Two years ago, Alyssa Cole wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, describing her challenges as a full-time student and single mother of three children. In addition to sending her a reply at the time, the president and his staff apparently saved her letter, because on Monday, Jan. 19, Cole received a call from a White House staff member, who invited Cole and her children to attend President Obama’s speech Jan. 22 during his visit to KU.
“I was pretty shocked, almost into silence,” Cole says. “I didn’t know what to say at first.”
She managed to say yes, but another surprise was in store: “On Tuesday, they called back and asked if I would introduce the president.”
Cole, a senior majoring in history with a minor in African-American Studies, wrote her own introduction of the president and submitted it to the White House for review. Her children, son Jordan, 7; daughter, Jasmine, 4; and son Max, 3, will accompany her to the president’s speech in KU’s Anschutz Sports Pavilion, just down Irving Hill Road from the KU’s Hilltop Child Development Center, where Jasmine and Max are students.
Cole will walk down the Hill in May. As one of KU’s McNair Scholars, she will spend the summer researching African-American women in the military. She plans to attend graduate school, most likely at KU. The Garden City native moved to Lawrence with her children after completing community college in her hometown. “I always wanted to come to KU,” she says.
Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and a team from the KU School of Social Welfare, the Alumni Association and KU Endowment traveled to Garden City and Hays June 22 to celebrate the launch of KU’s new western Kansas-based master’s in social work. Receptions in each city drew about 50 alumni, students and community leaders.
Through a partnership with Garden City Community College and Fort Hays State University, which host the classes on their campuses, KU began the program June 1 to begin meeting the urgent need for social workers in western Kansas. Among 4,058 social workers statewide who are licensed as clinicians, supervisors and administrators, only 187 work in counties west of Wichita.
Twenty students began KU master’s classes this summer. “I’m so excited,” said Kellie Henderson, a 2013 Fort Hays graduate who wanted to begin her graduate program immediately and stay in her home community. “This will open up so many opportunities for me. I hope to be a school social worker. Kids need mentors who can help them stay in school and set goals.”
In schools, hospitals and agencies, social workers support families and communities in numerous ways. The KU master’s program, ranked among the nation’s top 20 by U.S. News and World Report, “is a powerful tool to enhance the careers of students in the program and enhance the quality of life for people in this region,” Gray-Little said.
Kendal Carswell, s’04, a KU faculty member, coordinates the new program. As a native of Alton, 50 miles northwest of Hays, he earned degrees from Garden City and Fort Hays before completing his education at KU. For several years he taught at Fort Hays and helped expand its bachelor’s program in social work to Garden City. “I’m very passionate about social work and very passionate about the success of western Kansas,” Carswell said at the two celebrations. “Because I am alumnus of all three schools, I see this as three houses united: Rock Chalk, Jayhawk, Hail to Old Fort Hays State and Go Busters!”
Last weekend, KU Alumni Association staff members Jacey Krehbiel and Emily Ellison, alumni programs coordinators, traveled west to Garden City for Beef Empire Days, an area-wide celebration of the beef industry in southwest Kansas that includes a rodeo, parade and other events. The trip was part of our annual ‘Hawk Days of Summer effort to connect with as many Jayhawks as possible.
The Great Plains Chapter was represented in Saturday’s parade, and Baby Jay made an appearance also. After the parade, KU alumni and friends were invited to take photos with Baby Jay at Stevens Park.
A favorite quote from the trip: “Now that’s ground beef,” by the announcer at the rodeo about a 2000-pound bull lying on the ground. Hey, we don’t have many opportunities to watch rodeos in Lawrence.
Click here to see photos from the trip, or watch the slideshow below. You’re welcome to download photos for personal use. Thanks to all the Jayhawks in western Kansas who joined us, we appreciate your support!
Rattlesnakes. Burning sun. No shade. High winds. Blistered feet.
Those are just a few of the trials and tribulations that Sandra Billinger, g’04, PhD’09, has endured in her Walk Across Kansas, which began earlier this month on the Colorado state line near Coolidge.
An assistant professor in the School of Health Professions’ department of physical therapy and rehabilitation sciences and director of KU Medical Center’s REACH (Research in Exercise and Cardiovascular Health) laboratory, Billinger is undertaking the 572-mile walk with her son, Michael Thomas, to raise $50,000 for laboratory equipment. As reported in the May issue of Kansas Alumni, the equipment will enable Billinger and her research team to study the benefits of exercise during stroke recovery.
Billinger says her studies have shown that stroke patients are sedentary during more than 90 percent of their day in rehab. She believes a more active therapy–similar to the approach that gets heart patients up and moving as part of their treatment–may be a better strategy for stroke recovery.
Updates posted on the Walk Across Kansas Facebook page and website show plenty of high points to balance the challenges the pair have encountered on their trek, which traces the American Discovery Trail. Michael celebrated his 20th birthday with family along the route, a good Samaritan returned Billinger’s lost hat, and talks delivered to local groups–including a meeting of the Great Plains chapter of the KU Alumni Association in Garden City–have given Billinger a chance to discuss her research and the important role that KU plays in serving the health care needs of the state. She has also reconnected with former patients and made new friends along the way.
“The hospitality here has been fabulous,” Billinger wrote in one update. “People are very nice!”
Billinger and Thomas are nearing Larned as the Memorial Day weekend approaches. They invite Kansans to join any portion of their walk, which will conclude in early June at the KU Medical Center. Just bring comfortable shoes, plenty of water and a keen eye for snakes.