Kent State Stark Fosters a Dynamic, Vibrant Learning Community

At Every Opportunity, Kent State Stark Chooses to Grow

Kee’Auna Cherry’s aspirations as a child were to be the best she could be, even if it was only to make someone else smile. “If I make someone smile, then I’m doing something right. But,” she said, “it was also my dream to obtain a college degree.”

Graduating from Kent State University at Stark with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies in December 2016, Cherry has discovered the awesome power of a dream because of her experiences here.

“What made me decide to come to Kent State Stark was the atmosphere the campus provided, the passion the professors have for their students, and because of the impact that both my aunt and sister – who are Kent State alumnae – had on my college decision,” said Cherry. 

But it was the opportunities she had at Kent State Stark that truly helped her grow. “The school helped me to grow by giving me the opportunity to be a part of the communication studies program,” she said. “The program had an immense impact on my experiences here. Because of the program and some great mentors along the way, I was able to thrive and aspire to be the best that I could be both professionally and personally. This program opened my eyes to the endless opportunities that are ahead for myself and our future generations. It made me appreciate the value of my community more and more by becoming involved with the campus in many ways.”

With a degree in hand and a job in her field, Cherry said she has another dream.

“I always wanted to be a Radio City Rockette – it’s still a dream of mine,” she said.

So whether someone wants to be a biologist, nurse, musician or a Radio City Rockette, Kent State Stark students have been becoming the best they could be for more than 70 years – visions that capture their hearts, spirits and souls at the deepest level.

At Kent State Stark, we empower our students to take on the world.

At every opportunity, Kent State University at Stark chooses to grow – not only for the benefit of its students but the community and world as a whole. Some areas of growth, like the expansion of the school’s physical campus or increase in faculty numbers, are obvious for all to see. Other growth areas, like the university’s globalization or multicultural initiatives, may be less apparent on the surface, but are equally important in fostering the kind of dynamic, vibrant learning community that Kent State Stark continually strives to achieve. Every progression the school undertakes is strategically aligned to meet the ever-changing needs of those it serves – the students.

In the fall of 1946, Kent State University Canton opened its doors to 681 students, many of whom had just returned from World War II. As years passed and the school grew to become the regional powerhouse that is Kent State University at Stark, ever-increasing enrollment acted as proof that the university was on the right track. By the year 2000, 3,000 students were entrusting their education to Kent State Stark and now, 70 years after it was founded, the campus serves more than 7,000 students year round. A. Bathi Kasturiarachi, Ph.D., associate dean of academic affairs, attributes this accomplishment to the exceptional programming and first-rate faculty who form the core of the institution.

“Every employee on this campus plays an integral role in student success,” he said. “Our professors and the programming they create form the core of this university, supported and surrounded by the ‘shell’ of administrative staff ensuring we operate smoothly day in and day out. One cannot exist without the other and we are strong in both areas right now.”

Kent State Stark’s degree offerings – much like its student population – have grown exponentially in number and scope over the years. Unlike the early days, the Stark Campus is no longer exclusively a starting point for degree completion at the Kent Campus; students can now start and finish 19 bachelor's degrees, four master's degrees, three associate degrees and more than 30 minors entirely at Kent State Stark. One such bachelor’s program, Music Technology, is only available at the Stark Campus. Other popular degree tracks include Nursing, Biology, Business Management, Marketing and Middle Childhood Education. And of course, students can still begin coursework for 282 additional bachelor's degree programs available for completion at the Kent Campus, as well.

Denise A. Seachrist, Ph.D., is marking her first full year as Kent State Stark dean and chief administrative officer. She emphasizes that student and community needs are at the heart of the campus’ objectives. 

“Serving students and the Stark County community remain at the core of our focus,” Seachrist said. “We have expanded the opportunities available to them locally and globally by an increased focus on international study abroad, multicultural programming and bringing international students to campus. Not only have we enabled our students to go out and travel the world, we continue to bring the rest of the world to them and to Stark County.”

Growth in enrollment and degree offerings necessitated significant growth in the university’s faculty, as well. In the past three years, Kent State Stark has added 29 faculty positions – nearly double the rate of typical growth, which sees the school add four or five faculty per year. “Of these 29 new faculty positions, 17 were tenure track and 12 were full-time, non-tenure track, all hired strategically to grow our academic concentration offerings,” said Kasturiarachi.

Kasturiarachi also shows his pride in the fact that the campus has a 17:1 student-to-faculty ratio, making learning a more personal experience for students. There are no large lecture classes on campus. Students know their professors and professors know their students. “Our classes are small, personal and conducive to the type of learning experience that pushes students to become so much more,” he said. 

