From wisconsinrapidstribune.com: “Vruwink: Here’s how we’re improving city gov’t” – By Zach Vruwink, mayor of Wisconsin Rapids – Shortly into my first term as mayor of Wisconsin Rapids, I pledged to pursue streamlining operations and making government more efficient, effective and customer-friendly. With support of that vision from the City Council and a partnership with Mid-State Technical College, our employees began Lean Six Sigma training to equip us with the tools to identify improvement projects, approach problem solving differently and form cross-functional teams across departments to develop new solutions to the way we approach new and everyday tasks.

We live in a world where the expectation to do things “better” is commonplace. An investment in professional development, specifically in process improvement, exposes employees to additional ways to identify and solve problems, resulting in improved service and increased customer satisfaction — in our case, our “customers” are our employees and our residents.

Now, just a year after our formal launch of the initiative, I am happy to report that over 25 percent of our employees have been trained in the fundamentals of process improvement. Even more have been involved with identifying processes for improvement and as “subject matter experts” in their specific areas of process improvement.

On June 25, all city employees were invited to a report-out event to recognize the progress of the initiative and provide an overview of the projects they are working on. The event was a reminder of how far we’ve come, and it was a chance to see what improvements are being made across the organization and encourage interdepartmental collaboration among all employees.

Just as significant, the “Rapid Improvement” process has given us the opportunity for self-reflection from those of us in the organization; that’s something that can often be the difference from an organization being “good enough” and being “great.”

The result, I’m excited to announce, is seven projects near completion. For example, we are examining the city’s special assessments process; its business inspection process; and even the library’s book check-in and shelving process.

Take the business inspection process: City departments such as police, fire and code enforcement have heard from businesses that our compliance inspection process should be improved. Previously, departments conducted individual visits, disrupting businesses as frequently as six times per year. After the project team applied the Lean Six Sigma methodology, business inspections (or disruptions) have been reduced to one or two annually. Businesses now are informed proactively of common violations and also have a voice in further improving the process. This allows departments time to perform other functions and disrupts businesses less, all the while preserving the integrity of inspections.

Since the essence of the Rapid Improvement initiative is “continuous improvement,” projects will continue to be started and completed with varying degrees of impact. An internal steering team has scored and will continue to score employee-submitted projects to be worked on in the future. Residents, too, are invited to submit improvement projects for improvement.

If you have an improvement idea, please communicate to me, another city staff member or submit your idea online by visiting http://tinyurl.com/RapidImprovementProject.

Each day we show up for work with the opportunity to not only do our jobs, but also to make a significant impact on how we improve processes within our organization and within our city. I’m proud of the progress our city employees have made so far in the initiative and I look forward to continuing our journey of process improvement, identifying project opportunities, measuring our efficiency and ultimately improving the delivery of city services.

From mstc.edu: “MSTC Foundation awards full-tuition Bethke Transportation Scholarship” — In honor of the generosity of the late Leonard and Lillian Bethke, the Mid-State Technical College (MSTC) Foundation offers a full-tuition scholarship each year to graduating high school seniors planning to pursue a technical diploma in the Automotive Technician program or Diesel and Heavy Equipment Technician program. Medford High School senior Samuel Buehler was selected to receive the 2014 award. He is pursuing a technical diploma in MSTC’s Diesel & Heavy Equipment Technician program.

Buehler, Medford, is the son of Larry and Rosemary Buehler. During high school, he was involved in football, FFA fundraisers, High Mileage Vehicle (HMV) competitions, Pep Band, and Science Olympiad. He also enjoys hunting, fishing, and ATV and motorcycle riding.

Buehler has work experience in retail grocery customer service, Schierl Tire Service, and farm work.  He is motivated by major modifications and new ideas to improve gas mileage in the automotive industry and high technology diesel engines.

