WT 125: Big Risks, Big Goals, Big Opportunities

 

Feb. 7, 2019

WT 125: Big Risks, Big Goals, Big Opportunities

Commentary

By JON MARK BEILUE

If not now, then when?

When will West Texas A&M University be better positioned than now? The year 2020, that has a nice visionary ring to it? Or 2025, that’s the University’s 115th anniversary?

But, no, it’s right now. It is a time when momentum and need are intersecting with opportunity for a regional university whose promise may never be brighter. To borrow a phrase from former NFL coach George Allen: “The future is now.”

WT is seizing upon this, seizing upon it in a big way, in an audacious way that won’t be realized this year, or next year, but at some time sooner than later. Hundreds with a stake in this are confident of that.

“WT, at times, is an overlooked jewel,” University president Dr. Walter Wendler told a room of more than 500 on Feb. 2 at the Embassy Suites in downtown Amarillo. “That is going to end.

“It’s not because we have some magic formula or some political persuasion, but we are willing to work at it.”

The occasion was “WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World” Gala. It was just a few blocks away from WT’s new Harrington Academic Hall – WTAMU Amarillo Center, a transformative showpiece that gives the University a real and growing presence in downtown Amarillo.

The gala – which featured 10 speakers from the Texas A&M University System including chancellor John Sharp, to state senator Kel Seliger and state representative Four Price, to former FDIC chairman and WT graduate Don Powell – was an official rollout to the public of ambitious planning that will carry the University to its 125th anniversary in 2035.

“This University for all kinds of reasons is poised to move forward in a dramatic way,” Wendler said a few days later. “Part of that is the nature of people here in the Panhandle. They are willing to take a bit of a risk, and in a sense, change themselves. They are willing to develop and grow and look ahead and that’s not always the case in a university.”

It would be tempting for WT to put its hands behind its head, put the feet on the railing, and take a deep breath, feel proud of what has happened recently, and rest a spell. Not just tempting, but understandable.

President Walter Wendler and Paul Engler.

The Agriculture Sciences Complex, Texas A&M’s VERO Center for veterinarian education, research and outreach just adjacent to open in 2020, an on-campus Buffalo Stadium to open this fall, the Harrington Academic Hall – WTAMU Amarillo Center are the highlights, but not all.

There are more than $200 million in capital improvements within WTAMU, which has been recognized multiple times by U.S. News and World Report among “Best Regional Public Universities – West.” And in all of this is Amarillo cattleman Paul Engler’s $1 million a year donation for no less than the next 80 years, a gift that ranked 15th nationally in 2018 (pictured right).

But WT wants to use all of this as a springboard, not a means to an end.

“I can tell you, momentum is very high,” Wendler said. “We want to keep that momentum going. (Former regent) Eddie Scott told me the other night that he’s never been prouder of WT than he is right now. We got to keep the momentum going.”

Enter WT 125. It’s a printed publication of 125 pages – no coincidence – that is the work of 300 people that will serve as a generational guide to carry the University into 2035.

“WT needs a passion for purpose paired to a positive faith,” Wendler said. “Passion grows from an understanding of WT’s people, purpose and place.”

At the heart of WT 125 is to become a regional research university – the first of its kind – with a hyper-focus on the top 26 counties in the Texas Panhandle.

“The first responsibility,” the plan says, “are to the top 26 counties. By doing so, it will create value beyond our borders.”

The vision will focus on research in water scarcity, 90 percent of it which involves agriculture, wind engineering, rural healthcare, ways to better manage smaller school districts, expanding doctoral programs.

Think of WT’s mission like a large rock dropped into a lake. The largest waves are in the center but ripples extend beyond that from large to small. That, in essence, is the aim of WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.

“We will serve people first,” Wendler said. “We’ll develop human capital, human potential.”

Success won’t be measured by graduation rates or enrollment increases. In fact, right now, it’s subjective. But if WT in the next 16 years can impact the Panhandle in the proposed areas of research like it does in education, where 70 percent of the Panhandle’s educators have at least one degree from WT, then that’s success.

For some older Buffs, to appreciate where the University is and where it could go is to look and see what it once was.

“Fifteen to 20 years ago, you’d have trouble finding anyone who said they were an alum or had their diploma on the wall,” said Dyke Rogers, a ‘70 graduate and a member of the Buffalo Council. “No one wore any gear. It was really sad.

“Now, it’s becoming more of a first-choice school in the Panhandle as opposed to a fallback school. This school is so different now. Its reputation in the outlying areas is much more enhanced. What is really neat about WT 125 is a college being willing to reinvent themselves to bring added value to the region.”

Within the 12 planning principles and 10 maxims in the WT 125 plan are some audacious goals and high marks, the kind that some might read and say “good luck with all that.”

But that’s the idea. In taking a page – and it appears in the plan – from Teddy Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena,” these are no small dreams and fear of failure is not holding any back.

Wendler acknowledged the challenge ahead, invoking Thomas Aquinas when he told the gala audience: “If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve the ship, he would keep it in port forever.”

“There’s value in risk-taking, and shunning predictability,” he said. “Our efforts are fruitless if we don’t.”

Certainly, that’s the plan. The WT 125 plan.

 Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, an alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at jbeilue@wtamu.edu.

 

—WTAMU—


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