Hays student wins FHSU award as outstanding graduating senior

FHSU Media Relations
FHSU announced the winners of several awards at the virtual Spring Convocation Awards.

A student from Hays, Grace Wasinger, was named the winner of Fort Hays State University’s Torch Award as the outstanding graduating senior for 2021.

Wasinger received a Bachelor of Science in psychology at FHSU’s commencement ceremonies Saturday.

Blaine Wertz from Quinter received the Lighthouse Award as this year’s outstanding graduate student. Wertz graduated with a Master of Science in biological sciences at this year’s commencement.

Dr. Eric Gillock, professor of biological sciences, was given the Pilot Award as the year’s outstanding faculty member.

The winners were announced at the virtual Spring Convocation Awards by Dr. Jill Arensdorf, provost and vice president for academic affairs, in advance of commencement and recognized at a private reception with FHSU President Tisa Mason.

Reading from a nomination letter, Arensdorf said of Wasinger, “Grace is a multi-talented student who is focused on her education and service to others. She has been engaged in scholarship both collectively and independently throughout her academic career. This involvement in research has allowed her to apply knowledge gained to enhance her undergraduate experience at the University.”

“Her inherit drive has served her well as she honed her research skills to the level of being asked to present at numerous regional and national conferences,” Arensdorf said. “She is described by faculty as being dedicated, engaged in the field of psychology, and motivated in all of her aspirations and goals. Grace has also served in leadership roles in various organizations and has assisted in teaching classes for the department.”

In conversation with Mason during the video livestream of the awards presentation, Wasinger was asked, “Where does your passion and commitment come from?”

“In my own life, I’ve found that passion and commitment often go hand in hand. When faced with a challenge, commitment often doesn’t occur unless there is a true passion and personal meaning behind the work you’re doing,” Wasinger said.

Wasinger continued, regarding her education, “My passion comes from a place of genuinely wanting to understand human behavior. While a psychology major, I’ve sought out many research and service opportunities that have nurtured and reinforced my thirst for knowledge and desire to work with others. However, a tremendous amount of growth has come from wanting to be challenged. I feel fortunate to have had mentors who have challenged me and ignited through their example this willingness to seek out personal and meaningful challenges.”

Arensdorf also introduced the winner of the Lighthouse Award, Blaine Wertz, who also earned a Bachelor of Science from FHSU in 2019.

“Faculty describe Blaine as a student with high academic standards and one who actively engages in the learning process – eager to understand the materials presented. They also comment on his pleasantness and genuine concern for others. Blaine used his talents to provide support as a graduate teaching assistant and also spends time mentoring undergraduate students in the research laboratory,” Arensdorf said.

Wertz also provides his services as a CNA to area hospitals and seeks ways to give back to his community while preparing for medical school in the fall.

When describing his passion for his work, Wertz said, “My passion comes first from having Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior. But, out of that, I know that I have been cared for in so many ways. And so, finding ways to care for different people has always given me a passion. In one way, that’s teaching students in introductory biology labs, and in another way, that’s taking care of residents in long term care settings. I’m really looking forward to doing that as a physician someday, and that continued passion to care for people in the same way I’ve been cared for keeps me going.”

Arensdorf introduced the Pilot Award for outstanding faculty member, and this year’s recipient, Gillock.

One nominating letter described Gillock as, “a shining example of all that I love about Fort Hays State University. Teaching, curiosity, community, and family are his life, and this shows through in his every act.”

The letter continued, “The care he has for his students is exceptional; he takes care to ensure they understand the material, checks up on them if they fall behind, and believes deeply in their ability to prosper. Dr. Gillock’s passion for biology is truly contagious (pun not intended); he speaks with such wonder about microbes, viruses, and immunology that one can't help but adopt a similar enthusiasm in his classes. He conducts innovative research projects and challenges his students to seek solutions to problems in biology, and he always has a positive attitude and is available to answer questions. He’s highly proficient in what he teaches and able to convey ideas for any level of understanding; I have no doubt that he could hold an engaging conversation about bacteria with a child and a fellow expert alike.”

The Navigator Award recipient, Kris Munsch, assistant professor of applied technology, was also recognized at the President’s reception. The award was established in 1998 by the Student Government Association to recognize an outstanding academic advisor based on how closely the advisor adheres to the university goals for academic advising. 

“Not only does Kris seek to invest in his students as future builders (literally) of this world, but also as future citizens,” said Arensdorf. “He pushes his students to become visionaries and thinkers who come up with real solutions. The grit that he instills and demonstrates to all the students he interacts with, is inspiring. Construction knowledge is simply just the beginning of his advising of students. Kris’ life experiences are something he teaches his students every day.”

Mason asked Musch to share the impact of the physical structures built by students in the department of applied technology, the importance of that experience, and his favorite project his students have completed.

“The Pavillion is way up there because it’s such a community structure. I’m always seeing videos or posts on social media where that structure is being used for all kinds of things- and that’s what it’s all about. Advising is all about community,” said Munsch. “Advising is 98% education and 2% life. That’s what that Pavilion does. Even a garage project is community. There’s not a lot of things you can do in education where you can bring your family back 20 years later and say, ‘I built that’.”

The FHSU Alumni Association instituted the Torch and Pilot awards in 1974 to emphasize the importance of excellence in teaching and learning.

Torch Award candidates are nominated by faculty members on the basis of classroom excellence, participation in professional organizations, and involvement in student or civic activities.

The Lighthouse Award, approved by the Alumni Association in 2017 and first awarded in 2018, honors an outstanding student who is completing graduate studies. The award was named the Lighthouse in honor of the late Dr. James Forsythe, a former dean of the Graduate School and the university historian. Dr. Forsythe’s book, “Lighthouse on the Plains,” documents the history of Fort Hays State.

The Pilot Award is given on the basis of classroom excellence, ongoing research, and service activities. Candidates are nominated by graduating students.

The Alumni Association, established in 1916, is dedicated to identifying and serving the needs of more than 75,000 graduates living throughout the United States and in more than 70 countries. For more information, contact the Alumni Association at 785-628-4430 or alumni@fhsu.edu.