From “NTC to compete for $1 million Aspen Institute prize” — WAUSAU — The Aspen Institute has named Northcentral Technical College as one of the nation’s top 150 community colleges eligible to compete for the 2015 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence and $1 million in prize funds, according to an NTC news release.

The Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C., and Aspen, Colo., identified the top 150 community colleges through an assessment of institutional performance, improvement and equity on student retention and completion measures.

“We are honored to be recognized by the Aspen Institute as one of the top 150 community colleges nationwide,” said Lori Weyers, NTC president. “This is a tribute to our excellent faculty and staff who demonstrate an ongoing commitment to our students and their success.”

The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, awarded every two years, is the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance among America’s community colleges and recognizes institutions for exceptional student outcomes in four areas: student learning, certificate and degree completion, employment and earnings, and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students.

From “Work ethic, character issues are problems for employers” — There isn’t a lack of jobs in Barron County. There’s a lack of employable people.

That was the theme of the Barron County Workforce Skills Conference, which gathered business, education and community leaders together to discuss local workforce issues Monday, March 17 at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College.
The problem, often called a skills gap, is only expected to worsen as baby boomers retire.

In Northwest Wisconsin there are now more people who are 65 than who are 18. That ratio is expected to broaden for the next decade or more.

The results of a survey of 46 Barron County employers were presented at the conference. Many reported a lack of qualified applicants for jobs.

“Businesses are looking to add or recruit people they can’t find,” said Beth Mathison of Manpower Eau Claire.

The skills most needed according to respondents were in customer service, general maintenance, office skills, computer/technical skills, skilled trades, banking/accounting, sales, welding and machining.

In predicting future needs, employees with general office, robotics and masonry skills were mentioned the most.

But it was a lack of basic or “soft” skills that got people talking.

Survey respondents made such comments as “don’t seem to have a strong work ethic,” “nobody wants to talk anymore; they want to email/text everything” and “lack of interpersonal skills is appalling.”

Conference attendee Dane Deutsch, owner of a gymnastics center and IT company, said, “I’ve never fired one person for a tech skill. It has always been a character issue.”

Another attendee said, “If you gave me a choice, I’ll take the person with the critical skills. I can teach the tech skills.”

The survey showed the biggest soft skill deficiencies, in order, were ability to organize and use information, integrity/honesty, speaking, creativity, customer service, reading, writing and problem solving.

In regard to improving the workforce, soft skills was rated ‘most important’ by more than 50% of respondents, followed by occupational skills, specific competencies and educational skills.

Respondents said the most important soft skills, in order by percentage, were attendance/punctuality, initiative/motivation, integrity/honesty, productivity, teamwork and customer service.

Barron School District Superintendant Craig Broeren said soft skills are emphasized in the school system, but home environment is also key to what kind of adult a student becomes.

Some survey respondents suggested the next generation of workers doesn’t have the right attitude toward work and finding work and aren’t being prepared accordingly in schools.

But Chetek-Weyerhaeuser High School principal Larry Zeman said the average adult would not fare well in the advanced placement calculus or chemistry classes students are taking now.

“What kids know now far surpasses anything I knew when I graduated in 1981,” he said.

But even that may not be enough to guarantee career success.

“The last time we hired someone with just a high school diploma was 10 years ago,” said Dan Conroy, an executive at Nexen Group, an advanced manufacturer with a site in Webster.

Conroy said 70% of Nexen employees have a 2-year degree and can get a starting wage of nearly $20 an hour and work up to $35 an hour.

“We’re successful because we’ve gone high-tech, have well-educated employees and pay well,” he said.

Zeman agreed a 2-year degree is a good option for many students.

“We’ve made a concerted effort in out school district to not fool kids into 4 years or nothing else,” he said.

Zeman also said his district is investing $250,000 to upgrade technical education equipment and offer more welding and machine tool classes in a partnership with local technical colleges.

The school district is also trying to build connections with local businesses to create more learning opportunities.

Jim Woods, representing Wisconsin Voices from the Classroom, presented the results of a survey of 1,973 state teachers, 80% of which said there should be more interaction between schools and business.

The survey also showed 67% of responding teachers believe the educational system is on the “wrong track.” Many also said schools do not have enough money to educate students well, and many feel unappreciated as teachers.
“It is a population who thinks they’re not getting enough support from the general public,” said Woods.

But he also said the survey also showed many teachers, particularly younger ones, are willing to change to better student education.
“The only way we’re going to get there is having more discussions like this,” said Woods.

Skill Survey
The survey was conducted by the Barron County Economic Development Corporation in partnership with the Rice Lake Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Committee.

The survey was distributed through other chamber of commerce groups, the BCEDC website, meetings, individual requests and business newsletters.
Most respondents, in order by percentage, were in the manufacturing, construction, health and community services, hotel/restaurant/entertainment or retail and sales industries.

Nearly 75% of respondents had been in business more than 20 years. About 80% had experienced increased or unchanged sales from 2012-2013. About one-third planned to add employees in 2013.


From “Deadline approaching for LTC Top Tech nominations” – CLEVELAND — The deadline for Lakeshore Technical College’s Top Tech Award nominations is Jan. 31. The second annual awards recognize the top educators in career and technical education in Manitowoc and Sheboygan counties.

Four awards will be given to kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers, counselors or administrators who inspire innovation and work to promote career and technical education. The awards will be presented Feb. 20 at a reception at Lakeshore Culinary Institute in Sheboygan.

“This is a great opportunity for students, parents, colleagues and administrators to recognize a teacher who has made a difference in career and technical education at the high school level,” Sara Greenwood, LTC high school liaison coordinator, said in a news release. “The process is easy, and the recognition the winners receive is equally as satisfying as it is to the nominators.”

Nominees should demonstrate innovation in promotion of career and technical education, mentor and inspire students to uncover and pursue their career passions, and participate in outreach activities, according to the release.

Last year’s winners were Ron Schneider and Dave Teske from Kiel High School, representing Manitowoc County, and Ed Hughes of Sheboygan Falls High School, representing Sheboygan County.

For more information, contact Julie Mirecki at (920) 693-1193 or

From “LBD class focuses on education” – In October, Leadership Beaver Dam class of 2013-2014 had its Education Day. They toured the Beaver Dam Middle School, High School and Moraine Park Technical College.

Presenters for the day included Superintendent Steve Vessey. He shared with LBD the importance of testing at the schools to determine students’ progress in order to maximize their opportunities to learn during the school year. He also told the group that evaluation of teachers and setting goals are important components for the school system learning process. In addition he shared the school’s concern for helping students achieve to their potential through advanced placement classes which students can take in order to receive college credits.

Later that morning Leadership Beaver Dam visited the Beaver Dam Middle School where they observed students responding to questions in a multi-media classroom with the use of a remote. LBD also visited the Read 180 lab, which works on reading development and comprehension. In the lab students meet in a small group, do independent reading and work with computers. One student commented that she enjoyed reading 180, because it had helped her increase her scores on reading tests.

