By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

The more things change, they more they stay the same.

That's what Sandy Gottschalk at the Hays campus of North Central Kansas Technical College is thinking these days.

Despite a variety of changes in the nursing department this year, there still is a lot of stability in the program as the Hays campus prepares to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

"There have been a lot of changes," said Gottschalk, who was involved in two of the big transitions. "But things are still consistent. That's the main thing."

In October, Gottschalk -- in her 25th year at NCK Tech -- accepted the position of dean for the Hays campus, opening up her longtime position of director of nursing.

When a new nursing director was named in November to fill Gottschalk's former role, it was more of the same consistency. Michele Unrein, in her 23rd year as a nursing instructor, accepted the new position.

Robin Hertel is confident students won't notice any difference when they return to school in January following the holiday break.

And Hertel should know.

A graduate of the licensed practical nursing and registered nursing programs at NCK Tech, Hertel also is a former teacher at the technical college at the first- and second-year levels.

"She's kind of a homegrown one," Gottschalk said of Hertel. "We taught her, and then she worked with us."

After her stint as an instructor, Hertel worked on the surgical floor at Hays Medical Center for several years before moving from Hays this past year. She said she plans to return for the school's anniversary celebration March 28.  

"I think it will be amazing to see where everyone has gone," she said.

Hertel has nothing but good things to say about NCK Tech's nursing program, which was the beginning of a career that has seen her earn bachelor's and master's degrees. She now is working on her doctorate.

"That program is so hands-on and was the driving force for me becoming a lifelong nurse," said Hertel, who now works for Ascend Learning in the Kansas City area and develops exams for nursing students worldwide.

"They have had the same instructors for a lot of years," Hertel said of NCK Tech. "And the success factor is just incredible."

Another longtime instructor, Beryl Dinges, is in charge of planning the nursing portion of the anniversary party at the Hays campus. And she said she can hardly wait to reunite with Hertel, one of the school's most accomplished students.

"I'm definitely looking forward to seeing her," Dinges said, "and a lot of other alumni as well."

Anyone wishing to know more about the anniversary open house from 1 to 3 p.m. March 28 should contact Dinges at (785) 623-6185. She is hoping alumni supply memorabilia to be on display for the day, and she is anxious to "show off our state-of-the-art laboratory."

"I think they will enjoy seeing how things have changed," Dinges said.

Things have changed from the time Sue Akers, director of nursing on the main campus in Beloit, drove to Hays each week to start a pilot nursing program in Hays.

The program that began in the basement of then St. Anthony Hospital -- now HaysMed -- in the fall of 1974 has come a long way. It now has its own building that includes a large laboratory on the south side of a campus that includes four other buildings.

That program started the satellite campus that now includes nearly 20 other programs.

Akers --now retired and living in Harlingen, Texas -- will turn 85 in February and won't be able to make the nursing anniversary celebration in March.

But she still enjoys talking about the "good ol' days."

"I still have a lot of fond memories of those experiences," she said. "It's a pleasure to remember that time. It was a very innovative and daring project. And it worked."