Junior Day: Make an impact

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As I watched dozens of high school juniors file into Memorial Union this morning, it reminded me of my first visit to Washburn as a prospective student (that’s me above, with hair, as editor of The Review). That was centuries ago (1996), but the memory is as vivid as if it happened yesterday.

I remember it well because I wasn’t here long that day. As a transfer student from Allen County Community College, my father and I were on campus to survey the setting. We left about two hours in when we heard — incorrectly — that many of my credits weren’t going to transfer.

The drive back to Burlingame was not a comfortable one. I wondered where I was going to go next. I’d already left Kansas State after a year. Too big, not enough interaction with my professors. So a “big” school was not an option.

I remember calling Emporia State … no journalism degree. Strike two (strike three for ESU). But my angst didn’t last long. Just minutes after we’d arrived home, I got a phone call from the director of admissions at Washburn.

He assured me that the credits would transfer and asked that I come up the next day for a one-on-one meeting. So I drove back to Topeka the following day and spent a few hours touring campus, including a visit with the dean of the mass media department.

Those interactions, that personal attention, the caring … that sealed the deal for me. I chose Washburn that day and have been grateful for that decision since. I owe those folks a debt of gratitude for going out of their way to get me here.

Washburn is a special place. We offer experiences most schools simply can’t. Don’t be afraid to share your stories with the prospective students here, as well as the ones who will be here in the future.

Everybody here has an important role. When folks visiting Washburn see that, they often fall in love with this place.

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Calwell: ‘It’s like coming home again’

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Serving as a campus guide, making phone calls for Dollars for Scholars, attending class, running six miles around campus, mowing lawns – you name it, chances are Ken Calwell did it as a Washburn student.

“A lot of the students were like me; Washburn fit into our lives,” said Calwell, the 2013 Oscar S. Stauffer Executive in Residence. “Washburn was wonderful from a lot of perspectives, from the size of the school, to the ability to really get to know the professors. I actually became pretty close friends with two of my professors.

“Washburn helped me in learning to balance family, working and all the other important things in life.”

Calwell, bba ’84, Portland, Ore., has made the most of what he learned at Washburn, building a successful career as a marketing executive at several restaurant franchises. He worked as an executive at Dominos, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, FritoLay and Pillsbury, and is the president and chief executive officer at Papa Murphy’s International.

He attributes his career to this education and a message his father delivered often.

“My dad always said, ‘You’ve got two ears and one mouth, so listen as twice as much as you talk,’” Calwell said. “You’ve got to love people because it’s a people business, and you’ve got to take time out to listen. Listening to people, you hear their stories and you learn what gifts they have. You know which mountain you want to get to, so you match what you want to accomplish with what gifts people have. That’s marketing and leadership.”

Calwell’s ascent to his current position came with obstacles. In the early 1990s, he overcame a biking accident that resulted in multiple broken bones and skull fractures. While he and a friend were training for the national triathlon championships, a driver fell asleep at the wheel, crossing into their lane and resulting in a head-on collision.

“We were biking out toward (Derby, Kan.) on a training ride. She was going 50 miles per hour, and I was going 20,” Calwell said. “We collided at 70 miles per hour, I hit the grill, went into the windshield, then I got pulled along the side and got caught under the rear tire.

“They didn’t know if I’d make it for the first seven days. Lots of prayer, and lots of people praying; I saw God working through it.”

Calwell’s body gradually healed. Five months after the accident, he was told his left leg wouldn’t be amputated. A little more than a year after the collision, he started to get the feeling back in his right arm.

By June 20, 1992, his 30th birthday, Calwell was swimming a leg of the Topeka Tinman triathlon. In 2002, he was selected to carry the Olympic torch.

“I had goose bumps all over,” Calwell said of his torch run. “When it’s your time, you’ve been thinking about it and you just take off! Then you’re thinking ‘Wait, I’m going too fast,” so you slow way down.

“The coolest thing isn’t the actual run. The morning of, the people that get to run gather and each person tells why they were nominated to run with the torch. We all sat there and cried; you listen to inspirational stories.”

A Topeka resident, Calwell said he has fond memories of his hometown and the university.

“Everything comes back to Washburn,” he said. “I grew up on one side of campus, and lived on the other side. (Coming to campus) is like coming home again.”

A full day

Calwell owned a lawn-mowing business while at Washburn, which included cutting grass on campus. He talked about a full day that included mowing and his role as a student senator:

“By my senior year I’d gotten involved on campus, in the student senate, so I was helping to promote Washburn. I was on campus, mowing a yard, and some folks came through. They were all in suits and ties, all in a car; they were lost. They asked for directions, so I gave them directions and didn’t think anything of it.

“The day goes on, and as a student senator, I had to host some folks, so I got all cleaned up, dressed ­… well, it was the same people. They didn’t say anything because they didn’t recognize me. So I showed them around campus.

“The next day we had Dollars for Scholars, so I was doing a calling campaign. The same folks came through and saw me and finally one says, ‘Are you the guy that gave us the tour the other day?’ Another one said, ‘You were the one that gave us directions!’

“So what’s an Ichabod? An Ichabod is somebody who gets their hands dirty and gets involved. Part-time student, part-time promoting school, part-time mowing the school. Still to this day when I hire people, I try to find other whether they’re comfortable in the real world, willing to get their hands dirty.”