Kansas Wesleyan Provost Dr. Damon Kraft has been named one of the 10 recipients of the national Outstanding First-Year Student Advocate award, an honor presented by the National Resource Center and Cengage.
According to KWU, the award honors college faculty, administrators, staff and students across the country for their work on behalf of first-year students. Kraft becomes just the second academician from Kansas to earn this respected recognition in the past 15 years.
“Dr. Kraft has excelled from the moment he arrived at Kansas Wesleyan,” said Dr. Matt Thompson, KWU President. “He has always demonstrated a drive to truly advocate for the success of our students, and he has brought that passion to our campus. His influence on the KWU culture has led to not only a dramatic increase in retention, but clear, measurable metrics in the areas of institutional learning outcomes and diversity initiatives. Kansas Wesleyan would not have achieved its recent success without Damon’s efforts, and I’m thrilled that his hard work has been recognized on a national level.”
Kraft arrived at Kansas Wesleyan in 2011 as an assistant professor, and made an immediate impact. Within a year, he was the co-creator of “The Best of KWU”, a yearly event dedicated to excellence in student scholarship across campus. The event remains an annual staple of the KWU calendar, and one of the top honors a student can receive.
Kraft rose to the position of associate professor before moving to the assistant provost role in 2016 and the provost position one year later. There, he continued to excel. Kraft was the team lead for the implementation of KWU’s institutional learning outcomes (ILOs), items and goals that are embedded into all majors, general education and co-curricular experiences. He also spearheaded campus-wide diversity initiatives, not only outside the classroom, but inside as well. There, he has helped promote classroom techniques that recognize the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion across campus.
Perhaps Kraft’s chief accomplishment, however, has been in the area of student success. Since many of Kraft’s initiatives were implemented, KWU has posted its two best fall-to-fall retention rates ever, including 68.49% in the fall of 2019. This success was helped by the implementation of an early alert system, which targeted students needing assistance. The system included notifications and involvement of coaches, advisors and other faculty members.
Finally, Kraft was the head of the campus’ academic response to COVID-19, which included facilitating faculty transferring courses to an online format in the spring of 2020. He also led a university-wide calling campaign, which called every student on file multiple times during the semester to ascertain struggles and academic needs. It is believed this helped contribute to KWU’s strong retention rates continuing, even as the pandemic continued.
“I am truly honored and humbled to receive this award,” said Dr. Kraft. “It is a privilege to help create an environment where all students can flourish and grow into the best versions of themselves, both personally and academically. I thank my colleagues for the nomination and for their support, and I thank the students, faculty and staff of KWU for embracing what were, at the time, new ideas. I look forward to the continued growth and success of KWU.”