From “Western grad following farm-to-table dreams” — Josh Powell has a vision. One day, he wants to be in the kitchen of his own restaurant. A customer might compliment his pork chops and ask where they came from, “and I can just point west,” Powell said.

And then, he’ll say something like: “See that pasture with those six hogs?”

After more than a decade in the culinary arts, the 32-year-old La Crosse native went back to school to learn more about the meat and vegetables that end up in his kitchen. Powell begins an internship at Organic Valley on Monday after graduating from Western Technical College’s agri-business science technology program.

“It’s a huge weight off my shoulders,” Powell said. “There were a couple times where I really thought about, ‘Is this the right idea?’ ”

Powell is one of 1,136 graduates who will be honored at 2 p.m. today at Western’s spring commencement ceremony in the La Crosse Center. College officials will grant 527 associate degrees and 242 technical diplomas, with 321 students graduating from Western’s certified nursing assistant program.

Powell’s Western degree marks his second spin at college. He also studied the culinary arts at Fox Valley Technical College, but he realized about two years ago that he needed to return to the world of higher education to realize his dream.

Powell wants to own a farm-to-table restaurant — a place that mixes modern cooking with “old-school” butchering, Powell said.

“I think butchering is kind of a dying art,” Powell said. “People don’t eat heart. People don’t eat liver. People don’t eat kidneys.”

Powell was the type of student who always added to the conversation in his classes at Western — often to talk about his favorite food, said Tracy Harper, an instructor and department head.

“Lots of discussions about bacon,” Harper said. “Every class.”

Powell’s passion for food was obvious, and it was infectious, Harper said.

His love for food dates back to the baked goods served up by his grandma and aunt. He wouldn’t settle for anything that wasn’t as tasty as his grandma’s cuisine, Powell said.

He started brushing up on his skills with different ingredients. About 12 years ago, he got a job at Syl’s Place, a Barre Mills supper club. Powell worked in the kitchen and behind the bar.

“Pouring drinks wasn’t really my thing,” Powell said. “I like playing with fire.”

He also has worked in kitchens at the La Crosse Country Club and restaurants in the Green Bay area.

“I was pretty lucky in my 12 years in the kitchen,” Powell said.

He was the executive chef at Pogreba in La Crosse but relinquished that title when he went back to school.

An unfortunate incident with a mechanical bull forced Powell to focus on his transition from cooking to agriculture. Nursing an injured elbow — compliments of the bull — Powell took two months off to focus on his studies.

Now, he’s back where he started, at Syl’s, but the horizon is completely changed. Western instructors and the people he met there have given him the ability to pursue his goals. They taught him things he could never have learned in the small garden of his childhood home on the North Side, Powell said.

He and some of his friends are raising livestock and testing recipes on family and friends, but Powell is focused on Organic Valley, where he’ll work this summer as an intern in the quality assurance department.

“Between a couple of my buddies, we’ve got to find a plan,” Powell said. “If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right.”

From “NWTC offers mentors to minority students to help boost grad rates” — Maria Almanza is studying to be a medical assistant at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

As a busy first-year college student, the 21-year-old mother of two said she appreciates the help of mentor Alana Dallas, who talks to her about her studies and navigating the community college campus.

They are part of a new Peer Mentor program designed to help minority students succeed in school. The new program, launched in October with help from a state grant, aims to increase success by offering a variety of academic, social and personal support.

“Not only does this program provide important support to keep students successful and in school, but it gives our student mentors a chance to give back,” said Gema Garcia, program coordinator. “These students have been there and they know what’s it’s like. They’re here to provide guidance to their fellow students to help them overcome any hurdles they might face.”

NWTC’s program has 10 mentors who are helping 20 students this semester. Mentors are students who have been in school for at least a semester. Mentors were chosen for their commitment and willingness to support students as they transition to college, Garcia said. They must meet grade-point average requirements and are fully trained.

Minority students lag a bit behind other students in terms of grades and graduation rates, noted Vickie Lock, dean of student success at NWTC.

