Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little on Wednesday reiterated her focus on graduation rates and fundraising and told KU community members to follow opportunities that presented themselves.
Speaking at the 144th Opening Convocation at KU, Gray-Little drew upon her own personal background to encourage students, faculty and staff to demonstrate the value of a college education.
She spoke after receiving a standing ovation from a nearly full Lied Center crowd after having watched a video showing pictures and video taken throughout KU’s history.
Gray-Little said growing up in Washington, N.C., she had support from her parents, nuns at her Catholic high school and her college professors in pursuing her degree.
“My life would have been radically different had I not finished college,” Gray-Little said. “I don’t know where I would have ended up, but I’m sure it would not be here on this stage.”
She repeated to the audience what she told the search committee and the regents that hired her that her three main goals will be increasing undergraduate graduation rates, raising KU’s scholarly and research profiles and ensuring the university has the money to accomplish those goals.
KU has made strides in the past, Gray-Little said, but noted that 32 percent of freshmen have graduated after four years, and 60 percent after six years.
“Far too many students who begin college do not finish it,” she said. “The hopes of the first day of college turn to regrets, with the stigma of dropping out only adding to the financial cost of not finishing.”
Much of her upcoming time will be spent meeting with members of the KU community on campus and around the state, she said. She’ll be looking for KU’s strengths and areas that need improvement.
She referenced KU’s ongoing effort to achieve National Cancer Institute designation, and said the university should continue to focus on expanding undergraduate research and ensuring the school has the resources necessary for facilities to compete for outside funding for research.
Students should be sure to notice courses that interest them outside their disciplines, and follow the path where it leads should it spark an interest in a new career, Gray-Little said. Faculty members should pursue inspirations to pursue new lines of inquiry or ways they can improve KU by changing an old way of doing business, she added.
“None of us know exactly where this voyage will take us or what will happen along the way,” Gray-Little said. “But I do know we’re all eager to find out. Let’s take the first step together.”
It was a message that resonated with Christina Davis, a freshman from Prairie Village, who begins classes today.
“She seems really cool,” Davis said of the school’s new chancellor. “I believe in doing what you love and following your own path.”