During its formative years, Kent State Stark operated out of numerous locations – including local high schools and an American Legion Post – before settling at its permanent address on Frank Avenue in 1966. Faculty and staff from the ‘early days’ remember a rural campus that housed only one building, what is still Main Hall, until 1971, when the Health and Physical Education Building (now the Conference Center) and the Fine and Professional Arts Building were added. The Learning Resource Center followed soon after in 1976, and it wasn’t until 1999 that the campus further expanded by adding the East Wing onto Main Hall and the Recreation and Wellness Center in 2000. In June 2004, the Campus Center opened, followed most recently by the Science and Nursing Building in 2015 – bringing the total building count to seven. In addition, the first phase of the Fine Arts Building expansion will begin this year.

Serving Stark County and its surrounding communities has always been of the utmost importance to the university, particularly when it comes to preparing the next generation of college students for higher education. Since 1990, when the college enrolled the inaugural group of high school students in its Post-Secondary Enrollment Options Program (PSEO), Kent State Stark has partnered with area educators to ensure interested students have access to tuition-free college courses. From that time, the program has evolved into College Credit Plus, which allows accredited teachers to deliver college-level courses directly to students in grades 7–12 on high school campuses. In the 2016-17 academic year, 633 high school students were enrolled in the program through Kent State Stark.

One such partner, Fairless High School in Navarre, Ohio, is a shining example of how well College Credit Plus can work. Principal Larry Chambliss, Ph.D., has seen his students’ participation grow and thrive in the last few years. He and his colleagues within the school system praise the benefits of the program.

“Our partnership with Kent State Stark has generated some remarkably predictive and equally exciting surprising outcomes,” said Chambliss. “We have grown from an average of 50 students involved in the dual credit experience to well over 100 students now in the program. The Kent State Stark instructors are top shelf and our students and their families are the beneficiaries. Our aim is for our students to soar to excellence every day. Our partnership with Kent State Stark is allowing our kids to soar even higher.”

Like Fairless, Kasturiarachi has seen College Credit Plus explode at other local high schools.

“The College Credit Plus program has experienced significant growth,” said Kasturiarachi. “Between 2014 and 2015 we saw a 150 percent increase in enrollment, followed by an 80 percent increase from 2015 to 2016. This was thanks, in large part, to the grant money we received, nearly double our previous award.”

Take a look around Kent State Stark these days and you will notice a marked increase in globalization and multicultural initiatives on campus.

It has always been Kent State Stark’s mission to equip students with the tools they need to succeed both in and out of the classroom, preparing them to become productive citizens of their communities. In the 1950s, that meant meeting the rapidly growing need for teachers in the regional community by offering the coursework necessary to quickly and effectively train interested students to enter the profession via the Emergency Cadet Teacher Program. 

Now, in 2017, it means preparing students to become effective citizens of a global community. 

While the global economy brings with it exciting opportunities for growth and exploration, it also presents unique challenges and a need for multicultural understanding that Kent State Stark is continually working to foster in its students.

Take a look around Kent State Stark these days and you will notice a marked increase in globalization and multicultural initiatives on campus. Events like “Speak Your Truth,” a series of programs that tackle current social issues through open, respectful discussion, and “Cultural Cafes,” which allow international students to introduce elements of their home country to peers, serve as great starting points for students to broaden their horizons and challenge preconceived notions. Professors also are integrating international and multicultural concepts in to their curriculum at every opportunity.

Kathy Kinzer-Downs, outreach program coordinator of multicultural initiatives, believes universities in today’s world have an obligation to educate students in this holistic manner, and Kent State Stark is no exception. “Our society is becoming more diverse and multiethnic, and our students need to be prepared to engage in a global community,” she said.

“In order to give them the exposure they deserve, we have to integrate experiences outside of the classroom with the curriculum being taught in the classroom to ensure they receive a well-rounded education.”

Sarah Schmidt, outreach coordinator of global education initiatives, agrees. “It doesn’t matter what field of work you plan to enter – whatever career you choose, you will encounter people who are different than you,” Schmidt said. “It’s important to develop an appreciation for these differences in order to cultivate the kind of competency that is necessary to be a successful global citizen.” 

This is one of the many reasons Kent State Stark continues to build its global education program, inviting students from around the world to come study abroad in North Canton for a semester. Unlike the English as a Second Language (ESL) program at the Kent Campus, which sometimes sees students remain at the school for the entirety of their degree program and enter as non-English speakers, Kent State Stark’s program is reserved for those students who already possess a strong language proficiency and desire a short-term, immersive learning experience.

