John Bardo

12 people to meet in 2012: No. 11, Wichita State University president

Story by Kristin Baker

We promised in our January issue to introduce our readers to the new Wichita State University president as part of our 12 People to Meet in 2012 feature. Dr. John Bardo was announced as Wichita State's 13th university president in April, and now he is at the helm of the city's largest learning institution. Get your first glimpse of Bardo in this Splurge!

Bardo and his wife, Deborah, moved to Wichita from Western Carolina University, where Bardo served as chancellor from 1995- 2010. Previously, Bardo held a variety of positions at universities in Texas, Florida and Massachusetts. Bardo's first professorship was at Wichita State, where he worked from 1976-1983. It was during this time he met his wife, and he says for this and many other reasons the university holds a special place in his heart.

Splurge!: Talk about your upbringing in Ohio.

Bardo: I grew up outside of Cincinnati. I had one brother, and my father worked for the U.S. Civil Service. I went to high school in a rural area. There was a sheep farm nearby, and we did a lot of things around the farm. It was just a normal childhood. A lot of things we did related to being in a rural area, like building forts in the woods and bridges over streams. It was five minutes from a downtown bus route, so in many ways I had the best of both worlds.

I attended the University of Cincinnati, and I was able to study at the University of Southampton in England. I learned a lot there, some of which had to do with college. I got a chance to travel in a lot of parts of Europe. I really quite enjoyed it, and I think it set my life on a different course than it'd been going on. It was a point at which I really became excited about the possibilities of doing things in people's lives. I wasn't really sure what that meant always, but I knew it was important. It was very transforming.

Splurge!: You've lived and worked in a number of states. Why did you apply for the position at Wichita State?

Bardo: It's so funny; it's the only job I actually applied for. The reason has to do with the city of Wichita and the university. While you move away to take other jobs, we never really left. My in-laws live in the area, and I kept in touch with some colleagues at the university. I really never lost contact with WSU, so when this job came open, it just seemed like a natural fit.

Splurge!: How exactly did you meet your wife when you were at WSU?

Bardo: She was working down the hall and we lost our secretary, so she came down and worked in our office. We became friends, and she actually set me up with a girlfriend. I dated that girl for a couple of months, but it didn't work out, and I eventually ended up with Deborah. It's worked out really well.

Splurge!: What's the biggest difference between Wichita State University and Western Carolina University?

Bardo: The universities have somewhat different missions. WSU has a stronger research focus, and that makes a difference in how you allocate resources. There are more similarities than dissimilarities. I think that's a huge asset. Following Don Beggs, a very good president, is a blessing. It makes the job of the next person a lot easier.

Splurge!: What do you love about Wichita?

Bardo: Wichita is really a nice city. I like a lot of things about the environment. I like the differences in people you see, as in there is a huge amount of diversity in the area, which is a marvelous thing.I like the wide-open feel. Historically, the city has a can-do attitude, meaning you don't let people tell them you can't do certain things. I really like that a lot, the whole entrepreneurial spirit that has pervaded the university and the city. The number of businesses that started in the city and now are major corporations is remarkable, and you don't see that everywhere. I think a lot of that culture is still there.

Splurge! What goals do you have for your first year in the position?

Bardo: The first year what you really try to do is make sure, at least for the first six months or so, that you really understand what it is you're being asked to do and what the capacity of the university is. I plan to listen a lot and try to understand where people are. Secondly, we will enter into a formal planning process, which will allow the whole university campus to come together. We will form a steering committee, half from the university and half from the community. Other than that, really I want to get around community and meet people again and make sure I know what people want. Wichita State is the university for the people of this region, and truly that's what the mission is and what the university is intending to be.

Splurge!: What do you see as the biggest challenge you must face?

Bardo: Always the biggest challenge in a new job is making sure you don't make a very large mistake and miss something large. There are good people at the university who are going to help me make sure that doesn't happen. The other biggest issue this day and age is always around budgets. You need to make sure you make the right kind of allocations to move the university forward, and looking at all of that again while learning a new system is always challenging, but again there are good people at WSU who will help me with that.

Splurge!: What are some of your hobbies outside of work?

Bardo: What I like to do when I'm not working, which isn't all that often, is work with stained glass; I am a stained-glass artist. My wife and I also like to travel. We're both very family-centered, and we have a son, Christopher, who lives 10 minutes from us, and we will miss him. He's 32, and we try to see him about once a week. He was born at Wesley Hospital in Wichita.

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