In 2012-13 about 64,000 white students were enrolled at NWTC, and 82.46 percent of them received passing grades of A, B or C. The school had 8,200 minority students that year, and 74 percent of them had passing grades.

“That’s a 5.81 percent gap that we really want to close,” Lock said.

Minority students may fall behind because they did not take adequate courses in high school and often are the first in their families to attend college, so may lack home support, she said. They may be low-income, which means they have to work one or several jobs, she said.

“All of these are factors that lead to a harder time achieving,” Lock said.

Mentors can help by providing support families may not be able to provide, she said.

Blaire Xiong, a student in the administrative professional program and a peer mentor, said the mentor relationship is an opportunity to lead by example.

“We may have come from similar backgrounds as many of the mentees, “ Xiong said. “But because we’ve already been here and know what’s available, I think we can really help them succeed.”

The peer mentor program is part of a larger NWTC initiative focusing on helping more students graduate, Lock said.

Almanza’s mentor recently guided her through preparing a resume and cover letter for a class, she said. She plans to graduate in December 2014.

“The mentorship program … makes sure you have more self confidence. Once you are feeling confident, you start doing things better, in my opinion,” Almanza said.

Some minority students may struggle if English is not their first language, she said.

“Also, high school is easier,” said Almanza, who graduated from Green Bay’s East High School. “College can be pressure. If you have someone else to cheer for you and is there for you, it makes you more likely to be successful.”

Those in the program participate as along as they feel they need help. Lock hopes students who are being mentored eventually will become mentors.

“We are looking at, do they stay enrolled? Do they complete?” she said. “We’re also looking for some intangibles, such as, ‘Do students really feel connected to college? Are they reaching out to other students?’ I think those would be important pieces for us to see.”


From “NTC receiving $550,000 grant for equipment” — Northcentral Technical College will be receiving a $550,000 grant to help buy new equipment for students.

The grant comes from The Greenheck Foundation.

Administrators at the college said the grant will cover the costs of new technology to train students studying electro-mechanics.

They said all of the new equipment will help students be ready for what the industry is looking for in new employees.

“It really shows the community that yes, there’s a need for electro-mechanical people, companies are willing to pay money to get you trained for that, they’re definitely willing to hire and our community will continue to grow,” said NTC Associate Dean, Greg Cisewski.

NTC officials said they still need to raise $300,000 dollars in the community for the equipment, to raise a total of $850,000.

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From  “WAT Grant initiates successful partnership between LTC and Nemak”  — CLEVELAND – Earlier this year, Nemak and Lakeshore Technical College received a Workforce Advancement Training (WAT) Grant from the State of Wisconsin.

Nemak, a supplier of high pressure die cast aluminum components in Sheboygan, began extensive training of hundreds of its workers in collaboration with LTC. The WAT Grant program, created in 2005, helps address training needs of Wisconsin businesses and enhance the skills of the workforce while recognizing the value of education and the impact a highly-skilled workforce can have on a company. The results experienced at Nemak have met those expectations, and more.

“We needed to train up to 500 employees in things like manufacturing and quality skills, OSHA safety, lean manufacturing, leadership, and computer training, says Brent Chesney, Director of Organizational Development at Nemak. “The results have been dramatic in terms of efficiency gained.”

Indeed, Nemak has documented significant savings over the first 6 months of this year. “With the help of LTC, we’ve become more productive, more efficient and more competitive,” says Chesney. “LTC has been a critical resource for our continued improvements.”

What’s more, these results are typical as recent survey results once again highlighted the value employers find in the customized training and technical assistance delivered by Wisconsin’s technical colleges.

“Employers continue to tell us that this training and assistance, which is flexible and tailored to their needs, adds value to their operations,” said Mark Tyler, President of the Wisconsin Technical College System Board.

Technical colleges periodically survey employers involved in contract training projects to gauge outcomes and employer satisfaction. Over 500 employers responded to one or more survey questions about training outcomes. Of those employers who responded, 94% were satisfied or very satisfied with the training provided, nearly 95% are likely to use these services again, while more than 96% would recommend them to a colleague. Respondents also indicated that the training improved the company’s work environment and employee retention, reduced costs, and addressed safety and compliance issues.

