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New faculty find home to their liking at Fort Hays

8/18/2014

By ELIZABETH GOLDEN

By ELIZABETH GOLDEN

egolden@dailynews.net

Changes are underway as Fort Hays State University begins the school year. In addition to the change in leadership and the construction projects, 24 new faculty positions were added.

Allie Kastens joined the FHSU staff as director of the Small Business Development Center in Bird City.

The outreach office helps residents of western Kansas start business and help existing businesses grow.

"We help with marketing, human resources, business plans," she said. "We have a lot of experts statewide, and we can tap into many different resources. Through FHSU, we have an amazing market research tool, so we can help businesses with research and help them decide what market is there."

Kastens took over from her sister, who had the position for the last few years.

"It was always interesting to see what she did and how she helped businesses," Kastens said. "When she decided to go to nursing school, I knew right away this was something I wanted to do."

Kastens graduated from FHSU in 2007 with a degree in management, but she couldn't find any opportunities in her field after graduating. She worked as an insurance agent and for the county attorney before accepting the position at FHSU.

"My mom, my dad and my step-mom have all owned businesses," she said. "The entrepreneurial lifestyle was something I grew up with. I know how hard it can be to own and manage a small business. It's really important we want our rural communities to grow and we want our young people to move back to these areas."

Also in administration, Brad Pendergast was appointed manager of the Docking Institute.

The Docking Institute conducts public opinion polls for local government or non-profit organizations.

"It's important to really give back to western Kansas," Pendergast said. "I feel like the Docking Institute does that. We provide survey research for a lot of other cities and non-profits in the area. Survey research is usually pretty expensive, so we try to keep our costs low. We hope to give policy-makers some research to help guide their decisions."

Pendergast graduated from FHSU in 2012 and worked for the Docking Institute as a student worker before receiving his master's degree at Wichita State University.

Approximately 60 students are employed by the Docking Institute. Most recently, they made calls regarding opinions toward unhealthy behavior. This will aid businesses or government entities in catering to the correct population.

"I feel in order to have effective decision-makers, you need to have the proper information," Pendergast said. "You need to know how your constituents feel. In this position, we can provide that service."

On the teaching side, Katie Gabel has been hired on as a virtual college lecturer for the College of Nursing.

She graduated from FHSU in 2005 and began working as a critical care nurse in Tulsa, Okla.

"I really believe in helping other people develop their human potential," Gabel said, "whether it's helping them when they're sick or helping them develop resources."

A few years ago, Gabel decided to get her master's degree and teach at the local university in Tulsa.

She resides in Tulsa but plans to move back to the Hays next summer.

"I'm excited to be part of FHSU again," Gabel said. "I do think I'll miss the face-to-face interaction, but I'm looking forward to being a Tiger again."

Nancy Mai also has been added to the nursing staff.

Originally from Great Bend, she graduated from FHSU in 1983.

She discovered her passion for nursing while working as a certified nurse's assistant.

"I realized I was an adrenaline junkie," Mai said. "Even with the small amount of high-risk patients we had there, I really enjoyed it."

She decided to pursue teaching in order to give back to the community.

"I wanted to give back to the profession that has given me so much," Mai said. "For the nurses coming up behind me, to give them a legacy of what has been given to me."

In the Department of Biological Sciences, Greg Farley recently was appointed chairman, and Mitchell Greer was added as assistant professor.

Greer grew up hunting and fishing in South Dakota.

"I loved everything outdoors," he said. "That led to an interest in wildlife and game management."

He specializes in grassland ecology and range management.

Although new to Hays, he has visited the area to collect soil.

"I really like it," Greer said. "It's really nice to see it's such a connected university. Everybody knows everybody across the community."

Greer chose FHSU due to the job description. He is able to focus on research as well as teaching.

"It's a good fit for me," he said. "I like research, but a lot of the big universities are more concerned with research, and you don't have as large of a teaching load. I like that this is a teaching-based university where teaching comes first."

The Department of Informatics has seen several changes in the last few months. The Center for Networked Learning has been completed, and Melissa Hunsicker-Walburn was appointed chairwoman.

Dmitry Gimon was added to the faculty as an assistant professor of informatics, specializing in management information systems, Web development and software programming.

"I started learning how to program when I was 12," Gimon said. "I was curious and admired the technologies. In college, I was looking for something having to do with computer science, but more applied. I wasn't interested in theoretical computer science. I wanted to do something that would have a real world impact right away."

Originally from Russia, he moved to the U.S. less than a year ago. He spent a year in North Carolina working for a company specializing in cloud storage.

"I was very interested in Hays," Gimon said. "I knew nothing about Kansas. Everything was very new. I liked the way the town looks, the architecture, churches. The people are very friendly and open."

This is his first faculty position after finishing his post-doctoral program in Canada.

"The combination of research and work experience made me think it would be a good fit," Gimon said. "I still believe it was the right choice."