WKU President Delivers Annual Faculty and Staff Convocation Address

Western Kentucky University President Timothy C. Caboni delivered his annual faculty and staff convocation address Monday, Aug. 15, at Van Meter Auditorium. President Caboni offered a recap of the 2021-2022 academic year, while foreshadowing the year ahead.

President Caboni began his speech by noting the university’s progress on the WKU strategic plan, Climb to greater heights, which enters its fifth year this year. He described the plan as the roadmap guiding all of WKU’s activities. He also reminded participants that the university is not yet halfway through the plan and that this year WKU will assess progress towards achieving the plan’s goals. “However, I hope you will remember that this is a ten-year plan and not a five-year plan. So, in this fifth year, I will convene a group to evaluate; take a critical look at the work we have done; to examine where we need to press harder; and to suggest what new things we could pursue,” he said.

Looking back on the previous academic year, he pointed to the significant gains the university has seen in its fall-to-spring retention among freshmen. President Caboni noted that 90.9% of freshmen enrolled at WKU in fall 2021 returned the following spring, an increase of 4.6 percentage points in just over four years. Additionally, 90.3% of underrepresented minority (URM) freshmen returned in the spring, an increase of nearly 10 percentage points in just over four years. Freshmen who participated in WKU’s Living Learning Communities (LLCs) returned in the spring at a rate of 95.2%, or 5.9 percentage points higher than non-LLC participants. President Caboni also said that this fall, students from underrepresented minorities will make up the highest percentage of freshmen and the university’s total undergraduate population in history.

He highlighted the work of the university’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) team over the past year, noting that WKU was tied with the University of Kentucky for the highest score among institutions. Council on Post-Secondary Education Kentucky Diversity Four-Year Publics. , equity and inclusion report. Additionally, WKU increased its star rating in the Campus Pride Index in Fall 2021 to 4.5 out of five, an increase of three stars in just two years. Additionally, this summer, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities recognized the ONE WKU Campaign, launched in 2020, for National Excellence and Innovation. He noted that the ONE WKU campaign leads campus DEI efforts, which include deliberative dialogues, book clubs, and the Academy of Inclusive Teaching (ITA).

President Caboni also applauded the university’s fundraising achievements. In the past five years, the university has raised more donations than in any other five-year period in WKU’s history, raising $171 million since 2017. As he shared, this concludes the decade of most successful fundraiser in the institution’s history, with donations totaling nearly $303 million. (After: Celebrating WKU’s most successful fundraising decade to date)

An important part of the university’s fundraising success has been the WKU Opportunity Fund, announced in 2018 to support students facing financial hardship. In just four years, the fund surpassed its original goal of $50 million, leading university officials to set a new goal of $100 million. President Caboni noted that to date, the Opportunity Fund has reached $70.5 million, which has led to the creation of 184 new scholarships.

He referred to a number of recent investments in the institution’s infrastructure, which have totaled $392 million since 2017. university, followed later that fall by Hilltopper Hall, a residence hall. room located near the center of campus. In fall 2021, the university opened Normal and Regents Hall, two premier residence halls in WKU’s freshman village. Finally, in the spring of 2022, the university opened The Commons at Helm Library, which transformed a traditional campus library into an intellectual hub where students, faculty, and staff can come together to share ideas and engage in active learning beyond the walls of the classroom.

He also provided an overview of the university’s recent research achievements. In fiscal year 2021, WKU faculty received more than $16.1 million in research funding, up from $14.1 million the previous year. This total included state grants, as well as funds from national agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the US Department of Energy, the US Department of Education, the Environmental Protection (EPA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Examples of research projects included engaging new technologies in dairy science at WKU’s Smart Holstein Lab, creating a virtual reality platform to train child protection professionals, and use of the state’s largest optical telescope at the Bell Observatory. Additionally, a number of research initiatives are underway at WKU’s Innovation Campus, including collaborative work with Holley Performance Products, Kentucky to the World, a Louisville-based nonprofit, and the Metals Innovation Initiative (MI2), which provides collaborative and sustainable executive leadership to attract and promote advanced research, commercialization and development talent in the Kentucky metals industry. President Caboni stressed the importance of providing research opportunities for students. “The size and scope of our research enterprise means that we provide a significant portion of our undergraduates with the experience of knowledge discovery and creation – unlike smaller, less intensive institutions. in research,” he said. “This means our students can participate in projects that will propel their careers.”

