Potential Bosco replacement Solis talks improving K-State, his pet chihuahua

Santiago Solis, current associate vice president of student affairs at Towson University, responds to a question from the audience at an open forum Tuesday in the Kansas State Alumni Center. (Melanie White | Collegian Media Group)

Santiago Solis, associate vice president of student affairs at Towson University in Maryland, held an open forum Tuesday afternoon at the Kansas State Alumni Center to discuss his candidacy for the open position of vice president of student life and dean of students at Kansas State University.

The position, currently held by Pat Bosco, will be filled by one of three final candidates at the end of the semester as Bosco is retiring in July.

At the forum, Solis spoke of his experience in college where he initially struggled as a first-generation, minority student. Throughout the forum, he emphasized his passion for creating a campus environment that supports marginalized students as well as activism and engagement in the larger community.

Solis outlined his vision for the future of K-State in three areas of focus: community engagement, institutional policies and life on campus.

Honoring K-State’s traditions and roots as a land-grant university while also “moving the campus community forward in new, interesting, exciting and challenging ways” is a priority Solis said he would honor if offered the position.

Solis went on to emphasize strategies for the transformation of his three main focus areas through marketing and data assessment. He said he would hope to spend time improving K-State’s brand and boosting recruitment and retention, especially for minority and international students.

While he was initially met with assertions from his colleagues that K-State is “in the middle of nowhere” when he told them about his decision to interview for Bosco’s position, Solis emphasized that, to him, K-State is a “hidden gem of the midwest” and it is important for potential students and faculty to also see the university through this lens.

“It’s not in the middle of nowhere, it’s in the middle of somewhere,” Solis said. “People live, work and study here, so how do we challenge that notion?”

Drawing from his experience working with students and people from all walks of life, Solis said promoting diversity in both students and faculty is a big priority for him.

Adam Carr, senior in human resource management, asked Solis how he plans to continue Bosco’s legacy of adopting a “student first” mindset.

Solis responded by admitting that he recently experienced a struggle at Towson where he was pulled away from his intended student focus to handle other administrative demands.

“I do this work because of my passion for students, and I allowed other responsibilities to detract from my passion,” Solis said. “I lost some of my love for the work. I know that I cannot make this mistake again.”

Carr said he was both surprised and impressed by Solis’ transparent answer.

“I’m glad he had that honest take of experiencing what happens with disconnect on a campus,” Carr said. “I would be very interested to see how he would play and change that role if he were hired here at K-State.”

Carr also said the differences between K-State and Towson will need to be taken into account during the decision-making process.

One way Solis said he intends to improve engagement with students is by using his chihuahua, Diego, as a conversation starter.

“I started bringing my dog to campus, and students started coming up to him, giving me an opportunity to make connections,” Solis said.

Solis said that if he is given the opportunity to make the move to Manhattan, Diego is coming with him.

The final candidate, Derek Jackson, will hold a forum Wednesday in the K-State Alumni Center Banquet Room from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

A statement submitted by the Office of the President encouraged K-Staters to attend the open forum and provide feedback to members of the search committee about any candidate before Thursday, May 9.