WSU’s Woolsey Hall opening has business students inspired to shine


imageThey may not garner the headlines of five-star basketball and football recruits, but students excelling in academics — who might not have an elite jump shot or the ability to throw a 60-yard touchdown pass — are in high demand at U.S.universities.

For Wichita State University, the new $60 million home of the W.Frank Barton School of Business provides a tool that could attract and retain those classroom superstars from around the region, country and world.

Wayne and [Kay Woolsey](wichita/search/results?q=Kay Woolsey) Hall opens its doors this month for the fall semester, and after several years of anticipation, it’s bringing a wave of enthusiasm for students and faculty.

“From a recruiting standpoint, a new business building changes everything,” said [Duane Nagel](wichita/search/results?q=Duane Nagel) , department chair and associate professor of marketing at the Barton School.”The energy that building creates is really going to put the Barton School on a different path.”

Nagel said technology upgrades, new classrooms suited well for learning and collaboration and conference rooms are among the stand-out features.

And then there’s the “wow” factor of the atrium as a person walks into Woolsey Hall.

Filled with natural light, large windows and open spaces, it includes a cafe, a “social stair” for gathering, a large LED screen and other high-tech and WSU branding touches.A look up reveals multiple levels of business school activity.

“It makes you feel the entire building all at once,” he said.”I had chills when I walked in and saw it.”

But especially important to Nagel is how Woolsey Hall provides an environment for already-talented students to shine brighter.

“This is what Woolsey Hall offers the Barton School,” he said.”A movement from the ordinary to a place that lets the extraordinary be recognized.”

Incoming freshman [Ella Tucker](wichita/search/results?q=Ella Tucker) said in an age of innovation and technology — and increasingly competitive recruiting — Woolsey Hall shows how much WSU is willing to put into its students’ success.

“It’s trying to make itself a university people will go to for years and years to come,” she said.

Winning over the best and brightest

While WSU saw fall 2021 enrollment (16,097 students) hit levels not seen since 1990, many universities have struggled to bring in students as the Covid-19 pandemic shook up higher education.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center , as of last spring, post-secondary institutions lost nearly 1.3 million students over two years.

That means schools are trying to step up their game with facilities and recruiting.

“Universities are getting much more competitive,” said Nagel, who said Woolsey Hall is a positive conversation starter when reaching students who left school during the pandemic and haven’t returned.

Tucker, who attended Tulsa’s Epic Charter Schools, said she had plenty of schools — including the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma State University and the University of Colorado — showing interest.

Gift packages ranging from the elaborate to the unique (including a full-sized cowbell) came to her door.

But she said those could not top what she felt when hearing about WSU’s Woolsey Hall.

“It just felt amazing going to a school willing to invest that much in its students,” she said.

While competing for WSU’s 2022 Clay Barton Scholarship, Tucker said school officials gave passionate descriptions of what the three-story, 125,000 square-foot building on Innovation Campus would provide students.

Combined with feeling “at home” on campus, Tucker, who won the $50,000 Barton Scholarship , said she knew where she wanted to go.

“I have such a great picture of what it’s going to be like for me,” said Tucker, a management major.

[Trinity Soderstrom](wichita/search/results?q=Trinity Soderstrom) is another student that WSU attracted with help from Woolsey Hall.

For Soderstrom, who is entering her second year at WSU (but has earned senior-level credit hours) and is the 2021 Barton Scholarship winner , the business school’s new home is part of a bigger theme of the university investing in students as people and not just numbers.

“When I came here it was so, so personal,” said Soderstrom, a double major in international business and economics with an emphasis in international studies.

“They’re really letting me find my own path.”

With her father in the Air Force, Soderstrom traveled the country and the world in her youth — earning her high school diploma in Italy — and has goals of either working for an international corporation or serving overseas as a diplomat.

Woolsey Hall hits the mark for students like her with big ambitions, she said.

“I feel like Woolsey Hall is a gateway toward what I want to do in my career,” said Soderstrom, whose mother is among several family members who attended WSU.”I’m certain Woolsey Hall will be fundamental to my success.”

Born out of a ‘spirit of giving’

Woolsey Hall grew out of the biggest individual donation in WSU’s history.

In May 2018, the university announced oil industry veteran [Wayne Woolsey](wichita/search/results?q=Wayne Woolsey) and his wife, Kay, were giving $12 million to support facility and program improvements — including $10 million going to construction of Woolsey Hall for the Barton School of Business.

“Today is one of those pivotal days in our university’s history,” said [Elizabeth King](wichita/search/results?q=Elizabeth King) , president and CEO of the WSU Foundation, at the time .

Since then, the fundraising, design and construction pieces needed for the building have come together, culminating in Woolsey Hall’s opening this month as the business school moves from Clinton Hall, its home since 1970.

The process has included increasing project scope and costs from $50 million to $60 million in 2020 to expand programming provided to students and to ensure Woolsey Hall would be the first building on the Wichita State campus to be LEED-certified.

WSU also added the Promise Bridge, a 300-foot elevated pedestrian bridge connecting Woolsey Hall to a food truck plaza, and the Kay Woolsey Garden — a memorial to Kay, who died in 2019 — to the plans.

Soderstrom, who currently works part-time for the WSU Foundation, praised the Woolseys’ spirit of giving.

“The donation they made is just phenomenal,” she said.

A WSU — and regional — attraction

Nagel’s previous higher education stops include teaching and getting his doctorate at Florida State University and earning his master’s degree at Colorado State University — to go along with 17 years of marketing industry experience.

He said he’s never seen a local business community embrace a school like it has WSU.Now, Nagel said he can’t wait to see how Woolsey Hall further boosts that relationship.

“I’m hoping it becomes a hub for Wichita’s business community,” he said.

In addition to ground floor space available for university and other business events, Nagel noted that parking will be greatly improved for guests of the school, helping speakers and other visitors with tight schedules get in and out quickly.He also said the building’s technology improvements will make video conferencing for guest lecturers around the country smoother.

Barton School dean [Larisa Genin](wichita/search/results?q=Larisa Genin) , who was not available for an interview, emphasized the bigger picture for Woolsey Hall and the school last year.

“Woolsey Hall will be the home of tomorrow’s business leaders,” Genin said in a December 2021 WBJ story .“A place that will challenge students to surpass expectations and that will feed Wichita’s businesses with skilled and determined graduates.Woolsey Hall will also be a venue for discussions for Wichita’s progress and aimed at making the city a global destination.”

Genin added the project will contribute to “economic development, advancement and prosperity in the area of talent acquisition, recruitment and retention, workforce development, digital transformation, innovation and entrepreneurship” in the region.

Finishing touches are still in progress in the building’s interior, and students will note ongoing work on the building’s landscaping and other exterior elements as the fall semester officially starts on Aug.22.

While construction continues on the Promise Bridge, school officials said they expect students will be able to walk across it when the semester begins.

Now, armed with high expectations and big dreams, the Barton School and its students are ready for a new era.

Soderstrom and Tucker said they cannot wait for the first day of class.

“Walking in, it’s going to be the feeling of accomplishment, inspiration and motivation,” Soderstrom said.


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