There is a sense of nostalgia for the long time educator as she returns to campus and the A.Q. Miller School.
“I love the campus,” Folkerts said. “I love the limestone buildings. It’s a unique feature, you don’t see that on other campuses. It feels like you’re coming home when you walk in the door, which is just great. I had some very good teachers here and I value them very, very highly.”
Folkerts returned to her alma mater as a visiting professor and scholar. Her primary focus will be research.
Despite being retired, Folkerts returned to the classroom during the spring semester.
Louise Benjamin, former interim director of the A.Q. Miller School, moved to the dean’s office in the College of Arts and Sciences. Her departure opened a teaching position for the media history course. This class is in conjunction with the history department, which alternates teaching the course, with the Miller School.
The course was a perfect fit for the long-time historian.
Folkerts graduated in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. After masters at K-State, Folkerts movedto Kansas University for her Ph.D in American Studies.
Folkerts said she has wonderful memories at K-State.
“I was editor of the Collegian, so when I come through that part of the building it brings back lots of really wonderful memories,” Folkerts said. “It was a really great time for me.”
The Collegian took her to Vietnam in 1967, one of her favorite memories. Folkerts said she was able to travel with another student, who is now her husband.
“That’s one of the great things about journalism you (can) hang a camera around your neck and get in places,” Folkerts said. “It was an incredible experience.”
This is the first time since their time at K-State Folkerts and her husband have called Manhattan home.
“It feels like a really great place to be anchored,” Folkerts said. “We’re really enjoying that. I never really had the opportunity to come back until now.”
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill kept Folkerts away since 2006. There she was dean and alumni distinguished professor for the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Although she worked as a newspaper reporter, editor of a magazine, public relations professional, and assistant press secretary for Governor Robert Bennett of Kansas, Folkerts said she returned to academia because she wanted to share those experiences.
“I think it’s really important to have worked in the field,” Folkerts said, “My experience now is kind of old but I have tried to really keep it current.”
Before retiring and returning to K-State, Folkerts left a lasting legacy at UNC, Susan King, Folkerts’ successor as dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, said.
“I think one of her most successful legacies here at UNC is the Reese News Lab,” King said. “They have really worked on the digital future of journalism. It is very vital and a terrific legacy I think for the School that Jean had a hand in helping to shape it as an idea. She may be a historian, but she always had her eye on the digital future.”
While at UNC, Folkerts said she traveled the country meeting with alumni. She often discussed curriculum ensuring it matched what was being practiced in the field.
“I tried to always stay current with the professional viewpoint and vision and tie it in to how we reshaped our curriculum, and I think that’s really important to do,” Folkerts said. “Also, I think it’s important not to just do a kind of knee-jerk reaction to what’s trendy at the moment, but to think about journalism in the broad scope and its importance and why we do it.”
King said she didn’t have the opportunity to work directly with Folkerts, but they did work together through the Carnegie Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education. King said Folkerts was the first woman dean to join the initiative.
Brigit Wassmuth, director of the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications, said Folkerts contacted her in the fall about returning to Manhattan.
“She said if there’s any way to connect with the School, she would love to just offer services,” Wassmuth said. “She said all I want is really just a desk and access to the library.”
Wassmuth welcomed the former dean’s experiences to Kedzie Hall.
“To be able to pick her brain, sit down for coffee, have lunch with her, as a junior faculty member in particular, is just a tremendous value,” Wassmuth said. “We can’t put a price-tag on that.”
Folkerts who has several books published, has shared her experiences with some of the faculty and has more meetings on the books. Her background as a scholar and conducting research provides a special insight for faculty.
“My main mentoring role here is with faculty who want to publish, are coming up for tenure promotion of establishing a research agenda,” Folkerts said. “So, I want to help those faculty get their research programs going in the right direction. I really enjoy working with faculty, helping them make some decisions about a plan for their careers.”
Mentoring and teaching is more than just work for Folkerts. Her roots dip deep in the A.Q. Miller School so for her it’s about giving back to the school that helped her develop a successful career in journalism.
“I think it’s partly a sense of giving back,” Folkerts said. “ When I came to K-State I had grown up pretty much in little towns. We had lived in the city when I was really small for a little while, but K-State introduced me to a lot of new ideas, different kinds of people, really challenged me to think about worlds I didn’t know and so it’s really gratifying to me if I can bring some of my experiences back and help people, students, faculty, whoever I can be useful to, to give back some of what I learned. K-State started me on my road.”