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The Dole Institute is more than just a building

July 21, 2013

Dole InstituteThe first time I went to the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics was for a 10th anniversary of 9/11 commemoration. Walking in, visitors see homage to Senator Bob Dole’s early years, a map of Kansas under their feet and a stain-glass representation of Dole’s hometown of Russell, Kansas to their right. Turning left, visitors find exhibits detailing Dole’s life and work, a model of the Capitol dome and the largest stain-glass American flag in the United States, with beams from the World Trade Center on both sides. This building truly knows how to make a first impression.

The Dole Institute celebrates the 10th anniversary of its dedication on July 22. In 10 years, the Dole Institute has begun an extraordinary legacy that has gone far beyond its first impression. For me, the Dole Institute has helped establish my place at the University of Kansas.

Fall 2011 Dole Fellow Susan Bryant’s study group, “A Run For the White House,” is the program I credit with making the Dole Institute a significant part of my first semester. Her topic the first week was national conventions, and she and guest Maxene Fernstrom definitely hooked me with discussions of planning and executing a party convention. I returned week after week and semester after semester for these more intimate, focused sessions. The Dole Institute puts on great evening programs, but study groups are smaller afternoon sessions that allow attendees to get to know the Fellow and really delve into the subject.

After study groups hooked me, joining the Dole Institute Student Advisory Board made this building another home for me on campus. Student Advisory Board members volunteer at events, do student introductions, network with guests and sponsor a program every semester. I looked forward to being with this group of people; I felt like we understood each other. On election night of 2012, I joined my Democratic, Republican and Independent peers to watch the returns come in in this building dedicated to bipartisanship.

When the Fellows and Study Groups Student Coordinator position opened up last January, I received the opportunity to make study groups as engaging for future semesters as they had been during the three I had attended. As a Dole Institute employee, I have a behind-the-scenes look at how programs are prepared and the day-to-day happenings in this beautiful building. I know how hard everyone here works to carry out the mission of promoting political and civic participation in a bipartisan manner.

As I write this, I am looking at pictures of the many notable people who have had their portraits taken in front of that stain-glass American flag. I am thinking about all the individuals who will one day enter this building, and I am thinking about the man for whom this building is named: a man who turns 90 years old this week and whose own extraordinary legacy will remain long after the Dole Institute Archives stop receiving new pieces.

The Dole Institute provides a unique experience to KU students and Lawrence residents. Game changers and world players come from other cities, states and countries to converge on Lawrence, Kansas, this college town in the middle of the flyover states. The Dole Institute is more than a building; the memories created here are the epitome of once in a lifetime.

Fifteen years ago, when the Dole Institute project was in its beginning stages, Senator Dole gave this quote to the Lawrence Journal-World: “This building’s not for Bob Dole. It’s for the students. I don’t need any buildings. Hopefully, it’ll do somebody some good.”

And, Senator, I’m telling you today, on behalf of all of us: it has.

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