In Memoriam: Kansas State Polytechnic honors former president, professor and campus innovator Tom Creech

By Julee Cobb

Creech-Memorial-squareBe positive. Believe in yourself. Think ahead to get ahead. Don’t look back lest you fall back. People are the reason for progress – love them, encourage them, believe in them. No matter how frail they seem to be or how many faults they have, think of their potential and help them achieve that.

When Rick Zajac started his journey as a professor of physics at Kansas State Polytechnic in 1996, the first lesson of his campus career ironically was taught to him instead of his students. Zajac walked into his new office in the Science Center to find the above message written on a blackboard in the space. The memo was honest and straightforward, almost simplistic in nature, yet contained advice so powerful it has stayed with Zajac to this day.

The counsel was that of Tom Creech ­– one of the founding fathers of the campus, the property’s third president and an engineering technology professor. Creech retired in 1996 and wanted to ensure the intrinsic values that had made the campus so successful were preserved and performed by the next generation. So Creech scribbled his 30 years worth of real life know-how into those six points, hoping his office successor would be inspired. Zajac got the message.

Creech has left many impressions on both past and present members of the Kansas State Polytechnic campus. Ask anyone about his contributions, and there is a consensus among the answers: Creech dedicated his life to education and was committed to investing in people – both students and faculty – to create the best learning experience possible.

“Tom always arranged his priorities to put our college at the top of the list,” said David Delker, a 1973 graduate of then Kansas Technical Institute, professor and associate dean emeritus. “His determination and enthusiasm laid the groundwork for a very successful institution and his influence continues to be with us today.”

On Nov. 15, a little more than 50 years after Creech helped establish the now Kansas State Polytechnic campus, he passed away at 84 years old. News of his death has had a lasting affect across the campus, in alumni circles and on members of the Salina community.

“I appreciate all that Tom accomplished for the stability of the college and the success of the graduates,” said Ken Barnard, a former student in the airframe and powerplant program at KTI and aviation department head during the K-State Salina years. “History is a valuable asset if one will only take the time to recognize who we are is in large part because of where we once were.”

To further understand Creech’s impact, it’s important to travel back to the mid 1960s. Creech, at that time, was a faculty member at Kansas State University in Manhattan. He and his colleague, Hank Neely, had been tasked with designing a degree program for a potential engineering technology college. Creech and Neely met with Col. Mike Scanlan who was commander at Schilling Air Force Base in Salina. The previous year the base had been ordered closed and both Creech and Neely were hoping to use some of their equipment and space for the engineering technology college.

Once the Kansas Legislature approved House Bill 1101, Creech and Neely’s months of hard work, research, dreaming and scheming came to fruition with the establishment of Schilling Institute on April 26, 1965. Creech was appointed as the campus’s inaugural director of academic affairs while Neely became the first president. Before the college even opened, Creech, along with other newly hired faculty and staff, put in sweat equity acting as carpenters, electricians, plumbers and painters to make the buildings and barracks suitable for students.

The campus would see additional transitions throughout its history, changing from Schilling Institute to Kansas Technical Institute in 1969; then to Kansas College of Technology in 1988; K-State Salina in 1991; and finally its current identity, Kansas State Polytechnic, this year. Though those name transformations have been necessary to the livelihood of the campus – staying relevant in an educational world that is always developing and undoubtedly competitive – the principle of providing hands-on learning and professional programs that students will immediately find success with in industry has remained the same. And this is a standard Creech initiated and held during his 30 years of service to the campus.

From Zajac, he tells of an old lab report he found that Tom had written to his students to help them better understand the process of experiments and their results; from Barnard, the explicit message that when Tom was president, he knew just how important active learning is to the aviation program, approving the purchase of essential lab equipment and six flyable TH-55 helicopters to improve the student experience; and from Larry Farmer, a 30-year electronics engineering professor and department head on the campus, a rave about Tom’s commitment to modernity, opening the Technology Center in 1985 – the property’s first new building since its educational inception.

In an interview with Creech last spring during a celebration of the campus’s fiftieth anniversary, Creech was adamant about his admiration for the property and how much content he felt about its trajectory over the years.

“I still think very highly of the campus and I’m interested in watching the process,” said Creech. “What K-State’s Salina campus is today is the vision of what we started with in 1965.”

