Hector Hernandez is still a couple of months away from starting his professional career, and his college professors already think he is the ideal person for the job.


Hernandez graduated from Fort Hays State University this spring with a Bachelor of Arts in music education. He will begin teaching band at Dodge City Middle School in August.


Hernandez, who speaks Spanish fluently, will fit in well in a school whose district-wide enrollment of 7,300 is nearly 80 percent Hispanic.


“Hector is a lifelong learner,” said Dr. Peter Lillpopp, assistant professor of music and theatre. “In our applied lessons, Hector would come with lots of questions and an intense desire to excel in his performance. The best teachers are ones who never stop learning, and Hector is definitely going to channel that to his own students.”


Hernandez was assigned to student teach in Dodge City for the spring 2020 semester, which was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But he interacted with the middle school students long enough to realize any fears he might have had about teaching at that grade level were unfounded.


After all, it was during his middle school days when Hernandez first became interested in playing the trombone, an experience that ultimately led to this career of choice.


A native of California, Hernandez moved to Junction City when he was in middle school when his dad, a member of the U.S. Army, was stationed at nearby Fort Riley. He said it was hard to fit in at a new school initially. He found a friend group among band members and began playing the trombone, an instrument he had learned to play a few years earlier from a family friend.


Hernandez learned about Fort Hays State, which “caught his eye every year,” when he accompanied his high school band to the High Plains Music Festival at FHSU every fall semester. After graduation, a lot of his classmates were heading up the road about 20 miles to their hometown university, but that’s not what Hector wanted.


“I wanted the chance to learn a different culture, and I found Fort Hays State was very affordable while getting a very quality education,” said Hector, a first-generation college graduate for his family.


“I wanted to really concentrate on my music,” he said, “and didn’t just want to be a number.”


He found just that at FHSU, where he was able to saturate himself in anything that involved music.


“People knew me personally,” Hernandez said. “I’d meet a professor in the music department in the hallway, and they would know my name, even if I didn’t have a class with them.”


There was good reason those professors knew Hernandez’s name. He was a member of the Tiger marching band his entire career and played in the symphonic orchestra and numerous ensembles. He played in the pit orchestra for musicals and operas and was chosen as the low brass section leader from his sophomore year on. He also served as president of FHSU’s chapter of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME).


One of his favorite activities was playing in the Hays Symphony Orchestra.


“How many people get the opportunity to play pieces that been played by professionals,” he said. “It’s one thing to play in a band in a nice concert setting, but it’s another to play professional music in front of hundreds of people. Fort Hays State gave me so many opportunities.”


Dr. Laura Andrews, advisor for FHSU’s chapter of NAfME, commended Hector for taking advantage of those opportunities. She pointed out characteristics that will bode well in the education field.


“He is trustworthy, easy going and calm, with a healthy sense of humor,” she said. “Hector has always demonstrated a keen interest in helps succeed – and his students will succeed.”


Dr. Andrews, associate professor of music and theatre, appreciates the input from music education majors out in the field, and she is anxious to keep in touch with Hector.


“I look forward to sharing Hector’s experiences in real-world knowledge,” Dr. Andrews said. “Our students learn best by watching teachers teach, and his expertise as a new teacher will be invaluable in our methods classes.”