Soon after arriving at Fort Hays State University in August 2009, members of the inaugural class of the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science gave themselves a name: the “Pioneer Class.”
Now those 14 high school students from across the state, who were willing to go into unexplored territory in search of a new learning opportunity, will fulfill their pioneering experience. At 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 7, they will participate in the first-ever KAMS Commencement in the Eagle Communications Hall at the Robbins Center on the FHSU campus.
The Kansas Board of Regents sited KAMS on the FHSU campus in 2008 following a selection process. The Kansas Legislature established the academy to promote mathematics and science education, to reduce the “brain drain” in which many of the best and brightest young Kansans go away to out-of-state universities and never return, and to promote economic development by providing a well-educated workforce.
“Of the 14 KAMS graduates, five will continue their education at FHSU, two will attend K-State, six will attend KU and one plans to enter the University of Rochester in New York State,” said Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president. “One of the stated goals of the Kansas Legislature was to keep these exceptional students at home in hopes they will establish their professional careers here. I’m sure legislators are greatly encouraged to see that 13 of the 14 students in the first graduating class will seek college degrees at Kansas universities.”
The graduates plan to pursue degrees in pre-med, pre-dentistry, biochemistry, zoology, psychology, history, physics and engineering, including mechanical engineering and computer engineering.
President Hammond will give the keynote address at the KAMS Commencement on Saturday. The event will feature music by the FHSU Brass Quintet. Dr. Joey Linn, registrar and associate vice president for student affairs, will carry the FHSU Mace and lead the processional. Faculty will attend in full regalia, and the graduating class will wear gowns and mortarboards. A reception will follow immediately after the graduation ceremony at the Robbins Center.
Ron Keller, director of KAMS, said he planned to make a special recognition during the ceremony, but he would not divulge ahead of time what it would be.
Keller said Kansas was the 16th state to have an early-entry-to-college program that offers a unique residential learning experience for high-achieving high school juniors and seniors who are academically talented in science and mathematics. The KAMS graduates are receiving both a diploma from their home high school and 68 hours of college credit, and Keller said most planned to attend the graduation ceremonies at their high schools over the next few weeks.
“KAMS provides a hands-on rigorous research environment with Ph.D. faculty that focuses on academics, research, leadership development and civic engagement,” Keller said. “Each student must be involved in a research project with university faculty and then present that research project.” Those presentations have occurred at regional and state science and engineering fairs, at regional and state Junior Academy of Science events, at the Kansas Academy of Science, and during the FHSU Research and Creative Activities Week.
“These students of the Pioneer Class have already demonstrated what we hope to see the students of the academy accomplish,” Keller added. “They have made some major contributions to research, and some of their projects will continue. We at the academy are very proud of their accomplishments, and I know Fort Hays State is proud of them, too.”
Dr. Roger Schieferecke, KAMS associate director for student services, noted that the KAMS graduates had contributed significantly to FHSU. “They were heavily involved in campus life, participating in the Student Government Association, honor societies, marching band, choruses, and various clubs and organizations,” he said.
Keller said the support of FHSU faculty and staff had been indispensable in the successful launch of KAMS. “In visiting with parents, I’ve been told their sons and daughters had never been turned away when they went to a faculty member for assistance,” he said. “It’s a distinct pleasure to watch these young people grow and mature.”
As volunteers in a bold experiment, the inaugural KAMS class has been deserving of its chosen name. American poet Walt Whitman described the spirit of this graduating class in his 1891 poem, “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” when he wrote: We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger, We, the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend, Pioneers! O Pioneers!
Local graduate is Tyler Clark of St. John, St. John High School.