LBD’s last stop at the middle school was in the library where we heard from Jenny Vinz the library media specialist and Beth Plier the reading specialist, who talked about how the school is using Barnes and Nobles’ digital reading device “The Nook” to help students with reading skills. Their work has been so successful, they will be presenting at a national education conference in Minnesota in November.

After the middle school tour, LBD went to the high school where they visited Trends class which teaches students about writing, filming, editing and directing videos that tell a story. They also looked in on an engineering class and an honors chemistry class. This year’s LBD class is impressed with the quality of education and the technology being used Beaver Dam’s public schools.

During lunch LBD heard from the principal of St. Stephen’s Elementary and Middle School, Roger Fenner. He told the group that St. Stephen’s School was established in 1886 and currently has nine teachers who work with their 144 students.

LBD finished the day at Moraine Park Technical College, where they toured the welding, Mercury Marine and nursing classrooms. Campus coordinator Karen Coley and Matt Hurtienne, dean of the Beaver Dam Campus, shared with the group that Moraine Park continues to revise their classes based on the needs of employers.

Before finishing the tour the LBD’s class also saw GED classrooms as well as a live time video conferencing room. MPTC’s instructor Mary Vogel-Rauscher shared her passion for preparing students at MPTC to enter the workforce.

Instructor for Leadership Beaver Dam, Kay Stellpfulg, finished off the afternoon by helping the group further process projects that the group will need to develop and carry out in the coming year.


From “Career exploration: Ag education council considers new website plan” – MADISON — Wisconsin’s Agricultural Education and Workforce Development Council is heading in a new direction with its efforts to recruit potential workers for the state’s agricultural industry.

At a Sept. 17 meeting, WAEWDC members discussed a plan to transition from its “WhyAg” website that links qualified job candidates with companies that have employment needs to an online Career Pathways Initiative being developed by Northcentral Technical College in Wausau.

The career pathways website is designed to help middle and high school students, parents and displaced workers explore potential career end points for their educational efforts. It will be a resource for young people and displaced workers as they determine what type of education they need for jobs in the broad field of agriculture.

The website would include links to agriculture career exploration, higher education opportunities and job placement/wage data.

The WAEWDC was created by the Wisconsin Legislature in 2008 to help provide a qualified workforce to support the state’s agricultural industry. It has been struggling to stay financially afloat since no state money was allocated to fund the effort when the council was created.

Council vice chairman Corey Kuchta said Al Herrman, a past WAEWDC chairman and current council executive director, has been organizing a fundraising campaign to help fund future council efforts. Herrman is working on a volunteer basis.

“In October he’s going to start to do some mailings to ask people who have contributed to the council in the past for future contributions,” Kuchta said. “The money is needed to fund all of the council efforts.”

Lori Weyers, Northcentral Technical College president, said the career pathways website will outline the steps in the career decision-making process.

“Where do I want to go and how do I get there,” she said. “Students will be able to see what jobs are at the end of the path for them and how much those jobs pay.”

Katie Felch, director of marketing and public relations at NTC, described the website as a “one-stop shop to see all the things that are available.”

People visiting the website would be able to review a wide variety of agricultural job opportunities and investigate what type of school might be best for them to get the training they need for the job they want.

Council members discussed the possibility of selling advertising on the website to employers who are in need of agricultural workers.

Although NTC officials developed the website, Weyers said it could be customized to include information from all of the various technical colleges and universities in Wisconsin.

“Even though we developed this template, this is not about NTC,” Weyers said. “We did this on our own time as an in-kind donation to the council. We want to share it — you can use it and you can have it.”

WAEWDC members discussed on what server the website would be housed and who would pay for maintaining and updating it.

Weyers said she would come back to the next council meeting in December with information on how much it would cost to host the website on NTC servers. Council members said employer sponsorships could help pay for the service.

Each technical college and university listed on the website would be responsible for keeping its information current, Weyers said.

Randy Zogbaum, agriculture and natural resources consultant for the Wisconsin Technical College System, said he would take the concept to deans of the technical college system and ask for funds to help support the project.

Council members said the career pathways website could be an extension of what the council has been working on with its WhyAg initiative.

“I think this will be a great transition from WhyAg,” Kuchta said.

Kuchta said the difference with the career pathways website will be that people will be able to do everything from explore career opportunities to find a path to get there and see how much money they can make.

“This is why we exist as a council — to create an opportunity to build that pipeline for jobs and to connect workers and employers,” council member Liz Henry said.

Mike Compton, dean of the UW-Platteville School of Agriculture, said he is looking forward to sending the school’s agricultural ambassadors out to high schools with the career pathways website in their tool belt.

Council members said the new website would not compete with but be a complement to the Wisconsin Job Center website recently developed by the Department of Workforce Development. The website has a page devoted to agriculture.

On a related note, Wisconsin FFA Adviser Jeff Hicken said the National FFA Organization is collecting job and career data on an Ag Career Network. The effort is directed at helping students develop profiles, resumes and portfolios before they leave high school.

Paul Larson, an agriculture instructor in the Freedom School District, has agreed to continue as chairman of the council for the next year, Kuchta said.

From “Western program helps ex-offenders” – LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW)– Western Technical College has a new initiative to help inmates transition to life outside of jail.

Western received a nearly $292,000 grant from the Federal Department of Education to aid a program geared toward helping inmates re-enter the community through education and social services.

For 15 years Western has provided educational opportunities in the jail but the new grant, called the Positive Re-entry Offered through Vocation-and Education-focused Narratives or PROVEN, goes beyond classes in jail.

Clifton just got his High school diploma, but the he didn’t take the typical route to graduation.

Clifton Traywick just got his High school diploma, but the he didn’t take the typical route to graduation.

“Partying, drinking and stuff, I got in some trouble ended up in jail. I did six months in jail,” Traywick said.

Clifton used those six months to get back on track, getting his GED and utilizing Western Technical College’s PROVEN program.

“People coming out of jail, while they’re in, will receive employability training through our education program, learn how to use the services that are available to them as they enter back in to the community,” said Chad Dull, dean of Learner Support and Transition at Western. “The intention of the grant is successful re-entry and for Western, hopefully transition to educational programs here at Western.”

To reduce the rate of re-offending, Western works not only with the La Crosse County Jail but other programs and groups like the YWCA, Justice Sanctions and Workforce Connections.

“Helping participants identify the resources that are in the community, to help them find housing if they have a felony, to help them maintain their sobriety in whatever capacity that looks like for those individuals, that’s definitely a huge part of this program,” said Tonya Vantol, the project coordinator.

Traywick says the program could reach a lot of inmates.