With Creech’s passing, there is a sadness that comes knowing a pillar of the campus’s foundation is gone. Yet, when a legacy is built as strong, impactful and dynamic as Creech constructed his, the feeling of loss is only temporary, as his footprint will be etched into the success of Kansas State Polytechnic forever.

Reminisce about Tom Creech along with current and former members of the campus: 

About two or three weeks after I started as dean and CEO, Tom showed up in my office because he wanted to personally share the history of the campus with me. He even debunked the story floating around about how the president of Schilling Institute was decided. Even though the rumors said Tom had lost a coin toss to Hank Neely, Tom really didn’t want the foundational presidency. The real story was less “glamorous” than the rumor, so they both let it go!

Verna Fitzsimmons, Kansas State Polytechnic CEO and dean

I was a faculty member from 1982 until the year Tom retired. I will always remember Tom as a person who treated me as if he was my equal, even though he was president of the school. He was always friendly and helpful to those of us who worked at then Kansas Technical Institute and K-State Salina. I will miss his friendly nature.

Dave Ahlvers, former professor of arts, sciences and business

Tom was an integral part of my first experience with an accreditation evaluation team; in fact, I remember that day quite vividly. It was a bitterly cold Monday morning following a huge snowstorm. The Engineers’ Council for Professional Development (later known as ABET) had arrived in Salina the day before to meet with Kansas Technical Institute program coordinators and administrators the next morning. Even though the campus was essentially closed due to inclement weather, Tom insisted that we proceed with the accreditation meeting. Unfortunately, Tom’s car got stuck in the snow less than a block from his house, so I picked him up in my four-wheel drive truck and we plowed through the snow to get to campus. I don’t recall much else about that day, except that Tom was adamant that neither snow nor anything else would get in the way of our engineering technology programs’ successful accreditation!

David Delker, 1973 KTI graduate, professor and associate dean emeritus

Tom was a consummate tinkerer. I have a photo of the carefully crafted platform he built for his students on which to perform optical refraction. For Tom, it wasn’t enough that the platform is functional, he also had to make sure the wood that was used was properly stained and polished. Typical Tom.

Rick Zajac, Kansas State Polytechnic physics professor

Former President Creech was keystone in the effort to save KTI from closing. In his tenure, there was a concerted effort to close the campus. He led the effort and rallied the students and faculty to attend many sessions in the Kansas Legislature, pleading our cause to remain open. We produced top quality graduates to a deficient industry and our placement rate was 100 percent. The entire campus community personally knew each other and worked together to insure students were qualified, and the faculty personally made hiring contacts and recommendations for job placement and follow-ups. Tom Creech dedicated his life to the college and I am convinced he saved it from closing.   

Ken Barnard, KTI student and former aviation professor and department head

View Tom Creech’s obituary here.

Kansas State University Salina joins Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland for Program on Demand initiative

By Julee Cobb

After collaborating with the Girls Scouts of Kansas Heartland for the past five years in a variety of capacities, Kansas State University Salina is elevating the partnership by joining the Girl Scouts’ Program on Demand initiative.

Exactly what the name suggests, K-State Salina will be a resource for troops at their request, creating learning experiences tailored to the individual troops’ interests and schedule. These specifically designed programs will have a focus in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, and will coincide with badge work, community service projects or extracurricular activities.

“We’re thrilled to be working with an organization as iconic as the Girl Scouts and we value the importance of educating, motivating and empowering these young women,” said Kirsten Zoller, K-State Salina’s event coordinator. “Whether it’s through our collegiate degrees, our youth Discover Programs or this new partnership, the campus wants to help young people change the world.”

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Kansas State University Bulk Solids Innovation Center celebrates open house

By Sarah Hancock

The weather was wheat-harvest warm on June 24 as a new K-State research facility hosted an open house attended by representatives from more than 60 companies. Attendees came from as far away as Switzerland and as close as across the street to hear how the Kansas State University Bulk Solids Innovation Center in Salina can help them better understand how to handle loose, dry commodities and powders, including the wheat locals were cutting in nearby fields.

Matt Burt, K-State graduate and general sales manager at Coperion K-Tron in Salina, an anchor tenant of the center, said he and his staff are excited about the facility.

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Meeting industry demands: Kansas State University Salina expands unmanned aircraft systems program with new bachelor’s degree and minor

By Julee Cobb

With the unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, industry growing at a rapid pace, Kansas State University Salina is meeting career demands with the addition of a new bachelor’s degree and minor beginning this fall.

