Kirk and Noel Schulz seek new opportunity at Washington State

President Kirk Schulz and first lady Noel Schulz, associate dean for engineering research and graduate programs, field questions about their time at K-State from Collegian reporters on April 8, 2016. (Erin Poppe | The Collegian)

Kirk and Noel Schulz have served K-State as university president and first lady since 2009. During their time as K-State president and first lady, the Schulzes have seen the campus change and grow throughout the K-State 2025 project, which they helped initiate.

Upon his acceptance to be the new president of Washington State University, there has been a fair amount speculation regarding his and Noel’s reasons for departing from K-State, Kirk said. The couple made their decision based on the chance for new experiences and connections, rather than on a change in salary or new budget challenges that have arisen with state education budget cuts.

“I think there are just some terrific career opportunities that drew me toward Washington State, and I think sometimes people want to say, ‘Well, you must be leaving for some negative reason, there must be the state budget, or this or that,” Kirk said. “We’ve tried to emphasize that we’ve invested seven years here and want to see K-State be successful, and so I don’t feel that we’re leaving behind something. We’re really moving to a set of other opportunities.”

The current average tenure of public university presidents is five years, Kirk said. While he’s been at K-State seven years, longer than most students are enrolled at K-State, the number of university presidents serving terms of 20 years or more is limited.

When Kirk interviewed for the position of K-State president, he was asked if he would stay at the university until 2025 to see the completion of the ongoing project, to which he replied that he thought 8-10 years is usually the time limit for university presidents to be effective, Noel said.

“Because you get things going, but as organizations change, they also need leaders that have different sets of traits, and so, I think that’s something that, as Kirk said, there are new opportunities for both of us, and that’s more what it’s about than leaving from K-State,” Noel said.

The biggest hurdle K-State currently faces regarding 2025 plans is financial, Kirk said. When in his first few years at K-State, however, the president said his greatest hurdle to jump in the plan was making sure others at the university believed in the vision and supported it.

Noel, who has also secured a position at Washington State as a faculty member in the university’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, said she believes just as students grow throughout their time at K-State before graduating and heading for new opportunities, she and Kirk have grown during their time at K-State and are now seeking new experiences at Washington State.

“I think the students, as they graduate, they’re leaving K-State, going to new opportunities,” Noel said. “You all, in your careers, are not likely to spend your whole career at a company, the same way your grandparents may have, or even your parents. You’re going to see different opportunities.”

Washington State, a peer institution of K-State, is also a land-grant university, and while the two schools have their differences, they actually have much in common, Kirk said.

“There are a lot more similarities than differences between the two institutions,” Kirk said.

One difference, though, is that Washington State is “starting a medical school from scratch,” another aspect that drew him to the presidency, Kirk said. There have only been four publicly-funded medical schools that have opened at land-grant institutions in the last 50 years.

“My challenge as president is how to help get a medical school up from the ground — facilities, faculty, accreditation, research,” Kirk said, “and when you have a chance to kind of start it from the beginning — our first entering class of students will be fall of 2017 — so it really is a unique opportunity.”

Kirk and Noel said they each took a bit of guidance from the former K-State president and first lady, Jon and Ruth Ann Wefald when they began their journey at K-State.

“Jon was always great about speaking well of the institution,” Kirk said. “There was never a speech that Jon ever gave or a time that he stood up in front of any group that he didn’t talk about how great K-State was, and I think that positiveness, if I started moping around — and Jon and I had this conversation — ‘Well, the state’s not doing this,’ or ‘I’m not sure we can do this,’ all of the sudden that organization takes on that tone.”

One of the first lady’s roles is keeping up good relationships with the university’s surrounding community, Noel said.

“Ruth Ann talked a lot about the community and the work between the community and campus, whether it was the Beach Museum or McCain, and so I think right now, we’re really at a good place with the town-grown relationships, and that’s something that the first family will want to continue, the relationship of working together to make Manhattan better but also make K-State better,” Noel said.

As for the next president of K-State, Kirk said he believes an energetic person, who is comfortable working with a multitude of people and groups, including K-State alumni, and asking them to support the university financially, would be best.

“I think a person who does these jobs, you’ve got to be all in from day one,” Kirk said. “You can’t sort of be a fair-weather fan or not sure if you really want to be a president. I mean, these are 24-7-types of jobs, so whoever they hire has got to be ready to jump in, put on the purple and embrace the campus community from day one.”

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