“It can help people not just as young as me, but people older too,” Traywick said. “Everybody needs help sometimes. People mess up and I feel like Western is a good way to get back on your feet.”

But it’s not just the inmates and ex-offenders reaping the benefits of Western’s program. The Proven Grant is working for the greater good of the community.

“It’s a fair question about why invest in people when they’re in jail. It’s always more cost effective to make sure people don’t go back to jail,” Dull said. “This is a way to turn tax users into tax payers. This is an investment in our community.”

The PROVEN grant is still in it’s infancy but already there are success stories like Clifton’s.

“I’m doing so well. I’m not hanging out with the same crowd, I’m not partying anymore. So I feel like, what can stop me?”

Clifton got out of jail a couple of weeks ago and is still utilizing the Proven program. He will begin classes at Western on Aug 29.

There were over 80 programs that applied for the grant with Western being one of just three selected. Western is the only program that serves a jail. The other two assist prison populations.

From “Gateway Technical College offers support for military veterans” — By John Krerowicz - Russel Timms, who survived three tours of duty in Iraq, faced challenging Veterans Administration paperwork after he decided to return to college.

“If I had had to fill all that out on my own, it would have been a nightmare,” said the 31-year-old U.S. Army veteran from Kenosha.

Timms had help from counselors at Gateway Technical College, which began emphasizing veteran services in December when officials were considering how to serve students better, said Anne Witte, a student support counselor on the Elkhorn campus.

Timms graduated from Gateway in May with an associate degree in electrical engineering technology. He has received other degrees from Gateway, too. He plans to attend the Milwaukee School of Engineering this fall for a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.

He said making the college attractive to veterans is a good idea.

“It’s nice to see fellow soldiers getting an education and bettering their lives,” he said. “It makes sense as there are quite a few veterans going to school there.”

There aren’t figures on the number of veterans attending Gateway, mainly because the application used statewide for the 16 Wisconsin technical colleges did not ask about military service, Witte said. That changed this past school year.

However, Witte did say Gateway figures showed 36 students received state financial aid benefits for veterans and 272 received federal benefits during the 2007-2008 school year. That’s jumped to 205 receiving state benefits and 491 with federal help for the 2012-2013 school year.

Gateway offers veterans help with financial aid, job-related matters and psychological issues, said Barbara Wagner, student adviser at the Burlington center.

Student veterans sometimes go through mental and other health issues such as trauma, loss and grief, as well as possibly difficult transitions into school settings, Wagner said.

Gateway has licensed counselors who can help with brief therapy and referrals for long-term therapy, she said.

“In many cases they’ve come from structured daily activities and now they have a lot more freedom to decide what they’re going to do,” Witte added. “That often can be culture shock.”

Veterans sometimes have concentration, memory and irritability problems affecting their education.

“Sometimes we see they have hypervigilance, a constant state of threat awareness, especially if they’ve seen combat, and that raises their stress levels,” she said. “We try to get them to lowering that threat level.”

Assisting veterans is a way to show appreciation for those who have served the country, Witte said.

“This is a benefit they’ve earned,” she said, adding, “Look what they do for us. It’s an awful lot, the sacrifices they make. We want them to know they’re appreciated. We owe them that.”

Services for military veterans include:

– lunch gatherings on topics such as finances, social media and employment, employers’ needs, interviewing skills, resumes.

– “red shirt Fridays,” where the clothing could be bought with lettering about Gateway supporting U.S. troops.

– a scholarship fundraiser — the first for veterans, called “Boots on the Ground” — drew in almost $625. Continuing veteran students can apply for the funds between late August and mid-October. The first veterans scholarship is to be awarded at the January 2014 Continuing Student Awards Ceremony.

– the Student Veterans of America Club, a national organization the school joined several months ago.

Veterans who want to consider attending Gateway can call 1-800-247 7122.

From “Business, education set session” — By Shaun Zinck - The connection between businesses and education is vitally important.

That will be the main theme for the annual Business Education Partnership Summit next month at the Eclipse Center.

The summit is sponsored by the Greater Beloit Economic Development Corporation (GBEDC), the School District of Beloit, Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce and Beloit College.

The event will be presented from 7:30 a.m. – noon on Aug. 22 at the Eclipse Center in Beloit.

Rebekah Kowalski, director of Global Solutions for Right Management, will be the keynote speaker and will talk about the “Be Bold 2” initiative.

The “Be Bold” Initiative is a Wisconsin Economic Development Association program designed to study the competitiveness of Wisconsin on the business level. It includes looking at different industries and recommending improvements to the economic development strategies.

The summit’s theme is “Workforce Development – Are You Ready?” Attendees will learn how “collaboration between business and education can build a sustainable, skilled workforce,” a release on the summit said.

Andrew Janke, executive director of the GBEDC, said each year the summit draws 150 to 200 educators and business owners.

“It’s an opportunity to gather the business owners and educators in the area to listen to a topic or topics of mutual interest,” Janke said. “And through interacting they will be able to talk things through and identify issues both sides are having and may develop some solutions.”

In addition to Kowalski presentations will be given on Inspire Wisconsin by James Otterstein. The program is designed to connect employers with students and vice versa.

Susan Dantuma, from Blackhawk Technical College, will talk about the college’s youth apprenticeship programs and Bob Borremans, from the Southern Wisconsin Workforce Development, will talk about the Work Today Program.

Roundtable discussions will return this year after not being on the agenda last year. The topics for the roundtables are still being working out, Janke said.

Janke said attendees in last year’s survey indicated they would like to see the discussion make a come back this year.

“We try to intermix educators and business owners at the tables so there is actual interaction between the two,” he said.

At the end of the summit gift baskets with items donated by local businesses and the School District of Beloit will be raffled off.

The cost is $20 per person or $15 for a group of three or more. For more information or to purchase tickets

From “State budget outlines K-12 funding” – Governor Walker made a stop at Western Technical College Monday, as part of what he’s calling his “Working for Wisconsin Tour.” The governor’s speech focused on the newly signed budget and what he sees as the benefits for the state, including a $650 million income tax cut. The budget also includes K-12 education funding for the next two years.

“We want to continue to transform education in this state so we put more money in our public schools, about $300 per student over the next two years, in our public schools,” Gov. Walker said. “We provide more educational options for our families.”

All Democrats in the Senate and Assembly voted against the budget, in part because the K-12 education funding. Rather than $300 dollars per pupil over the two years, Democrats hoped for close to $550 per, money they say could have come from other portions of the budget.

“We don’t think that the income tax break is a really logical thing because most people won’t even notice the couple dollars a week that it’s going to benefit them,” said Rep. Steve Doyle, a Democrat from 94th Assembly District. “That money we think would have better gone to K-12 education so that we really can fund our schools to the level they need to be funded. Talking with my local school superintendents, they’re not sure what they’re going to do to make ends meet in this next budget.”

