From wsau.com: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” — It’s the big question we all face when we’re young, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Common answers are firefighter or police officer and middle and high school students from the Wausau Boys and Girls Club got the chance to live out that dream on Wednesday.

Kids got to try on a couple different hats for size at the Northcentral Technical College Safety Center of Excellence in Merrill as they went through the training exercises of police, fire, and EMS professionals.

“It’s really fun and it teaches us to be on our feet and be very active,” Tyler Jones, 14 said.

“They’re kind of at that point of ‘what should I do for my career when I get a little bit older?’ And, ‘where should I go to college?’ And things like that are starting to play into their minds, so this gives them an opportunity to see maybe this might be the avenue that they might want to venture into,” said the college’s Public Safety Executive Director Bert Nitzke.

Fourteen-year-old Asia Stalsberg said she’s now thinking of going into the behind the scenes work of public safety.

The hands-on experiences is, of course a great opportunity for all the kids involved, but it’s especially so for the young women.

“This has been a male-dominated field for a long time and seeing more girls come here today and seeing them apply at the fire departments is great because we do need that diversity and it’s just great seeing them out here having fun,” said SAFER Firefighter and EMT Emily Dobeck. “Sometimes it can be very intimidating seeing is how most of the tasks that we perform require strength, but sometimes it comes in handy when you’re smaller.”

Experiences like the one the Boys and Girls Club and NTC provided for the kids may inspire more women to join the field.

If you would like to try some of the college’s hands-on training classes or bring your group to some, you can visit their website here: http://www.ntc.edu/.

From waow.com: “Rhinelander college gets $1.9 million state grant” – Nicolet Area Technical College was awarded $1.9 million in state grants Tuesday to train up to 303 students for in-demand jobs, such as welding and nursing assistants.

The money comes from about $35 million earmarked to help Wisconsin technical colleges train nearly 5,000 workers for jobs that employers need filled, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch said during a stop announcing the grant.

Last week, Northcentral Technical College in Wausau received $2.3 million from the program Gov. Scott Walker calls his “Blueprint for Prosperity” to train another 160 in-demand workers, including for diesel transportation jobs.

Here’s a breakdown of the additional students the money will help at Nicolet Area Technical College: 16 in electromechanical technology, 92 in welding, 30 in computer support specialties, 50 in business management and marketing, 80 in nursing and 35 in early childhood education.

“The college has a long history of working in close partnership with area businesses to determine training needs,” Interim President Kenneth Urban said in a statement. “These grants will directly benefit our students by giving them the exact skills they need to be successful, while businesses in the region will gain a skilled workforce to drive economic development.”

From wausaudailyherald.com: “The future workforce is here, working” – By Donna Schulz-Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator for Northcentral Technical College – If you follow the news, you’ve heard about a shrinking workforce facing employers. As more baby boomers retire each year, employers need to find and develop individuals who will be able to support the growth of their businesses in the years ahead.

These news stories remind me of a public service announcement from television in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s; the question “Do you know where your children are?” was asked during the 10 p.m. news as a reminder to parents that it was important for them to know where their children were and what they were doing. It seems the question employers dealing with an aging workforce are trying to answer is, “Do you know where your future employees are?”

I can tell you part of the answer is that they’re right here in the community, going to high school (taking classes that might surprise you), and trying to find the answer to their own question, “Do you know where your future is?”

This past year, 309 juniors and seniors from 21 high schools within the Northcentral Technical College district were literally working to find the answer to that question for themselves by participating in Wisconsin’s Youth Apprenticeship program.

YA is a rigorous one- or two-year program that combines mentored, paid, on-the-job learning with academic and technical instruction related to a specific program area. That means students working at a local bank through a finance apprenticeship are studying business, math and financial management; students completing an apprenticeship in manufacturing are perhaps taking welding, machining and manufacturing classes; students working at a healthcare facility may have taken a nursing assistant course at NTC along with medical terminology, biology, anatomy and physiology at their high school.

These students are seeing a real-world connection between their classrooms and the workplace. An exit survey taken by high school seniors who finished their apprenticeships this year provides some thought-provoking data. Of 173 graduating seniors, 151 have plans to attend some type of post-secondary school. While 26 of these students hope to focus only on school, the rest have plans to work while in school. And here’s where it gets really interesting: 85 percent of those 125 students are continuing to work for their YA employer, and 71 percent will be majoring in a field related to their apprenticeship.

Based on these numbers, you can see that some employees of the future are here now, developing relationships with employers who are helping them find their futures. If you would like to learn more about opportunities to hire a youth apprentice, contact the youth apprenticeship coordinator at your local high school or Donna Schulz at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau at schulz@ntc.edu.

