State of the University 2017



Kennesaw State University President Sam Olens


State of the University Spring 2017

Good morning, and welcome to the 2017 State of the University address.  Thank you for taking the time to join me today.

As you know, Kennesaw State has experienced a lot of change over the past year, and it is now my honor to serve as the 4th President of this great institution.

Based on the tremendous work by the entire campus community, I believe that together we have made many strides over the past six months, and today I can report that the state of the University is good.

Today, I will provide you with an update on our progress over the past six months, share with you some highlights from around the university, and offer a look ahead.

When I joined Kennesaw State in November 2016, I promised to listen, learn and to make informed decisions. Those efforts have added up to a lot of meetings and a lot of missed lunches. Since my first day, I have:

  • Conducted town hall meetings with faculty, staff and students;
  • Met with more than 400 individual faculty, staff and students;
  • Participated in more than 50 group meetings with campus governing bodies and other campus groups; and
  • Met with more than 60 donors, prospective donors, civic leaders and business groups, and potential partners.

But every meeting and every missed lunch has been worth it. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: the energy at this University is palpable, and it is clear that the community is engaged with Kennesaw State and excited about what we are doing.

When I began at KSU, I said that I would entrust and rely on Provost Harmon, his staff and our faculty to lead the academic mission of the university, while I focused more on improving operations and fundraising. So let me provide you with an update on some of the operational changes we have made:

  • Following receipt of the 2 audits from the University System, we are moving forward, revising much needed policies and procedures, so that the operations division will function more effectively. This is especially critical for a university that has grown as fast as ours and has brought together two very distinct cultures – Kennesaw State and Southern Polytechnic.
  • We have made many improvements in these areas but still have more work to do to safeguard against further ethical lapses. To this end, one of our critical needs was to secure an operations team that could help lead us towards improving those areas. This meant that we had to move quickly on some key positions. Admittedly, some of these positions may have moved forward a bit quicker than some of us are comfortable with, but it was important to get these people in place so that we could start moving forward.

While you probably know most of these folks already, I’d like to make sure that we put some faces to the names if you’re here, when I call your name; please stand:

      Chief Business Officer Julie Peterson

      Chief Information Officer Lectra Lawhorne

      Chief Legal Counsel Jeff Milsteen

      Chief Human Resources Officer Ann Burris.

This is a strong team, and I have confidence that they will help lead us as we all strive for greater accountability and transparency.

  • Staying on the staffing side, Jim Dunn, Chair-elect of the KSU Foundation, has graciously stepped in as Interim COO for the Foundation following Richard Corhen’s departure.
  • In this role, Jim is also chairing the search committee for the new Vice President of Development/Executive Director of the Foundation. This national search is being conducted by the Georgia Center for Nonprofits.
  • The committee members are Provost Harmon, Vice President for Student Affairs K.C. White, Chief Business Officer Julie Peterson, Chief Legal Counsel Jeff Milsteen, Special Assistant to the President Brenda Stopher, President of the Faculty Senate and Associate Professor of Information Security and Assurance Humayun Zafar, Foundation Trustees Steve Cadranel, Clark Hungerford, and Bob Prillaman. In addition, we will be adding a faculty member to the committee. The position has been posted, and we are optimistic that we will have a strong candidate pool from which to choose. The goal is to have that person in place by early summer.  We will keep you updated on our progress.
  • As I noted in my April Campus Update, Mike Dishman has been named Dean of the Graduate College, and on July 1 we will welcome Lynn Disbrow as the new Dean of University College. Dr. Disbrow is currently Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Huntingdon College.

Moving on to some other business:

