By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

If Michele Unrein needs any advice in her new job, she won't have far to look.

Unrein has been named director of nursing for the Hays campus of North Central Kansas Technical College.

She takes over for Sandy Gottschalk, who after 16 years as the college's nursing director was named dean of the Hays campus in October.

"There's lots for me to learn," Unrein said, "but Sandy has been such an excellent role model. So I'm very excited for this new opportunity."

Gottschalk began working as an instructor in the nursing department at NCK Tech in 1990, and Unrein joined the staff two years later, at Gottschalk's suggestion.

The two had worked together at Hays Medical Center for several years, and when one of the instructor positions opened, Gottschalk told Unrein how much she liked it.

Now, the two have nearly 50 years combined at the technical college.

"This program has been such an important part of our professional lives," Unrein said.

"We've seen it grow so much, and we've learned over the years from each other and from our students."

Unrein, who raised her family in her native Victoria, said her position as coordinator for the first-year nursing program has been so rewarding. She never thought about moving into the big office in the nursing building -- until this fall.

Gottschalk was filling two roles, also acting as interim dean after Don Benjamin resigned last May.

"I knew Sandy loves nursing and didn't know if she ever wanted to leave here," Unrein said, glancing around the state-of-the-art laboratory in the nursing building.

Then, Gottschalk decided to pursue new avenues. She accepted the position of dean, then began looking for her replacement as nursing director.

All along, Gottschalk said she hoped Unrein would consider moving into the nursing director's position.

"She's a very caring, very knowledgeable person, and very fair," Gottschalk said. "Students just love her."

"I knew things were going to be in very good hands," Gottschalk said when Unrein accepted the director's job.

Eric Burks, president of NCK Tech who operates out of the Beloit campus, echoed Gottschalk's confidence in Unrein.

"She's very familiar with the high standards in that program, so it made our job easier" when Unrein applied, Burks said. "It takes great people to make a strong program, and that nursing program has great people."

Unrein said she has the best of both worlds.

Gottschalk will be just down the road in the administration building on campus.

"A lot of us instructors have been here a long time together," Unrein said of her thoughts on a smooth transition. "I will miss the teaching portion, because I love working with the students. But I feel this is another opportunity to guide, a way to help them get all they need to come into our program."

Gottschalk has been operating out of both buildings since May, and now she and Unrein will spend part of their holiday vacation moving offices.

"The reason we keep coming back is that we love working with our students," Unrein said. "We want them to be successful. Without students, there wouldn't be a program."

She said no significant changes are impending, but instead she will continue to lead the program down its traditional path.

"We've all worked really hard to bring this program to where it is today," Unrein said. "Things work. So we're going to keep working and adding and improving to meet the demands of our patients."

Karen Kisner will move into Unrein's role, and a new first-year instructor, Tracee Teeter, has been hired. Roxie Ruder has moved to part-time and will be the first-year program's lab and clinical instructor.