By CRISTINA JANNEY
Steve Hudman took over as the new VP of the NCK Tech Hays campus facing the challenge of COVID-19's "new normal."
Hudman, who has 13 years of experience in higher education, took over the leadership role in Hays days after the campus closed for COVID-19.
The school plans to restart in August with in-person classes, but Hudman acknowledged COVID-19 will require the school, its students and staff to be flexible and adjust as the COVID-19 situation evolves.
"We may come up and think we have the best plan in place ready to go, but that might all have to be changed in a month or a day, because of some sort of outbreak or an event that has increased the COVID spread rate," Hudman said. "That has been the biggest challenge — to navigate all the uncertainty."
Although in-person and hands-on classes are planned and preferred, Hudman said classes could need to go back online.
"We may be meeting face-to-face one day," he said. "We may be meeting by Zoom one day."
The school is not planning for if a student or staff member is diagnosed with COVID-19, they are planning on what to do when that happens, Hudman said.
"It is going to happen," he said. "How we manage the positive cases is going to determine how the semester goes.
"It is going to look a lot different than what people are used to, but we are going to create as normal an atmosphere as we possibly can to look as close as it can to a non-COVID year."
Although COVID-19 seems to be NCK Tech's most significant challenge, Hudman said the college has much potential for growth.
"I can't say exactly what drew me to NCK Tech other than the technical side of the house, the format, the structure and the course work that helps students succeed to become gainfully employed," he said.
Hudman said he believes higher education should be more than getting bodies in the seats. He said states, including Kansas, are putting more emphasis on completion of degree programs or certifications and employment after those programs are completed.
Hudman said if he had his education to do over, he said he does not know if he would have attended a four-year college.
"I have four kids of my own," he said. "If you want to go out and get a lucrative career ... I think technical college is the niche to get students gainfully employed into lifetime careers."
The COVID-19 crisis has put an even bigger emphasis on technical education, Hudman said. Nurses, plumbers, HVAC technicians, mechanics — these are the essential workers, he said.
"You don't come out of school with a lot of debt," he said. "You finish a program in nine months. You can go to work and make anywhere from $28,000 to $70,000 a year to as much money as you wanted to make no matter what the climate."
Hudman said he would like to further develop student life at the school.
Much of Hudman's career has been spent in student affairs. He served as the dean of student affairs and chief student affairs officer at Angelina College in Lufkin, Texas.
Prior to Angelina College, Hudman served as the dean of student life and athletic director for Cisco College in Cisco, Texas. Both colleges had fewer than 5,000 students.
The school may be limited right now because of social distancing requirements, but Hudman said he would like to see more student activities, such as student barbecues, intramurals, dances or concerts.
He said bringing the student body together might start with bringing the P/HAC and culinary programs to campus. The school's Hays-based culinary program is at the Hadley Center and the P/HAC program is on Main Street in Hays.
"We have a lot of space. We have a lot of open areas that are just screaming, 'Let's do something with those spaces,' " Hudman said. "I don't want to say it's a blank canvas, because there is a lot going on at NCK Tech in both Beloit and here, but we're spread out throughout Hays."
He said the campus has room to grow and he thought the NCK Tech programs are in demand in the Hays market. The Hays NCK Tech programs are near to capacity.
"NCK Tech is the best kept secret in Hays," Hudman said. "The goal is to not make it a secret anymore. We want you to understand that we have a lot of good things going on."
He said family and community involvement were both his top priorities.
Hudman said he would like to see NCK Tech more active in the community in civic organizations and volunteer opportunities.
"I look forward to getting the NCK Tech family and the Hays community integrated more so than it already is," he said.
Hudman has four children — Bret, 23, will be finishing his degree at FHSU; Baleigh, 21; Bryce, 18, will be starting the P/HAC program at NCK-Tech in the fall; and Brock, 13, will be an eighth grader at Hays Middle School in the fall. Hudman has been married to his wife, Kelly, for 25 years.