When Ed Anderson decided to come back to his roots back in Southwest Kansas, little did he know that he would begin a journey from respiratory therapist to instructor of respiratory therapy.
After three decades of working with Seward County Community College in some capacity, Anderson will retire and step down as SCCC director of Respiratory Therapy as this academic year concludes in May.
Anderson graduated from Wichita State University with an Associate of Applied Science in respiratory therapy in 1973 and then worked at various hospitals in the Wichita and the surrounding areas before heading back west in 1980.
“I moved home because my wife wanted to bring our kids back here and raise them in Southwest Kansas – that’s both of our homes,” he said. “I was from Elkhart and she was from Hugoton.”
When he came back he worked part-time at his father’s auto parts sales store and part-time at the hospital in Elkhart.
“I never wanted to give up respiratory therapy,” Anderson said.
While he never did, he found a different path within his profession. In 1985, Anderson got a call from Seward County Community College: it was starting a Respiratory Therapy program. Would he be interested in coming on board?
“They hired a program director and also division chair — Dr. Thomas Johnnykutty. I knew him from Wichita,” Anderson recalled. “He put the curriculum together and they had four students in the class. They asked if I would help out. I would meet with Dr. Johnnykutty to talk about the program.”
Anderson was simply going to serve as a consultant, but it turned out he would play a bigger role … much bigger.
“One day, I got a call from the college that Dr. Johnnykutty was in India, had an acute case of appendicitis, needed his appendix removed and wouldn’t be back to start the program,” Anderson said. “They asked, would I consider coming over for two weeks to teach the students? I didn’t know anything about education but I thought, ‘I’ll try that.’”
Two weeks turned out to be the whole semester. Alone in the unfamiliar role of instructor, Anderson improvised and worked hard. Though he had accrued a bit of teaching experience as the education coordinator for about a year at a Wichita hospital, Anderson had to approach the vocation with little formal training.
“I taught by myself,” he said. “I had no idea what I was doing except I knew respiratory therapy. I had educated people in the hospital – physicians, nurses, residents. I taught everything to new employees for orientation. I liked doing that, and I think that helped me (prepare for teaching).”
As far as formal processes to train respiratory therapists, though, Anderson had only his experience as a student to draw upon. It was enough for that first batch of students.
“In the end, they all passed their national exams,” he said.
Anderson’s intense initiation modulated into a mixed bag of employment. He continued teaching part-time at SCCC because the program needed two instructors for accreditation. Sometimes, SCCC had two regular instructors of its own, but when it experienced turnover, Anderson filled in for the vacancies. While he wasn’t teaching, he would still see students at his own RT job at the hospital when they embarked on clinicals,
He had been contacted several times for full-time positions but always turned the offers down for varying reasons. Then he decided it was time for a change. This time when the college called, he decided to listen.
After his interview for the position of program instructor, he didn’t even get past city limits when he received a call from then-president Dr. James Grote, offering him the job. He accepted, knowing full well that there were challenges ahead.
“The program had not performed well on a previous site visit and had several deficiencies,” he said. “We remedied every single one of them. We got our accreditation. That’s probably one of my most memorable accomplishments at SCCC.”
Fixing the vulnerable department came second to Anderson’s many connections to students.
“I’ve had some personal contact with every single student that has ever graduated from the respiratory therapy program here, after they leave and go into the work force,” he said. He’s thankful for the contact, which lends deeper meaning to his work. “It’s a good moment to hear from them. [When I worked at the hospital], I was helping save lives. Here, I’m doing the same thing but through my students.”
Anderson received a bachelors in Human Resources in 1993 from Friends University and a Master’s in Education in 2005 from Fort State Hays State University. A true believer in the value of teaching, he plans to assist in recruiting another instructor for the college before he heads out the door.
“I’m fully convinced that it’s a great career,” Anderson said. “I’m trying to influence other people to make the change that I did, from clinical to teaching.”
Anderson credits former RT program director and instructor Ken Killion for the program’s success.
“(Killion) had as much to do with the success of this program as I ever did,” Anderson said. “He was a great program director and a great teaching partner. He left for a while and we hired him back as a clinical director. We had a great team for several years.”
Anderson also praised Grote, calling him a man of “character.”
For Anderson, the teaching odyssey has been “real enjoyable,” but “this is my 45th year in respiratory therapy. It’s time to go fishing.”