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Alum returns for grad school program

7/24/2013

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

For decades, a unique master's degree program at Fort Hays State University has drawn students to western Kansas for a month or two of instruction in the summer.

Students -- often school teachers -- come from all across the state to study in the low-residency master of arts English program that features an intense on-campus course load where students can take up to five classes.

"With our history of being a teachers college, we have a commitment to serve our teachers in the state of Kansas," said Lexey Bartlett, associate professor and chairwoman of the graduate committee for the English department at FHSU.

Kansans aren't the only ones who benefit from the program, which Bartlett said is one of only a few of its kind in the country.

This year's class also lists some out-of-staters, including Lia Blanchard, who came from Seattle to work on her master's at her alma mater.

Blanchard is the mother of three boys ages 8 to 15. So when her sons got out of school in Seattle in June, they all jumped in her Nissan Pathfinder and traveled the countryside enjoying the sights.

In Denver, Blanchard put her sons on a plane to Virginia to visit their father for a month, while Mom continued her path to Hays.

"It's nice to be back," said Blanchard, who will complete her on-campus classes this week, then finish up her final papers in the fall for nine hours of graduate credit. "It's been a lot of fun catching up with old friends."

Blanchard was born and raised in Hawaii and lived on both the east and west coasts. But she keeps coming back to Fort Hays.

"It feels like home in many ways," Blanchard said.

Blanchard's first experience in Hays was 20 years ago, when she was living in Colorado and followed a friend to the Hays area.

She liked what she saw in the small college on the plains in Hays, so she enrolled in the information networking and telecommunications program. After graduating in 1994, Blanchard packed her bags for Virginia to work for several years for America Online.

But her first love is writing.

"I just want to write," Blanchard said over and over while talking about what she wanted to do when she grew up.

Blanchard, who does freelance work in editing, writing and marketing in Seattle, said the time on campus this summer has allowed her to focus on her classes.

"This program is great," she said. "Being here, it really allows you to completely devote your time to your (class)work."

"They just want to study their discipline," Bartlett said of her summer students. "Many of our students are school teachers and are too busy during the school year to take classes. This is perfect for them."