From “Obstacles don’t stop CVTC grad” — Scott Steenerson still isn’t sure he should have graduated from high school. Struggles in reading and math due to learning disabilities resulted in poor grades. But that was back in 1997. On Thursday, July 24, he graduated from Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) as a top student in the Manufacturing Engineering Technologist program, a member of the College’s honor society, and the student speaker for the commencement ceremony.

Steenerson was one of 129 graduates to receive degrees and diplomas in 26 different programs in CVTC’s summer graduating class. Welding and Radiography programs had the most graduates, with 17 each, followed by Diagnostic Medical Sonography with 16.

Last spring, Steenerson received both the achievement and leadership awards among all Manufacturing Engineering Technologist students. He was the only one scheduled for summer graduation.

It’s not as if Steenerson’s learning disabilities magically disappeared since his days at Elk River, Minn. High School, but he learned to deal with them and got the help he needed at CVTC.

“In high school, they didn’t have a lot of programs that helped with it,” Steenerson said. “There were a handful of classes I did pretty well in, but I think that had a lot to do with good teachers.”

Steenerson ended up settling in Hammond and holding a well-paying job at Andersen Windows. “I had a couple of people at Andersen who took me under their wings, and I started to catch on to things better,” he said. “That gave me the opportunity to work with the manufacturing engineers.”

When he became a victim in large layoff, two weeks after his second child was born, Steenerson knew he’d have to do better in the future to support a family of four. Eligibility for a federal program for displaced workers allowed him to enroll at CVTC. He started off scared.

“Considering my grades in high school, I was really concerned about whether I could pull off college-level classes,” Steenerson said. He had two tough ones right away in chemistry and math. “I was extremely nervous. Looking at the other students, half of them seemed young enough to be my kids.”

But Steenerson says he had two great teachers, Ron Keyes in chemistry and Dave Vollmer in math, who knew about his learning disabilities and gave him the extra help he needed. Steenerson also got help from the CVTC’s Academic Services Center. Success followed.

“When I got my final grades, I shocked myself, particularly in my math class, where I got an A when I had struggled so much in high school.”

More success followed. On Vollmer’s recommendation, Steenerson became a math tutor. When he started his program courses in manufacturing, Instructor Tom Vanderloop drew him into the student chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, where he rose to a leadership position. Twice he represented CVTC with other team members at international competitions and was the team leader in one.

His exposure to lean manufacturing at Andersen Windows made him a valuable student. Instructor Hans Mikelson would bring him in to help with workshops on the subject.

Steenerson explained that, knowing his limitations, he was never hesitant to ask for help. When he got it, he shared it. “I’d grab some of the other students and explain it to them and we’d work out problems together.” Steenerson helped in efforts to extend tutoring programs to CVTC’s Gateway campus.

In addressing his fellow graduates, Steenerson said he feels a sense of sadness leaving CVTC because it has made such a difference in his life. “I’ve loved every one of the instructors I’ve had at CVTC,” he said.

Steenerson is already getting some job offers, but he’s hoping to lands something close to his current home and at a company where he can work to improve manufacturing procedures.

Like Steenerson, faculty speaker Jon Leenhouts had high praise for the teachers he learned from in his life. “Over time, I’ve remained interested in my own career, and have actively kindled new opportunities and have been willing to try new things – because of the type of teachers I’ve been fortunate to have had,” said Leenhouts, an award-winning trainer and consultant with CVTC’s Business & Industry team.

Commencement speaker Kathy Otto, medical assembly operations manager at Phillips Medisize, spoke of the skills gap with a different perspective. She told of a recent meeting with CVTC and business community leaders to identify training needs in the community.

“But in the end, one man stood up and summed up the gap for the entire business group: ‘We just want people that care – care!’ Every business leader in the room immediately agreed,” Otto said.


From “Collaborating on success: Colleges, businesses team up on new engineering technology degree” — by MaryBeth Matzek – Input and feedback from regional manufacturers played an integral role in an innovative education program rolling out this fall at 13 educational institutions in the New North.