  • As you probably know, the legislative session recently concluded, and I’d like to thank our state leaders for fully funding the USG formula. The funding formula is critical to our operation and also provides funding for merit raises. This year, we were also pleased that $5 million was approved by the state for the much needed renovations to the science lab on our Marietta Campus.
  • Next year, the KSU Governement Relations team will continue to work with the state to secure funding for the construction of the Academic Learning Center on the Kennesaw Campus, as well as engage with Congress and national agencies to bring more federal dollars to support KSU research efforts.
  • While we are on the topic of funds, I have been working with several people on the critical issue of  salary equity for both faculty and staff. Thanks to Rob Smith, we have completed the first phase of the Faculty Equity study, and Ann Burris and the HR team are now beginning the Staff Equity study.  Our plan is to achieve pay equity in both areas over the next four years.
  • Moving on to some other developments. In one of my recent monthly updates, I shared with you that the Chancellor has approved a new Fixed Seat Enrollment Model. This Model will strengthen enrollment management and increase the quality of incoming students. While this does mean that students who meet the university’s minimum requirements will no longer be guaranteed admission, it will help us better serve the students who are here so that they can get the classes and services they need to graduate on time. I want to thank Ken Harmon,  Kim West and Rob Smith for all of their help in this effort.

Let’s turn our attention to some recent highlights.

  • Kennesaw State’s programs continue to shine. The Executive MBA program in the Coles College of Business was recently ranked as the best in Georgia and ninth-best in the world by CEO Magazine. Meanwhile, the part-time MBA program was ranked #1 in Georgia and 28th nationally by US News & World Report.
  • The game design program in the College of Computing and Software Engineering was listed among the top 50 worldwide by The Princeton Review.
  • Kennesaw State was also designated a “Voter Friendly Campus,” one of 83 schools in the country and the only one in Georgia to be recognized by the National Student Affairs organization NASPA.
  • Our education abroad program, “Around the World in 80 Days,” earned the 2017 Innovation Award in Internationalization from the Association of International Education Administrators.
  • Fifth Third Bank Stadium was awarded Field of the Year for 2016, a national designation by Sports Turf Managers Association.
  • Cobb Travel and Tourism awarded our Owl-O-Ween Hot Air Balloon Festival as the top event in Cobb County. The two-day festival draws approximately 40,000 people to the university.
  • The College of the Arts opened the new 450-seat Dance Theater on the Marietta Campus. This is the Southeast region’s first theater designed specifically for dance and will be the performance home for the KSU Dance Company.
  • The Educational Leadership Department in the Bagwell College of Education is expanding its academic footprint by offering a doctorate in Higher Education Administration.  This major accomplishment aligns with KSU's goal to enhance graduate level programming and increases opportunities for leadership development within the USG system.  The Bagwell College of Education has also established a Research Consortium to support both faculty and students engaged in research activities.  
  • KSU’s D. program in Analytics and Data Science officially opened the Equifax Data Science Research Lab.
  • And the Board of Regents has approved new undergraduate and graduate degrees in cybersecurity, digital animation, and mechanical engineering.
  • Externally, I have been working with our Executive Director for Career Services, Ana Baida and her team, who are doing a great job expanding our partnerships with top employers in the metro area. Ana and I have had several very good meetings with employers who are excited about the recruitment prospects at KSU for internship and full-time employment opportunities.
  • IgniteHQ, KSU’s business incubator and accelerator, named its new Executive Director Mark Hubbard. Mark launched the Alpharetta Technology Commission and brings decades of management and capital markets experiences to IgniteHQ, and we are happy that he is here.
  • On the Athletics front, several of our teams have done extremely well:
    • Men’s Indoor Track & Field team won their 6th straight ASUN championship.
    • The Women's Indoor Track & Field won their first ASUN championship this season.
    • Men’s Golf won the ASUN conference championship; this is the second consecutive time the team will be going on to the NCAA Championship.
    • And Football won 8 games and was ranked in the Top 25 for the first time.

But it’s not just our programs and teams that are excelling. Our faculty and students are making us proud as well:  

Among our faculty and staff:

  • Numerous faculty received very prestigious grants from national research foundations, including Professors Martin Hudson for his research on neurological disorders and Marcus C. Davis for his research on birth defects
  • In fact, more than 165 Kennesaw State faculty, students and staff published their works in journals, conference proceedings and books during 2016, more than doubling the number of the previous year’s published authors.