From wsaw.com: “Middle Schoolers Compete in STEM Academy Final Competition” — Summer vacation is well underway for most students, but for more than one hundred middle school students class is far from dismissed.

Middle schoolers from seven different schools throughout the state are spending their first weeks of summer learning about science, technology, engineering and math.

Through video conferencing, all seven schools worked together on projects like building water rockets and marshmallow catapults. Friday, they all met face to face for the first time to show off and test their projects in a friendly competition.

“Our passion for this program is for them to understand that science, technology, engineering and math they are exciting fields and that it’s not scary and they can do it,” Program Director Jamie Lane explained.

Their methods seem to have worked. Students tell us the program made STEM subjects fun and more interesting to learn.

“I’ve never really been a big fan of math,” Rosholt sixth grader Cora Kertzman confessed. “But now I’m understanding it more and I like it a lot more.”

Even teachers say they’ve learned from this experience and hope to bring the fun back into the classroom this fall.

This was the first year for the STEM Project Academy. Organizers tell NewsChannel 7 the program was so popular they already have a waiting list for next year.

The STEM project was made possible through a partnership with the Erving Network and Northcentral Technical College.

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 wjfw.com: “NTC’s Ag Center of Excellence gives students valuable, hands-on dairy experience” – WAUSAU – Programs offered at the Northcentral Technical College’s Ag Center of Excellence help students interested in the agriculture industry.

The Ag Center offers hands-on learning opportunities for its students.

That includes learning about a robotic milker and feeding calves.

Right now, more than 100 students are involved in Ag Center of Excellence programs.

“I think it’s a great opportunity. Just the learning experience and being able to see the different aspect of the farming industry, or part of the agriculture business. I don’t have much experience myself, so any opportunity is a great opportunity,” said Rylee Gregoriche, a Dairy Science Student at the Ag Center.

Gregoriche says she appreciates learning more about agriculture and being able to participate in the internships that are available with the Ag Center.

The center offers Associate degrees in dairy science, veterinarian sciences and agriculture business.

There’s also a technical program for operating agriculture equipment.

Leaders at the Ag Center believe these programs adequately prepare students for their futures.

“They can go on to do a variety of things in the agriculture world. Most of the time, that experience coupled with the degree, [agriculture] people are more than happy to hire them because they’ve had that experience,” Katie Vandergeest, Agriculture Sciences Development Manager.

The Ag Center of Excellence opened its doors in June of 2011.

There is still room available in summer and fall classes.

From wausaudailyherald.com: “NTC’s Agriculture Center continues to grow” — WAUSAU — Enrollment at Northcentral Technical College’s Agriculture Center of Excellence has more than tripled since the academy opened about three years ago and though the farm part of the center still is losing money, administrators are confident that soon will change.

In 2009, the Marathon County Board voted to give NTC $1 million to help start the center, a farm-based learning laboratory in the town of Maine. NTC’s initial investment was $164,338, according to NTC marketing & public relations director Katie Felch.

Two years later, students started using the facility, with 31 signing up for one of the two available associate degree programs: dairy science and agribusiness.

In the 2013-14 academic year, 107 students were enrolled in an expanded selection of four programs taught at the center. Veterinary science, an associate degree program, and agriculture equipment technician, which offers a technical diploma, recently were added to the course offerings.

In 2013, 12 students graduated from the dairy science program, according to figures provided by the college. Of those, 11 responded to a follow-up survey, with two listing “farm owner” or “family farm owner” as their occupations.

That means the program isn’t churning out graduates who take over or start their own family farms, but NTC leaders said the students being educated at the academy are contributing to central Wisconsin’s farming economy in myriad other ways.

By the numbers

From a budgetary standpoint, the Agriculture Center is split into two components; the instructional budget, which includes expenses such as instructional pay, supplies, printing costs and minor equipment; and the farm operations budget, which includes revenue from crops, milk, calves and cows and expenses including seed, fertilizer, livestock, fuel and repairs.

The instructional budget is a fixed cost for the college, but the farm operations spending plan can be affected by a variety of factors, including weather and milk prices, said NTC president Lori Weyers.

The farm has been operating in the red since it opened, losing about $24,000 in fiscal year 2013 and with losses projected to be about $5,000 in the current fiscal year, according to figures provided by the college.

While that might not be ideal, Weyers said it’s not unexpected.