Looking ahead to the 2022-2023 academic year, President Caboni noted that WKU will continue its work to increase retention rates as the university moves closer to its 80 percent retention goal. “To retain even more students, we will need to redouble our efforts and work more holistically across our institutional silos than before – breaking down organizational barriers to student success, while working to proactively support and intervene. with students facing challenges, whether academic, social, financial or mental health,” he said.

He also reaffirmed the university’s commitment to DEI initiatives. The university is awaiting final approval to create the first-ever staff cultural competency certificate in Kentucky. President Caboni said the university is also developing a similar certification for students. “It’s about diversity, equity and inclusion. But more importantly, it’s about ensuring that every person finds their place at WKU and feels part of our community,” he said.

President Caboni said WKU will continue its work with first-generation students. “If there’s one subgroup that requires an extra investment of our time and attention, it’s this group,” he noted. In November 2021, the university launched its First Generation Faculty and Staff Initiative to identify campus faculty and staff who were first generation students themselves. This group seeks to increase student success by creating an easy-to-navigate environment for first-generation Hilltoppers. President Caboni said that in the first two weeks after the program was announced, more than 200 faculty and staff volunteered to participate. He shared that the university will expand this initiative even further this academic year.

Turning his attention to the physical campus, President Caboni discussed current and upcoming campus improvement projects. He noted that the removal of the Garrett Conference Center in 2021 created an opportunity to separate pedestrian and vehicular traffic and create additional outdoor spaces for academic and social activities. He also shared that the university will soon be completely renovating Cherry Hall, perhaps the most iconic structure on campus. The project will preserve and transform the building while ensuring that it remains viable for many years to come. Additionally, he noted that the new Gordon Ford College of Business building will open in the fall of 2025, and he thanked the Kentucky Legislature for their support in securing funding for this institutional goal of the past 20 years of becoming reality. “Once completed, the College of Business building will serve as a national model for the operation of business education in an applied setting,” he said.

President Caboni also announced a number of milestones that the university will celebrate this academic year. These include the 20e anniversary of the installation of the institution’s campus in Glasgow, Kentucky; the 20e anniversary of the College of Health and Human Services; a dedication ceremony for The WKU Commons at Helm Library; an event to honor the people, community and heritage of Jonesville; and the dedication of Munday Hall in honor of Margaret Munday, the first African-American student to enroll in classes at WKU.

Spirit of WKU

President Caboni also announced the recipient of this year’s Spirit of WKU Award, Dr. Martha Sales.

“The basis of his work is connecting with students and building relationships that grow stronger over time,” he said. “She’s part of the fabric that makes WKU special, and she’s always made a difference in our community.”

Dr. Sales is currently the university’s Dean of Students and Assistant Vice President for Student Life. He is also Executive Director of the TRIO Programs at WKU and the Center for Intercultural Student Engagement. His work with WKU’s TRIO programs has resulted in millions of dollars in federal grants to support first-generation low-income students as well as people with disabilities.

“While helping students rise through the ranks at WKU, Martha emphasizes the potential for lifelong transformation through a college degree,” Caboni said. “With four degrees earned at WKU, one more than a triple Topper, she serves as an example and role model for our students.”

Contact: Jace Lux, (270) 745-4295


Western Kentucky University prides itself on positioning its students, faculty, and staff for long-term success. As a student-centered, applied research university, WKU helps students expand classroom learning by integrating education with real-world applications in the communities we serve. Our hilltop campus is located in Bowling Green, Kentuckywhich was recently named by Reader’s Digest as one of America’s Most Beautiful Cities, just an hour’s drive from Nashville, Tennessee.

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