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The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

‘Leverage our togetherness’: Dean of libraries foresees collaborative future

Mia Hennen
Brent Mai talks about his ideas and goals if selected as the new dean of university libraries. Mai visited campus on Aug. 3 and 4 to meet with various stakeholders on campus.

A Kansas native with a career spanning across the nation, Brent Mai has joined Wichita State University as the newly appointed dean of libraries.

He pursued his undergraduate degree at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas, and later completed his master’s in international finance at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. 

Mai’s journey to academia reflects a passion for research that has guided the trajectory of his career. He said doing consulting work at George Washington University helped him discover this.

“(I) decided that the part that I liked the most about that work that I was doing was the research that was behind it all,” he said.

Mai earned his Doctorate in Education from Vanderbilt University and his Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Texas at Austin.

During the dean-recruitment process, Mai said WSU sounded like the perfect match for his background. He described it as a return to home.

“People told me ‘People in Kansas are so friendly,’” Mai said and responded in agreement, “’Yes. We are.’“ 

Mai was appointed as WSU’s dean of libraries in September, replacing the previous dean Kathy Downes, and began his role on Oct. 15.

Unlike other deans, Mai’s responsibilities extend across all of WSU’s schools of study. 

He emphasized the evolving role of a library dean in today’s world.

“If you’re looking for somebody who’s going to be a library manager, then that’s not my thing anymore,” Mai said. 

Mai views the role of the library dean as multifaceted and focuses on the bigger picture rather than everyday management. 

Much of his first month at WSU was spent learning about the culture of the university and meeting people from different departments and organizations. He prefers to meet faculty and students in their own spaces to help him learn about campus. 

“We have all the disciplines that we’re watching over to be sure (that) we shepherd the resources to support what you’re learning and what the faculty are researching,” he said.

Librarians at WSU are assigned as liaisons to different disciplines, fostering relationships with faculty and students to ensure a proactive approach to the research process.

“The sooner we’re involved with a faculty member developing a new course, then the sooner we can be sure that we’ve got things that cover that topic area,” Mai said. 

Fundraising is a significant aspect of Mai’s role, collaborating with donors to support student and faculty success through the library. He acknowledges and assumes responsibility for the challenge of balancing diverse academic needs within a limited budget.

To address the evolving needs of students across different disciplines, Mai and his team have been working on designing spaces that cater to various learning styles, allowing students to either collaborate or work independently. 

“We’re trying to design spaces now where students have what they need,” Mai said. 

Looking ahead, Mai envisions a collaborative future for Kansas universities. He aims to foster partnerships among the six public universities in the state to maximize shared resources and increase the collective strength of the academic community. Currently, there is little to no collaboration between the Kansas universities.

“There’s no reason we couldn’t be collaborating on some more stuff,” Mai said. “You know, Kansas is a relatively small state. We can leverage our togetherness better for all of our institutions.”

Mai has been one of the many voices involved in the preparation of the Biomedical Research Center, a $300 million shared biomedical campus that will be built in downtown Wichita starting in 2024. He hopes that this area of collaboration will lead to more connections between the colleges in the state.   

The Biomedical Research Center is part of a collaboration between the University of Kansas Medical Center, Wichita State University and WSU Tech.

“If nothing else, we have a very specific opportunity with the Biomedical Research Center where we’re supposed to be working with WSU Tech and KU to make things happen there,” Mai said.  “That will give us a chance to try out some new, collaborative sorts of opportunities, all of which are focused on having some kind of a positive impact on our students and faculty here.”

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About the Contributors
Taliyah Winn
Taliyah Winn, Assistant News Editor
Taliyah Winn is the assistant news editor for the Sunflower. She is a sophomore at WSU, double majoring in political science and journalism. In her spare time, Winn relaxes by drawing, weightlifting, and crocheting - usually while listening to music, YouTube videos, or Dungeons & Dragons podcasts. Winn uses she/her pronouns.
Mia Hennen
Mia Hennen, Editor in Chief
Mia Hennen is the current editor in chief for The Sunflower. Before becoming editor, Hennen was the news/managing editor. They are a junior at Wichita State majoring in English and minoring in communications and Spanish, hoping to pursue any career involving writing or editing.

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