Fall 2006

Convocation Day


Like most any other august institution, Wichita State has its share of traditions. Some, like Hippodrome, have survived through generations of Shockers; others may not have such lengthy pedigrees, but enjoy a level of popularity that bodes well for their longevity. Convocation, for example.

The annual WSU Convocation ceremony was established in 2000. Primarily the brainchild of Vice President of Student Affairs Ron Kopita, the event is an official kickoff to the school year, open to all who attend the university. This year’s, the seventh, drew roughly 3,500 students, faculty and staff to Charles Koch Arena.

“We definitely had more than last year,” reports Kim Sandlin, assistant director of admissions and a key member of the Convocation planning committee, “because we had to open up two more sections for seating.”

The jump in attendance mirrors an increase in enrollment this year. According to figures released by the Kansas Board of Regents, 14,298 students enrolled for the fall semester — 222 more than one year ago. Though this represents an overall increase of only 1.6 percent, enrollment among Sedgwick County residents is up 4.4 percent from fall 2005, a fact Kopita attributes to in-county scholarships and redoubled local recruitment efforts.

Seven years ago, there was no official ceremony welcoming these new students to campus. Kopita says he and then-new WSU President Don Beggs put their heads together to remedy the situation, hoping to ease the alienation and uncertainty faced by many young students in the unfamiliar environment of university life.


“In the summer of 1999 President Beggs and I began talking about it,” Kopita relates. “He didn’t know what it should look like, but he wanted a fall kickoff celebration to bring together staff, students and faculty.”

Drawing on the resources of the New Student Orientation Committee, Kopita helped shape the nascent event. “We brainstormed a great deal and came up with a number of ideas that for the most part were shot down. But we decided it should be a kind of quasi-pep rally, providing incentives for students such as free T-shirts and lunch, a flag competition and speakers. The basic format has not changed since the fall of 2000.”

The format is simple but effective in helping welcome students to campus and encouraging them to take part in campus life. In this year’s ceremony, the basketball pep band and cheer squad started the festivities, upping the pep factor among the assembled crowd, before giving way to a series of short speeches by three of WSU’s head coaches (Chris Lamb, Jane Albright and Mark Turgeon), President Beggs, associate professor of psychology Rhonda Lewis and student government president Thanh Long Huynh.

In addition, the a cappella choir sang the alma mater (as well as a lovely arrangement of “Loch Lomond”), the dance squad put on an energetic show, the winners of the annual flag competition were announced and a video was screened highlighting the activities of various clubs and campus organizations.

And if all that wasn’t enough, there was a picnic lunch outside afterward. Hundreds of students milled around in their free golden-yellow T-shirts, devouring the provided sandwiches, chips and ice cream bars, as a student jazz combo performed in the open air. Nearby, friends from the music department sat in a circle listening to the music and chatting.

“I’m looking forward to lots of stuff this year,” says Rachel Gerber, a sophomore majoring in trombone performance. “Especially the basketball games, because I play in the pep band. Free games! And I just moved into my own apartment, so I’m going to be having lots of fun hanging out in my own place with my friends.”

WSU spirit squad

Freshman Aaron Teel, an aeronautical engineering major, shares a sense of excitement in regard to the new school year. “It’s pretty cool so far,” Teel says. “It’s been interesting getting into groups, socializing with new people. It’s kind of a shock after high school. The teachers here aren’t always breathing down your neck, so you can study at your own pace. I like it a lot.”

Actively participating in campus life is exactly the point of Convocation, according to Dr. Beggs. “Convocation gives us an opportunity to say it’s okay to take part in student groups,” he says.

“When we lose students, too often it’s due to isolation. Students don’t feel they have anyone to relate to when they have problems. Being a part of a group builds peer relations, a support structure to help overcome any difficulties they might face.”

Student Government Association President Thanh Long Huynh agrees, saying, “Convocation is great because it gets people excited about participation in student body activities. It’s good for the students and for the university when the students feel like they have more of a personal investment in the school.”

“I’m really excited about this year,” Huynh adds, “and I think we’ll get a lot accomplished.”

Students present at the picnic, which (remarkably) took place in nigh-perfect weather, have in common an enthusiasm for the year to come, though the details vary widely.

Thomas Stanley, a freshman majoring in psychology, is stoic: “I’m just planning to work hard and get my  education.”


Pranav Masana, an electrical engineering major, looks back as much as forward, saying, “Wichita State has been a good time for me. I’m graduating this semester. I will have a party, search for a job and go home to India.”

Carley Gregory, a sophomore, is thrilled to find herself accepted to an exclusive program. “I start the med tech program in the spring,” she says. “I just found out about a month ago that I had been accepted, and I applied for it like two years ago! It’s quite competitive. Anyway, I’m really excited.”

A pair of sophomore roommates majoring in violin performance, Ashley Huyck and Amy Schumann, anticipate a new year making beautiful music; Huyck offers, “I’m looking forward to learning to play the violin better. I love going to school here in the music building — it’s fun!”

Schumann, who proudly shows off her beloved book of Mozart sheet music, claims, “I’m excited to work with the new orchestra conductor.”

Huyck then adds with a laugh, “We’re losers, though; in our spare time we just sit around drinking lots  of coffee and tea and eating sushi and playing music.”

According to Sandlin, organizers of the first Convocation six years ago  worried that few students would bother to show; the debut ceremony in 2000 was held in the much smaller Wilner Auditorium. “But we filled it the first year,” she says, “and it’s been that way every year. Standing room only from year one.”

And with a track record like that, it’s easy to imagine that this is one Wichita State tradition that will be with us for generations to come.


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