ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
The idea of college and continuing education can be a daunting thought, and one of Liberal’s own has recently been working to help with that discussion on behalf of Kansas State University.
2019 Liberal High School graduate Joshua Diazdeleon is currently working with K-State’s Connected ‘Cats program and as he tells it, it has been a great experience. Diazdeleon is currently in his senior year at K-State.
“I was actually a little late in joining the Connected Cats program. I had been approached by the student body president and vice president, and as far as my involvement with the group, I was elected the student ambassador this past year, so it was kind of like a Homecoming election as far as you have to be nominated, then that’s looked at by a panel, then you’re interviewed by faculty and alumni, and then I made it all the way to the final round and was voted on by the student body,” Diazdeleon said. “It was a great idea to have a student ambassador who’s from Southwest Kansas to reach out to that area and be an event leader and work with all those connections. The event we’ve got happening will be Sept. 27 in Dodge City, and we’ll be meeting with community leaders and people who work with the Dodge City school district and other people. I’m really looking forward to it, I think it’s a great way for K-State to make better connections with that part of the state. Growing up there, I know there’s that feeling of detachment geographically speaking, and I know K-State is really trying to lead the way, especially this year, to make sure people in Southwest Kansas feel heard and feel that connection to Manhattan.”
During his time with the program, Diazdeleon said he has been able to meet many great people.
“It’s definitely been a great opportunity to meet with a lot of people who put on most of what happens at K-State. One example, I got to meet our university’s president, Dr. Richard Linton, who is currently in his first full school year in that role, and I’ve gotten to know him and hear his story and all of that,” Diazdeleon said. “I’ve also gotten to meet with a lot of other K-State alumni and hear their stories about their time at the college. Everyone who comes here is drawn here for a reason, and even people who might not have come here but have a past connection with K-State are affected by that, whether it’s by being involved in an extension program or being introduced to some other program by a teacher or something like that.”
Diazdeleon added he is particularly excited for an upcoming event happening in Southwest Kansas.
“We’ll be in Dodge City Tuesday, and that day will start with an open community forum from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., and then there will be the Calling All ‘Cats event from 6 to 7:45 p.m., and both events will be in the Mariah Gallery of the Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City,” Diazdeleon said. “There will be a panel including Dr. Linton, myself and Marissa Ramirez, my co-event leader, and people will be able to ask us about anything and everything about being at K-State and the programs and all of that. It’s open to everyone, you don’t have to be a K-State alumnus to come. What I’m most excited about is the chance to go back home and go back to that area and making some of those reconnections. I graduated from Liberal High School in 2019, and I’ve also got a lot of family in Dodge City, so it’ll be a bit of a homecoming for me. Being back in Southwest Kansas and being around some of the people who helped shape who I am today, that really means a lot. It’ll be a great day of not just celebrating K-State but also celebrating Southwest Kansas. It’s a celebration of the people, the culture and the hard work everyone from Southwest Kansas has been brought up doing. The event will really provide a great chance to connect with K-State, and since K-State is a Rural Land Grant Institution, that means we have a presence in all 105 Kansas counties, and we’re one of only a few schools in the U.S. with that distinction. It’s a great chance to meet with some university representatives and talk about what is going on at the university and how things work.”
That increase in outreach throughout the state, Diazdeleon said, has been a longtime project of the university.
“I’m actually majoring in elementary education and minoring in leadership studies, and I know the college of education has started a program KSTEP Up, which is done in conjunction with Seward County Community College, so that gives students going to SCCC the financial means to do one or two years of that work at SCCC and then transfer to K-State and continue their education and hopefully make their way back to Liberal to teach,” Diazdeleon. That’s a particularly helpful program at the moment given how there’s a teacher shortage, and who better to be teaching in USD 480 classrooms than people who have gone through the USD 480 educational system? I know Dr. Linton has also made his way out to Liberal this past summer to talk to people at SCCC and find out what’s going on and talk about ways K-State can support community colleges throughout Kansas. Our Catbacker Tour also was in Liberal this past summer and some of our athletes were part of that and talked to a lot of people, and it’s things like that which let people know K-State is paying attention and wants to be a source of support. Community visits are unique in how it’s a day where K-State gets to go out to different parts of the state and connect with different communities. With our event in Dodge City, we’ll be doing events similar to that in Salina and Kansas City and Scott City, and we recently hosted on in our Flint Hills region, and those events are always great. We meet people working to better their communities and working on ideas for the future, so those days are really a celebration of those communities and learning.”
Diazdeleon added he hopes to see that outreach continue and grow, especially with more rural communities.
“As someone who went through the USD 480 educational system, something that really reinforced my decision and made me feel confident in my overall journey was being able to meet those people who made that drive all the way to Liberal from Manhattan, and I think it means a lot to have people from universities who are willing to make those trips and make those connections with people,” Diazdeleon said. “I know other colleges do the same thing and also make those visits, but K-State was the one that ultimately stood out to me. I always say when it comes to Kansas, there really isn’t a wrong choice as far as colleges and furthering education, because there are a lot of really good schools to choose from. K-State also just has a lot to offer, being a Rural Land Grant Institution has been a mission since pretty much day one, and that happened, and that helps incorporate ALL people, not just certain sects or groups or any of that, it’s about giving everyone a fair shot at a really good education. K-State has done a great job with its outreach efforts, especially with the smaller communities, and I think that means a lot to people. We have great people in recruiting and admissions who are doing a lot of great work, and they’re always happy to answer any questions they get, or they can direct you to the right people if you have a question they can’t answer. And that’s really helpful because let’s face it, college can be super intimidating at the beginning, especially when you’re from an area like Southwest Kansas that’s kind of far from a lot of those bigger colleges. And something I’ve actually noticed is when I’m out and about for long periods of time, I start to miss Manhattan because I consider that my home as well now, even though I love Liberal a lot. I actually even run into some former LHS classmates here on campus from time to time, and I think it’s great to see them doing well and seeing them being happy here at K-State.”
Overall, Diazdeleon said, he is ready to see what the future holds after he finishes college.
“I’m a senior now, so my time as a student ambassador will end in October. I’d love to see more people from Southwest Kansas consider K-State for college in the future, and I say that because time and time again, some of the hardest working people I know on campus are people from that area, and there are a lot of those shared values,” Diazdeleon said. “I’d also like to see more band kids here on campus and be part of the marching band program, you can never have enough of those students. I’m very grateful to have grown up in Liberal, I had a phenomenal family and friends who helped make me who I am today. If it hadn’t been for Liberal and everyone I met along the way, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I would love to hear more of those stories and see more of a representation and more connections with Southwest Kansas.”