Back in 2012, John Bardo became Wichita State University's president. Some presidents are caretakers, who maintain the status quo. That was not Bardo’s legacy. He took on an institution that was, in some ways, not that different from the one where he taught back in the 1970s. Now, as the university's head, he became a builder, a transformer, and the campus became a very different space.
Since his arrival, the university has grown to include the "Innovation Campus," Shocker Hall, the I-35 corridor project, and the merger with Wichita Area Technical College. His vision was of a university that responded to challenges of 21st century needs. As his efforts clearly took a toll on his health, he became more reflective in his presentations, with statistics and figures giving way to poetry and anecdotes. This highlighted a passion to bring higher education to the average worker to benefit their lives and the community.
My personal experiences of John were of a warm, mild mannered person who was unfailingly pleasant. He and I shared an interest in British model trains and some of my best memories involve discussions of steam locomotives rather than STEM initiatives.
Bardo was one of the most transformative presidents in WSU history, on par with figures like Nathan Morrison and Harry Corbin, who also guided the school through major change. It is now up to us to make sense of what this period of "innovation" will have meant for this campus and our community.