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Shock the World Campaign
In This Issue

       

Next chapter for WSU icon Ron Matson


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As retirement nears, Ron Matson looks back on 48 years.

Ron Matson, his wife, Linda, and their three granddaughters were dining at a Mexican restaurant when two big bowls of fried ice cream arrived at their table, accompanied by a thank you note and three business cards belonging to former students.

The students, also dining at the restaurant, spotted Matson and wanted him to know he had made a difference in their lives. A few days later, two former students sent a drink to Matson while he was out with colleagues.

The avalanche of tributes, thank-yous and congratulatory wishes has begun, a reaction to Matson’s announcement he will retire this summer, 48 years after he arrived at Wichita State University as a 27-year-old assistant professor of sociology.

Through those years, he rose to department chair, interim dean of Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and dean, a post he has held since 2014.

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Ron Matson, 1984

Those titles by themselves don’t sufficiently tell the story of Matson’s iconic stature at Wichita State, a beloved teacher and administrator whose sensitivity, kindness and humility define him as much as his keen intellect and passion for learning. Though being dean of WSU’s largest college puts enormous demands on his time and energy, Matson made it a priority to continue teaching his popular Men & Masculinities class each semester.

For him, teaching is about opening minds. “I wanted to give students information that would get them to ask questions, wonder about the world, move beyond where they were at that moment,” Matson says. “If I could be a catalyst to opening those doors and getting them to wonder about things they haven’t wondered before, that was my primary goal.”

Relationships are also important to Matson, so he worked hard to connect with students personally.

“I try to fill the space in my classrooms with my presence, a nonjudgmental and transparent presence. I want to fill the room with enough energy and personal presence that students feel connected to the message I’m delivering and, perhaps, to me.”

It always moves Matson when, out of the blue, he receives a note of appreciation from a former student or an email describing how he touched their lives. One such email, received last summer, came from a woman who said she at first thought her professor wrong on many topics. Fourteen years after graduating, she said, painful life lessons revealed the wisdom of his words.

“The truth is, your classes changed my world like nothing else has,” she wrote. “The changes in me were not instant, but I still find myself thinking back to the things you taught me.”

After nearly five decades, Matson is a fixture at Wichita State, his 6-foot-1 frame, white hair and warm smile a distinctive site whether strolling through campus, at Shocker sporting events or attending one of many Fairmount College events. As in any relationship, there have been ups and downs in his with Wichita State, but the sum is greater than its parts.

“I am filled with gratitude for that relationship,” he says. “I’ve had the rare opportunity to grow and self-actualize doing something I love. Along with my wife, Linda, it has given me the freedom and courage to become the person I want to be.”

Anyone acquainted with Matson knows how devoted he is to Linda, whom he met on campus and married in 1988 in WSU’s Grace Memorial Chapel. Linda works in WSU Athletics as a mentor to student athletes, but she also will retire this year and the couple plans to travel while simply enjoying lives of leisure.

A long career devoted to higher education has affirmed for Matson the important role it plays. “The purpose of higher education is to create opportunities for learning, but they should be the kind of opportunities that give people agency and autonomy,” he says. “If that’s done, students will develop the ability to manage their lives personally and embrace the community collectively, leaving a better world in the end.”

What does he want his students, colleagues and friends to know about his 48 years at Wichita State? “Very simply, the gratitude I feel for having my life unfold here,” he says. “I liken that time to a crucible, a context that is life-giving and life-affirming. And all I can say is – thanks."

Linda and Ron Matson

STUDENT PERSPECTIVES

Ron Matson estimates he has taught more than 30,000 students during his tenure at Wichita State. Two former students share their thoughts here:

Karen Countryman-Roswurm, director of the WSU Center for Combating Human Trafficking and assistant professor in the School of Social Work. “Through his kindness, wisdom and dedication, Ron Matson has created a legacy that will live forever in our Shocker community. I am thankful to be among the thousands who have been informed and inspired through his classes, but more so, I feel blessed to have experienced the way in which Ron can empower the unique experiences, skills, gifts and talents of individuals.”

Jeff Blackman, who lives in Dallas, founded a company called Bedford Lodging that develops hotels. “Ron came along at an important time in my life and woke me up to observational methods of the world around me. As well, he became a mentor, a counselor and, most importantly, a friend. I’m certain I’m not alone in being grateful for the influence he had on my personal and professional life.”

A 48-YEAR CAREER AT WICHITA STATE

  • Joined the faculty, 1970
  • Served as chair of the Sociology Department, 1999-2012
  • Named Kansas Professor of the Year, 2011
  • Named interim dean of Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 2012
  • Appointed Fairmount College dean, 2014
 

 CELEBRATING RON MATSON’S LEGACY

Students, colleagues and friends who would like to honor Matson are invited to contribute to the Ron Matson Scholarship/Fellowship. The annual award for sociology students was established by one of Matson’s former students, Jeff Blackman, in 2015. Contributions will go toward endowing the scholarship so that it makes an impact on students for years to come.

For more information

If you would like to make a donation, visit www.foundation.wichita.edu/matson, or contact Kristi Oberg, development director, at 316-978-7307 or kristi.oberg@wichita.edu.

Marya McCrae