But the governor says schools are finding ways to operate within their state mandated means, citing a Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism report released last week, that shows many districts in the state maintained the same amount of full time staffers or close to it over the last few years. The governor says the funding Democrats wanted just wasn’t in the numbers.

“The last time the Democrats had control of the budget process, they raised taxes more than $1 billion, they raised taxes via local property taxes, and they still cut money from public education,” Gov. Walker said.

Still it’s not all disagreement between the two parties, one portion of the budget garnering bipartisan support is a two-year tuition freeze for UW-System. Both the governor and Rep. Doyle say that will be boost for students and the state.

During the Assembly budget debate, Democrats didn’t bring up any amendments. Rep. Doyle says Republican leadership told the caucus they would reject the democrats proposed changes anyway. Rep. Doyle says instead, they will bring up the reforms in various pieces of legislation next session.



From “WITC offers free adult basic education” – Free basic education classes for adults are available at the Superior campus of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. This summer the Student Success Center in Room 213 is open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays through July 24. Fall classes will resume Aug. 19, and the Student Success Center will be open 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Whether students want to prepare for college, earn their GED/HSED or enter the workforce with confidence, they can brush up on basic skills — reading, grammar, science, social studies, basic computer skills or math — in the Student Success Center. Most courses are self-paced with instructor assistance. Students can enroll any time.

The GED/HSED tests change Jan. 1 to a new computerized testing format. Individuals who have started, but not completed, the current written battery of GED tests, will need to finish by December or start over with the new test. Beginning Jan. 1, students will be required to follow the new computerized testing format.

For more information, call 715-394-6677, ext. 6210.

From “NWTC student named 2013 New Century Scholar” – Sacha Turner, a Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Accounting student, has been named one of nation’s 2013 New Century Scholars for her outstanding grades, leadership and campus activities.

Turner is one of 50 community college students from the United States, Canada, and the Federated States of Micronesia receiving a total of $100,000 in scholarships. The New Century Scholars Program is sponsored by The Coca-Cola Foundation, Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, Phi Theta Kappa, and the American Association of Community Colleges.

Turner will receive a $2,000 scholarship and a plaque, which will be presented at American Association of College Presidents (AACC) Convention in San Francisco in April. She graduates from NWTC this May with an associate degree in Accounting and a certificate in Software. She also received a certificate in Business Operations in December of 2011. Next year, she plans to continue her education, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Leadership and Organizational Studies from the University of Wisconsin System.

“I wouldn’t have had this opportunity had I not had the support of my advisors, instructors and fellow classmates, “ said Turner.  “Everyone here has contributed to help me earn this. It’s an amazing opportunity to represent NWTC as a New Century Scholar.”

As a mother to three young and active daughters, Turner finds the time to balance a demanding academic schedule, 4.0 grade point average and leadership positions in several college organizations. She serves as vice president of leadership for Phi Theta Kappa, as well as the vice president for NWTC’s Student Senate.

Her decision to come to NWTC came after years of doing accounting for small businesses. She realized getting her degree – and continuing her professional development through campus activities -could lead to a better life for her family and fellow classmates.

“I had always wanted to go back to school to be able to able to provide for my family, “ said Turner. “By being involved in these organizations, I’m held accountable. We strive to make differences for the entire student body. Getting to know all of the different people on campus is rewarding.”

“It’s all been so very worth it.”

Only one student from each state is chosen as a New Century Scholar. This is the second year in a row the Wisconsin recipient came from NWTC.  Port Lor, of Green Bay, was chosen for the honor last year. 

From “Technical colleges head likes Walker’s budget incentives” – The head of Wisconsin’s technical colleges told state lawmakers yesterday that she supports the way Governor Walker’s budget would tie future state funding to performance.

Under Walker’s plan, the amount of state money tech schools receive would be tied to factors like how many students they place in the workforce and the number of degrees they award in high-demand fields. Wisconsin Technical College System President Morna Foy says it should lead to increased funding for tech schools, since these are already areas where they excel.

“I think the hope is that it’s going to make an easier decision and a more likely decision that new resources allocations to the technical college system will be seen as an investment from the state in which you are getting some great return.”

Democrats pointed out that Walker’s budget would boost funding for technical colleges by just $5 million in this budget, after cutting them by $71 million in the last.

From “Changing economy means embracing continual learning” – More than two decades working as a bricklayer was enough for Mark Vander Velden.

When construction activity dried up during the recession, it became more clear to Vander Velden he needed a career switch, but at 50 he wondered if learning new skills for a new career was still possible.

“I haven’t been in a classroom since high school so it was a little nerve-wracking to even think about going back,” said Vander Velden, who lives outside Hortonville.

Vander Velden checked out Fox Valley Technical College in 2011 and hasn’t looked back. He enrolled in the electromechanical program that year and expects to graduate this fall.

Vander Velden said he’s best at hands-on learning, which is a big part of the program he selected.

“It was great to be learning about all the different kinds of programming controllers and hydraulic systems I could potentially be working with,” he said.

Workforce training

Vander Velden isn’t alone. The median age of FVTC’s students are in their early 30s, which means the college serves many people like Vander Velden who want to update current job skills or try a different career, said Chris Matheny, vice president of instructional services at FVTC.

Matheny said keeping workers’ skills updated is the college’s ongoing mission and with the business environment in constant flux, the college also must be in regular communication with the community to ensure its programs are meeting regional needs.

“Our purpose really is to make sure that we’re always talking to our employers and get out as much as possible to ensure we’re giving them the skilled workers they need,” Matheny said.

Matheny said FVTC has advisory groups it regularly consults with to keep its programs up to date.

Appleton-based Miller Electric Mfg. Co. is one of its business partners. Miller has worked with FVTC on a variety of training programs for its own workers and on initiatives to enhance manufacturing training for other regional employers.

“A well-trained workforce is a competitive advantage that differentiates us from other global companies and prevents us from experiencing significant skill gaps due to future retirements of our baby boomers and to meet our future growth requirements,” said Mike Weller, president of Miller Electric.


From “Morna Foy: Program lets students explore careers” – There was a time when a high school diploma was the ticket to many family-sustaining careers, allowing access to more than 70 percent of all jobs in 1973 according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

That is no longer the case, with the Center reporting that by 2020, 65 percent of jobs will require at least some education or skills training beyond high school.

That dramatic shift makes robust Career and Technical Education (CTE) partnerships all the more critical. These increasingly innovative collaborations allow high school students to explore career opportunities, experience the rigorous education needed to access them after high school and understand career progression potential.

CTE students often earn college credits and gain personal enrichment at the same time. Just as importantly, some students identify career fields in which they find they are not interested, saving significant time and investment after high school.

Throughout February, as part of CTE month, I had the chance to see first-hand impressive collaborations that Wisconsin’s technical colleges have with high schools throughout the state. I’m proud to support these partnerships. They consistently open doors to promising futures in agriculture, business, manufacturing, health care, marketing, information technology and engineering careers.