Survey responses highlighted the value employers place on having incumbent worker training delivered on-site, noting that technical college customized training programs allow employees to apply new skills in their actual facility and specific equipment, not to mention saving on travel time. LTC delivers these services through its Workforce Solutions Division which provides seminars, compliance training, consulting services, and entrepreneurship services in addition to customized training.

Workforce Advancement Training (WAT) grants have extended the reach and awareness of technical college customized training services. The grants, which have consistently received bipartisan legislative support, provide funds to technical colleges to support training programs developed with employer partners. Over the seven-year life of the WAT grant program, technical colleges have received about 17.5 million in WAT grants to support over 1,400 employers in training almost 77,000 incumbent workers across Wisconsin. An additional $4.0 million is available in fiscal year 2012-13. While LTC represents about 3% of the Wisconsin Technical College System, local businesses have received over 10% of state WAT grant award dollars.

“WAT grants are essential to helping provide effective worker training,” stated LTC President Michael Lanser. “We will continue to look for ways to expand our capacity to enrich our communities by providing a workforce that is skilled, diverse and flexible,” added Lanser.


From BizTimes:  “Tech College grads are landing jobs” — Students graduating from high school this month are making critical career path decisions that will determine their life’s arc at a time when such decisions have never been more complex or uncertain.

Many are questioning the value of a four-year college degree that will saddle them with tens of thousands of dollars of debt before they even earn their first paycheck.

Meanwhile, ManpowerGroup’s seventh-annual Talent Shortage Survey indicated that 49 percent of U.S. employers are experiencing difficulty filling mission-critical positions within their organizations.

Something’s got to give.

For many students, a one- or two-year technical college degree is a safer bet for gainful employment.

Despite Wisconsin’s current economic challenges, a new survey of 2011 Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) graduates revealed 88 percent of graduates were employed within six months of graduation and most of them (71 percent) were employed directly in their field of study.

According to the system’s annual Graduate Follow-up Report, 86 percent of respondents indicate they are working in Wisconsin. The WTCS includes 16 technical college districts throughout Wisconsin, including the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC).

“This is a bright spot in Wisconsin’s economy,” said Dan Clancy, president of the WTCS. “Our graduates are employed within Wisconsin’s borders and are contributing to the economic recovery in our state. The results show that the curriculum aligns with industry skill needs and that employers value our graduates’ abilities.”

The technical colleges attribute their success in large part to advisory committees established in each program area. The committees are comprised of local business and industry representatives in their respective fields. They advise the colleges on various matters based on first-hand knowledge of supply and demand in addition to skills desired for today’s job market.
The median salary for all new tech graduates is $31,822, with those earning associate degrees receiving a median salary of $36,033.

The fields with the highest median starting salaries are utilities engineering technology, technical studies-journey worker, fire science, biomedical electronics, automated manufacturing systems technician and applied instrumentation and process control automation. Several program areas have median starting salaries of $60,000 or higher.

Nancy Merrill, policy advisor and federal relations officer for the WTCS, noted some of the hottest degree programs, as documented in the new report:

* 85 percent of IT-programmer/analyst graduates who responded were employed, with a median salary of $40,000.
* 100 percent of the logistics graduates who responded were employed, with a median salary of $49,000.
* 93 percent of dental hygienist graduates who responded were employed, with a median salary of $50,488.
* 96 percent of associate degree nursing graduates who responded were employed and reported a median salary of $47,836.

Among less-than-one-year and one-year technical program graduates, 89 percent of practical nursing graduates who responded indicated they were employed, with a median annual salary of $33,745 while 76 percent of air conditioning, refrigeration and heating graduates were employed with a median salary of $32,238.

“In total, as noted in the graduate follow-up report, 45 programs had graduates who reported median annual salaries of $40,000 or more approximately six months after graduation,” Merrill said. “In short, the graduate follow-up study proves that the WTCS works for both Wisconsin businesses and Wisconsin students.”

