PSU alum wins Kansan of the Year honors
Michael Bauer | reporter
PSU graduate Norman Conard might be officially retired, but he begs to differ.
He may no longer teach history academically, but his new classroom is the entire world. It doesn’t stop with him teaching history, either. He has made history himself.
Last month, the Topeka Capital-Journal named Conard the 2012 Kansan of the Year.
Conard has spent the last six years working as a director of the Lowell Milken Center in Fort Scott. The center works with students and teachers all around the globe through its website on projects and activity-based learning.
In an interview with the Capital-Journal, he said he didn’t know about being Kansan of the Year until later in the week.
“It was normal because we get interviewers all the time,” Conard said. “I asked, ‘Is this about the center?’ and she replied, ‘No, it could be about you.’”
That was the last thing he heard. He was told to check Sunday’s paper to find out.
The award surprised Conard, but he wasted no time in giving credit to everyone who made it possible.
“I think it reflects upon all the young people and teachers we work with all around the world,” Conard said.
Conard received his master’s degree in history from PSU in 1992. He always had a desire to teach. It should come as no surprise, either, since he hails from a family of teachers and history buffs.
“My mother was a teacher at Cherokee County in a one-room school,” Conard said. “My aunt was also a teacher and my grandmother was a big history fan so it was a genetic thing.”
Conard went to California on a scholarship where it wasn’t long until he discovered his calling.
“I wanted to teach after starting school and the natural subject was history. I’ve always loved it,” Conard said.
Conard spent 10 years on the West Coast before returning home to Southeast Kansas. His reason for coming back was to be closer to his family where one thing would soon lead to another.
“I came back here to be with my mother since she had cancer,” Conard said. “After she died, I helped my dad out with his business so the opening came up in Uniontown so I applied.”
Conard was not planning for a long stay. After all, he had a job back in California. His principal thought otherwise.
“I told the principal that I’d only be there for one year because they were holding my job in California,” Conard said. “He said, ‘If you stay here, you’ll stay 20.’”
Sure enough, he stayed for 20 years.
After building a resume that includes awards such as Teacher of the Year, National Secondary Social Studies Outstanding Teacher and USAToday All-American Teacher, Conard left Uniontown to be in charge of the newly created Lowell Milken Center in 2007.
The center was a result of collaboration between Conard and Lowell Milken, also a PSU alumnus. After writing a grant to start the center, the place soon opened.
“As the director, we do several projects including film, unsung hero awards, exhibits with schools around the world,” Conard said. “There are so many teachers around the world who are interested in service-based learning and so we work with schools through the Internet and locally,” Conard said.
Some of those works include unsung hero projects.
One of those included a performance created by students of Conard in Uniontown called “Life in a Jar: Irena Sendler Project.” The play told the true story of Polish holocaust survivor Irena Sendler, who saved thousands of children from concentration camps during World War II, and eventually led to her being nominated for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
Conard doesn’t just see his Kansan of the Year award as a lifetime of achievement. Instead, it’s another chance for the Milken Center to expand.
“I’ve seen all these awards that can be attributed to the people around you,” Conard said. “I was surprised by it and I feel like it gives us the opportunity to grow.”
Fort Scott is not the world’s only location for a Milken Center. A new center was opened in Poland and there seems to be no stopping that expansion.
“That’s the vision,” Conard said. “We might expand next in Fort Scott because some of the offices are not big enough so we’re looking at that.”
People have told him that he left the classroom when leaving Uniontown. Truth is, he’s just in a different classroom. He wouldn’t be working at the Milken Center, helping educators around the world if he didn’t.
“The way I look at it, the classroom now that I have is the world,” Conard said. “So instead of teaching in a classroom in a town somewhere, I’m working with students all over the Earth.
He has had a global effect.
“When people ask what my address is, I say, ‘Fort Scott’ but they say, ‘No, your address is ‘dot org’ and it’s true,” Conard said, referring to his center’s website domain. “Our website has had over 40 million hits,” Conard said.
He says that his award is one for all teachers.
“We hear criticisms of teachers across the country. Truth is, there are many great teachers in middle school and all over, and getting an award like this is a compliment to teachers everywhere.”