upon graduation, Coach Hamilton entered Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia, for the express purpose of improving his academic standing and bettering his test scores. He did exactly that and was offered scholarships from Big 12, Big 10, SEC and ACC institutions. Wake Forest University, one of the ACC’s four schools ranked among the top 30 universities in America, offered Coach Hamilton a full scholarship. His story is one of commitment, hard work, and the power of education to achieve one’s goals. Coach Hamilton and I are fully committed to doing whatever it takes to help tell the EKU story and help recruit more students to our campus and we hope we can count on you to do the same. 

Signature Programs

Without the degrees EKU provides, communities would suffer. Imagine your hometown without nurses, teachers, fire officials, law enforcement, social workers, construction managers or business leaders. EKU powers communities with our graduates. It is obvious from Giving Day that Colonels are in every county in the state and in every state in the nation. We will continue to focus on areas of employment that need an educated workforce. Aviation is one example of a profession that is in high demand. From pilots, aviation management professionals to, coming in early 2020, aviation mechanics, EKU is answering the call as we expand and are responsive to an ever-changing workforce.

Campus Inclusion

A hallmark of the campus experience is the opportunity to gain exposure to people and cultures that are different than one’s own. I have enjoyed several opportunities this semester to explore EKU’s diverse culture. We enjoy a wonderfully rich complement of people who are extremely important to the EKU story. We have to focus on success in this area.

Being inclusive is not a line in a campus message but must be intentionally woven into the fabric of our day-to-day operation. We will continue working to make strides in this area with our students, faculty and staff. Colonels care about what is right. That means caring about everyone, all the time. I look forward to discovering enhancements for our entire campus community and continuing these vital conversations.

The Future

As we move toward summer break, please think about ways you can reach out to other areas within the institution to accomplish your goals. When we reconvene in August, I have great expectations that EKU will rise to meet multiple challenges. We will overcome them to assume our place as the School of Opportunity.

In recognition of last weekend’s Kentucky Derby, if I had naming rights, my pick would be named “Colonel Spirit” (although as an historian, I went with Tacitus as my pick!). “Colonel Spirit” would earn its name from the incomparable force that our people create on this campus. It is the main cog that composes the Eastern Experience.

By the way, congratulations to the EKU band for performing at Churchill Downs as part of the Thurby event. Go Marching Colonels!

Finally, our nation’s birthday this year – July 4th – falls on a Thursday. In order for our students, faculty and staff to spend more time with family and friends and enjoy this significant holiday, EKU will be closed on July 4th and 5th.  

I thank each and every person at EKU for their contributions to this great University. Be safe, enjoy the summer and I look forward to welcoming you all back to campus with renewed vigor for fall semester 2019.

Yours sincerely,
Mike Benson

Published on May 07, 2019

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