Wisconsin’s technical colleges provide education — and a graduate placement rate that consistently averages about 90 percent — in these and many other fields, preparing individuals for high-skill, high-wage careers.

Unfortunately, many high school students — and those they rely upon for guidance — often are unfamiliar with these opportunities.

All of us — parents, educators and employers — share responsibility for furthering career awareness and exploration. It can be as simple as helping students identify areas of ability and interest, with the help of online resources such as the Wisconsin Career Pathways website, or the Career Interest Questionnaire on the Wisconsin Technical College System website. You also might consider creating or supporting job shadowing opportunities or career days.

Perhaps most importantly, you can find a way to get involved with delivering, supporting or taking advantage of the many CTE options that exist for students, or that could exist with your vision or assistance.

For more than 20 years, Wisconsin’s technical colleges have been energetically engaged in middle and high school CTE programs, with more than 90,000 students participating. But there is a need to accomplish much more. We can do that, together, by promoting career awareness and college credit options every month of the year.

From “Ed Talks Wisconsin an effort to start constructive dialog about public education” – Interested in public education and becoming more informed about the range of often contentious topics that are grabbing the headlines?

Ed Talks Wisconsin offers a unique opportunity to listen to diverse views and engage in debate and dialogue on issues from closing the achievement gap and the politics of school choice, to teachers unions, the transformation of higher education and more. The event, to be held on the UW-Madison campus March 12-22, is free and open to the public.

“This is a classic Wisconsin Idea sort of effort — using university resources and scholarship to inform public engagement on a big issue of public policy,” says Joel Rogers, a professor of law, political science, public affairs and sociology and director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, who is organizing the event. “Everybody should have the opportunity for a good education. That means making the public system work. This discussion is about what that requires today.”

Whether one is a student, parent, teacher, researcher or interested citizen, all are invited to join in the conversation.

“There are so many important conversations happening in and around Wisconsin regarding the future of public education, and Ed Talks Wisconsin represents an initial effort to try and pull them together into a cohesive dialogue,” says Sara Goldrick-Rab, an associate professor of educational policy studies and sociology who is helping organize the event.

Some of the Ed Talks Wisconsin highlights include:

  • The March 12 kickoff event, “From K-12 to Technical College Degrees: Toward Stronger Connections and More Student Success.” The presentation will feature Morna Foy, the new president of the Wisconsin Technical College System, and be moderated by Julie Underwood, the dean of UW-Madison’s School of Education. It begins 7 p.m. in room 159 of the Education Building.
  • The discussion March 13 centers on the hot-button topic of the achievement gap, and will feature a range of educational experts and key local stakeholders, including Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, James Howard, president of the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Board of Education, and Michael Johnson, chief executive officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County. This event begins at 7 p.m., also at the Education Building.
  • A presentation March 15 will focus on the rapid advancement in online learning opportunities and “The Coming Transformation of Higher Education.” Anya Kamenetz, the author of several books on the future of education and a senior writer at Fast Company magazine, where she writes the column “Life in Beta,” will take part in the conversation, as will UW Colleges and UW-Extension Chancellor Ray Cross, who is helping lead efforts to launch the UW System’s Flex Degree program. This talk begins at 7 p.m. at the Education Building.
  • On March 18, a panel will examine the “Politics of School Choice in New Orleans and Milwaukee.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is proposing an expansion of the school choice program, which uses public funding to allow students to attend private or religious schools. Two authors with new books on school choice (Sarah Carr and Barbara Miner) will participate in an event moderated by UW-Madison’s Gloria Ladson-Billings, the Kellner Family Chair in Urban Education and a professor of curriculum and instruction, and educational policy studies. This event will take place at 7 p.m. in the Varsity 3 room of Union South.

The final two days of Ed Talks Wisconsin, March 21-22, are also part of the UW-Madison Department of Educational Policy Studies’ annual conference. This year’s 10th annual event is titled “A Nation at Risk? Reflections on the Past and Future of U.S. Public Education.”

“A Nation at Risk” is a report that was released in 1983, jump-starting decades of often critical talk directed at public schools. The report was a driving force behind a series of reforms, including the Bush administration’s 2002 No Child Left Behind law that pressured schools to improve students’ test scores or face increasingly harsh sanctions. These events, all in room 159 of the Education Building, also are free and open to the public.

To view the full schedule of events and for additional information, visit the Ed Talks Wisconsin website.

Ed Talks Wisconsin is being organized by: UW-Madison’s School of Education, Department of Educational Policy Studies, Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) and Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education; the Madison Mayor’s Office; the Teaching Assistants Association; United Council of UW Students; the Wisconsin University Union; and Wisconsin Union Directorate.


From “NTC online learning celebrates milestone” – Northcentral Technical College in Wausau is celebrating a milestone.

This month marks the first anniversary of a program allowing students to study online.

School officials say 100 students are enrolled so far. And they anticipate it will keep growing.

Earning a college degree online is nothing new. But a program at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau offers a different approach than others.

“There’s no confined assignment date for all the classes,” said NTC Vice President for Learning, Shelly Mondeik. That date doesn’t come until the end of the semester.

School officials say it’s NTC’s most flexible learning option.

“Lets say they have a child that is ill or something comes up and they have to go out of town for two weeks, they’re not penalized at all they basically can continue at their pace so they can actually finish a course in four weeks or they could take 16 weeks,” said Mondeik.

Katherine Welk is a virtual college student at NTC. She’s been enrolled three semesters, working toward an Associate’s Degree in Supervisory Management. Welk says this program is making that happen.

“I’m a stay at home mom and I know I need to have a degree to be able to provide for them so when I saw that NTC had their virtual college program that was great for me,” said NTC virtual college student, Katherine Welk.

The program was launched last February. School officials say it’s come a long way.

“We’re going to be having our first year anniversary, we actually started this last February where we offered a general studies certificate and now of course we actually have 6 Associate Degree programs in it, we’re very excited,” said Mondiek.

Even though it’s all online, Welk says she’s grown in the virtual classroom as well.

“It’s a really good environment, I don’t know, I just love it,” said Welk.

Going at her own pace is what drew Welk to this program. She hopes to continue her success, as just two more semesters stand between her and her degree.

College officials say they hope to have 150 students enrolled in the program by the end of the semester.

From “Newsmakers: Wisconsin Technical College System President Morna Foy” – In a Newsmakers interview in her office on Jan. 14, Foy said the System had more than 362,000 students last year and the typical student is about 34 years old. She also said the colleges coped with a 26% cut in state aid over the last two years by eliminating some programs, adding more wait lists and laying off instructors.

Listen to interview


From “Ten questions everyone should ask when choosing a college” — By Mike Lanser, president Lakeshore Technical College - Choosing a college has always been an important decision and there are more options than ever before. Working adults may be adding a multitude of online learning choices to their consideration list, while high school seniors and their parents might be thinking about campus safety and student life.

These are important considerations, but I’d like to offer you a list of 10 questions to ask when choosing your college. The answers to these questions not only affect where you start college, but where you will end — which for most people is a successful and rewarding career.

1. Is the college accredited?

Accreditation ensures that the institution adheres to rigorous standards of quality, process improvement and excellence which must be evidenced through documentation and on-site visits by the accrediting body. Lakeshore Technical College is accredited through the Higher Learning Commission, which is one of six regional institutional accreditors in the United States. To find out if the college you’re considering is accredited, visit

2. Is the education or credential you’re pursuing valued by potential employers? Ask for job placement rates.

You want to be sure your hard work and investment in college pays off. One indication that employers value the education you’re paying for is to find out about graduates’ job placement. LTC conducts a job placement survey of graduates each year. Last year, 4 out of 5 LTC grads were hired in 6 months or less following graduation.

3. What are the pass rates for students taking certification exams?

Many career-targeted programs promise that they will prepare you for licensure exams. Be sure to ask for pass rates from students who have taken the program previously. It can be good indicator of the program’s quality of instruction. At LTC, our students exceed the national average pass rates for certification exams by 15%.

4. What are the qualifications of the faculty, or better yet, can you meet them?

The quality of your learning experience is in your instructors’ hands. Do they have real-world experience in the area that they’re teaching. Are they certified instructors? Meeting your instructors is also a great way to enhance your understanding about the degree program you’re pursuing as well as your ultimate career goal. LTC instructors have worked in the fields they’re teaching and they welcome the opportunity to talk with students considering our college.

5. Is the program you’re considering offering college credit?

Many colleges offer both credit and non-credit offerings. Be sure to note whether you will earn college credit or not and whether your completion or credential earned will be recognized by potential employers.

6. What is the cost per credit?

Credits are a great way to compare apples to apples. If you’re paying $50 more for every credit, your college expense can really add up. Worse, if you’re not earning credit for the education you’re receiving you’ll want to consider how that could affect your future employment or education plans.

7. What kind of support will the college offer to help you succeed in meeting your educational and career goals?

You might have had areas in high school which challenged you, or maybe you’ve been out of school for a long time. Neither should be reasons for not pursuing your college degree, particularly if your college has services to help you be successful. LTC offers a wide range of free student success services ranging from peer tutors and support groups to academic counseling and career placement services.

8. Will you have the ability to build on your education to help you advance in your career?

Learning is life-long and many employers recognize this through employee tuition reimbursement programs. Keep this possibility in mind when you select a college because you may decide to continue your education after being on-the-job for a number of years. LTC has agreements with over 30 colleges and universities, including Silver Lake, Lakeland, UW-Oshkosh and UW-Green Bay so our graduates can continue to grow in their careers.

9. Is the college providing good value for your investment?

In addition to cost per credit comparisons, take a look at other expenses related to your education. Room & board if you’ll live on-campus, how many years it will take to complete your program, and the availability of financial aid and scholarships.

10. How long has the college been in operation?

You want your college degree, diploma or certificate to lead to job. While not a guarantee for your personal success, you can be assured a college has the commitment and resources to help you succeed when they have a proven history of doing so. LTC is proud to be celebrating a century of educating students for high-demand, local careers.

By answering these ten questions you’ll be armed with good information about the colleges you’re considering and ultimately which one will be the best fit for you to achieve your education and career goals.

From “Nicolet College’s early childhood education program sees enrollment surge” – Nicolet College’s early childhood education program has enjoyed an enrollment boom in recent years thanks, in part, to greater opportunity for students to earn a bachelor’s degree and a desire by child care providers to have a more highly skilled workforce.

That’s according to Diana Rickert, early childhood education instructor at Nicolet, who recently gave a presentation to the Nicolet College Board of Trustees about program developments.

“Students like what Nicolet has to offer,” Rickert said. “They see the benefits of attending Nicolet on a number of fronts and that’s what’s driving the enrollment increase.”

Currently, 52 students are in the program and that number is expected to nudge higher in coming weeks as new applicants work their way through the enrollment process in order to begin classes at the start of the spring semester in January.

One of the biggest drivers of this trend is the close partnership Nicolet has developed with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Thanks to a credit transfer agreement between the two institutions, students can complete roughly the first two years of their bachelor’s degree at Nicolet and then transfer to UW-Stevens Point to complete the degree.

“Students are realizing that they can save thousands of dollars by starting at Nicolet,” she said. “That’s because of Nicolet’s affordable tuition and because they can live at home, which means they don’t have to pay room and board. Combined, this results in a very significant cost savings.”

With bachelor’s degree in hand, graduates are then eligible to receive their Wisconsin teaching license and teach pre-kindergarten through third grade in a public school system.

An added advantage is the increased level of hands-on, practical experience students get in the associate degree program. Nicolet’s early childhood education program has an advisory committee made up of teaching professionals that offers guidance for program development.

“When they look at rèsumès to fill teaching positions, I’ve heard time and again that applicants who first earn an associate degree rise to the top of the pile,” Rickert said. “The added level of hands-on teaching experience they get with an associate degree on top of what they get with a bachelor’s degree is highly valued by school districts.”

Another factor contributing to the enrollment increase is the state of Wisconsin’s YoungStar program. Launched in 2011, YoungStar ranks licensed child care providers on a scale of one to five, with five being the best rating. The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families then make the ratings public to help parents make child care decisions.

“More than a third of the possible points a program can earn are based upon the educational qualifications of the staff,” Rickert said. “Because of this, we are seeing more people who are currently working in child care enrolling in Nicolet classes. They are learning additional skills that ultimately benefit the children they teach and care for, and also help their employer receive a higher YoungStar rating.”

In recent years, Nicolet has also added a high degree of flexibility to the program, offering classes in the evening, on weekends, over an interactive television network, in an accelerated format, and on-site in the Lac du Flambeau tribal community.

“Everybody’s life situation is different,” Rickert explained. “By expanding the options students have to take classes, we’re making it easier for students to fit college into what are already busy lives.”

Western referendum passes

November 7, 2012

From “Western, North Side school referendums ride high on local support” – Voters appeared to back Western Technical College’s plan to add students and update facilities with a strong showing of support Tuesday for the school’s $79.8 million referendum.

By early this morning, 53.4 percent had voted “yes” with 202 of 211 precincts reporting.

The money will fund six building projects, including remodeling of the college’s technology building and the Coleman and Kumm centers. The extra learning space will allow Western to serve an additional 1,000 students by 2020. It will also benefit the region’s economy, Western President Lee Rasch said.

“There is a skilled worker shortage, and it’s in manufacturing and information technology,” Rasch said. “Those are really key areas for us.”

