High school students gain insight into media careers at FHSU open house


Exploring options in degree concentrations and careers, 80 high school students from Hays High and Ellis High School interacted with faculty members, Tiger Media Network students, and admissions staff at an open house hosted by FHSU’s Department of Informatics on March 25. An early spring blizzard canceled school for many western Kansas students, reducing attendance from 150 who had registered for the event. 

The students who attended got an overview of many skills the informatics department offers, from AI data visualization, Premiere Pro tips, web and mobile applications, and radio show development to the psychology behind hype videos and the basics of podcasting. Students interested in cybersecurity got a first look at FHSU’s new Cybersecurity Institute and Technology Incubator (CITI).

FHSU’s admission department gave away three $1,000 scholarships and assisted in preparations for the event. Local businesses partnered with the informatics department to provide food. 

“We really enjoyed the opportunity to work with these high school students,” said Nick Schwien, director of Tiger Media Network. “It was exciting to be able to show them our state-of-the-art facility in Hammond Hall and give them an overview of all the unique things our department offers.”

Guest speaker Michael Schwanke, Wichita’s KWCH evening Eyewitness News anchor and FactFinder 12 investigator, gave students a window into the life of a news anchor during his presentation at Beach Schmidt Performing Arts Center. Schwanke, who graduated from FHSU with a bachelor’s degree in information networking/media studies, discussed the benefits he received from his time at FHSU. One big plus for Schwanke was learning from professors who had worked in the media industry.

“Fort Hays had plucked these people, not just out of academia, but people who had been in the real world and had come back to teach,” he said. “That made a huge difference.”

Schwanke credits the hands-on experience he received at FHSU as helping him to “hit the ground” running in his first position at KBSD in Dodge City. Even though he had changed his major during his sophomore year, he was able to graduate in four years and move into his first role as an anchor and reporter at KBSD. 

As he hires new reporters at KWCH, Schwanke said he is seeking applicants with direct experience in digital media.

 “Almost every reporter I hire, I’m looking for some hands-on experience. That they’ve been there, they’ve done it,” he said. “I truly don’t care about what degree they have as opposed to the experience they have.”

Schwanke’s dedication to the field of journalism was evident as he shared his story with the students. A two-time Emmy award winner and winner of various other awards, including the national Edward R. Murrow award, Schwanke said he believes in the positive power of the media.

“We (media members) still have the ability to change lives for the better,” he said. “Right wrongs. Be a voice for the voiceless. It’s the stories that change lives for the better or that right a wrong that make a difference.”

“To be an anchorman has taken hard work and luck, but I love what I do.”

Preparing students to find synergy between their chosen major and their future career is a central goal of FHSU’s Department of Informatics. According to Schwien, success stories such as Schwanke’s can provide a positive impact for students.

“It’s important for us to show current and future students how they can make the most of their education from Fort Hays State and jump right into the real-world environment and contribute immediately,” Schwien said. “Michael is an excellent example of that. He made the most of his opportunities at FHSU and worked hard along the way, showing the grit and determination needed to be successful. That’s carried over into his professional career as well, and it all started on our campus.”

The department is planning to host similar events in the future, perhaps adding one in the fall semester as well.

Any school interested in being part of the next event can contact Schwien at njschwien@fhsu.edu.

For more information on the Department of Informatics at FHSU, visit https://www.fhsu.edu/informatics/.