Stilwell student meets Harry Truman -- again -- in an FHSU Virtual College class

By Randy Gonzales
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. -- Fort Hays State University student Alyson Burnett-Rawitch, Stilwell, really wanted to take a class about President Harry Truman. After all, she met the man as a young girl.

However, the class was for on-campus students only, and Burnett-Rawitch is a Virtual College graduate student, lives in Stilwell. Dr. Kim Perez, chair of the Department of History, found a way for Burnett-Rawitch to take the class, "Harry Truman and the Second World War."

"I pretty much begged," said Burnett-Rawitch. "It's a unique situation for this particular class. I was so pleased she worked with me."

"I think it worked out beautifully," Perez said. "I have only met a handful of our virtual students -- that's one of my biggest regrets. I don't get to meet and see these students and interact with them, other than online."

"For me to put a name to the face was actually rewarding for me," she added. "And then to see her interact with everyone, she seemed to get a kick out of being there, and enjoy herself, and she felt like she fit into the class right away."

Students in the eight-week short course learned about the decision-making process Truman used when it came to dropping the atomic bomb on Japan at the end of World War II. Fourteen students traveled from Hays to Independence, Mo., to tour the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum as part of the class,

They were joined at the museum by Burnett-Rawitch, who lived nearby. She recounted a story passed down by her father about meeting Truman when she was young. Burnett-Rawitch's father took her to the movie to see "The Sound of Music," and she said sitting next to her was an older gentleman who resembled her grandfather.

"I would not leave the man alone," Burnett-Rawitch said. "He eventually got up and left." Only later did Burnett-Rawitch learn the man she was pestering was the former 33rd president of the United States.

Fast forward to the present day, and Burnett-Rawitch marveled at Truman's presidential library and museum, which she has toured before. There was the Oval Office as it looked in Truman's day. There was an artillery field piece identical to the one used by the battery Truman commanded during World War I. There were interactive exhibits for the children. There was even the famous sign, protected in a glass case: "The Buck Stops Here."

"I love this class," Burnett-Rawitch said. She had read David McCullough's biography on Truman before, but never studied it.

"There's a difference between reading casually and trying to analyze it," she said. "So, that's been fascinating."

This was the first time the class was taught as a short course. Burnett-Rawitch took the course as a directed readings class and is still working on added assignments.

The class brought together students majoring in history, leadership studies and political science. It was team-taught for the first time by Perez and Dr. Curt Brungardt, director of the Center for Civic Leadership and Omer G. Voss Distinguished Professor of Leadership Studies.

Perez was impressed by her students' enthusiasm for a course which required approximately 1,400 pages of reading in the first six weeks.

"I was reminded again how incredibly capable Fort Hays State students are when they are motivated by something and digging into something," Perez said. "This group was an impressive group of students."

Class members took part in a three-hour scenario at the White House Decision Center at the Truman Library. Each student portrayed a key figure in the decision-making process of whether the atomic bomb should have been used.

The next day, class members toured Truman's residence in Independence. In one room was the grand piano Truman gave his young daughter, Margaret, for Christmas instead of the train set she wanted. Another room was Truman's study, with a soft easy chair and lighted lamp beside it. One could almost imagine Truman sitting down to read a book, a favorite pastime. Across the street students toured the house where his cousins lived and where the young Truman met his future wife, Bess.

Burnett-Rawitch, a non-traditional student who received her undergraduate degree in general studies at FHSU in 2014, hopes to earn her master's in history at the school by 2017.

"For me, this has been a very positive experience," Burnett-Rawitch said. "This is the dream I never thought I would get to have come true.

"I was able to come back for it," she added. "That is because of Fort Hays State. It's because Fort Hays State offers the program, it's because Fort Hays State has good, quality staff, it's because Fort Hays State's prices are reasonable. All of these things enabled me to do it."

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