Social work chair talks academic probation

Turning it around: Tonya Ricklefs was once placed on academic probation as a student. Now, she is the chair of the social work department and has taught at both of her alma maters – Washburn University and Kansas State University.


“A lot of [students] do not know that I was once on academic probation while a student at Washburn,” said chair and assistant professor of the social work department, Tonya Ricklefs.  

Ricklefs doesn’t mind sharing the story – she knows it has a profound impact on her students.

“You can struggle, and you can rebound from it,” said Ricklefs. “I would never tell students to do anything I wouldn’t do.” 

A colleague, Rhonda Peterson Dealey agrees that Ricklefs loves her job and working with students.

“She approaches obstacles as challenges to be faced,” said Peterson Dealey. “She is passionate about supporting students [and] is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met.”

Today, Ricklefs is successful as both the department chair of social work and an assistant professor. Her favorite classes are about sexuality, where she pushes students to embrace difficult topics.

“I want students to feel comfortable asking questions,” said Ricklefs. “If they don’t agree with something, I say… ‘challenge me’.”

A former student, Sydney Masters, liked Ricklefs’ use of real-world scenarios and spoke highly of the professor.

“She has built relationships with many students – people adore her,” said Masters. “I enjoyed how she taught us using scenarios.”

In the real world, social work can be a difficult career.

“I make students try to work through a dispute with people,” said Ricklefs. “It makes them uncomfortable, but it’s helpful.”

Ricklefs has made quite a journey from facing academic probation to being chair of the social work department. Regarded highly by both students and colleagues, Ricklefs is known for her self-determination and passion for social work.

Edited by Adam White, Wesley Tabor, Hannah Alleyne