With the beginning of the fall semester right around the corner, Eastern Kentucky University President Michael Benson is excited to welcome new and returning students to campus.

While some people get excited for Christmas or Halloween, Benson's favorite time of the year is when students make their way through Turner Gate, a tradition that marks the beginning of an eternal colonel's career.

"Just having people come back to campus, it naturally brings this breath of life into it," Benson said. "That is very exciting to me."

Part of the welcome back includes prepping campus for the return of faculty, staff and students, which means making sure the campus is living up to it's #Campusbeautiful standard. While campus maintenance has been busy working to make sure the residence halls and classrooms are looking great, Benson said he wanted to host a day of service to help clean up the grounds around campus.

The idea came to him not long after hearing about a president at another university who would hold morning jogs around campus and invited students to join in. Eventually, they started carrying trash bags along with them to pick up the refuse they found.

"I thought, 'What a great idea! Not sure if I want to start running again, though,'" Benson laughed.

Enticing volunteers with free shirts and Raising Canes lunch, Benson wanted to make the event a great way to motivate people to kick-off the beginning of the new semester on the right foot.

"This, we hope, will be a great way to really get people even more excited about the fall semester that starts on the 19th of August," Benson said.

But making sure the campus looks enticing to new and returning students is only part of the challenge.

Benson said they have been paying close attention to recruitment and enrollment, which also includes their online students. He said while EKU continues to improve the day-to-day experience on campus, they are trying to improve the environment online as well.

"Education today is so far advanced in terms of technology and access to resources and teaching tools," Benson said. "How we interface with our online students is key. Our ecampus is very strong and getting stronger. But we are always looking to improve the most important experience, and that is the learning experience."

For those who will be on campus, however, they will notice some construction and changes taking place. The changes students will recognize immediately this fall include the new student recreation center and the renovated Powell building, which should be open by the end of the semester or at the beginning of the spring.

"Those two projects mark the end of a 48-50 month (period) of perpetual construction that we've had on campus, and it really all started with the improvement of the library and has grown to (the) new science (building), Case Hall, new residence halls, improvements to athletic facilities and Turner Gate," Benson said, just to mention a few projects that have transpired on campus.

Hopefully, students won't have to navigate through green construction fence and yellow caution cones for much longer.

Benson noted that this year's enrollment is slightly down, but that was to be expected based on the prediction model EKU uses. He said the predictive modeling has been useful to give EKU a sense of where they are in terms of areas of improvement, especially when competing against big schools like the University of Kentucky and Western Kentucky University.

"Performance-based funding has really forced us to refine our message and to improve in areas that we've needed to improve," Benson said. "Even though we are not nearly as resourced as some of those big schools, we've proven that we've done well based on the metrics that have been put in place and what has been asked of us. … We're doing well with not nearly as much, but we can certainly do better."

But looking ahead, Benson said there is plenty to keep an eye out for as far as new things coming to campus. One such thing, he said, was the launch of a new bike and scooter program in partnership with Berea and Berea College.

He also hopes to see a partnership with the city of Richmond and the parks department to create walking trails around Elmwood, a property that sits across from the Coates building and Benson's office.

Reach Kaitlyn Brooks at 624-6608; follow her on Twitter @kaitlynsbrooks.

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