Fort Hays State University began life 100 years ago Sunday

One hundred years ago on June 23, 1902, the first classes convened at the Western Branch of the Kansas State Normal School, now known as Fort Hays State University. Since then, a lot more than the name has changed -- FHSU has grown from its humble beginnings as a preparatory school for western Kansas teachers to a full-fledged university with several nationally-recognized programs.

Centennials are traditionally times to look back, to reflect on past accomplishments. But the future is equally interesting and important: What further changes will this institution see? What will FHSU be like 100 years from now?

Of course, no one could possibly know for sure what the future holds. But when questioned, students, faculty, staff and alumni offered surprisingly similar visions of the future. One common denominator predicted by nearly everyone is a technological explosion, resulting in drastic changes to the traditional college experience.

"It'll all be done by the Virtual College," predicted Jason Regnier, a senior from Salina and a member of this year's national champion debate team. "I think that can be both good and bad. The whole technology deal -- it seems Fort Hays State has really gotten on that wave."

Echoing Regnier's prediction -- and his concerns -- was Mardy Robinson, a 1998 graduate of FHSU with a B.A. in English. "With the emergence of the Virtual College and the ability to reach people of all nations, I would imagine that FHSU will enroll students in every country in the world," she said. "More and more individuals will be avoiding campus life (to their disadvantage) in order to virtually participate in courses from autotransporting repair to zoological studies."

Despite the increase in virtual students, Robinson, herself a member of the women's basketball team during her time at FHSU, thinks there will still be enough students on campus to field athletic teams. "With such a large enrollment, the university will have been promoted to Division I status and the athletic department will thrive. A few women's basketball championship teams will have passed through Gross Memorial Coliseum -- now a 20,000-seat capacity arena. Go Lady Tigers!"

Dr. Placido "Art" Hoernicke, chair of the Department of Special Education, noted that the increase in distance education will likely change the face of the FHSU student body. "In the year 2102 Fort Hays State University will serve a much different population than it serves in 2002," he said. "The student body will be composed of local, national and international students; it will be primarily Hispanic and Asian."

However, he does not foresee the complete disappearance of the traditional college experience. "Traditional campus-based programs will represent a much smaller number than present," he said. "These students will work more closely with faculty and be prepared to take leadership positions in a worldwide educational system.

"Overall, the educational system will become more individualized and worldwide in scope. Content will be accessible on an individualized, personalized basis without time or space constraints."

The most complete -- and the most enthusiastic -- vision of a high-tech future came from Dr. Liane Connelly, associate professor of nursing. Her imagined future bypasses computer technology, moving on to teleportation and internal communication devices.

"The environments for learning will be instantaneous, immediate and accurate," she said. "Libraries in their present form will be a thing of the past. In their place, information will be available without wires, hardware, software, or any external device. Instead, libraries will be accessed 'on demand' through the use of voice recognition systems or internal thought processes."

Like Hoernicke, Connelly sees definite advantages to an online learning environment. "Higher education as we know it may finally be accessible to all individuals, regardless of economic condition or intelligence," she said.

"Obtaining a degree in a given field may or may not be necessary, considering the fact that machines can currently be programmed to make decisions for people in controlled situations. Of course these current systems are based on logic or fuzzy logic, which has its flaws, but in 100 years, we may have a situation in which people know no particular field, yet know all fields based on the need."

Connelly noted this democratization of knowledge has potentially great implications in her field of health care, as did fellow nurse Ellie Gabel, who retired in May after 16 years at the FHSU Student Health Center.

"In 100 years, there will be a shortage of nurses," Gabel said. "I can see that happening now. More and more nurses are going on to become specialized nurse practitioners because they make more money and don't have to work weekends. I'm sure there will still be a few people who have it in their heart to care for people and don't care about the money, but overall our society is getting better educated.

"Because of the nursing shortage, more and more health care will be done via technology. Students will be able to punch in symptoms and medication will be dispensed. This could be good and bad -- it would be good if sick people don't have to wait a week or more for a doctor to see them, but on the other side, it's always good to have an eye looking at someone."

In contrast to these high-tech visions, Suzanne Klaus, FHSU Web Manager and 2002 graduate, believes that by 100 years from now things will have come full circle. "I think that more people will be looking toward getting back to a simpler life," she said. "I think that at our current pace, we are wearing ourselves out. Hopefully our descendents will figure it all out and be able to simplify things where we couldn't.

"If you believe what we were hearing in the 1960s about how the world would be by the year 2000, you would think that there would be no physical campus as we know it today," Klaus said.

"Everything would be computerized and all students would take classes from their homes and never have to step foot in a classroom.

"However, as we well know, we are not living like the Jetsons where you push a button and your dinner comes down a conveyor belt or your robotic maid cleans your house. We still have to cook and clean the 'old-fashioned' way and we drive to work rather than flying.

"So in my opinion the technology will hopefully be better and more reliable in 100 years, but students will still be coming to class. Teachers will still be standing at the front of the room lecturing or presenting new material."

No matter what the future holds, everyone questioned was confident that this year's Centennial Celebration is just the beginning, and that FHSU will continue to play an important role in higher education for many years to come.

"I do believe that our current university president, Dr. Edward H. Hammond, will be an historical leader who is mentioned in the 200-year celebration of FHSU," Connelly said. "With his strong vision and commitment to "high tech-high touch" education, FHSU will look at the second 100 years of success noting the significant strides this university leader made at this critical point in time."

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