Six students from Barton Community College in the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society were recognized as members of the PTK All-Kansas Academic Team during an award luncheon Thursday at the Ramada Inn in Topeka. Prior to the luncheon, inductees toured the state capital building with Barton administrators and instructors and were honored in front of the Kansas House of Representatives. Judith Gutierrez and Delaney Smith from the Barton County campus, Vera Gaer and Kendra Norkett from the Fort Riley campus and Bianca McSwiggan and Tye Sanders from the Fort Leavenworth campus all attended the award ceremony.
PTK is the international honor society for two-year colleges and symbolizes excellence in higher education. Students with a GPA of 3.5 or higher are invited to join. PTK All-Kansas Academic Team honorees earned medals and certificates to commemorate their achievement. The PTK group at Barton spends significant time sponsoring local events as well as volunteering to support others’ events.
The students had to go through an application process and their applications were reviewed by an anonymous selection panel on their respective campuses. All six students will have a chance at being named to PTK’s All-USA Academic Team, which will be announced in March.
Gaer graduated from Barton and transferred to Southwestern University. She hopes to teach middle or high school.
“I was a single parent for a long time and worked in retail management, which was great for paying the bills, but I want something more now,” she said. “I want to set a good example for my girls, and I love working with kids.”
She coaches the sports teams for her five daughters, which she said was part of her inspiration for choosing the path of teaching.
“I love seeing things click,” she said. “And when you give someone knowledge, it’s something they get to keep forever. It’s like giving people something that can empower them, and that’s fun.”
Gaer said she never got involved in organizations when she was in high school, but now in her 40s she has found it surreal to be the leader of her own PTK chapter.
“It’s overwhelming to be on the All-Kansas Academic Team,” she said. “It’s like, wow, this is an amazing place to be. I don’t take these opportunities for granted. I’m kind of in awe. It’s pretty awesome.”
Sanders graduated from Barton and has went on to pursue a business management degree from Upper Iowa University, after which she hopes to start a non-profit to address food insecurity and nutrition for juveniles.
“It’s an honor,” she said. “It’s exciting to be amongst so many people with so many different interests. It’s exciting to see so many people here changed their paths or continued their paths thanks to their community colleges. I’m also so overwhelmingly grateful to be able to be amongst our leadership and administrators too; to see how much they really do support this. It’s great to see that everyone came out. I’m just overwhelmed.”
Smith said she felt honored and grateful for the recognition and said PTK played a big role in her success at Barton and sparked a renewed social life.
“It’s brought me out of my shell,” she said. “I used to be really shy but now I feel comfortable meeting new people and I’m more willing to go out in the community.”
They heard from keynote speaker Dr. Brian Black of Spirit AeroSystems during the awards luncheon. He told the crowd as a recruiter for his company how much he loved the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees’ slogan of “Education that goes to work.” He said the PTK members should beat the drum of their organization and call others to appreciate the value of community colleges.
“When you get a job, let them know, that when you hire a Kansas community college graduate, you’re only getting the best,” he said. “Beat your drum, Phi Theta Kappa.”
Phi Theta Kappa All-Kansas Academic Team members are shown with Barton Community College President Dr. Carl Heilman after the PTK award banquet, Thursday at the Topeka Ramada Inn Convention Center. From left: Tye Sanders, Fort Leavenworth campus; Vera Gaer, Fort Riley campus; Dr. Heilman; Judith Gutierrez and Delaney Smith, Barton County campus. Not pictured: Kendra Norkett, Fort Riley, and Bianca McSwiggan Fort Leavenworth.