Ottawa University’s new leader can’t wait to make the local campus a hot spot and build on its already welcoming atmosphere.
Dr. Reggies Wenyika, who took over the president’s reins this Monday, said Ottawa University and the surrounding community are a unique opportunity for his family.
“Ottawa University is a honorable place,” Wenyika said. “Higher education is about fostering the common good regardless of a person’s faith, agenda or orientation. I just want to educate students. I want to transform individuals and prepare them for a bright future. I am all about changing lives and making an impact. The atmosphere [on campus] is fantastic. I can’t wait for the kids to get here. I’m all about atmosphere, ambience, vibrance on campus. I am very student-centered. I am about creating a buzz. Making this the happening place where kids would rather be on campus because something funny, great or encouraging is happening on campus.”
Wenyika came to Ottawa from Southwestern Christian University in Bethany, Oklahoma, where he served as university president since 2014. Before that, Wenyika was provost and vice-president of academic affairs at SCU from 2008 to 2014. A native of Zimbabwe, he moved to the United States with his wife, Dr. Bongi Wenyika, and his two children, Thembi and Kudzai, in 2000 and has worked in higher education since arriving in the U.S.
“It is a privilege to serve,” Wenyika said. “I am all in.”
Wenyika said Ottawa intrigued him because of its inclusiveness. He said an artist or a singer wants their work to be enjoyed by as many people as possible, and it is the same with educators.
“I have worked hard to develop myself in my higher education craft,” he said. “I have certain gifts to bring to the table and I want them to be enjoyed by as many people as possible in this phase of my life. When I looked up Ottawa’s profile, I thought that is the place. This is the land of opportunity. I want to play role in preparing [students for] the next level of leadership. I want kids to come on campus prepared and I want the student body to look like the future they are going to. Ottawa is one of those places: unique, faith-based, but very welcoming. Ottawa has a lot more to offer than most colleges. It is Kansas’ and America’s best kept secret. You look at the faculty qualifications, very stellar. It is a more sophisticated operation than most colleges.”
Wenyika said it is his mission to make Ottawa University known worldwide for its high brand of academics.
“I want us to be known as most affordable, accessible, but academically elite school,” he said. “I want to increase our reputation, get us known. We need to do a better job of telling the world where we are and how they can access us.”
Wenyika said Ottawa University’s rich history needs to be told.
“It is one of the oldest institutions in Kansas,” he said. “There is a sense of family [here]. It is a unique community. You sense it.”
He said the Ottawa spirit lives with those associated with the University.
Wenyika said his personality of being a people person will be seen and felt right away on campus and in the community.
“The students will know me,” Wenyika said. “It will be pretty quick. That is my style. I am present physically, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. The potential here for me is to do some things, share some of my ideas and make a contribution to the community.”
The Ottawa campus has been in a growth mode the past few years and Wenyika wants to continue that momentum.
“We have so much to offer,” he said. “This is a blessed institution. We have rigorous academics here. We want to grow the reputation of our degree programs. There is going to be a lot of brand clarification for our University.
“People have to know who we are. That is the competitive side of me. I like winning in athletics. I like students to win in academics. I want the rankings to increase. We are a Christ-centered community. We are a community of grace. People will be cared for. I care about people. That will grow the university. It is a way for us to accomplish our mission. I think people are more important than policies or problems.”
Wenyika said there needs to be a sense of pride of graduates leaving the University and accomplishing their life ambitions.
“I want kids to graduate and go and do great things,” he said. “It gives meaning to what we do. Look at what we are able to do. You can derive encouragement and motivation from that. I want some of them to stay here. As the city succeeds, so does the University.”
Wenyika feels strongly about growing students’ horizons and learning new cultures, especially since he was born and raised in a foreign country.
“I am passionate about our international outlook,” he said. “How the world sees Ottawa University and how Ottawa University sees the world. There will be a lot more study abroad opportunities; affordable, unique study abroad opportunities for Ottawa students. You will see a lot of international student exchange. College students from other countries spending two or three weeks with us and our college students going over there. That way you broaden kids’ perspectives and horizons.”
Wenyika said growth in academic studies is a must, especially with this ever-changing world.
“My approach is to be future responsive,” Wenyika said. “Project into the future and respond to it now. Prepare these kids for the future they are going to. Change is coming and it is happening fast. The best way to ensure success is to try to project as far into the future as possible.
“Not where I have come from based on my academic qualifications,” he said. “The degree programs we want to introduce is to anticipate the future. If things change, they still have the tools [to be successful].”