Fort Hays State's KAMS program reaches out to students

KAMS reaches out

By Randy Gonzales
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. -- In addition to continually reaching out to high school students, the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science at Fort Hays State University is also integrating itself with other countries to further learning opportunities for its participants.

Legislative action established KAMS in 2006. It is the state's premier academic high school program for the state's best and brightest high school students, who receive college-level instruction and a high school diploma along with 68 hours of college credit. KAMS is one of seven such academies across the country. Fort Hays State University has hosted KAMS students since the first class in fall 2009.

A new program initiative started last summer was a cultural and research trip to South Korea. In turn, high school students from that country visited FHSU last fall. KAMS students conducted joint research with Korean students at the Daejeon Science High School for the Gifted. Another student exchange is planned this summer. As well, KAMS students traveled to London in January 2016 to visit institutions where the great academic minds from the past studied.

"The idea of developing international partnerships is really important," said Dr. Roger Schieferecke, KAMS director since 2014. "One of the goals I had coming in was to provide more opportunities for students outside the classroom. These partnerships provide an incredible venue for students to learn about other cultures as well as themselves."

Jared Cook, KAMS coordinator for marketing and recruitment, said there will be for the first time an early-admission program, where for instance a freshman can apply for KAMS and be accepted but not start until his or her junior year. Academic signings are also something new. That is where a KAMS representative comes to a high school for a signing ceremony for a student who has been accepted into the program. The first signing ceremony was last week with Hiawatha High School sophomore Tannim Potter.

The KAMS program accepts up to 40 incoming Kansas high school juniors each year and from 10 to 15 international students. They live on the FHSU campus in Custer Hall. Many KAMS students end up enrolling at Fort Hays State at the completion of the KAMS experience.

"We find a lot of our students end up staying here," Cook said. "They build a strong relationship with the institution."

Schieferecke said even though students leave their high schools for their last two years to be part of KAMS, those schools still get credit for their students' progress. For example, the students' ACT scores and state assessments are reflected back to the schools.

"The reality is even though the kids don't finish their last two years at their high school they're still enrolled at their sending high school," Schieferecke said.

Jacob Lutgen, a KAMS senior from Basehor, plans to continue his education at FHSU after KAMS. He wants to become a cardiothoracic surgeon. KAMS was a good fit for him.

"In my sophomore year, I had already finished all of the health pathway classes at my high school," he said. "For my junior and senior years, if I was still at Basehor-Linwood I wouldn't have had any health-related classes to take. Coming out here gives me the chance to take more health-related classes, but also to be challenged academically."

Lutgen said there was an adjustment period for him in being part of KAMS. Part of it was being on his own for the first time, and part of it was school work.

"It took a little longer as far as academics to get used to the difference between what college classes are like and what high school classes are like," he said. "I was really learning study skills that I didn't necessarily have to have in high school because the classes weren't as challenging."

Like Lutgen, senior Norelia Ordonez-Castillo from Goodland also plans to attend Fort Hays State after KAMS. To alleviate being away from home for two years, Ordonez-Castillo made a pact with her family.

"I ended up going home about every other weekend to go visit my family," Ordonez-Castillo said. "That was the deal I had with my parents.

"I think it was a very good, welcome challenge," she added. "I really enjoyed the program because it made me push myself to be better."

In KAMS, Ordonez-Castillo found the opportunity to take advanced courses and conduct exciting and rewarding research. She was awarded a state research grant and will work with Dr. Yass Kobayashi, FHSU associate professor of biological sciences, in his research. Ordonez-Castillo was one of only 19 students selected into a prestigious program at the University of Kansas, and she plans to enter medical school at KU in 2018 at the age of 19.

KAMS provided Samantha Schmitz with learning opportunities she otherwise would not have received. Schmitz, a Mulvane senior, plans to attend Washburn University in the fall, majoring in actuarial science.

"I just felt coming to KAMS would give me better opportunities moving forward with math," Schmitz said. "I can't imagine staying in high school now after experiencing everything KAMS has. I've never had any regrets about coming here. I'm very happy with my decision."

Lutgen planned on attending another state university after KAMS but changed his mind after his KAMS experience.

"Last year I got pretty involved with the Honors College," he said. "The relationships I built with the faculty and the friends I've made here and the Honors College -- with all of those things, I couldn't leave."

This is a busy time of the year for Cook, who travels to high schools across the state providing information about KAMS.

"We're at the point now where we realize what visibility means," he said. "For our students, we try to get them by eighth or ninth grade so that they're still excited by academics, still want to move forward. It's an opportunity and challenge."

For more information on KAMS, visit or call 785-628-4709.

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