From “New Green Bay firefighters prepared to serve the public” — Jack Bourgeois could hardly contain his excitement as his son poured water on a burning Mercury Cougar, held a water hose to a flaming gas meter and rushed into a burning building.

“Since he was 2 years old, he said he was going to be a firefighter,” he said of his son, James Bourgeois, 24, of upper Michigan. James Bourgeois was joined by eight other recruits during their last day of nine-week training for the Green Bay Fire Department academy. “My son’s been waiting all his life for this.”

The proud father was one of about 35 loved ones who recently watched as the recruits showed off their skills near the three-story burn tower at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, 2740 W. Mason St., Green Bay.

The relatives and friends sat outside the tower for nearly two hours snapping photos and recording videos as the recruits completed rounds of exercises. A graduation ceremony held June 1 at the Brown County Central Library, 515 Pine St., also honored outstanding firefighters and citizens.

Jack Bourgeois said that as a boy, James played with a toy fire truck and began visiting the local fire department at age 4.

“I’m worried (about his safety), but I’m sure they’re well-trained,” he said.

James Bourgeois started his job last week at station No. 3, 885 Shawano Ave., on Green Bay’s west side.

During the academy, recruits “go through every possible scenario that they will see out on the streets,” Green Bay fire chief Robert Goplin said.

Firefighters entering the Green Bay academy must have more than 160 hours of training and be certified paramedics.

Recruits practiced rescuing a person from a burning building, put out a car fire and confronted a blazing gas meter. Crews sprayed water on the meter fire, which acted as a shield so they could get close enough to turn off the meter by hand, Goplin said.

Firefighter strategies center around teamwork, and it’s forbidden to enter a burning building alone.

“They operate together to minimize the risks that they face,” he said.

The department, which now has 169 firefighters assigned to respond to calls, recently has seen a large employee turnover due to retirements. City firefighters are eligible to retire at age 53, Goplin said.

“The challenge is, how do you transfer that experience?” he said. “Because once that experience is gone, it’s hard to get back.”

Goplin said nine recruits also graduated last year. It’s important veteran firefighters show the new firefighters the ropes, he added.

“You lose that institutional knowledge. You lose that knowledge of people who have been here for years and, in some cases, decades,” he said. “I think we’ve got a great class. I think they are a great group of people who are going to fit in very, very well with our organization.”

Shelly Loomis, 31, of Eau Claire was the lone female recruit. She previously worked as a muscle therapist, but said she was ready for a career change.

“Firefighting is very, very physical and very demanding. You go from zero to 110 percent in five minutes,” she said of responding to emergencies.

Green Bay fire division chief Ann Watzka said the academy focuses on getting recruits accustomed to Green Bay’s policies, procedures and equipment.

“We teach them how we do it here,” she said, adding firefighting tactics often differ by department.

During training, the recruits learned how to rescue residents, other firefighters and even themselves in the case of emergency. For example, during a building collapse, firefighters can become tangled in wires, and must learn how to cut through them to escape, she said.

If firefighters become trapped upstairs in a burning building, they are instructed to find the closest window and move as much of their bodies as possible out of that opening so rescuers can see them.

Watzka said she urged the new firefighters to value serving the public.

“As a firefighter, you really have an opportunity to impact someone’s life in a really positive way — and you have to remember that’s a huge responsibility.”

From “Hiring outlook bright for tech school grads” — Students who graduate with an associate or technical degree from Northcentral Technical College stand a pretty good chance of finding a job, a college official says.

The school’s annual Graduation Employment Report found 89 percent of 2011 graduates had a job within six months of graduation. The average salary for all new NTC graduates was $33,307. The report also found at least 80 percent of those surveyed said they were working in Wisconsin.

Graduates who earned an associate degree in nursing or who went into radiography had some of the highest starting salaries, according to the report.

NTC vice president of student services Dr. Laurie Borowicz thinks this year’s graduates will be able to find good paying jobs. She says the school works closely with businesses in various industries to identify what skills employers want from future hires.

“We do have more employers posting jobs, looking for graduates – even in some of our program areas that through a down economy have been a little bit more challenging,” Borowicz said.


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