15 #BestofKU moments from 2015

Looking back, it’s amazing to see what our students, professors and alumni have accomplished in the past year. They made ground-breaking discoveries, received national and international recognition for their work and experienced exclusive learning opportunities. Here are just a few highlights from 2015. Relive the whole year of College news here.

  1. Professor’s film “Chi-Raq,” co-written with Spike Lee, hits theaters

Kevin Willmott, associate professor of film and media studies, takes on the issue of gun violence in the urban core. Set in Chicago, the title compares inner city violence to that of a war zone in Iraq and comes from a term already being used by residents and street artists. Willmott based the film on the ancient Greek play “Lysistrata” — a satire about women who withhold sex from their husbands until they sign a peace treaty ending the Peloponnesian War. The film has already been named at the top of The New Yorker’s best movies of 2015 list and is the first production of Amazon Original Movies.


  1. Only known voice recording of James Naismith is discovered

In researching his new book on the influence of religion in Dr. Naismith’s life, Michael Zogry, associate professor of religious studies and indigenous studies, came across a radio interview with the father of basketball. In the interview, Naismith discusses the invention of the game and setting up the first basketball match using two peach baskets. Listen to it here and prepare for goose bumps.

  1. Art and Design building gets a name

Now known as E. Laurence Chalmers Hall, the dedication of the former Art and Design Building means every previous KU chancellor is represented by a building on KU’s campuses. During his tenure, Chalmers handled crises including the burning of the Kansas Union and despite pressure from the state legislature and the Board of Regents to quell student protests he remained a strong supporter of freedom of assembly and academic expression.


  1. Two students received KU’s first ever astronaut scholarship

Jennifer Stern, senior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, and Jessica van Loben Sels, senior majoring in microbiology, were recognized with $10,000 scholarships as the university’s first recipients of scholarships from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. Talk about shooting for the stars. These scholarships are given by members of the Mercury 7 mission and are meant to encourage students to pursue scientific education and help keep the United States on the leading edge of technology.

Jennifer Stern and Jessica von Loben Sels
  1. Students and faculty helped discover and excavate the gate to Goliath’s hometown

Yes, that Goliath. As in, David and. KU professor Eric Welch and a team of students were part of an archaeological excavation in Israel this summer. They uncovered the entrance gate and fortification wall to the ancient biblical city of Gath, best known for its role in the Bible as home of giant Goliath and site of his famous showdown with David.


  1. First doctoral student in women’s studies graduates

On the first day of the fall semester, Megan Lease made history. Megan defended her dissertation, “A Strong Woman of the Lord: Performing Gender at the Intersection of Sport and Evangelical Christianity,” making her the first student at KU to receive a Ph.D. from the Department of Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies. Her dissertation examines how female Christian athletes negotiate various and sometimes competing gendered expectations as Christians, women, and athletes.


  1. Professors helped us make sense of #TheDress

Remember the dress that broke the internet? We asked a couple of our professors to weigh in on why some of us were #TeamWhiteGold and some were #TeamBlueBlack – and why we were so freaked out about it. “The fact is that when two people look at the same image and have vastly different interpretations, it goes against everything we think about as truth,” said Greg Osterhaus, biology lecturer.


  1. CLAS introduced an online degree and new majors and minors

The College Online launched, allowing students to get the same quality Jayhawk experience in a flexible environment. Dozens of students started the program this year and we even celebrated our first online graduate. For students on campus, the College introduced a Jewish studies major, becoming the only university in the state to offer this major, and added a Spanish minor and visual art minor.

0219 EDIT

  1. Students took advantage of a learning opportunity that won’t happen again until 2032

This summer Lawrence residents experienced a phenomenon they haven’t seen since 1998 and won’t see again for 17 years, swarms of cicadas. Every summer, annual “dog days” cicadas make an appearance but this summer brought cicadas by the tens of thousands. These cicadas are periodical, living underground for 17 years before popping above ground for a brief period in summer. Students had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience working with cicadas and participated in three community events, teaching Lawrence residents about the importance of these strange critters.


  1. Professor named one of the first Carnegie fellows

The iconic Carnegie Corporation of New York, founded more than a hundred years ago, started a new fellowship this year for social sciences and humanities. Greg Cushman, associate professor of history and environmental studies, became one of just 32 scholars chosen to be in its first class. Honorees will receive up to $200,000 to research current and future challenges to U.S. democracy and international order. Cushman is an environmental historian, known for his research on climate change.


  1. Establishment of Institute for Leadership Studies

Leadership is a process, it’s not about who has the highest title. Furthering its mission of educating leaders, KU announced the creation of the Institute for Leadership Studies, which will conduct interdisciplinary research and provide new certificates, mentorship and leadership programs.

Participants in the 2015 Kansas Women’s Leadership Institute, a program that will be housed out of the new Institute for Leadership Studies.
  1. Grad student receives Department of Defense fellowship

James Bowen, doctoral candidate in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, received a fellowship that will cover tuition, provide a research stipend and a job with the federal office upon graduation. He is currently doing research in experimental high-energy nuclear physics and in residence at the world’s premier laboratory for the subject in Switzerland.


  1. Professors research racial impact of police policies

Police reform was a hot topic in 2015. In a new study, Shannon Portillo, associate professor in the School of Public Affairs & Administration, found stop-and-frisk polices and investigatory police stops unfairly target racial minorities and can dramatically influence people’s perception of police officers. Portillo suggests police departments should consider working more closely with local communities and use stop-and-frisk tactics only as a last resort instead of a routine option.

  1. School of Languages, Literatures & Cultures is inaugurated

Offering more than 40 languages, the most in the region and the Big XII, KU continues to prepare students for a global society with the fall 2015 convocation of the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures.


  1. Carl Lejuez is named 14th dean of the College

Named as the next dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at KU, Dr. Lejuez comes to KU from the University of Maryland. He currently serves as a professor of psychology and associate dean of research for the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences and will start as dean in February. Having never lived west of Atlanta, he says he’s excited to experience the Midwest and finally be on the right side of the eerie Rock Chalk chant!

Carl Lejuez, dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), University of Kansas December 14, 2015 MC-01593 (1501593) This non-smiling version is the subject's official portrait. The smiling version named "ALT" (alternative) may be used only when directed/approved by the subject.