Beginning this fall, Kansas State University Salina is offering a bachelor's degree in engineering technology with an unmanned aircraft systems option, which focuses on the design and implementation of UAS systems. K-State Salina also is offering a UAS minor.

Beginning this fall, Kansas State University Salina is offering a bachelor’s degree in engineering technology with an unmanned aircraft systems option, which focuses on the design and implementation of UAS systems. K-State Salina also is offering a UAS minor.

Combining UAS, commonly known as drones, technology with coursework in computer science, electronic engineering and mechanical engineering, K-State Salina is offering a Bachelor of Science in engineering technology with an unmanned aircraft systems option. The new course of study complements the already existing aeronautical technology bachelor’s degree in UAS, which is centered around piloting and field operations, by concentrating on the design and implementation of unmanned systems. The university also is adding a UAS minor with both a flight operations focus and a data acquisition and management focus. Doctoral-level faculty members are leading the program.

“K-State Salina is known for being at the forefront of unmanned aircraft systems education and research, and our innovative engineering technology reputation spans 50 years, starting with the creation of our campus,” said Verna Fitzsimmons, K-State Salina’s dean and CEO. “This hybrid degree, which incorporates principles from both programs, is a practical addition to our academic offerings and an essential addition for the UAS industry.”

Students enrolling in the engineering technology with an unmanned aircraft systems option degree will not have the requirement of flight ratings. Instead, they will explore the intricacies of how UAS function, such as their software and data, sensors and actuators, and camera systems and other payloads that are critical to accomplishing any task during missions. Courses will focus on different areas of electronic circuits, communication systems, control systems, machine design, manufacturing technology, materials technology and fundamentals of UAS operations.

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Opening new doors: Kansas State University, industry partners celebrate Bulk Solids Innovation Center launch

By Julee Cobb

Collaborators on the Bulk Solids Innovation Center project cut the purple ribbon, signifying its official opening. Featured in the photo, from left to right: Hank Corcoran Boyer, Todd Smith, general manager of Coperion K-Tron Salina; Jon Blanchard, mayor of Salina; Verna Fitzsimmons, CEO and dean of K-State Salina; Jeff Thompson, president of Vortex Valves; Trey Mowery, Salina Economic Development Corporation; Jeff Gillam, president of Jones Gillam Renz Architects; Tim Bruce, Ron Fowles Construction; Monte Shadwick, chairman of the Saline County Commission; Don Weiser, Salina Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO; Mike Hoppock; Doug McKinney, executive director of North Central Regional Planning Commission; and Joyce Volk.

Collaborators on the Kansas State University Bulk Solids Innovation Center cut the purple ribbon on the project, signifying its official opening. Featured in the photo, from left to right: Hank Corcoran Boyer, All America Team; Todd Smith, general manager of Coperion K-Tron Salina; Jon Blanchard, mayor of Salina; Verna Fitzsimmons, CEO and dean of K-State Salina; Jeff Thompson, president of Vortex Valves; Trey Mowery, Salina Economic Development Corporation; Jeff Gillam, president of Jones Gillam Renz Architects; Tim Bruce, Ron Fowles Construction; Monte Shadwick, chairman of the Saline County Commission; Don Weiser, Salina Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO; Mike Hoppock, executive vice president of Land Title Services; Doug McKinney, executive director of North Central Regional Planning Commission; and Joyce Volk, All America Team.

Known as the only facility of its kind in all of North America, Kansas State University is enhancing is educational offerings in an exclusive way with the opening of its new Bulk Solids Innovation Center in north Salina. On May 14, dignitaries from K-State Salina, the city of Salina and various industries gathered for the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, celebrating the opening of the center.

“This is a great day; one that we have been looking forward to for a number of years,” said Verna Fitzsimmons, K-State Salina’s dean and CEO, during the commemoration. “The K-State Salina campus has been working constantly to connect education with industry and the wonderful thing about this facility is that it is bringing quite a few collaborators together.”

The Kansas State University Bulk Solids Innovation Center serves a multitude of purposes that will benefit students, industry professionals, university research and the Salina economy. Curriculum associated with the science and understanding of bulk solids is being created for engineering technology students and along with classes, students will assist with research projects as outside companies partner with the center to conduct product testing. Professional development courses will be taught onsite and the facility will attract 40 new, quality jobs to the area.