“We said we had a five-year budget plan we were working toward to get to be cost-neutral,” Weyers said. “But it is very dependent on milk prices and how we do with the crops, if we have a good growing season, because then we don’t have to buy as much feed for the cows.”

Weyers said learning to cope with weather’s whims and fluctuating milk prices is a good lesson for students preparing for lives as farmers.

“We’re dependent on the weather, we’re dependent on milk prices, so our students need to understand this — that if they go into this field they’re going to be very much dependent on what happens with their crops and what happens with their milk prices,” she said. “It’s real life, it’s real-world living, and so that was our goal.”

The center lost about $85,000 in fiscal year 2012, but Felch said that figure doesn’t reflect a fully operational year; its herd still was growing and the center had yet to secure the annual milk-purchase contract it now has with Mullins Cheese.

The herd took time to build, said Vicky Pietz, NTC dean of agricultural sciences.

“We have over 100 animals now; we can have up to 110 on the property for the zoning,” Pietz said. “We started off with a smaller herd so it takes time for your cows to come up through the milking lines.”

Ag Center graduates

Of the 12 students who graduated from the dairy science program in 2013, 11 responded to a six-month follow-up survey from the college. Two of them reported owning farms — one a family farm — and others held jobs such as property manager, farm technician and farm hand.

Weyers said the industry is trending toward large farm operations and away from smaller family farms, so it’s not atypical for those entering the ag business to get jobs as farm managers instead of farm owners.

“The research says that larger farms are coming in and the smaller dairy farms of the ’60s and ’70s is no longer going to be the case,” Weyers said. “It’s tough to make a living when you’re talking about 40 or 60 cows, you’re going to have to have an outside job. … So either the wife works outside the home or somebody does.

“But then you’re seeing these 2,000-herd farms, the large operations, and they need a lot — they need a herdsman, they need somebody in charge of the crops, and that’s where our graduates are going.”

Brian Brendemuehl of Merrill, who graduated in May from the dairy science program, said he and his classmates got both a degree and real-world experience at the academy — a valuable combination when it comes to landing a job.

“It gives you credentials going into somebody’s farm; credentials that you were on a working farm with animals,” Brendemuehl said. “A lot of people will hire upon experience and you also have a degree, so if you have both, you have a leg up on the competition.”

The 30-year-old said the best part of the program was the hands-on learning.

“It gives you a perspective with the cow being there, it’s not all done by simulators,” Brendemuehl said. “You actually can see how things act and how the cows react to what the students are doing with the cows, so it gives you something to expect out in the real world and some perspective of how it’s going to happen.”

Growing a farm

The center, which sits on 110 acres on Highway K in the town of Maine, was developed in partnership with the Dairyland State Academy, a consortium of agribusiness advocates that helped raise money to make the facility a reality. In March 2009, the Marathon County Board voted 29-7 to spend $1 million to develop the center.

Then-county board chairman Keith Langenhahn was one of the yes votes.

“When we took the vote, the flavor of the (county) board was that agriculture is very important in Marathon County and with the average age of the producer at 57 or 58 at that time, we thought it was important to have young people trained to take over the industry and retain the agriculture base in Marathon County,” Langenhahn said.

The center includes a cow barn, calf and heifer barn, robotic milker, parlor and a “green” classroom that has the capacity to seat 32 students. The calf and heifer barn has the capacity to house 40 to 50 animals and the freestall barn has 50 stalls. The main building is equipped with a milking parlor and a Lely robotic milking machine.

The farm includes 83 acres of tillable land planted in a variety of crops — peas, oats, alfalfa, red clover, grass and corn. Through an agreement with Case IH, students are able to use the latest agricultural equipment and precision farming technology.

A farm operations manager oversees the center and is helped by two assistant managers, Pietz said. Two full-time instructors and some adjuncts round out the staffing.

Selling the center

The center is marketed in a variety of ways, Felch said, from career coaches promoting it in the high schools, to getting the word out at events such as the state fair, this month’s dairy breakfasts and organizations such as the FFA.

Felch said farm staffers also give frequent tours and hold high school-geared events where students can see the farm firsthand.

“That’s really what sells them,” Felch said. “That’s the great thing about the Ag Center of Excellence is that it’s that learning laboratory, you have that hands-on opportunity, you’re not just learning in the classroom, you’re actually seeing first hand all those experiences.”

In addition to its efforts to present the center in a good light, Pietz said the college wants to put a good face forward for the agriculture industry.

“We work really hard to make sure the place looks nice, looks clean, stays looking new, so that when folks do come in and tour they leave feeling great,” Pietz said. “They’ve had a good tour, they’ve had a good experience.”

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