  • Joya Carter-Hicks was selected to serve as a Governor’s Teaching Fellow.
  • The University System of Georgia named Ivan Pulinkala, the chair of our Dance Department, and Michael Sanseviro, Associate VP and Dean of Students, to their 2017 Accelerated Leadership Academy Scholars program.
  • Hillary Hettinger Steiner, Associate Professor of educational psychology in the Department of First-Year and Transition Studies, and Anissa Lokey Vega, associate professor of Instructional Technology, received awards of excellence from the University System of Georgia
  • Jennifer Purcell received the American Association of State Colleges & Universities John Saltmarsh Award for Emerging Civic Leaders.
  • The University System of Georgia's African-American Male Initiative team, led by KSU VP of Marketing Arlethia Perry-Johnson, continues to garner national support and recognition. The AAMI team has been awarded and is administering a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Congratulations to all of you. We are proud of your accomplishments.

As you can see, there are a lot of great things happening at KSU, but we cannot rest on our laurels.  We still have much more work to do:

  • KSU is known for its excellence in teaching. Our chief task, of course, is to provide an outstanding education for all of our students.  That also includes our graduate students. Under Dean Dishman’s leadership, I am confident that we will continue to grow these programs.
  • And of course research, as an R3 Carnegie designated University, it is part of our mission and goal to increase our research output. This is an exciting area and one where KSU has been gradually gaining steam. Through Kennesaw State’s Research and Services Foundation, we are stepping up our efforts to secure more federal grants in support of research activities.
  • Not to be overlooked is faculty service. Whether it’s to the university, to the broader community, or to academic disciplines and professional organizations, service is an important part of the mission of KSU. Internal service ensures appropriate governance and oversight.  Service beyond campus represents one of the greatest promises of higher education – to improve the lives of people near and far. I applaud and appreciate this contribution and recognize this as an essential component of academic citizenship.
  • Our SACSCOC re-accreditation is set for 2019, but there is a lot of work and planning yet to be done. Jorge Perez and his team in Institutional Effectiveness are providing stewardship as we prepare for this important milestone. A successful reaffirmation requires that everyone be committed to the effort. The information we gather – on both our accomplishments and our areas for improvement – will contribute to KSU becoming a stronger institution more capable of carrying out its mission.
  • One of the key elements of reaffirmation is the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), which we will submit to SACSCOC in February 2019. Seven subcommittees of the QEP Development Committee are meeting to develop a proposal on transformative learning. I am excited about the potential of the QEP to impact student learning and engagement at KSU.
  • Also, the OIE assessment team is reviewing and providing feedback on over 500 assessment plans in preparation for the second year of the Improve KSU continuous improvement initiative. Thank you for your inspired participation in this endeavor that is vital to KSU’s effectiveness as an institution.
  • Feedback from over 3,000 survey responses was incorporated into the 2017-2018 Bridge Strategic Plan that has entered the implementation phase, wherein sponsors and leads are being assigned to each action step under five strategic priorities. At the same time, I am working with OIE on processes for the development of KSU’s 2018-2023 Strategic Plan.
  • Additionally, KSU will host the 2019 National Conference on Undergraduate Research by the Council of Undergraduate Research. Hosting this event is a real coup for KSU, and plans have already begun to prepare the university to host the more than 4,000 undergraduates from across the country.
  • John Anderson and his team are doing a great job on KSU’s Master Plan. Our Plan envisions the physical future of KSU, with many renovation and construction projects that will support the University’s strategic goals and mission.
  • Finally, we are working with the Board of Regents to address the need for more student housing on both campuses.
  • As to the Kennesaw Campus, the new science labs on the fifth floor of the Science Lab Building should be completed this summer; and a renovation and addition to the English Building should be under construction by this summer.
  • On the Marietta Campus, in addition to the Dance Theater and the science lab renovations, additional improvements to the Johnson Library will be underway this summer, as will various improvements to the Wilson Student Center.

Let me be quite frank with you. These past six months have been challenging. There’s a lot to do and so much that I want to accomplish. But I can’t do it alone; we must work together.

It has been roughly 2 years since the Board of Regents finalized the consolidation of Kennesaw State and Southern Polytechnic, and I am convinced that together, we can become a world-class comprehensive university recognized for excellence in education, research and community engagement.

And so, I pledge my commitment to working with the various governing bodies on campus – faculty, staff and student senates – to provide more transparency. And to encourage a diverse and inclusive community where free expression of all opinions will be encouraged and nurtured. My goal is for everyone to feel vested and engaged in the process so that we can continue to move this university forward.

Thank you for being here today, and I look forward to continuing to work with you.


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit