Community and education engagement director to further university's KC commitment

Monday, July 10, 2017

Laura LoyaconoOLATHE — Laura Loyacono is joining Kansas State University's Olathe campus as the director of community and education engagement. She will oversee strategic enrollment initiatives that increase the university's engagement with students and schools in Greater Kansas City.

Loyacono's focus is on K-16 education — students' educational path from kindergarten through senior year at a university. She will be responsible for developing and enacting initiatives at schools in Greater Kansas City that increase student engagement and strategically grow enrollment at Kansas State University.

In addition to student engagement, Loyacono's efforts will increase the integration of Kansas State University and its Olathe campus into the Kansas City metro community. The university is committed to fostering education and research that enhance workforce development in the region's key emphasis areas, such as the life sciences, smart transportation and the architecture, engineering and construction cluster dubbed Design + Construct in the recently released KC Rising report. These areas bring economic growth to Greater Kansas City and the area through increased products and services.

"Laura brings a wealth of information, experience and connectivity relative to Greater Kansas City and students of all ages," said Ralph Richardson, dean and CEO of K-State Olathe. "She understands the educational opportunities available to students from all walks of life as they transition from high school and she has experience connecting them to career-enhancing programs, which have led to workforce development. We think this has a great opportunity, not only for the young people but for the community and its economic prosperity."

Loyacono will work closely with the university's Office of Student Life, particularly Bernard Franklin, assistant vice president for student life, who is stationed at El Centro Inc. in Kansas City, Kansas. Franklin and programs, such as the Kansas State College Advising Corps, are working to help low-income, underrepresented and first-generation college students successfully enroll at a best fit university and complete their bachelor's degree.

"Laura's role creates a tremendous opportunity for underrepresented and first-generation students in the metro area who, statistically speaking, will not consider college in their future," said Pat Bosco, vice president for student life and dean of students. "By strengthening our existing initiatives and developing new and meaningful pathways for these students, there also is great opportunity for enrollment growth and diversity at Kansas State University."

At K-State Olathe, Loyacono will work with Martha Nowak, K-12 program coordinator, and Jackie Spears, professor of curriculum and instruction who is helping school districts and higher education reform K-12 science, technology, engineering and mathematics education so that it better supports industry.

The campus regularly engages K-12 students through STEM-related activities and workshops, such as the One Health Summer Online Course, Microsoft DigiGirlz High and shadowing researchers in the lab, to get young minds interested in and excited about STEM careers at an early age. To date, the campus has reached more than 17,000 K-12 students through these activities. Loyacono will help expand those efforts to a broader student base with new initiatives.

"Our region is experiencing a skilled workforce shortage, and in order for the Kansas City region to succeed in the global economy, it will be critical for all segments our population to have the education and preparation necessary for employment," Loyacono said. "There are too many talented young people who are being left behind. Through my work at K-State Olathe, we hope to expand our reach to underserved populations, particularly low-income and first-generation college students, and make sure that they have the education and skills necessary to take part in this economic prosperity."

Prior to K-State Olathe, Loyacono worked at the University of Missouri-Kansas City as program director for the School of Computing and Engineering. As the founding executive director of the KC STEM Alliance, she oversaw the expansion of new K-12 programs, such as the FIRST Robotics Competition and Project Lead the Way, which are being implemented by 30,000 K-12 students in the region. She also spearheaded initiatives aimed at improving retention and college completion for underserved and first-generation college students.

Loyacono is nationally recognized for her work in STEM engagement. She has led numerous initiatives aimed at improving opportunities for young people, particularly underrepresented populations, women and first-generation college students. She was named one of the 40 Tech Stars of 2015 by Tech Week in Kansas City and the 2015 State Leader of the Year by Project Lead the Way at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Loyacono earned a master of public administration from the University of Kansas, and a bachelor's degree in political science and communication from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri.