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“Growth Happens Here.”

It was the theme for the faculty and staff fall convocation at Eastern Kentucky University on Tuesday, Aug. 16, but no one had to attend the annual event to know that.

The signs are evident any direction you look on the Richmond campus:

·         continued construction of the second phase of the University’s New Science Building. When joined to the first phase, the facility will be the largest of its type in the Commonwealth when it opens in January 2018.

·         two new residence halls slated to open in Fall 2017.

·         a new dining hall scheduled for completion in late 2017.

·         a Scholar House, a residential facility for single parents, set to open in the summer of 2017. The facility is funded primarily by the Kentucky Housing Corporation and will be managed by Kentucky River Foothills.

·         a new pedestrian gateway, Turner Gate, and adjacent Carloftis Gardens near the intersection of Lancaster Avenue and Barnes Mill Road.

·         improvements to baseball and softball facilities. 

Add to that plans to build a parking garage, renovate the Powell Student Union, build a new recreation center, construct a pedestrian bridge (architect's rendering below) across the Eastern By-Pass near Keene Hall and Alumni Coliseum, and more.

Similar progress is occurring on other fronts:

·         near-record enrollment, with an increasingly well-prepared student body.

·         a newly opened Student Success Center.

·         steady improvement in retention and graduation rates.

·         a record fund-raising year.

·         the division of the College of Arts and Sciences into the College of Science and the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS).

·         recent recognition from the Chronicle of Higher Education as a “Great College to Work For.” Only 68 colleges and universities nationwide (and only two large four-year institutions in Kentucky) were named to the list.

·         a new Quality Enhancement Plan focused on motivating students to come to class prepared for deeper learning, developing their critical reading skills to promote critical thinking and independent learning, and teaching them to read with purpose.

Little wonder that the most common word heard from President Michael Benson at the convocation was “excited.”

Perhaps the second most common term was “change.” Much of that change stems from dwindling state appropriations. Compared to 2008, Benson noted, the University receives $2,000 less per student in state support.

“That is the reality, and there’s nothing we can do about that reality, other than react in a positive way,” Benson told faculty and staff. He quoted Gen. Eric Shinseki, who once said, “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.”

Responding to that change, the University has sought more creative ways to finance campus improvements, whether a new facility, landscape feature, or program enhancements. For example, one public-private partnership is funding the two new residence halls and parking garage. A long-term agreement with Aramark includes the new dining hall, financed by the University’s long-time dining services vendor. A student fee is financing the upcoming Powell renovations and new recreation center.

Whatever its nature, the growth at EKU, where 41 percent are first-generation college students, is resonating across Kentucky. Benson noted that 89 percent of EKU’s students come from Kentucky and 76 percent of EKU degree holders are employed in the Bluegrass State one year after graduation. Both represent the state’s highest percentage among all public four-year institutions. Most go on to serve in positions critical to quality of life in the Commonwealth, including health care providers, first responders and educators.

In last year’s convocation address, Benson focused on the three P’s of People, Places and Programs. In his closing remarks this year, he chose the same letter but talked instead of staying positive (“It’s too easy to dwell on the negatives.”), patient (“Good things come to those who wait.”) and persistent (“Continuing high quality work is the answer to many problems.”).