Homecoming was the perfect follow-up to a successful inauguration, which celebrated our people, place, and purpose. Homecoming week allowed us to reconnect with friends, enjoy the wonderfully varied heritage and culture of Fort Hays State University, and honor outstanding alumni. I absolutely loved it!

Among the many exciting events, someone special really captured my heart: the student speaker at the construction preview for the new Department of Art and Design building. MaKinlie Hennes eloquently shared her story, from finding her academic home at Fort Hays State, to describing how our art and design students are experiencing their current academic space and envisioning their futures. She articulated succinctly and beautifully the important role art and design plays in our world.

Her description of the experience of art and design at FHSU was especially moving:

“This program does so much more than educate students on how to become amazing designers. It provides students with a platform and the tools to speak their minds and make people listen. We bring awareness to so many problems in the world through our work. We take a relatively dormant demographic and encourage them to speak up and take a stand. I have been given countless opportunities to use the tragedies that have occurred in my own life and turn them into something beautiful and helpful to others who may relate. I created a project centered around eating disorders and receiving the help that one would need in that situation. In my fine art class, I was able to create a large scale self-portrait that represents my father’s suicide and how that impacted my life. I would have never been able to accomplish these things without the support system of the staff and of my peers.”

MaKinlie also described the many space restrictions that students now face in this rapidly growing, highly successful and celebrated academic program:

“As students in the current art and design classrooms, we face many space restrictions. We are thriving in chaos. The classrooms basically look like a garage sale gone wild. There is not enough space for constructing our projects, which leaves the classrooms constantly a disaster because 20 to 30 people are trying to cut packages out, use spray adhesive in a makeshift spray booth, and print in a space suited for a smaller class size. Due to space restrictions, our current Graphics II is split into two classes this year, and students feel they are at a disadvantage because of that. Graphics II is usually a time of unity, where the classes are merged together to create their graduating class, and the peers they will design beside the rest of their academic careers. By not being with their full design class this year, it makes them feel disconnected.”

It has been well documented that place matters. There is a strong connection between students’ quality of effort and the quality of facilities and opportunities that make that effort worthwhile. MaKinlie captured that essence: “The new space will unite classes, create greater opportunities for collaboration between the arts, and provide students with advantages that previous classes never received. This new building will have state-of-the-art facilities that will take creation to a whole new level. The possibilities are endless with this new building, and students are absolutely ecstatic to move in.”

Indeed. This new building creates spaces for engagement and learning – spaces that honor our mission and help us prepare our students to succeed as educators, leaders and artists; spaces that use cutting-edge technology to foster creativity in a genuine and caring learning environment.

The students who fill our campus come from diverse backgrounds, bringing with them their own hopes and dreams. Students like MaKinlie, a senior from Downs, and professors like Karrie Simpson Voth, chair of the Department of Art and Design, make this place very special. Thank you, MaKinlie and Karrie, for leading your lives in such a caring, meaningful manner, and for making our university a place, as Karrie described, “where dreams come alive, grow and develop, preparing students to go out in the world carrying the name of Fort Hays State University.”

Tisa Mason is president

of Fort Hays State University