While Fort Hays State University has been going through a period of dramatic transition, including enrollment growth of more than 60 percent over the past five years, students always knew there was one person they could count on to provide a steady hand in navigating the changes.
That person was Dr. Herbert L. "Herb" Songer, vice president for student affairs.
During a news conference Friday morning on the FHSU campus, Songer, 64, announced that he was retiring effective June 30. Simultaneously, Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, announced that a national search would begin immediately to find a suitable replacement for Vice President Songer.
"Herb has become an institution within our institution, and his successor will have big shoes to fill," President Hammond said. "He was always, first and foremost, an advocate for our students. His long years of experience, coupled with a calm demeanor in all circumstances, made him the best ally a student could have. The model he provided will be very much on our minds as we search for the right person to fill this important role."
The president said he hoped to use Vice President Songer's services after retirement. "Herb has indicated his willingness to continue to be of assistance to the university in a different capacity, and with our Dare to Dream strategic planning initiative, there very well may be an opportunity for him to continue to provide leadership for the university after retirement."
Dr. Hammond announced that Todd Powell, FHSU's general counsel and executive assistant to the president, would chair the search committee to find a new vice president for student affairs.
Songer's association with FHSU began in the '60s as an undergraduate student. He earned a bachelor's degree in Physical Education from FHSU in 1966, followed by a master's degree in Guidance and Counseling from FHSU in 1969. He later earned a Ph.D. in Counseling & Student Personnel Administration from Kansas State University, in 1988. Before completing his master's degree, Songer served in the U.S. Army from 1966 to 1968 as a Senior Personnel Specialist, including one year in Vietnam in charge of a battalion-level personnel office.
He began his professional career at FHSU in 1968 as a graduate assistant in the Counseling Department. In 1970 he became a full-time employee as an instructor in Education and a counselor in the Counseling Department. In 1971, he moved to Marymount College in Salina as director of counseling, and he became dean of students at Marymount in 1975.
Songer returned to FHSU in 1978 as associate dean of students and an instructor in Education. He took a leave of absence in 1982 to serve as a graduate assistant in the Dean of Students Office at Kansas State University while he was working on his doctoral degree, then returned to FHSU in 1988 as assistant vice president for Student Development and as an assistant professor in Administration, Counseling and Educational Studies. In 1995, Songer was promoted to his current position as vice president for Student Affairs.
"It has been an immense pleasure to serve FHSU, my alma mater, in many capacities," Songer said during the news conference. "I found it very hard to make the decision to leave because of my love for the university and the joy I've had working with not just students but also faculty and staff. I always felt very fortunate in getting the job and fortunate in the people I've been able to work with."
He said his enjoyment of the job made it seem as though it was just yesterday when he started. "I thank everyone for their cooperation and support," he said. "Sheryl and I aren't saying goodbye. We'll always have strong ties to FHSU."
In addition to his career responsibilities, Songer has participated in numerous civic activities. He is a member of the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce, a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a member of the American Legion, a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Hays and a commission member of the State Board of Education's Kansas Advisory Commission of Proprietary Schools. His past memberships include United Way Divisional Drive chairman, a board member of the FHSU Alumni Association, a board member of the Mental Health Association, a board member of the Salina Youth Care Home, and executive director of the Salina Drug Action Council.
Songer has also belonged to numerous professional organizations, including the American Counseling Association, the Kansas Psychological Association and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.
His awards include Phi Kappa Phi, the National Honorary in Psychology, the Outstanding Educator Award, and the 2001 TKE Excellence In Education Award. He has been extremely active in the TKE fraternity, serving on the international board, and has received numerous awards, including the Knights of Classic Lore. He served in the past on the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators National Fraternity and Sorority Network.
"We're going to be open to every experience and haven't decided exactly what we're going to do or where we're going to do it," Songer said of retirement, "but we're going to have fun."