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By ALAN J. ORTBALS
p13 LindenwoodLindenwood University-Belleville recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony and grand opening of Matt’s Café. Pictured from left are: Lindenwood University System President Michael D. Shonrock, Ph.D.; Britt Hunt, CEO of Pedestal Foods; Belleville Campus President Brett Barger, Ed.D.; and Rafael Follador Gabriel, president of Lindenwood Student Government Association.    Lindenwood University-Belleville continues to grow. Enrollment for the fall semester is strong with 2,058 students. While more Belleville area students are choosing Lindenwood, campus President Brett Barger says many are coming from throughout the country and around the world.
    “We have students coming from 39 different states and more than 40 different countries,” Barger said. “We get people from all over, and it’s part of the excitement of what we do here — the diversity of cultures, the socioeconomic diversity, the racial diversity. This place is an amazing melting pot.  They’re really, really bright students, too.  Now they’re taking internship positions in the city and the surrounding cities. They’re coming to love the city and the state and, in some cases, this country.”  
    While enrollment is growing, the academic profile of incoming freshmen in terms of high school GPA and ACT scores is rising, too. Barger says they are seeing a lot of what he calls “legacy” students, meaning kids are following their older friends or siblings to Lindenwood Belleville.
    “Kids graduate from high school, come to Lindenwood Belleville, then go home and tell their friends who are still in high school about it,” said Barger. “That’s a really good sign. When you’re seeing that happening, it means you’re doing something right. People are pleased and they’re telling their friends and family.”
    Barger added that they are also seeing an increasing number of local students, and that interest is even coming from high school sophomores and juniors. “When students in that age bracket make a decision to attend, they are really well-prepared students who are giving a lot of thought to their college choice,” said Barger.
    In recent years Lindenwood Belleville has built two new residence halls, purchased and converted a nearby motel into student housing called the Lynx Lodge, and purchased and renovated numerous neighborhood homes, taking its capacity for residential students to 1,160. There are no immediate plans to add to the residential units, but with growing enrollment numbers, this is something the university takes into consideration.
    “We’ve grown so much over the last few years that this is a really good time to step back and do a self-assessment regarding what needs we have in our current spaces and decide where we want to allocate our dollars,” Barger said.
    But Lindenwood Belleville continues to make improvements on its 35-acre campus. Last month Matt’s Café, located on the bottom floor of Old Main Hall, reopened to students, faculty, and staff now with expanded space and new food and beverage options. The renovation almost tripled the café’s size to about 3,200 square feet with the creation of an outdoor dining area adjacent to the campus’ sunken garden. A generous donation from the Fred J. Kern family helped make the expansion possible. The university also contracted with Barnes and Noble Booksellers to manage its book store service.
    In another sign of growth, Lindenwood Belleville created a new position of athletic director. To this point, the basketball coach was also acting as athletic director. But, Barger said that the athletic program had grown to 36 sports, making it too much to have someone split time with other responsibilities. After conducting a national search, the university selected Ryan Kaiser to lead the athletic program. Before joining Lindenwood Belleville, Kaiser was the Associate Director of Athletics for Internal Operations at Northwest Oklahoma State University since 2012.
    At Northwest Oklahoma State, Kaiser led all financial initiatives and financial management for the athletic department along with contributing in fundraising, development, and setting strategic planning goals.
    “We are so pleased to welcome a leader with Ryan’s experience, vision, and commitment to our athletics department,” said Barger. “We performed a national search to find the right person to build on the considerable success of our athletics programs and take us to an even higher level. We are confident that Ryan Kaiser is that person.”
    Lindenwood has been a pioneer in utilizing extracurricular activities to grow student enrollment.
    “What we’ve found is that if you’re passionate about doing something, and you get to do that while you’re pursuing your education, both of those experiences are better,” Barger said. “We find that student athletes achieve very well academically.”
    Barger said that university leadership is currently considering undertaking a major gift initiative to fund a number of projects on the Belleville campus. “We’re excited to be putting the final touches on our plan so we can introduce these initiatives to the community.”