The center is a two-story building with 13,000-square-feet and houses six laboratories for university and industry-sponsored research; training and education, conference and lecture rooms; a material properties test lab; and a full-scale bulk solids test bay. Bulk solids are loose, dry commodities like sugar, minerals, pigments and recycled plastics that account for more than 80 percent of items transported around the world.

“A few years ago, not very many people knew what bulk solids are, and now we have the best center in the world dedicated to that industry,” said Todd Smith, general manager of Coperion K-Tron Salina, one of the anchor occupants of the facility. “Companies have challenges with bulk solids and they will use this facility to help solve their issues. There is great demand for this and now we have a way to address it.”

“I have just been amazed at the amount of interest in this facility from a corporate level,” said Kurt Barnhart, K-State Salina’s associate dean of research and engagement. “We’re going to be connected with the College of Agriculture’s Particle Technology Lab, grain sciences and other facilities in Manhattan to make sure we approach this across the spectrum holistically, and then we can really meet the needs of industry.”

Ground was broken on the facility in July 2014 and since then, manufacturers from across the globe have supplied more than $2.5 million in equipment donations. The innovation center is a project of Kansas State University with partners the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce, Salina Economic Development Corporation, U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, the state of Kansas and the city of Salina.

After the ribbon-cutting ceremony concluded, attendees were invited to take a tour of the building. On June 24, the Kansas State University Bulk Solids Innovation Center will host a corporate open house for industry partners and companies interested in collaborating with the facility and sponsoring research. Short courses through K-State Salina’s professional education and outreach department are scheduled to begin this summer and the university is currently conducting an international search for a faculty researcher.

To learn more about bulk solids education and the facility’s research capabilities, contact Barnhart at 785-826-2972 or kurtb@k-state.edu.

K-State Salina expands Discover Programs to include high school students

By Julee Cobb

After seven years of providing seasonal educational opportunities for area youth through Discover Programs, Kansas State University Salina is growing the brand to now include a new program and an older age group.

K-State Salina is introducing Discover You — a one-day development program on Wednesday, July 29 that will focus on participants’ interpersonal skills such as communication, leadership, goal setting and teamwork. The program will run from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and is open to the eighth through 10th grades, making it the first time Discover Programs have been available to high school students.

“In this particular age group, it’s an exciting time in their lives when they start taking stock of who they are as an individual,” said Kirsten Zoller, K-State Salina’s event coordinator. “Discover You is a natural extension of Discover Programs, building on the technical skills students have learned in previous programs with the necessary relational skills they need in extracurricular activities, the classroom and beyond.”

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Kansas State University and community partners set purple ribbon-cutting for Bulk Solids Innovation Center grand opening

By Julee Cobb

After breaking ground on the project less than a year ago, the Kansas State University Bulk Solids Innovation Center will celebrate its grand opening with a purple ribbon-cutting ceremony at 2 p.m. Thursday, May 14, in the 600 block of North Front Street in Salina. The public is welcome to attend.

The two-story, 13,000-square-foot facility is the only one of its kind in North America and will be used to study the science and understanding of bulk solids materials handling — loose, dry commodities like sugar, minerals, pigments and recycled plastics that account for more than 80 percent of items transported around the world. The innovation center houses six laboratories for university and industry-sponsored research; training and education, conference and lecture rooms; a material properties test lab; and a full-scale bulk solids test bay. After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, all of these features will be available for viewing during walking tours of the space.

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From cadet to college student: Kansas State University, St. John’s Military School sign institutional partnership agreement

By Julee Cobb

Kansas State University will enhance its support of St. John’s Military School after signing a partnership agreement with the institution on April 14 to assist the school’s students in preparing for higher education.

Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz, left, and St. John's Military School President Andrew England sign an institutional partnership agreement that will serve the collegiate needs of St. John's students.

Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz, left, and St. John’s Military School President Andrew England sign an institutional partnership agreement that will serve the collegiate needs of St. John’s students.

At a ceremony on the St. John’s campus, Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz and St. John’s Military School President Andrew England sealed the collaboration with their signatures in front of community members, St. John’s alumni, staff from both institutions and the school’s cadets.

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K-State Salina’s Civic Luncheon Lecture to examine big data and its use in business decisions

By: Julee Cobb

In today’s technological era, data is everywhere: in every digital process, social media exchange and mobile device transmit. Kansas State University Salina’s latest Civic Luncheon Lecture will explore how all this information is effectively being gathered and incorporated into business operations and client experience.

