Few university departments can claim that industry demand for its graduates is so great, they can't fill it. But Fort Hays State University's Department of Technology Studies can.
"We have about 120 students split between teacher education and industry. We can't graduate enough people to fill the demand. Our graduates are hired almost immediately," said Dr. Fred Ruda, Technology Studies Department chair.
The department offers a bachelor of science in technology studies, allowing students to choose from an emphasis in technology, industrial technology or leadership studies. Students pursuing the industrial technology emphasis specialize in construction technology, manufacturing technology, or communications technology. Students selecting the technology education emphasis specialize in production systems; communication systems; or power, energy systems and transportation systems.
The leadership studies emphasis, developed four years ago, is designed for students transferring in from a community college or vo-tech.
"Before, if they wanted a B.S. degree, they had to start all over with their applied work. That stymied lots of kids," said Ruda. "Now we take their entire associate of applied science degree. They get industrial leadership and a general education that way."
Department alumni aren't just successful in their job searches. They are successful as students as well. FHSU's Technology Education Collegiate Association chapter can claim 18 first-place wins in the manufacturing portion of the regional technology competition in the last 20 years. That victory entitles the team to a chance to compete at the national level during the International Technology Education Association's annual meeting. The team has returned from that competition 12 times as the national champions.
Over the years, the department has been successful also in the other five areas of the competition -- communication, problem solving, transportation, teaching lesson and technology challenge -- but not as consistently as the manufacturing portion, Ruda said.
In March, teams from FHSU returned from the competition as national champions in the teaching lesson category and brought home a second-place trophy in problem solving.
"Our students' excellent work ethics, combined with our quality program and outstanding faculty members who care about our students, contribute to this success," he said.
Also contributing is the generosity of companies who take on students as interns.
"It's a win-win situation for everybody," Ruda said. "Students have a degree, at least one semester work experience, letters of recommendation and job selection.
"The department gets feedback from the companies," he continued. "They're quick to tell us what is really happening; this is the process, procedures we're using, need students to know. That way we can update our curriculum.
"And many times, those companies often help us with big, expensive equipment," he added.
In the last several years, with the aid of those companies, and with FHSU President Edward H. Hammond providing the department with the additional means, the labs have seen the addition of a robotic arm, a laser and three Computer Numerical Controlled machines. Students can program or scan their plans and designs into a computer and the machines make the part, or in the case of the laser, cut out the design.
"We've got smaller versions of the machines currently used in the industry, so we'll have a step-up on our competition when we graduate," said Lucas Meiar, WaKeeney senior.
Dr. Debbie Mercer, dean of the Department of Education and Technology, knows the importance of having such a good relationship with the industry in conjunction with a quality teaching staff.
"The Tech Studies Department provides a bridge for the university between the education and industry. There is some overlap that benefits not only the department but the college in general," she said. "When you combine cutting-edge equipment and the cutting-edge technology that's available with a faculty who knows how to use it, that's a powerful combination. The Technology Studies Department exemplifies that."
The students also are proud of their department's quality and achievements.
"If you're looking to become a teacher, it's the best program in the state -- and in surrounding states," said Matthew Mazouch, Great Bend senior. "We have lots of successful alumni."
"The variety of activities in class is beyond any other program. The instructors know what they are doing and are very knowledgeable about the industry," said Ty Coker, Hays senior. "And," he added with a grin, "We have a lot of fun."
That fun is part of the department's close-knit atmosphere.
"We're a family over here. Everybody knows everybody, so you can't get away with much," said Lucas Meiar.
"The instructors care about you and what you're doing on a personal level, not just on an academic level," said Ashley Goering, Cimarron senior. "We have a lot of one-on-one time with our professors."
"I came to Fort Hays because during my junior year of high school I had Keith Aubert ('03) as a student teacher and got connected to the professors who came to check on him," said Becca Applebee, Rossville freshman.
"They create a very positive environment," she said. "Everyone will help you in any way they can."