By DIANE GASPER O’BRIEN
FHSU University Relations and Marketing
About three years ago, the Kansas State Board of Education adopted an Individual Plan of Study for every student, beginning in the middle grades, as an aid to plan for success after high school.
Fort Hays State University is taking an innovative approach in helping students begin career exploration early in high school, providing organized campus visits long before their senior years.
Last week’s Tiger Mania, a visitation day designed exclusively for sophomores and juniors to explore FHSU, broke the all-time attendance record with 249 students and about 200 guests, such as parents, teachers and other school staff. That number is up considerably from just two years ago, when 143 students attended. Attendance increased by 42 students last year, then ballooned by nearly 65 more this year.
Fort Hays State also sponsors similar events for juniors and seniors, and it started adding sophomores to that list a few years ago.
“I think a lot more students are taking the opportunity as juniors, and even sophomores, to prepare themselves for college,” said Hugo Perez, assistant director of Admissions. “Tiger Mania was a great opportunity for us to peak their interests.”
Students from all across the state, as well as some from Colorado and Nebraska, attended.
Phillipsburg High School brought its entire sophomore class of more than 40 students to take part in the event.
Suellyn Stenger, a guidance counselor at Hays High School, said that research shows it’s about their sophomore year in high school that students’ post-secondary education interests start jelling.
“I think it’s a very good thing that students are exploring their options early,” said Stenger, who has been in the education field for 30 years, including 11 as an HHS counselor. “Visiting colleges used to be more of a focus for their senior year. Then colleges started having junior days. Providing this for sophomores is great.”
“The best decision is an informed decision,” Stenger continued. “If students can be getting that information now – early in their high school years – to help them make decisions, I’m all for that.”
Jeanne Isbell, a parent of two Hays High School students, said she thinks “it’s really important to do college tours.”
“The sooner, the better,” Isbell said. “This is a fantastic idea.”
Isbell said she thinks the opportunities students gain while attending college are “endless.”
“And I don’t just mean getting a degree,” she said. “The experiences you get with the people you meet in college help with how you think about life. Some kids don’t think they can flourish in college, but they are so helpful here in pointing out they will help anyone who is interested in going to college.”
Isbell was accompanied by her daughter, Judith, a junior, and her son, Jesse, a sophomore.
Isbell’s older daughter, Cori, is a senior at Hays High and has her heart set on attending college in California.
“I took Judith with me to some of Cori’s college visits,” Isbell said. “It’s good to compare, and we’re really impressed with Fort Hays State.”
So, too, is Woodson Corbett, a junior at Ellinwood High School.
Corbett was all smiles as he left the table featuring the Department of Art and Design. What he learned confirmed what he had from others.
“I heard good things about Fort Hays State from friends who go here and people in the graphic design field,” he said. “This is what I want to do.”
The Admissions staff told the students it’s OK to change their minds even if they do have their mind set on a certain major.
“I had a plan, and it all changed the first semester,” said Katie Hindman, admissions counselor for the eastern part of the state. “You will find what you’re really good at.”
“Your life is going to change,” added Kyle Stacken, admissions counselor in charge of recruitment in Ellis County and central Kansas. “Embrace those changes, and Fort Hays State will help you succeed in whatever you choose in your life.”
Representatives from the Admissions Office pointed out advantages of attending Fort Hays State, such as the most affordable tuition among state universities, small class size, numerous scholarship opportunities and ways to get involved on campus.
A panel of three FHSU students answered questions from the audience. Several $1,000 scholarships were awarded throughout the morning – some for winning trivia contests about Fort Hays State and others for simply locating a Tiger logo under a chair. And every student got a tour of the campus, including a residence hall and one of the dining cafeterias.
Keith Sides, a business teacher at Phillipsburg High School, accompanied the large contingent from his school and said he thought “it was a really good thing for our kids.”
“We can talk about Fort Hays State, but until they get on the campus and see more of it, it doesn’t mean as much,” Sides said.
“It’s as important to find out what you don’t like as it is to find out what you do like, and to actually see what you read about the colleges,” she said. “From my personal experience, when I did on-campus visits when I was in high school, it was the deal maker or the deal breaker. Seeing in person all the good things that Fort Hays State has to offer could be a deal maker for a lot of kids.”