Dr. Gunderson focusing on inclusive year for students

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Dr. Gunderson focusing on inclusive year for students

Logan Freeman, Multimedia Editor

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“I am really excited,” he began with a smile. “The summer is very boring without the students around. Some staff and I were commenting now that everyone’s back, we have a certain amount of energy and life on campus, and I enjoyed the first week tremendously with all the activities. I participated in almost everything I could, and it’s always a joy to see the freshman show up a little shy, and then by the end of the first week, they aren’t as shy, so it’s been a lot of fun.”

Park University President Greg Gunderson, Ph.D., described the university’s plans for the 2016-17 academic year, including Park’s biggest upcoming theme: inclusion.

“At convocation,” he began, “we outlined some of our major objectives. One of them is to make this our year of inclusion, so we’re bringing in speakers, and we’re going to engage and invest in activities, all designed to stress how important inclusion has been for 141 years at Park, and how incredibly important it is for our community for us to display those values. Kansas City, Missouri, and the United states would all benefit from a broader dialogue on inclusion, and we plan to play a leadership role in that.”

Dr. Gunderson elaborated on what exactly a year of inclusion means and what it will look like.

“We want to focus on inclusion in two aspects,” he said. “There are people who feel marginalized in a number of situations, and we want to engage with them in a conversation about being proactive. So if you feel marginalized, step up and proactively address your situation. For our students, faculty and staff, for people who don’t feel marginalized, we have an obligation to look for those who need a hand up and to reach out and engage in dialogue. So we plan to examine it from both perspectives,” he said. “ I think, we will find as we get into this, is some students will feel marginalized in one situation, and others in a different [one]. I think we will discover many of the people here at this university at one time or another have felt like if we were a triangle, they were the low point. It’s all something we really share in common, so as a result we all share equally in the obligation since we know how that feels to not have other people feel the same way.”

To aid in the execution of Park’s year of inclusion, Dr. Gunderson mentioned Woodrow Wilson scholars who will visit the campus and surrounding area.

“We’re bringing in some Woodrow Wilson scholars,” he said, “each to spend a week with us, and I’ll be doing classes seminars, and roundtable discussions. The Woodrow Wilson Institute identifies faculty nationally and makes them available to universities; you can acquire their services, and they will come to campus for one week, and during that week, they will do activities on campus and off campus as we and they see fit. Both of our speakers that are being brought in together have experience, studied, and published related to gender, and race, and politics.

“The gentleman who’s coming, Dr. Shipley, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and Anita Perez-Ferguson is, nationally and internationally, a speaker on issues such as gender and race. We’re hoping that the two of them will enlighten not just our faculty, not just our students, but we’re hoping to involve and engage the community as well,” he said.

Campus building projects were another thing on Dr. Gunderson’s mind, including new food service options, along with a new building for the School of Business and the Warrior Center.

“The board,” he explained, “has given us authorization to begin fundraising for a new building that would be the home of not only our business school, but also our Warrior Center. It’s planned to be off of our main entrance, where the Park house is currently. We have some preliminary designs, and we hope to engage in some fundraisers, sort of a silent phase, and then a more public phase. We already have some gifts, and we feel pretty confident we’re well on our way to meeting our objectives in terms of fundraising. Beyond that, we’re looking at a host of other projects. One thing that’s going to be happening in Thompson Hall in October, working with Sodexo, there’s going to be a sandwich and smoothie shop where the coffee store used to be.”

As Dr. Gunderson further explained the new sandwich shop, he evaluated how vital the voice of the student body is to decision making.

“It’s like a Panera sort of a setup,” he said, “so there’s more customization of the product for the individual. Their concept is somewhere between kind of a Jimmy John’s and a Panera.”

He said construction is set to start in September and is expected to be finished in October.

“We’re planning to involve students this year in a review of services. We think it’s prudent to involve students in evaluating not only [staying] with Sodexo, but then what kind of food options we want. Really, it’s going to be about what food services students want, what they’re willing to pay for, and our capacity to absorb that within our current footprint or building a new building.”

Speaking of that potential new cafeteria, President Gunderson outlined some ideas for what could be the future of the eating space.

“We know our cafeteria in its entirety,” he said, “either has to be gutted, completely renovated or a new facility has to be built, and we’re looking to what our options are there. We’ve thought about where Labor Hall is, putting it on a third floor on top, and we’re having architects do an analysis and looking into that.”

The hours the cafeteria has been open in the past have been less-than-satisfying to many students. Dr. Gunderson said the upcoming changes are an opportunity to evaluate different schedules for the cafeteria.

“One of the great things with the food service that we’re opening here,” he said, “is it’ll give a chance to test different time frames. Clearly, we have students [who], because of the sports activities they’re involved in, or because of their religious affiliation, have unique needs that affect not only what they eat, but when they should eat it. That’s something, as we get Student Government involved, and form a student task force to evaluate this, the student body will give us clear feedback about what’s most important.”

Dr. Gunderson also highlighted some of the projects the university completed over the summer.

“We’ve done a number of projects this summer,” he said, “to enhance the physical appearance of the campus, and its functioning. Students may have noticed a lack of potholes when they came back, as the the blacktop has been re-blacktopped, and I’m really looking forward this year to continue to having extensive involvement with the students.”

In closing, Dr. Gunderson offered a challenge to the students of Park University.

“I challenge all our students on campus to participate the most they can in every aspect of student life,” he said. “[The] opportunities to meet new people, to see the world a different way and to get the most out of their education, all that benefits from their involvement, and they will see me at events, they’ll see me in the cafeteria. I’m very excited for the year we have coming up, and I’m looking forward to all the interesting things we have coming up, have done, and will continue to do.”


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