KAMS graduates 'Pioneer' class

By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

About 10 years ago, two neighbors dreamed of an academy where gifted Kansas high school students could receive in-depth training in math and science.

That plan has come a long way since the early days, when Donald Norwood and Jerry Magliano spent many hours discussing the possibility in a Lenexa Starbucks.

Saturday afternoon marked the first graduation of the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science, located at Fort Hays State University.

The co-founders attended the event, and Norwood also had some words of wisdom for the 14 high school seniors graduating in the KAMS "pioneer class."

"Anybody in any venture in life should make a difference and leave a legacy," Norwood said.

Emotions ran high during the hour-long ceremony. The pioneer class comprised students from many high schools throughout the state, including one from Hays High School.

The day was bittersweet for Mersadez Tanner. While looking forward to studying mechanical engineering at Kansas State University next fall, Tanner said she will miss the friends she made during the two-year program.

"I know I've got my little family here that I'm going to miss so much," Tanner said. "They're all still going to be here, and I'm going to K-State."

Tanner also will begin her college career with one major benefit -- a year's worth of credits was completed at KAMS.

Also sharing the commencement stage were Jennifer Snyder and Alexandria Darden, both seniors at Lansing High School. The students will graduate together again later this month.

Five of the KAMS students, including Snyder, will continue their education at FHSU.

Snyder said the KAMS experience helped her decide which career path to pursue. She will begin studying zoology in the fall.

"Before I came here, I didn't really know what I wanted to do," Snyder said.

As the pioneer class, the students arrived at FHSU in 2009 as juniors in high school. The prospect of trying something new always was an exciting one, Darden said.

"I can't believe it's over," she said. "It's been a great journey."