Dr. Chris Kukk gives a talk on the power of compassion at a TEDxTalk in Nashville
Dr. Chris Kukk gives a talk on the power of compassion at a TEDxTalk in Nashville

Chris Kukk just can’t wait.

To move to Farmville, for one thing. To step into his new role as dean of Longwood’s honors college. To meet his colleagues from across the university. To get to know Longwood students. To build. To dream. To fail. To reimagine and discover. To ask a bunch of questions. To do, well, everything.

The charismatic professor of political science and social science and founding director of the Center for Compassion, Creativity and Innovation at Western Connecticut State University is absolutely bubbling with ideas about the possibilities for Longwood’s Cormier Honors College for Citizen Scholars.

 Questions make the engine of civil society rocket forward. I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity to help answer them.

Chris Kukk, Wilma Register Sharp and Marc Boyd Sharp Dean of the Honors College Tweet This

The Cormier Honors College for Citizen Scholars is a group of high-achieving Longwood students who live and learn together while completing honors courses that span multiple disciplines, maintaining rigorous academic standards, and completing a study abroad experience before graduation. Named for Longwood’s 24th president, Patricia Cormier, the college received a record $2 million endowment gift in 2015 by Marc and Wilma (’66) Sharp and has become known as the home to academic innovation on campus.

“An honors college is best when it’s an experimental educational laboratory,” Kukk says. “We have a place here where new ideas can be tried out, and I love that. That’s how education actually works: the real world is about trying something new and seeing if it works. We’ve got this incredibly strong foundation that already allows students and professors to wander into different areas and find new ideas and ask new questions, and that’s so powerful. Questions make the engine of civil society rocket forward. I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity to help answer them.”

In the next breath, he talks about the Cormier Honors College as a hub for social entrepreneurship and its potential to be a nationally known center for the thinkers and citizens of tomorrow. Because all of these ideas and cross-disciplinary thinking aren’t just darts that get thrown at a board. They’re all connected in an intricate web of social science and responsibility that is fundamental, he says, to a thriving society.

These ideas are so important for the future of our world, says Kukk, there’s just no time to wait.

“When you put these really talented students from a lot of different backgrounds who have a lot of different interests in a situation that allows for experimentation, it drives the university forward,” he said. “As an education, that’s the best glass of chocolate milk you could drink every day. You just want to down it!”

The honors college has grown exponentially over the last few years and is the keystone of Longwood’s academic experience. Chris brings not only the expertise but a dream-big quality that will inspire and prepare the citizen leaders of the 21st century.

Dr. Larissa Smith, provost and vice president for academic affairs Tweet This

It’s that philosophy that made a deep impression on Dr. Larissa Smith, provost and vice president for academic affairs, who convened the nationwide search that began in 2019 after longtime Cormier Honors College Dean Dr. Alix Fink planned to transition to academic affairs and take on broader responsibilities as associate provost of research and academic initiatives.

“The one thing that was quickly apparent--after Chris’s infectious energy--is that his philosophy lines up so perfectly with our mission as a university and with the work that Alix and her staff are doing,” said Smith. “The honors college has grown exponentially over the last few years and is the keystone of Longwood’s academic experience. Chris brings not only the expertise but a dream-big quality that will inspire and prepare the citizen leaders of the 21st century.”

The moment that sealed the deal--not only for Longwood but for Kukk as well--came during a presentation in early spring. 

Speaking to a group of students and faculty, Kukk outlined a vision of new kinds of careers--ones that take ideas from different disciplines and blends them together to come up with new questions to answer, and new ways of addressing those questions. These are the jobs of the future, he said, and Longwood can be that undergraduate engine.

“Citizen leadership,” he said, “is social entrepreneurship. Let’s go after it.”

“Every student was smiling at the end of the presentation,” said Smith. “They were clearly excited about that vision for their future, and Chris’s vision aligns perfectly with what we aspire to and work hard to do here at Longwood. He’s a dynamic professor and gifted speaker, and we’re excited to welcome him to our community.”

That’s what I’ve found so inspiring about Longwood--as an institution it looks at the long term and creating the best civically-engaged, compassionate citizen leaders it can.

Chris Kukk, Wilma Register Sharp and Marc Boyd Sharp Dean of the Honors College Tweet This

Kukk is no stranger to the idea of forging one’s own path. The son of an immigrant, he joined the Army after high school to find a way to pay for college and give back to the country that provided opportunities for his family. After three years in Army counterintelligence, he attended Boston University planning to pursue a law degree and a career as a prosecutor.

Like a lot of college students, it was a moment--and a professor--that changed the trajectory of his life. 

“I had a professor in my American Foreign Policy course who had to go away for a few weeks, and instead of asking a graduate student to teach the class for him, he asked me,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. I was as nervous as I have ever been. But something happened up there--after two weeks I fell in love with teaching. So that became my pursuit.”

Kukk went on to earn a Ph.D. in political science from Boston College and was an international security fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. A Fulbright scholar, he has been on the faculty at Western Connecticut State University since 2001. 

He’s also the author of The Compassionate Achiever, which outlines the centerpiece of his philosophy: that compassion is the key to a successful and good society. 

“The strongest societies,” he said, “are the most compassionate, in that citizens take care of each other and make decisions with empathy and a commitment to help. It’s about the long game--over time, the most compassionate wins out, and I’m interested in building a legacy of success. That’s what I’ve found so inspiring about Longwood--as an institution it looks at the long term and creating the best civically-engaged, compassionate citizen leaders it can."

“And I just can’t wait to get started.”

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