The Leonard & Lillian Bethke Transportation Scholarship has a value of up to $10,000, which covers tuition and fees. Buehler was selected by the MSTC Scholarship Selection Committee. Students’ academic achievements, pre-entrance test results, financial need, extracurricular activities and responses to essay questions were reviewed and assessed by the committee. To remain eligible for the continuation of scholarship funds, recipients must maintain required academic standings.

From wisconsinrapidstribune.com: “Mid-State enrollment projected to increase for first time in 3 years” — GRAND RAPIDS — After three years of steadily declining enrollment, Mid-State Technical College’s student body is slowly ticking upward.

This upcoming academic year will be the first time the college has projected an increase in student body population since the 2010-11 year. The school expects enrollment will rise 3.5 percent to 2,144 full-time equivalent students in 2014-15 from 2,070 in 2013-14.

Vice President of Student Affairs Mandy Lang attributed this year’s increase in students to the opening of the new Stevens Point campus and its new and expanded course offerings. She said the three-year enrollment decline was due to the economy.

“When the economy gets better, there can be a drop in enrollment for colleges,” Lang said.

After the recession hit in 2008 and layoffs became more common in central Wisconsin, MSTC saw enrollment increase as dislocated workers decided to return to school and acquire new skills. Government funding for dislocated worker training also increased during this time, Lang said. However, as the effects of the recession mitigated, the school’s numbers steadily declined from 2011 to 2014.

Still, these trends in enrollment are not unique to MSTC. According to the Wisconsin Technical College System’s 2011-13 Biennial Report, all Wisconsin technical colleges saw a decrease in full-time equivalent students from the 2009-10 academic school year to the 2011-12 year. Across the technical college system, there was a 3.9 percent drop in enrollment from 2009-10 to 2011-12, totaling a decrease of 3,175 students.

Conor Smyth, director of strategic partnerships and external relations at WTCS, said enrollment rates in the state’s technical colleges were the highest in the system’s history during the recession. The tendency for people to return to college during times of economic hardship is a historic trend, he said. Likewise, when the economy gets better, people tend to go back to work. This phenomena, he said, explains the subsequent decline in enrollment.

“There’s a preference for work and earning money,” Smyth said.

Katie Felch, director of public relations and marketing at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau, also noted the economy’s role in determining enrollment at NTC. Since 2006-07, Felch said NTC’s enrollment increased by 50 percent and in 2012, it was recognized as the 21st fastest-growing community college in the nation by Community College Week. This past May, NTC graduated its largest class ever.

This year, NTC’s enrollment is down 8 percent, but Felch expects it to rebound.

“We saw a big bubble due to dislocated workers,” Felch said.

However, the recession isn’t the only factor influencing enrollment. MSTC’s pool of potential students is much smaller because of its district’s demographics.

According to MSTC’s calculations in its 2014-15 budget, residents in the school’s district are significantly older than the national average. Compared to the national average, there are 16 percent more people per capita who are older than 50. Combine this with the fact that MSTC’s district has only grown 1 percent in population since 2001 and it puts MSTC at a notable disadvantage in enrolling students. For context, Wisconsin’s population has grown 7 percent and the U.S.’s has grown 11 percent since 2001.

Another cause for concern in technical college enrollment is the diminishing number of students in high school. Smyth said the total number of high school graduates is expected to decrease in the next decade and with fewer students enrolled in high school, it is likely to impact enrollment at all colleges.

However, the technical colleges are especially starting to notice.

“There are just fewer students in the pipeline,” Felch said. “So we’re working to attract those students.”

But, as Smyth said, recruitment for students is especially hard for technical colleges because of their constant battle with a “four-year bias.” High school students, in particular, might feel more pressured by their peers, parents and school counselors to enroll in a four-year university even though their academic interest might be better aligned with a technical college.

Still, Smyth admits that breaking this bias is especially hard.

“We’re trying to get people to think along the lines of, ‘What do you want to do?’ rather than, ‘Where do you want to go?’” Smyth said.