Northeast Wisconsin Educational Resource Alliance, a consortium of New North schools, announced plans last year to create a regional bachelor’s degree program in engineering technology. The program allows students to enter at any of the NEW ERA schools and then finish up the program at University of Wisconsin campuses in Green Bay and Oshkosh. The degree program is the first of its kind in Wisconsin and fills an important void for employers.

“These are important skills manufacturers need to fill. We have jobs for students coming out with these degrees,” says Scott Kettler, general manager of Plexus’ manufacturing facilities in Neenah. “It’s been a great collaboration between educational institutions and businesses how they came together to address the need.”

Collaboration also was a must between the participating schools. Led by UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells, who retires in August, Fox Valley Technical College President Susan May and other college leaders, NEW ERA members looked at the available offerings and worked together on creating the new program.

The three new bachelor’s degrees being offered are in electrical engineering technology, environmental engineering technology and mechanical engineering technology. The degrees were approved earlier this year by the UW Board of Regents and the Higher Learning Commission, opening the door to students to enroll in the program starting this fall. The degrees use programs and classes already in place at participating schools, which created new classes to fill in the gaps.

Employers helped craft the program by participating in listening sessions and advisory committees, says Greg Kleinheinz, associate dean of the College of Letters and Sciences and director of the Environmental Research and Innovation Center at UW-Oshkosh.

“We talked to them and listened to their needs. We worked with them on how to tailor the program and what it should include,” he says.

That kind of feedback is important, Kettler says. “Manufacturers were asked what kind of skills we were looking for and helped develop the curriculum,” he says. “That way, the students coming out will be right for what’s needed.”

The new program differs from current offerings in the New North, Kleinheinz adds. Engineering technicians are more hands-on than a traditional engineer who may be concerned with design, but have more in-depth studies, such as in management, than students who pursue an associate’s degree at a    local technical college.

Kleinheinz predicts there will be two types of students who enroll in the program: those already possessing an associate’s degree from a technical college who are out in the workforce and want to receive their bachelor’s degree; and a traditional student who may start the program at a local technical college or two-year UW school before finishing up in Oshkosh or Green Bay.

“In many cases, I’m guessing we’ll have students coming out of technical colleges with an associate’s degree, get a job and then the employer will help pay for this program so they can further their education and expand their skills,” he says. “It will be a win-win for employer and employee.”

While all program graduates will be in high demand, the ones with the environmental engineering technology degree will especially be sought after since that is a new and growing field, Kleinheinz says. A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 14 percent increase in environmental engineering technology positions between 2010 and 2020. Students with that degree can find work in industries outside of manufacturing, including biotechnology, water and wastewater management and agribusiness.

In Wisconsin, only UW-Stout and the Milwaukee School of Engineering offer bachelor’s degrees in engineering technology.

“You’re taking that technical skills base and adding more analytical thinking and problem-solving skills,” Kettler says. “Those are all important skills to have in addition to that applied, hands-on education. It’s great we are able to develop and nurture these skills in the region.”

NEW ERA Members
In the new engineering technology program, students may enter at any of the 13 NEW ERA colleges including: College of the Menominee Nation, Fox Valley Technical College, Lakeshore Technical College, Moraine Park Technical College, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, University of Wisconsin Extension, UW-Fond du Lac, UW-Fox Valley, UW-Green Bay, UW-Manitowoc, UW-Marinette, UW-Oshkosh and UW-Sheboygan.


From “CVTC team’s winning invention makes kids’ bikes more visible” — Bob Grzegorek watched the taillights on the bicycle his 12-year-old son was riding move further away into the darkness.

He saw the lights brighten as the boy applied the brakes, then return to normal brightness, still visible 200 feet away.

Grzegorek knew then that the product he and his fellow team members from the Chippewa Valley Technical College chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers developed was a good one.