Property taxes will increase by about $39 a year on homes worth $100,000.

The referendum covers:

  • $32.6 million for an addition to the technology building to combine the school’s mechanical and tech programs.
  • $26.5 million remodel of Coleman Center to update the 89-year-old space with more efficient, flexible learning areas.
  • $10.1 million remodel of the Kumm Center, for new health and science facilities.
  • $4.9 million for a parking ramp
  • $4.1 million expansion of Western’s diesel training facilities.
  • $1.6 million for a greenhouse near Seventh and Vine street

Western’s growth will have a $97 million impact on the regional economy by 2034, according to an economic report by NorthStar Consulting Group. Construction alone will have an estimated economic impact of $112 million by 2016.

“It’s going to make a difference,” Rasch said.

West Salem resident Bob Severson, 59, said he supported the referendum because the changes will help people learn valuable workplace skills.

“I went there myself and I think that’s going to be the crux of getting the right training,” Severson said.

Western will borrow the money for the building projects, adding to existing debt of about $58 million.

Wisconsin technical colleges can’t use referendum dollars for operating costs – unlike school districts — so they are less frequent. Western’s last referendum was more than 15 years ago, when 64 percent of voters agreed to pay for a $3 million chunk of the city’s Health Science Center.

A wave of support at the polls Tuesday also appears to have pushed through La Crosse School District’s $15.7 million referendum for a new North Side elementary school.

Voters in the La Crosse School District approved a building referendum. Final numbers show 21,494 yes votes to 10,424 no votes.

A new school will house teachers and students currently split between two aging facilities. Officials plan to build the new facility at 1611 Kane St., where the old Franklin Elementary School building stands.

“It’s going to mean a lot for our community, not just for the North Side,” Superintendent Randy Nelson said.

Taxpayers in the district could pay about $25 more on a home worth $100,000.

The prospect of higher taxes inspired 75-year-old La Crosse resident and retiree Kay Weldy to vote against the referendum.

“The taxes are too high as they are,” she said.

Franklin combined with Roosevelt about three years ago, and both run under the same administration, with grade levels divided between the two buildings.

Roosevelt, built in 1923, is the oldest school building in the district. Builders used clay tiles in the 1955 construction of Franklin, which has led to continual structural problems for the school.

Both buildings were slated for about $6 million of work, including about $2 million already bonded for heating and ventilation upgrades. Officials agreed to opt out of the bonded funds if voters passed today’s referendum.

The new building saves the district about $200,000 in operating costs each year.

Shelby resident David Loeffler, 63, said he voted “yes” on the referendum because he to ensure a quality education for future generations.

“I have a grandson and I want to make sure he gets everything he can,” Loeffler said.

Similar referendums in 2004 and 2008 failed to pass muster with voters, but this is a different time — when the community appears be favoring neighborhood revitalization in the wake of recent economic struggles, Nelson said.

“Things have changed,” he said.

From “Column: MSTC campus updates good for communities, too” — By Dr. Sue Budjac,  president of Mid-State Technical College.   Mid-State Technical College, a provider of quality higher education to the people of central Wisconsin for nearly a century, actively is engaged in maximizing our resources to the benefit of our students, communities and local employers. We remain committed to delivering cutting-edge education relevant to the needs of the businesses of today and tomorrow. Recent investments throughout our 2,500-square-mile district illustrate this ongoing desire for quality improvement.

Our MSTC Stevens Point campus is on the move to 1001 Centerpoint Drive. The existing campus on Michigan Avenue served us well, although the space no longer can accommodate today’s quantity of students seeking an MSTC education. The new Stevens Point campus, tentatively scheduled to open in January 2014, gives us an additional 17,000 square feet in which we will expand programs, and offer additional services, courses and conveniences in a much more functional design. Our increased capacity is an investment in workforce needs and economic development and subsequently a substantial bonus for the many central Wisconsin companies who rely on MSTC to provide a highly trained and readily available workforce.

Wisconsin Rapids campus experienced similar innovation last year in the form of the Center for Sustainability and Energy Technology, an investment in educating students for careers in renewable energy. The facility supplies dedicated learning laboratories and testing grounds for students in MSTC’s unique selection of renewable energy associate degree programs. It also houses state-of-the-art technology and equipment designed to provide students with the hands-on education and real-world skills they need to lead central Wisconsin’s drive toward sustainable energy.

Plans are just under way for a major innovative shift at our Marshfield campus. MSTC recently received a portion of a $15 million Wisconsin Technical College System “Making the Future” federal grant designed to improve and enhance training for highly skilled jobs in advanced manufacturing. MSTC has committed our $580,000 share of this grant to developing a stainless steel welding program in Marshfield. This new welding certificate is a direct response to employer feedback and seeks to meet the welding needs of local manufacturers who rely on stainless steel.

Each of these investments in our central Wisconsin communities and economy demonstrate that MSTC is not stagnant, rather a continually evolving community resource that strives to stay ahead of the curve in providing students the skills they need to be competitive in today’s workforce. Meeting workforce needs is a vital element of our core mission. I invite you to learn more about these and other exciting MSTC innovations by visiting our campuses or our website at

From “Grant aims to fill manufacturing jobs”  – GRAND CHUTE – Fox Valley Technical College recently received nearly three million dollars to train nearly 400 workers.

To state workforce officials, Travis Rewalt is the perfect example of someone helping fill the manufacturing skills gap.

“I felt like I was learning the basics I needed and I kind of wanted to learn more to keep me on top of the game so that I could be marketable in the future,” said Rewalt of Menasha.

State officials say if more people like Rewalt stepped forward, empty jobs in manufacturing could start being filled.

“The skills gap issue is on the training side and people not having the skills to fill the role because there is a perception that manufacturing is dumb, dirty and dangerous and it’s not,” said Georgia Maxwell, the executive assistant for Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development.

The state’s Department of Workforce Development is teaming with Fox Valley Technical College to address the issue. $2.9 million will help train people interested in jobs in welding, machine tool operations, printing and electronics/automation.

“These are the primary areas that we have more demand for jobs and for skilled labor than we have supplies at the moment,” said Steve Straub the dean of Fox Valley Technical College’s Manufacturing and Agriculture Technologies Division.

State and school officials say above any other field, manufacturing currently has the most opportunity. They say the problem is there aren’t enough people like Rewalt who want to learn the necessary skills.

“I guess it comes down to motivation of the individuals. The people that seem to want to do it, don’t have the tools available to them, particularly on the financial end,” said Rewalt.

Manufacturing leaders hope the new grant money will help provide that motivation.

The grant money is funded through the federal Trade Adjustment Act.

From “Medical college officials to visit Point on Thursday” – Representatives from the Medical College of Wisconsin will be in Stevens Point on Thursday to view the community as the possible site for a new campus.

