FHSU sophomore Tage Rothchild, a member of last year’s national runner-up robotics team, talks to high school students visiting campus earlier this semester during the Department of Applied Technology’s Junior-Senior Day.
BY DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
FHSU University Relations and Marketing
Exhaust fans were purring so loudly that the instructor nearly had to shout above the din.
Nonethless, juniors and seniors from nearly 20 high schools across Kansas were all ears as Dillon Bell explained a partnership between Fort Hays State University and North Central Kansas Technical College. They were visiting the FHSU campus earlier this month as part of Junior-Senior Day for the Department of Applied Technology.
Every once in a while, someone’s eyes would wander across the room to a row of welding booths in the Center for Applied Technology. The welders barely noticed as they went about their business.
Two of those hard at work, Ethan Peterson and Hesston Maxwell, said it seemed like more than just a couple of years ago since they were in those high school students’ shoes. Little did they know back then that extending their college careers past one year could look so good.
Peterson and Maxwell learned from presentations by FHSU students and instructors at Fort Hays State’s Applied Technology Junior-Senior Day in 2017 about the different opportunities the program has to offer.
The Smith Center High School graduates are two of several who began their careers in the welding program of NCK Tech, then continued as full-time Fort Hays State students the next year. In Year 2, they take classes in the manufacturing discipline at FHSU while pursuing an associate degree of welding engineering technology.
The students are already familiar with the facilities in the second-year program because the first-year NCK Tech students take their welding classes, along with FHSU students, in the CAT – barely two years old and stocked with state-of-the-art equipment and student-friendly classrooms.
“It’s a great partnership we have with the tech college,” said Kim Stewart, chair of FHSU’s Department of Applied Technology. “It gives the students a lot of options, and we always want to put students first.”
Bell doubles as the welding instructor for the Fort Hays State and NCK Tech students, alternating days with each group. The NCK Tech students take general education classes on their campus in northeast Hays.
The partnership was the brainchild of former department chair Dr. Fred Ruda when he and his staff were trying to think of creative ways to increase enrollment in their department. It has been well received.
Peterson and Maxwell didn’t even know about such an option until they came to Junior-Senior Day their junior year at Smith Center. But they liked the idea so much they didn’t return for the event last year but scheduled a personal visit to campus instead.
“It really opened up my eyes about the possibilities of what I could do with my life,” said Maxwell, whose dad owns a welding shop. “I was born into welding, and I really enjoy it, but I’m excited about the second-year classes, too.”
Peterson also said his current plans are to complete the two-year program, but he could change his mind and continue on at Fort Hays State for a bachelor’s degree. After all, early on in high school, he was set on going into the medical field in college until his sophomore year, when he “got hooked on welding.”
After their second year, students can choose to move seamlessly into the bachelor’s degree pathway at Fort Hays State. Most who do that route continue with the manufacturing concentration, but they also have a choice among engineering design technology, construction technology, construction management, and technology and engineering teacher education.
The event for juniors and seniors was just one of several opportunities the department gives high school students to visit campus as a group. During the fall semester, FHSU holds a race for drivers of electric cars that draws competitors from around the state. Then in the spring, the Western Kansas Technology Education Fair gives middle and high school students a chance to participate in live communications as well as showcase projects from their technology education classes.
“These are all great ways to introduce prospective students to the culture we have here at Fort Hays State with applied technology,” Stewart said. “Once they get here, they are able to see all the good things we are doing in our building. We just have to keep planting the seeds.”