For two decades, the Kansas Honors Program has been saluting the state's top high school seniors and encouraging them to attend college in Kansas.
And while they wouldn't mind seeing the state's brightest students enroll at Kansas University, program officials say the key is for students to attend the college that's right for them. Sometimes it's a regional university. Sometimes it's KU.
Brett Fuller, as the new director of constituent programs for the KU Alumni Association, is overseeing the honors program. In that role since April of this year, Fuller said he is fortunate to direct a program which has a 20-year history of supporting the state's leading high school students.
"We're starting to see businessmen and businesswomen in the area who were Kansas honor students," said Fuller, himself a 1989 graduate of KU with a degree in economics.
SINCE THE honors program began in 1971, it has recognized nearly 50,000 students. Currently, about 3,000 students are honored each year through 39 regional programs that take in the state's 105 counties.
To be nominated, a student must be a graduating senior ranking in the top 10 percent of his or her class, based upon the previous semester's academic records.
The program is one of several alumni association programs for KU sponsored by the Second Century Fund, an endowment established through major gifts to KU, and the Crowell Book Award Fund, established by Atchison attorney and businessman Frank Grant Crowell.
Crowell, who earned his undergraduate degree at KU in 1888, completed law and graduate degrees as well. He practiced law in Atchison and served as Atchison county attorney and as a member of the Kansas Board of Regents.
He began a career as a grain merchant, banker and insurance executive in 1901, becoming a nationally known authority in grain trade. He died in 1936, leaving the KU Endowment Association $2 million, and the association used the fund, in part, to establish the Crowell Book Award and a scholarship and unrestricted opportunity fund.
THE BOOK AWARD provides for the American Heritage Dictionary, which is presented to every Kansas Honor Scholar, Fuller said. The dictionary features a Jayhawk on its cover.
Fuller said the Crowell Book Award has been a plus in keeping the program operating within a budget. While other universities are trying to find funding to implement such a program, KU is fortunate to have those funds in place as needed for the honors program. Likewise, he said, KU is fortunate to have alumni such as Crowell providing these opportunities for future students.
"It's allowed us to continue another strong tradition," Fuller said.
KU alumni scattered across the state are involved in the individual programs, helping sponsor the dinners for the honored students or serving as volunteers and county coordinators helping organize the regional programs, Fuller said.
A KU graduate from the area usually serves as master of ceremonies. All those assisting in the regional events are listed in the programs.
"It's very rewarding to do this," Fuller said.
Terri Wendland, administrative assistant for the honors program, said the awards include an engraved Kansas Honors Program certificate signed by KU Chancellor Gene Budig.
WENDLAND SAID students, their parents and their high school representatives, as well as local alumni from the region, are invited to the programs.
Each program includes a dinner as well as featured KU speaker, usually a chancellor or a dean or a vice chancellor, she said. The high school representatives then introduce the honored students.
Covering all of the state's 105 counties is quite a chore, Wendland said. Programs begin in late September and run through November, then start again in late February and run through the first part of May.
Fuller said he plans no drastic changes to the program, which continues to gain alumni support across the state.
"I'll try to fine tune some things," he said. "I have some ideas I think will put a little spice into it."
Among those ideas is taking some members of the KU Student Alumni Association to mingle with the students.
It's not intended to be a full-scale recruiting session, but Fuller said he doesn't mind a bit of subtle recruitment when the mingling begins. But program participants are careful to promote other colleges as well as KU, he said.
"WE'RE PROMOTING staying within the state of Kansas," Fuller said.
At the same time, he said with a smile, the tables are decorated with Jayhawks so the students will have a clear idea of who is sponsoring the event.
Fuller said he plans to have all the site coordinators approximately 125 people visit the KU campus this fall for a football game weekend to show KU's appreciation for their assistance throughout the year.