In addition, student financial aid is growing harder to attain because of government regulations, further hindering student enrollment. Although technical colleges might be more affordable than a four-year university, Smyth said the number of students eligible for state-funded, need-based financial aid far outpaces the sufficient funds available to them.

At MSTC, Lang said the declining accessibility of financial aid is impacting the number of students it enrolls.

“It has been a factor (in enrollment) over the past few years,” Lang said about financial aid. “Those regulations do continue to tighten.”

Lang said MSTC anticipates a “moderate growth” in student body population during the next few years but would not speak to whether maintaining a steadily increasing enrollment was a high priority for MSTC. Instead, she emphasized student success as one of MSTC’s largest priorities.

From wisconsinrapidstribune.com: “MSTC Vex Robotics Camp exposes students to mechanical skills” — About 25 middle schoolers and their parents descended on Mid-State Technical College to watch robots compete against each other Thursday.

And the neat part? The children built the robots themselves.

Over the past four days, coaches at MSTC’s Vex Robotics Camp taught students the basic process of building and developing their own robots. Thursday’s competition was a culmination of the students’ week-long effort and gave the youths an opportunity to showcase what they learned.

Richard Breen, an adjunct professor at MSTC, is one of the camp’s coordinators and coaches. He said he hopes the children take what they learned and apply it to life outside the camp.

“We hope that we inspire them to go on and do more — and a little bit with programming,” Breen said.

However, Breen noted that programing and mechanical techniques are not the only lessons they learn. The students also practice soft skills such as teamwork, problem solving and time management in their race to build the ultimate robot.

“It’s got all those great elements that culminate in the competition to see who designed the best unit that can perform the task to the best ability,” said Gary Kilgas, associate dean of MSTC’s technical industrial division.

The robotics camp introduces students to different facets of math and science they might not encounter in the classroom.

“What I see is that they’re able to use cellphones and computer systems very well, but their mechanical skills are not necessarily there,” Breen said.

Exposing today’s youths to these mechanical and engineering skills is especially important, said Kilgas, because many employers looking for workers are unable to find qualified people because of the skills gap.

“We need those types of talents here. We have got businesses looking for CNC (computer numerical control) operators or people who understand automation,” Kilgas said. “And those are all the types of things you’re learning here (at camp).”

This is this summer’s second week of the Vex Robotics Camp. And according to Kilgas, it’s been a success so far.

“It’s not only the right thing to do with these young people — keeping them interested in technology, engineering and math — but it’s a wonderful way for them to learn new skills and work as team,” Kilgas said.

From wisconsinrapidstribune.com: “Workshop makes a compressed earth brick press from scratch in one day” — WISCONSIN RAPIDS — Extreme manufacturing techniques were on display June 17 to 19 at Mid-State Technical College’s Wisconsin Rapids Campus.

A three-day workshop led by Marcin Jakubowski, founder of Open Source Ecology, or OSE, showcased how extreme manufacturing techniques are used to build a complete, automated compressed earth brick, or CEB, press in one day.

The machine was completely built from scratch, with parts cut via computer numerical control. These pieces then were welded, and then assembled together with the automated controller and hydraulic system.

“It was exciting to get hands-on training in the process of building this sophisticated machine out of nothing more than basic resources,” said MSTC Sustainable Heating & Cooling Technician Instructor Ben Nusz.

A CEB press compresses clay earth into bricks that can be used for building. These bricks are cheaper because they can be made with dirt on site and are consequently more environmentally friendly. They are also highly energy efficient, insulating well against both heat and sound.

The workshop was designed for people interested in hands-on training, especially those individuals who want to use a CEB press in future endeavors. Participants were immersed in concept and production, including crash courses on key elements of design, fabrication, computer-aided design, microcontrollers, hydraulics, open documentation and open enterprise models. A total of 30 people attended the workshop.

Event planners partnered with MSTC and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association in co-organizing this event.