Stevens Point Mayor Andrew Halverson said the representatives will be visiting the campuses of Mid-State Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and do a general tour of the community.

“We’re looking forward to having the opportunity to having them tour our community. We feel like we bring exactly to the table what this college is looking for,” Halverson said.

In June, the medical college announced plans to locate a satellite college in Green Bay and another in central Wisconsin. Stevens Point, along with Wausau, Mosinee and Marshfield, is among the possible locations being considered in the region.

The college will announce its choice for the new campus in November. About 15 students are expected to be part of the first class at each of the two new campuses when they open in 2015, and would expand to 25 students by the second year.

The city announced Sept. 10 its bid for a campus, the main part of which was offering the current Mid-State building on Sims Avenue as the location. The building will be vacated after the college moves downtown as part of the city’s redevelopment project for the former CenterPoint MarketPlace.

The city is demolishing part of the mall and will move MSTC into the former J.C. Penney wing of the mall. The college would be offered about 8,000 square feet of the MSTC building initially, but that could be expanded to as much as 30,000 square feet.

“The Mid-State location is a great plus because it’s already been used as a teaching center,” Halverson said. “We are also the only community with a four-year comprehensive university, which will allow those new students to have a comfort level here.”

From “Grant plan aimed at helping businesses expand” —  A new grant program has been proposed for La Crosse County that would help local small businesses develop new product lines, markets and other ways to grow.

If approved by the county board Thursday, the program could begin awarding grants in early 2013, said Brian Fukuda, community development specialist for the county.

Businesses would work with a nonprofit partner to determine their research and development needs, and then be matched with consultants that can guide them toward reaching those goals, said Patti Balacek, Western Technical College’s director of Business and Industry Services and Lifelong Learning.

“I tell everyone that my greatest skill is I know how to find the people who are the experts,” Balacek said.

That assistance could allow companies to expand their customer base domestically and abroad, create new products and lines and find additional ways to market what they have to offer.

The result should be more jobs and economic development in the county, Balacek said. “Growing the businesses we have,” she said, “is a way we can do it without always having to pursue the next big thing.”

The program will be limited to companies with no more than 250 employees — those perhaps poised to grow but less likely to have the staff and resources for research and development.

The county would fund up to 50 percent of the total project costs, with grants ranging from $2,500 to $10,000. The business and its nonprofit partner each must kick in 25 percent, though that match can be in-kind work rather than money, Fukuda said.

The initial grant funding would come from a $10,000 carryover from 2012 and an additional $20,000 in the proposed 2013 budget, Fukuda said. Participating companies would be encouraged to contribute some of the profits from their expanded business to boost the funding pool, he said.

The county’s Economic Development Fund Board would oversee the program, review applicants and award the grants.

Nonprofit partners expected to participate include, but are not limited to, Viterbo University, Western, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and the La Crosse Area Development Corporation.

Balacek suggested the idea at an economic forum hosted by two area state legislators in fall 2011, noting the state’s similar Workforce Advancement Training Grant program with the Wisconsin Technical College System can’t be used for research.

State Rep. Steve Doyle introduced a bill to establish the program at the state level, but it was not acted on before the legislative session ended, though it received unanimous and bipartisan support in committee, he said.

While this pilot program would be restricted to La Crosse County for now, it could gain state backing if it proves successful locally, supporters said.

Doyle also hopes to re-introduce his bill in the next legislative session.

So far, the plan has drawn nothing but praise, he and Balacek said.

“This is just another tool,” Balacek said, “to try to help businesses that we know are primed and ready but just need a little help.”

From “She’s seeing a bright future” — By James E. Causey - Frenchie Randolph listens to her portable radio and with precision clamps a hose to a pressure unit that will go on a snowblower for a Briggs & Stratton engine.

She uses her foot to bring down the metal fastener and feels around with her hands for a final inspection before dropping the finished product down a tube that empties into a plastic bin. She repeats this step quickly and efficiently.

It seems like tedious work, until you consider that Randolph is blind.

Randolph told me that blind people can do many of the same types of tasks as sighted people if accommodations are made by the employer. But finding work is challenging for people with disabilities, and the recession has made it all the more discouraging. While the unemployment rate nationally is 7.8%, the unemployment rate for people who are visually impaired is 70%.

When I visited Beyond Vision this week, workers were fulfilling contracts for Harley-Davidson Inc., General Electric, Ladish Co., the Department of Defense and others. Beyond Vision is a nonprofit group that provides sustainable employment to individuals who are visually impaired.

All 100 employees have vision problems, from the people who take your calls at the call center to employees such as Randolph who may have made the device that will get your snowblower started one of these upcoming cold winter mornings.

There are a lot of stereotypes associated with people who are sight impaired.

Randolph, 47, who will be honored Oct. 27 in Baltimore, Md., as the employee of the year for the National Industries for the Blind, said some people still assume that if you can’t see, you can’t hear.

“What hurts the most is when people act like blindness is a disease they can catch,” Randolph said.

Some people assume that blind people are unmotivated to work, that they are lazy or dumb.

James Kerlin, president and CEO, of Beyond Vision, said the work that the nonprofit performs is real work and that every worker has his or her own unique story of how to overcome the odds.

Kerlin remembers how diabetes took his father’s sight during the last 20 years of his life. When his mother remarried, his stepfather was blind. He was blinded during World War II when he was hit by a sniper’s bullet.

“My stepfather was more active than me. He would cut the grass using a cane, he used the snowblower, and at night when I was sleeping I heard this scraping outside, I looked out and he was edging the grass,” he said.

Randolph asked me if I ever knew anyone who lost their sight, and I told her that my uncle lost his eyesight after a car accident. Although he regained some of his sight, he’s never quite been the same.

She could relate. Randolph started losing her eyesight at 18. She suffered from glaucoma but her condition was made worse by lead poisoning.

By 22, most of her vision was gone, leaving her only with light and color perception.

“I initially enrolled in college at Alverno, but I withdrew to file for a program that worked for me,” she said.

She attended Milwaukee Area Technical College and the Vision Forward Association for the Blind in order to obtain the skills she needed to succeed.

While in school, she gained custody of her cousins’ three daughters because as she put it her cousin “could not be a mother anymore.”

She didn’t have time for a pity party because she was busy setting an example for them. She became a mother herself, raising her own three children, and earning a certificate in medical transcription in 2004 from the Milwaukee Area Technical College. She could not find a job so she re-enrolled in school and earned her associate’s degree in teaching in last May.

“I really want to work with children with special needs because I can be an inspiration for them. But I want to go back to school next year,” she said.

She is already an inspiration to those around her. She told me she doesn’t really know what she’s going to say when she’s honored later this month.

“I’m still working on that. But it will probably say something to the fact that don’t let anything hold you back because nobody is going to feel sorry for you if you feel sorry for yourself,” she said.

And that’s good advice for anybody.


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