By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

It's been a year of transition at Fort Hays State University, including a big change at the top.

And the university in western Kansas hasn't skipped a beat.

Mirta Martin took over as the new president of FHSU in July, succeeding Edward Hammond, the longest serving lead administrator in Fort Hays history at 27 years.

The changing of the guard featured the first woman president at FHSU and the first Hispanic leader of a Kansas Regents institutions, and Martin hit the ground running.

At the beginning of the fall semester, Martin attended more than 30 events in 11 cities in four days across the state before returning home one night to barely catch her breath before leaving the next morning for a trip to China to visit universities there with which FHSU has partnerships.

She has been visible at countless student events, ranging from athletic contests in the far southeast corner of Kansas in Pittsburg to a national academic competition in Seattle.

"Being with the students is by design," she said. "So it's not all work. I said it when I interviewed here, and I'll keep saying it, that this is not work for me. This is a passion. I want to spend time with community, with students. That's why I came here, to be part of the family of students and faculty and community."

There have been many a late night as well as early morning meetings for Martin, who said she functions quite well on four hours sleep.

"I'm happy to be doing what I'm doing," she said. "It energizes me."

Martin hopefully has energy in reserve when she returns to work after the holiday break.

FHSU has appointed an academic re-engineering task force for "finding ways to drive the university to do things differently."

"We will be in state of constant disruptive innovation," said Martin, who said she doesn't like the word "change" because "people sometimes resist when they hear 'change.' "

"It's going to be a time of new beginnings," Martin said, naming a few such as 21st century technology, creating student villages and creating more entrepreneurship opportunities.

"We are going to be undertaking bold initiatives," she added, "ones that will call upon our pioneering spirit."

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a former resident of Hays, attended Martin's inauguration on campus last month and said he has been impressed with Martin's philosophy.

"I feel very comfortable that the future of Fort Hays State is in good hands," he said, "and that matters very greatly to those of us who call western Kansas home."

Martin said the changes are "faculty driven" and that she prefers the phrase "new beginnings" to the word "changes."

So she plans to return from the holiday break in high gear.

"There's an energy, an enthusiasm buzzing all over campus," she said. "Next semester is going to be 'get out your roller skates.' We're going to be moving, and moving fast."