From the President
Top of the News
Alumni Programs
Focus on SC
Builders of Excellence
Alumni Notes
Special Features
Email Us

Built in the Rain

Anyone can have a good time when the sun is shining.

And, of course, sun was what was expected for the very first BuilderCamp. It was mid-August in Kansas, for heaven’s sake. The sun always shines in mid-August in Kansas.

When student life director Xavier Whitaker ’96 first proposed that all of SC’s new freshman students should have the 2 1/2 –day experience off-site, he was drawing on his experience at other colleges. At a small college, retention of new students is essential to the success of the school, and BuilderCamp could give a boost to this vital factor, he explained.

“In the eight times I’ve taken groups on this kind of experience, it’s never failed to draw them together as a group,” he said.

The time spent before campus and after home is crucial for instilling a sense of unity, Whitaker said, for explaining the traditions of the college, for promoting enthusiasm for its academic excellence, for introducing new friends—for building Builders.

Of course, that was assuming sun.

For the first night and morning of the Rock Springs Ranch camp, BuilderCamp had sunshine.
It was warm and bright while students met in groups, while Dawn Pleas-Bailey rode a horse. The sun continued to beam during canoe trips and archery and more small group discussions.

But then, at about lunchtime of the first full day these students were Moundbuilders, it began to rain.
This wasn’t just a minor drizzle. It rained a lot. Enough that plans for any outdoor activity were cancelled, and the students were forced inside for board games and movies.

That was the point at which a new freshman marched up to an administrator with a notepad and said, “Take this down. I want people to know that this is the most fun I’ve ever had in my whole life. People are so nice, and they really let you be yourself.”

Anyone can have a good time when the sun is shining. These new Moundbuilders, in the fall of 2004, were forged in the rain.

Professional Studies evolves to meet demand

Imagine a college student, a typical Moundbuilder. What does that person look like?
If you graduated more than 15 years ago, your student prototype probably is 19 or so, a high school graduate, takes classes on The Hill, depends on parents for financial support, and plans to graduate in four or five years depending on the major.

But if you graduated in the last decade or so, you might be thinking something entirely different.

Many Southwestern College students are working adults; they think of themselves as employees in careers first, and as learners second. This student has family obligations that might include both young children and aging parents. There's a good chance she's in the military.

The face of college education is changing, and it's changing Southwestern College along with it.

Ten years after the first classes opened for business at Winfield's Downtown Professional Studies Center, 675 learners are enrolled in professional studies programs in four sites and online. (In addition, 154 graduate students are working to complete master's degrees in business administration or education.)

SC's professional studies students now live and work throughout south central Kansas and northern Oklahoma, and attend classes in Wichita and Winfield. They also live and work in a total of 43 states and in Korea, Mexico, Germany, Iraq, Italy, and Afghanistan. Many never set foot in a classroom—they earn their college credit fully online.

"We are confident that Southwestern can be competitive with any other educational provider when it comes to delivering coursework that is relevant, academically sound, and convenient for the learner," says Karen Pedersen, vice president for professional studies.

As a result, SC became one of the first providers of online degree completion in the area, and survived a rigorous competition to be chosen a provider of online education for service members through the eArmyU program.

This success has come despite a relatively late entry into the adult education field.

When President Carl Martin first considered Southwestern's entry into the degree completion arena during the early 1990s, he knew he was late catching this wave. Fellow United Methodist administrators on the coasts already were talking about revitalizing their student bodies—an on-campus population of under a thousand might be bolstered by three times that many adult learners off campus.

"I got so embarrassed," Martin recalls. "That set up the dynamic in which I personally saw the need for some innovation here, some kind of change. I got the message from the national environment I was seeing, and I saw we weren't fitting in."

But while the national environment was ripe for change, the on-campus environment at Southwestern was less amenable. Some faculty members and administrators were concerned that a focus on adult learners would distract from the college's traditional emphasis on younger, full-time students.

Into this climate stepped Marvin Hafenstein. With experience in the aircraft industry and light manufacturing, Hafenstein was unburdened by academic tradition. He was convinced that adult learners with some college credit needed a place to finish their degrees, and that Southwestern College should be that place.

"I had folks from General Electric come in and talk to the faculty to get approval of the new program," Martin recalls. Ultimately the approval came but, as Martin notes, "I remember that meeting distinctly because the two dynamics going on were `here is momentum and change,' and `resistance to change.'"
Hafenstein investigated what other colleges were offering, helped devise a curriculum, found a location downtown, and on June 9, 1994, helped open the Winfield Downtown Professional Studies Center. The first session boasted 19 enrollments.
A year later, enrollment stood at 117, an increase of 500 percent, and a trend was set that would continue as three additional centers were opened in Wichita.

The first center set the tone for future initiatives in professional studies. Courses were delivered in the place and style most appropriate for these nontraditional students, most of whom had full-time employment or family commitments. Most often a three-credit-hour class lasted six weeks, one evening per week.

The success spread to Wichita, where a center opened in 1996 attracted 18 enrollments the first session—and a year later had 175 enrollments.

Professional studies philosophy of operation has been marked by agility of programming, and by the conviction that education is best received when it is delivered to match the convenience of the learner. Classes can be presented at a workplace, if demand warrants; some classes can be applied to certification standards as well as to graduation requirements.

Majors, too, are implemented and decommissioned as demand warrants. Because the majority of professional studies professors are not full-time faculty members (and those who are generally have on-campus teaching responsibilities), more agility in response to program demands is possible.

Now the focus on increasing enrollment is shifting to expansion of market. The college is exploring expansion of professional studies instruction into Oklahoma. And the success of the professional studies center at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita has led to additional marketing of the program at military bases throughout the United States.

"We believe SC's online education is ideally suited to the learners in the military," Pedersen explains. "Service members with some college education can enroll in online classes, and with a computer and internet connection, can continue their education no matter where they are deployed."

SC program representatives are being hired with this goal in mind; two full-time representatives are assigned as liaisons to military personnel, and about a quarter of professional studies marketing budget is dedicated to military audiences.

So what does the future hold for professional studies?

Pedersen points to the new initiatives in Oklahoma City, and to the increased emphasis on online learning, but the future is unlimited.

"We will, at some point, have a learner in every single state and in dozens of countries around the world," Pedersen says. "Southwestern has, and will continue to have, a longer reach than anyone can imagine."

Seven Traits of Nontraditional Students

A 1996 article on the nontraditional student by the U.S. Department of Education identified seven traits as typical. Students are considered "minimally nontraditional" if they have one of these characteristics; "highly nontraditional" learners have four or more. SC's professional studies programs are aimed at highly nontraditional learners.

In a study done five years ago, almost exactly the same percentage of students were found to be highly nontraditional (28 percent) as traditional (27 percent). The remainder had some of the following nontraditional traits:

• 1 • Does not enter postsecondary education in the same calendar year that he or she finished high school.

• 2 • Attends part time.

• 3 • Works full time.

• 4 • Is considered financially independent for purposes of determining eligibility for financial aid.

• 5 • Has dependents other than a spouse.

• 6 • Is a single parent.

• 7 • Does not have a high school diploma—completed high school with a GED or other high school completion certificate, or did not complete high school.