President Martin tours Kansas, credits people of excellence and programs of distinction for Fort Hays State’s success

fhsu president mirta martin speaking at convocation

FHSU University Relations and Marketing

Dr. Mirta M. Martin, president of Fort Hays State University, believes in a simple but powerful formula:  People of Excellence + Programs of Distinction = Destination of Choice

The facts bear her out. While most of the universities in the Kansas Board of Regents system were losing students, Fort Hays State reported an official enrollment this fall of 14,210, which was an increase of 385 students from a year ago and an all-time record.

The western Kansas university has been on a steady upward trend. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported this summer that Fort Hays State was the eighth-fastest growing masters-level public university in the nation over the past decade.

President Martin is spending an entire week, beginning on Monday, Oct. 19, traveling the length and breadth of Kansas to talk about higher education in general and Fort Hays State in particular. The tour includes 32 separate events in 15 cities.

A few months after she arrived in July 2014, the university embarked on an ambitious “re-engineering” project.

“Together, we envisioned a new beginning for Fort Hays State; one that builds on our strengths — our programs of distinction and our people of excellence,” she said. “We engaged our faculty, students and staff in our discussions. We asked for honest opinions and creative input. We listened to each other. We found we were great at many things, but there was room to be better.”

A number of changes have resulted.

In her convocation speech in August at the beginning of the 2015-2016 academic year, President Martin called upon faculty and staff to shift from a culture of access to a culture of completion.

“Our job does not stop with getting students on campus and unpacked. That’s when our work really begins,” she said. “We must ensure those students cross the finish line. We must ensure they graduate. Successful student outcomes are our top priority. Retention is everyone’s business.”

A major enhancement of the university’s scholarship program will help students succeed. First-time freshmen who meet qualifying ACT and SAT requirements automatically receive scholarships, and those awards will be considerably higher beginning with the 2016-2017 school year. For example, students with a 29 ACT score will receive a $3,500 award renewable for three years, up from $1,200 previously. The other ACT-based scholarships will also increase, significantly relieving financial pressure on many FHSU students.

“We have the lowest tuition rate in the state and the second lowest in the country, but our affordability does not equate to lack of quality in our programs,” President Martin said. “Quite the contrary. Our small classes, individualized attention, and state-of-the-art facilities yield impressive results. We want to attract the bright minds of Kansas and of our nation.”

With the goal of making the university the destination of choice for academically gifted and ambitious students from around the state, nation and world, Fort Hays State also created an Honors College last spring.

The Honors College offers a challenging curriculum across the range of FHSU’s academic programs and housing that will gather the students into a dedicated living and study space. Honors College students automatically become members of the university’s Fort Hays Honor Society, an invitation-only group requiring a 3.8 cumulative GPA.

Students who qualify for the Honors College also receive greatly enhanced scholarships, ranging up to full tuition and fees, complete room and board costs, and $450 per semester for books.

Yet another enhancement that illustrates the FHSU commitment to student success is a request to the Regents to create a new STEM College. President Martin said a recent Young Makers’ Conference at Fort Hays State for 200 young school children was an innovative way to develop an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through literature and hands-on activities. “The inaugural conference on Oct. 9 was just one example for why we want to establish a STEM College,” she said. “People recognize the importance of STEM to the future of our nation. They are emphasizing it in elementary school, and students are coming to Fort Hays State to be taught and inspired by our faculty. They see Fort Hays State as the destination of choice for STEM education in this part of the country.” There are only 13 STEM colleges in the United States, including prestigious institutions such as MIT. There are no institutions in Kansas.  

The STEM college would have the added benefit of creating a pipeline into college for graduates of the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science. Housed on the FHSU campus, KAMS allows some of the state’s brightest minds to enter Fort Hays State as high school juniors.

A further initiative will be the launch next summer of the Hispanic College Institute, designed to attract to Fort Hays State the fastest growing minority in the nation and in Kansas. “Led by our Division of Student Affairs, this four-day, three-night residential program will introduce first-generation Hispanics to a university environment,” President Martin said. “It will teach them how to navigate the American educational system and how to enroll and graduate from college.”

The FHSU family has distinguished itself in many ways over the past year:

· ranked Fort Hays State the best university in Kansas last fall in an article, “The Best Online College in Each of America’s Fifty States.”
· A team of four FHSU students placed second in the nation and received a $20,000 award from Microsoft for creating an innovative app in the Be U Hackathon last November in Redmond, Wash.
· In October 2014, Nonprofit Colleges Online recognized FHSU’s online nursing program as No. 1 for “Online Programs for Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing.”
· Four Master of Business Administration students scored in the top 3 percent of the Educational Testing Service’s national Major Field Test last fall.
· Seth Kastle, an FHSU instructor of leadership studies, translated his military experience into a book for children that caught national attention. “Why is Dad so Mad?” helps military families deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. After its release this spring, the book quickly became the No. 1 children’s book on Amazon and the No. 8 book overall.
· The Kansas Health Foundation awarded a grant of $15,397 to fund a “Healthy Reading for Kids: Food & Fitness Project” in Hays. Starting in August, a team of 35 FHSU teacher education students has been implementing the project as part of an after-school literacy program.
· Eight FHSU students chased storms across eight states on an adventurous 18-day trip last summer led by Dr. Grady Dixon and Dr. Keith Bremer from the Department of Geosciences. The group began each day with a discussion about weather conditions and then drove several hours to find “promising” storms.
Further evidence can be seen in a recent report from PayScale Inc., the world’s largest database of salary profiles and other information. Of 32 undergraduate colleges in Kansas, Fort Hays State was tops in the percentage of alumni who would recommend their educational experience to others, at 89 percent, and in the percentage of alumni who think their work helps make the world a better place, at 63 percent.

“Fort Hays State is engaged in producing graduates who can think for themselves, who are articulate and persuasive, who are critical, creative and collaborative, and who are technologically proficient and competent across disciplines,” she said. “Our graduates contribute to the well-being of Kansas, our nation and the world. They are committed to improving the human condition.”

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