While a majority of educators don’t enter the field with aspirations of glamorous awards, most would agree that it’s nice to receive one every so often.
Accompanied by the three national titles that the Fort Hays State University Technology Education Collegiate Association team brought home from Louisville last month was another special plaque. This one, however, was in honor of a career that started well before any of the team members were born.
“It’s an award for those who believe in the profession and prove it throughout their career,” said Fred Ruda, after being named a Distinguished Technology Educator by the International Technology Education Association.
In comparison to the more-well-known Academy Awards, Ruda acknowledged that his award is more like a lifetime achievement than an Oscar for best actor.
“You don’t get nominated. It’s an in-depth application that you can apply for when you feel you meet the requirements, and a panel of peers has the final say,” said Ruda, whose 2009 application followed a year in which only two people received the honor. “It was a distinction put in place by ITEA about 12 years ago to honor those whose contributions to the field exhibited longevity and dedication.”
Ruda is no stranger to either category. As an undergraduate in the 1960s, he started his coursework at Kansas State University before coming to FHSU, which at that time was named Fort Hays Kansas State College.
“I didn’t like KSU. It’s not a bad place, but it was just too large, and there was no industrial technology program,” said Ruda. “So I came to FHSU for my first degree before heading to Vietnam.”
After his stint overseas, Ruda returned for a Master’s degree before taking a job in Hoxie, Kans.
“I didn’t originally intend on teaching, but Dennis ‘Mac’ McKee, who was here at the time, sat me down and encouraged me to be an educator,” Ruda said while recounting his past. “When I started, I didn’t need a doctorate degree to teach at the college level, but my dad encouraged me to go as far as I could and do more than what was required.”
So Ruda went to the University of Northern Colorado and earned the education doctorate that would pave the way to the department chair position that has occupied his livelihood since the late ’70s. And on the eve of his third full decade as the chair of the technology studies department, the DTE award comes as a welcomed present for his pearl anniversary.
“It’s a collection of everything I’ve done since I started teaching,” said Ruda. “Not just one event made a difference in the selection process.”
Ruda did, however, cite his tenure as chairman and the years he spent on the ITEA committee as weights that helped tip the scale.
While he is quick to share the details of the award and the inch-think application process that he endured to earn the distinction, it all takes a backseat to praising his pupils’ prizes.
“The kids’ success this year and in years past shows they can compete with anybody,” Ruda said in reference to the TECA team’s national accolades this spring. “They get grilled with questions and face tasks that come from engineers and other successful professionals, and they are very capable of meeting those challenges.”
Ruda feels that his tenure as chairman and the habitual funding from not only the university, but also the Hays community, exhibits how valuable people find this program.
“I’ve been involved with ITEA since 1983, and the President, Student Government Association, Dean and even the community – if we need funding in a down year – have embraced us,” Ruda said. “I’d like to see it continued to be supported at such a high level.”
The smirk on his face and his undaunted charisma while discussing the TECA team’s performance lets any onlooker know Ruda, who by nature admits he’s not competitive, has enjoyed this momentous month. However, it hasn’t overshadowed the value of education.
“The old adage ‘if you can’t work with your head, you can work with your hands’ is long gone. All it takes is a look under you car’s hood to figure that out,” Ruda said. “Technology studies allows students to create, design and build a product from start to finish. We’re here to teach theories that will lead our students to a bright future. None of my kids are struggling to find a job.”