Caden Frank came to Fort Hays State University planning to focus on pre-engineering coursework. 

After one class in the Department of Leadership Studies, Frank changed his mind. 

“I got involved with the leadership certificate program,” Frank said, “and I realized this is something I felt passionate about, not just as a hobby but as a career.” 

Frank and the other three members of his team are part of a record-breaking group in LDRS 310: Fieldwork in Leadership Studies. 

The two sections of this spring’s 310 class – as it is commonly referred to – raised a staggering $35,000 for the Hays community through their social change projects. That’s the largest amount raised in one semester since the start of the 310 class more than 15 years ago. 

Ironically, Frank’s team project took more of a human relationships route than that of a fundraiser. 

Nonetheless, “Breathe Out” and others like it were still impactful, said Seth Kastle, assistant professor of leadership studies. 

Take for example, the “Hansen Entrepreneur Marketing Consultants.” The five-student team helped fill the Dane Hansen Scholarship Hall with an entrepreneurship mindset for fall 2019. It will be the first time that all 32 residents will be involved in entrepreneurship activities. The residence hall was built in 2016 targeted for entrepreneur-minded students. 

“This service learning class is about executing a social change project, so it’s teaching people to take ownership in the communities they live in, no matter what that might be,” Kastle said. “We educate these students how to do this now, so when they move on from Fort Hays State, when they see a need, they can address it.” 

“Breathe Out” took a couch from Breathe Coffee House to several locations in town and just visited with people, “having intentional conversations with people about how to get involved in their community,” a team spokesman said. 

“We want people to be radically changed by their community and to radically change something in their community,” Frank said during his team’s demonstration. He said he has already been radically changed by Fort Hays State and the city of Hays, whose population of 25,000 is considerably smaller than his hometown. 

“This town is amazing,” said Frank, who grew up in Omaha, Neb. (population 466,000). “It’s obviously smaller than Omaha but large enough that no matter what your skill set is, it will align with something in town.” 

From his initial plan of attending FHSU for three years as a physics major, then transferring to an engineering school in Nebraska, Frank now has his sights set on graduating from FHSU with an organizational leadership degree and working with a nonprofit. 

Community partners visit the 310 class early in the semester, and the students then choose a project, write strategic plans and then execute those plans.   

Students learn a variety of lessons in the 310 class: planning, organization, teamwork and collaboration, creating awareness, sustainability and even reflecting on what they might have done differently during the project. 

“Hindsight is 20-20,” Kastle said. “That purposeful reflection is how the learning takes place. It’s about reflecting about what might have gone wrong and what they might have done different. 

For Kensington junior Tayler Petersen, it was tackling a tough project. She and her team, “In Defiance of Cancer,” partnered with the Cancer Council of Ellis County and raised about $3,000. While sponsorship made up most of that total, Petersen said she learned that the smaller amounts (from T-shirt sales and a raffle) added up, too. 

“Paula told us not to choose something easy but to do something that would be a challenge and it would mean more, and that really stuck with us,” Petersen said of Paula Flesher, executive director of the local cancer council. “As college students, we kind of just do our thing – do our homework and go to class – and don’t think so much about the community at-large. This has definitely changed my perspective on the impact we can all have on a community.” 

Petersen is a criminal justice major who currently works as a corrections officer in Norton and hopes to become a counselor someday.  She said she realized early on in her college career that leadership would be a complementary minor to her major. 

Like Frank, Petersen was hooked on leadership after one class. 

“I just loved it,” she said, “and I knew then what I wanted to minor in.” 

The “ARC Park” team raised nearly $10,000, and the top team – another record breaker – was $13,259.55. 

That was turned in by “Dancing Together for DSNWK,” which sponsored a fundraiser that featured dancers from Styles Dance Centre in Hays and clients from DSNWK in a public dance recital. 

The fundraiser was originally created two years ago by Macey Pfeifer, a Styles instructor who was part of a 310 class at the time. The project was continued by a 310 team last year and this year as well. 

“There’s a balance there because the idea is that 310 is going to support the community projects,” Kastle said. “Part of their assignment is to figure out sustainability. This one definitely displays sustainability. Others blaze new trails and take some bumps and bruises along the way. But what a great way to learn.” 

During these projects, Keil said, students get the chance to give back to the community that supports Fort Hays State in so many ways. 

Ditto for the community partners, said Steve Keil, director of development for DSNWK. 

“Being a non-profit, we’re always looking for the community to help and support our activities,” he said. “Fort Hays State has always stepped up to the table, and we appreciate everything FHSU has done for us.” 

Keil has been witness to partnerships between the Hays community and Fort Hays State since the 1980s. He graduated from FHSU with a bachelor’s degree in communication in 1986 and earned his master’s in organizational leadership in 2005. 

“We get a lot of support from Fort Hays State in a variety of different ways,” he said. “We are all very lucky to have this university in Hays.”