“It’s about safety for the kids. This might save a life,” Grzegorek said of the bicycle brake lights the team created.

Grzegorek isn’t the only one who likes the product.

“We had a team of 12 engineers looking at this and they all thought it was a great idea,” he said.

That judging team awarded the CVTC team second place in the 2013 SME Student Design Manufacturing Competition at the SME International Conference in Baltimore, Md., earlier this month.

The product, called the Solar Brake Assembly, gives a bicycle rear taillights and brake lights that work like those on a car or motorcycle. The lights are powered by two AA rechargeable batteries that are automatically charged by a solar panel mounted on the rear of the bicycle. LED lights ensure plenty of brightness with little power used. A mere four hours of daylight fully recharges the batteries.

Engineers at the conference said the solar brake assembly is certainly marketable, perhaps patentable. Where the product goes from here is uncertain. For now, team members, which include electromechanical engineering students Grzegorek, Adam Clark, Benjamin Paffel and Jon Keeley, and manufacturing engineering student Scott Steenerson, are thrilled to have done so well.

“I told the guys, even if we didn’t place, we’re still winners, no matter what,” Grzegorek said.

The team finished second to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, but ahead of PEC University of Technology in Chandigarh, India; Wichita State University in Kansas, and the University of Colorado. CVTC was the only two-year school in the competition.

The genesis for the CVTC entry was a trip to the SME International Conference in Cleveland last year, where 10 college teams took part in the contest. CVTC SME Chapter Advisor Tom Vanderloop encouraged his students to give it a try.

Grzegorek was on that trip and started brainstorming right away. The team was formed last fall.

“The team wanted to try something outside their experience with a focus on safety and renewable energy. Our original idea was an electric scooter, but we realized we would not have a budget large enough, or the time to completely manufacture our own design, not to mention the wide commercial availability (of electric scooters) we discovered upon early research,” Grzegorek said.

It was Grzegorek’s idea to narrow the concept to the brake and tail light assembly. Other team members contributed their ideas, and soon the team was designing a printed circuit board for a solar recharging system.

The target market was children’s bicycles, but team members thought it would work just as well for adult bicycles and electric-powered mobility devices often used by elderly people.

“The team researched the idea at a local bicycle business and found that the concept had not yet been explored,” Grzegorek said.

Each team member contributed in his own way.

“I got to do a lot of the soldering,” Paffel said. “This was a new experience for me, since I’m just out of (Eau Claire North) High School.”

“I helped design the circuits and selected what parts we used,” Clark said.

One of the most challenging aspects students encountered was finding time to work together outside of class. Team members have families at home and jobs outside of school.

“It was just amazing how they put everything together and worked as a team,” Vanderloop said.

The team received important contributions from community resources. CVTC nanotechnology instructor Hans Mickelson helped develop a photo circuit board for solar power. Kurt Carlson, a CVTC nanotechnician with an English background, helped with written work. And Jason Ming of Dimension X Design, a thermoform services company in Altoona, developed a means of showing judges how the product would look presented at a retail store.

Such efforts impressed the judges, as did the team’s presentation focusing on safety and saving lives. Engineers at the conference asked team members what they planned to do with their invention. Grzegorek has heard obtaining a patent is a long, expensive process and there would be some question as to who would own the patent.

“We’d like to market the idea to a company,” Grzegorek said.

If there is any money to be made from their endeavor, team members said they would like to see it go toward people like themselves, perhaps in the form of an SME scholarship fund. Team members likely won’t get rich from the invention, not directly anyway. Still, their efforts appear to have resulted in a boost for their personal careers.

Students’ work made a positive impression on conference attendees, Vanderloop said.

“These guys were offered opportunities for work a number of times,” he said. “Guys came up to them and said ‘When you guys graduate, I want to see your resume.’ ”

The sustainability focus of the contest fit in well with Clark’s plans.

“I’d like to make a contribution at a factory with a good culture of sustainability,” he said.


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