“Big Data: Implications and Applications” will be presented at noon Thursday, April 9, at K-State Salina’s College Center conference room. Kissan Joseph, University of Kansas professor and co-director of the Center for Integrated Customer Experience, will lead the discussion. Les Kinsler, professor in K-State Salina’s computer systems technology program, will act as the moderator.

Big data, the term used to refer to the large volume of generated information, has meaningful value to industries because they can analyze trends and patterns from it that are related to human behavior. Businesses then integrate those findings into their practices and decision-making to enhance the customer experience. Joseph will highlight the varying potential of big data for businesses and beyond.

The Civic Luncheon Lecture Series is free and the public is invited. Attendees are welcome to bring their own lunch or purchase their lunch at the K-State Café and then bring their tray into the conference room.

Greg Stephens, associate professor of arts, sciences and business, created K-State Salina’s Civic Luncheon Lecture Series to provide the campus and the community with an opportunity to learn about and participate in various current events impacting local issues. For more information on the series, contact Stephens at 785-819-6887 or gregs@k-state.edu, or visit http://www.salina.k-state.edu/civicluncheon/.

Good as gold: K-State Salina’s journey of 50 revolutionary years

By: Julee Cobb

The year was 1965. “The Sound of Music” was released in theaters and shows like “Green Acres” and “I Dream of Jeannie” ruled on television. The average price of gas was 13 cents a gallon and a new car cost around $2,600. Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama – a demonstration that later led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

In Salina, change was afoot on the Schilling Air Force Base on Centennial Road. It was announced the previous year that 150 military installations would close across the country. At the same time, Henry Neely and Thomas Creech, both faculty members at Kansas State University, had been tasked with designing a degree program for a potential engineering technology college. With Schilling Air Force Base shutting down, Neely and Creech met with base commander Col. Mike Scanlan about using some of their facilities and equipment.

K-State Salina is celebrating the 50th anniversary of their campus in 2015.

K-State Salina is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its campus in 2015.

Much to Neely and Creech’s surprise, the Kansas Legislature approved of their plans and officially established Schilling Institute on the base property on April 26, 1965 after the passage of House Bill 1101. The college would offer two-year degree programs in electronic engineering technology, detail design technology, civil engineering technology and aeronautical technology. Neely was appointed the president of Schilling Institute and Creech was named director of academic affairs.

Once the base was officially vacated in the summer of 1966, Neely and Creech, along with the other hired faculty and staff, moved onto the campus and started making the buildings and barracks suitable for students. They acted as carpenters, electricians, plumbers and painters as there was no extra money available to hire any tradesmen to complete the necessary work. Students arrived for classes in the fall and an additional program, computer science technology, was created – the first of its kind in the state. In 1968, Schilling Institute graduated its first 10 students.

The next year, the college was placed under the control of the State Board of Education and changed its name to Kansas Technical Institute, or KTI. Creech was selected as the campus’s third president in 1976 and during KTI’s reign, seven more degree programs were added. Students even picked the peacock as an unofficial mascot for the school, frequently appearing in the campus newspaper and yearbook.

In 1988, the property on Centennial Road would see another name change, to Kansas College of Technology. By this time, there were around 800 students enrolled and 11 programs led to an Associate of Technology degree. Kansas College of Technology, or KCT, also offered an Associate of Applied Science and an aviation maintenance certificate program.

In a full circle moment – as two K-State faculty were instrumental in founding the first institution on the grounds – KCT merged with Kansas State University in 1991 and became its ninth college, the College of Technology and Aviation. K-State Salina upgraded many of the previous two-year degrees to bachelor’s degrees. Most recently, it has added an unmanned aircraft systems program as well as family studies and human services, personal financial planning and social work. The landscape of the campus has also evolved, with the building of two residence halls, the College Center, the Student Life Center and a renovated Welcome Center.

Now the year is 2015, and popular comedic series aren’t just watched on television anymore. There are cell phones that are really smart phones, allowing access to the Internet and streaming music and social media. Movies are seen in theaters with 3D glasses and the price of gas continues to fluctuate between $2 and $3. Agreeably, times have dramatically changed since that day in 1965 when Schilling Institute was born. The students on campus now bleed purple, but K-State Salina wouldn’t be what it is today without the three colleges that came before.

K-State Salina is honoring the 50 years of those four educational institutions with a golden anniversary. If you would like to participate in the celebration, click here for the listed signature events that run April through September.