Nusz emphasized that this workshop is just the tip of the iceberg for people interested in careers related to renewable energy and conservation.

“This workshop is just one of many great opportunities in sustainable energy technology available here at MSTC,” said Nusz. “MSTC is home to numerous career programs and certificates in the field of renewable energy, many that are available nowhere else in the Wisconsin Technical College System.”

MSTC currently offers career programs in Process & Biorefinery Technology, Renewable Energy Specialist, Solar Electric Technician, and Sustainable Heating and Cooling Technician. Individuals who are interested in learning more about these and the more than 100 total programs and certificates available at MSTC are encouraged to visit www.mstc.edu or call 888-575-MSTC.

From stevenspointjournal.com: “UWSP, MSTC officials hope transfer agreement increases enrollment” – Officials from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Mid-State Technical College say they hope a recent statewide transfer agreement will mean an increase in enrollment as students see more opportunity to move from one campus to another.

Signed by University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross and Wisconsin Technical College System President Morna Foy earlier this month, the Universal Transfer Agreement identifies 48 core general-education courses for which students can transfer credits within the two systems. The agreement goes into effect July 1 for the 2014-15 academic year, can be renewed annually and is open to private and tribal institutions that choose to participate.

“Building on the hundreds of existing articulation agreements between the UW System and the WCTS, along with the innovative Transfer Information System, this agreement is another step in our joint efforts to make post-secondary education accessible for more students, facilitating their progress to becoming successful contributors to the Wisconsin economy,” Cross said in a statement.

Gov. Scott Walker, who proposed the agreement as part of the state’s biennial budget adopted last summer, said in a statement that he believes the agreement will allow students more flexibility and speed up the process for those looking to finish their degree.

Greg Summers, vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at UWSP, said the agreement will provide an even playing field for students looking to attend a university after completing their studies at a technical college.

“Before, you would have some credits that would be accepted at Stevens Point that might not be accepted at UW-Eau Claire or UW-Superior,” Summers said. “This agreement broadens the access students will have if they decide to pursue their degree.”

Mandy Lang, vice president of student affairs for MSTC, said students most often transfer to a university to pursue degrees in areas such as nursing and business. Lang said it’s too early to tell whether the agreement will increase enrollment, but making it easier to transfer general education credits is good step for students wherever they choose to attend school.

Nearly 90 students from MSTC and Northcentral Technical College in Wausau transferred into UWSP in the 2012-13 school year, and Summers said he expects that number to increase because of the agreement.

“That would be the goal. I think as students see there is a predictable pathway to get their degree, there will be more interest,” Summers said.

From wsau.com: “College graduation week features NTC, UWSP Saturday” – Several colleges are having their graduation ceremonies Saturday.

One of them is Northcentral Technical College in Wausau, where Sean Sullivan says the students have been doing more than classroom work to get ready for the job market.  “A lot of our graduates have really been active in taking advantage of the services that we offer to prepare to go out into the workforce, so it’s not only about the classes, but it’s about the extra things that we can offer them like leadership development, job skills training, those soft skills that employers are looking for.”

The NTC graduation is held at Wausau West High School starting at 10:00 a.m. Sullivan says just over half of the graduates will take part in the ceremony.  “NTC is going to be graduating almost 800 students this semester, and of those, I’d say about 475 will be at the graduation ceremony.”

Some of the NTC grads are the first virtual college Associate Degree graduates for the school, having taken most of their classes online.

The University of Wisconsin Stevens Point also has commencement Saturday, with both a morning session and an afternoon session to send 1,427 graduates on to their next step.

Mid-State Technical College had their graduation Thursday evening, but they have something else to celebrate. Their new Stevens Point facility is ready, and they’ve begun moving in. The college acquired the former Penney’s wing of the Centerpoint Marketplace mall, and they expect to be done moving in early next week.

UW Marathon County had their graduation Wednesday.

 

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