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New instructor joins FHSU informatics staff amid changes

8/17/2014

By ELIZABETH GOLDEN

By ELIZABETH GOLDEN

egolden@dailynews.net

The journey began 15 years ago. It began as a dream -- and now, $10 million later, it is a reality.

Formerly known as the Department of Information Networking and Telecommunications, the Department of Informatics at Fort Hays State University is settling into its new home and beginning to change the face of media and technology in western Kansas.

Tobias Yoshimura is part of that change as a new associate professor.

Yoshimura spent the last 19 years in television production. Growing up in a town of 600 people, he moved to New York City in high school to live with his father, who was the art director of "Saturday Night Live."

Yoshimura worked on several reality shows and has begun producing scripted series.

"There's something really great about a story coming out of your head," Yoshimura said. "There's an emotion from creating something in your head and having someone like it or hate it."

Most notably, Yoshimura was the unit production manager for the "Amazing Race." He was responsible for the start and end city, and production through the route. Yoshimura worked on three seasons and walked away with two Emmy Awards.

Yoshimura remembers the moment he knew he wanted to be in television for the rest of his life. He was working on a show with Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg at Radio City Music Hall.

"I was sitting with another production assistant at around 2 in the morning," he said. "The (cast) was coming in about two hours, so we decided not to go home. We sat on the edge of the stage and drank a beer. We looked at each other and said, 'It just doesn't get any better than this.' It was the greatest experience sitting there all alone in a dark theater, knowing all those guys were going to blow the roof off the place in just a few hours. That experience was like nothing else. The first experience is always extraordinary."

Before dedicating his life to television, Yoshimura worked as a sandwich-maker, sorted nails at a scenery shop, had a paper route and was a bartender.

"I was the fastest sandwich-maker," he said. "I won a contest. But television is really all I've done. I only had four jobs before I started in the industry."

Four years ago, he decided he wanted to teach.

"I've done a lot of what I wanted to do," he said. "I was thinking, 'How do I finish a career 20 years into it?' "

He was hired as a tenure-track professor at FHSU.

"This school has a mission of giving people the skill set to go out into the real world," Yoshimura said.

"I have real-world experiences that are going to give the students an opportunity. When the school mentions this whole world-ready thing, they're not kidding," Yoshimura said.

His interview with former President Edward Hammond and Provost Chris Crawford sealed the deal.

"Hammond said to me," Yoshimura said, " 'What I want is opportunities for our students. If you can offer that, then we're interested.' That was all I needed to hear. Now we'll see if I can teach. Game on."

In addition to teaching, Yoshimura will fulfill the research component of his position through his art.

"The nice thing about his expertise is his scholastic legitimacy also comes from his artistic product," said Melissa Hunsicker-Walburn, newly appointed department chairwoman. "I want to give him the latitude and encouragement to be able to stay current in his field."

With moving into the Center for Networked Learning, the department's dream is becoming a reality.

"I'm not the cause of this," Yoshimura said. "I'm at the receiving end of an exciting time in the department. There are guys who have fought for more than a decade to make this happen."

The Center for Networked Learning opened in July.

"We have a successful program," Hunsicker-Walburn said. "We have matriculated to this point where we are able to have a fantastic building with some state-of-the-art equipment. But as much as anything that's predicated on a culture of quality of students, we're dedicated to experiential learning."

Hunsicker-Walburn is working with other professors to center the curriculum around the "teaching hospital" model.

"One of the main things is you have to have learners alongside professionals," said Ron Rohlf, adjunct professor. "Before (Yoshimura) came to us, we were trying to re-imagine electronic media journalism. We're lucky to have him on board."

FHSU is the only training facility in Kansas for Avid Technology, which specializes in video and audio editing. The staff was certified and began training Friday.

"The industry standard is Avid," Yoshimura said. "Students will walk out of these doors with a piece of paper that proves they are proficient at the tool, allowing them to work anywhere on the planet as an editor or mixer."

The experiential learning model allows students access to equipment as a freshman.

"Students get cameras in their hands when they are freshman, not when they're juniors," Hunsicker-Walburn said. "We don't wait for them to prove themselves or declare a major. We don't have classes taught by graduate teaching assistants. Two of our tenure track faculty members were out until 4 a.m. shooting sports footage. They are in the trenches with the students, and I'm confident that's what will make this a successful model."

Rohlf said he hopes "story experts" will come out of the department.

"With Toby's access and our opportunities to provide students with the gear they need," he said, "we think we're going to have a pretty bright future."