Chinese students from Shenzhen Polytechnic University and Beijing Wuzi University participated in the global education program.

During the Fall 2016 Semester, 27 Chinese students from Shenzhen Polytechnic University and Beijing Wuzi University participated in the program, up from 11 last year. It's the university’s hope to grow the program with more students from additional countries in the future.

“Our aim is to bolster the students’ English skills so they will be successful in their English major back home, and then have a leg up in looking for jobs after college that require English language skills,” said Robert Sturr, Ph.D., undergraduate studies coordinator for the English Department. “Our core classes focus mainly on business English and writing, speech and debate, American literature and culture and American trade and marketing practices.”

Outside the classroom, forging connections with Kent State Stark students and integrating into American culture have been pivotal to the international students’ success. “Becoming fluent in another language can be daunting because it involves so much more than success in a classroom,” said Sturr. “We have seen tremendous friendships arise between students at Kent State Stark and our international students, both last year and this year. Students have cooked dinner together, taken trips, enjoyed game nights, gone to see movies and have really taken to one another. That’s where real progress happens in the acquisition of a new language and I think we are offering a unique and highly personalized experience in that way.”

Brielle Black, a recent communication studies graduate of Kent State Stark, served as a conversation partner for the Chinese students in fall 2016. She is quick to point out that the learning goes both ways. “The program has certainly enhanced my own personal educational experience,” she said. “Every time I met with the Chinese students, I learned something new.

“The exchange program is a conversation. It is a discussion that bridges a cultural divide and shatters assumptions,” Black continued. “We are not that different after all – in fact, we have a lot more in common than I initially thought. The students aren't foreigners at all; they are friends, and the times we've shared laughing, having fun and discussing American food are times I will never forget. Being part of the conversation partner program is honestly one of the best decisions I ever made in my college career.”

Junior communication studies major Emily Weiss, another conversational partner, taught English in Jiaozhou, China in early 2016 at the recommendation of associate communications professor Bei Cai, Ph.D. For her, the experience brought back fond memories of the students and friends she made while teaching abroad. “I was able to trade stories and learn even more about the culture [of my conversational partners],” she recalled. “I have been able to truly help them understand and experience the American culture in return, and spending these last few months with them makes me miss my students and friends from China – I am hoping I can return soon!” 

Luca Wang (Wang Wen), one of the Chinese students from the fall 2016 class, calls the time spent with conversational partners her favorite part of the experience. She said one of the reasons she chose Kent State Stark was thanks to its small number of international students, as she wanted to truly experience the cultural differences of living in America without being surrounded by people from her own culture. “Young people should see more things; we should have wider horizons,” she said.

John Lee (Li Zhengyan), another Chinese student attending Kent State Stark in fall 2016, echoed her sentiments, saying that while he enjoys most everything about America, “the best part is having fun with American friends. I like making friends with all people.” Before coming to Kent State Stark, Lee said he never dreamed he would study abroad, but has found the people and professors he’s encountered to be extremely kind and friendly. He is interested in returning someday to teach.

“I sincerely hope that the inspiration of having students from China and other countries at Kent State University at Stark will inspire students from our region to pack up and seek new adventures by studying in another country,” said Sturr.

And they have – from summer 2015 to fall 2016, 123 students from Kent State Stark studied abroad in Germany, China, Denmark, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Costa Rica, Japan, the United Kingdom, Nicaragua, France, Spain, South Korea and Switzerland.

Shekinah Mulkey, a senior computer design, animation and game design major who travelled to Rikkyo University in Tokyo, Japan on exchange, said that for her, the experience not only expanded her global perspective but also allowed her to achieve a level of independence and complete cultural immersion that wouldn’t have been possible had she stayed in America. “I think it’s very easy to get stuck in our own personal bubble without the desire to try something new, but it’s when you step out of your comfort zone into something unfamiliar that you truly learn about the different cultures and ideas around you and even about yourself,” Mulkey said.

“Studying abroad truly will change how you look at things and will open up new opportunities and dreams,” agreed Arundhati Thornberry, a sophomore computer design, animation and game design major who traveled to Italy on exchange. “What you learn in a classroom is important but what you learn outside the classroom can be just as important. Sometimes those are the things that can impact your life the most.”

POSTED: Saturday, February 25, 2017 12:18 PM
Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2022 09:02 PM
Encompass Magazine Feature Story, Spring 2017