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 “NWTC budget proposal expands high-demand programs” — Northeast Wisconsin Technical College is expanding popular programs next school year, but administrators say that won’t impact its spending plan.

School officials are shifting resources to programs that are most in demand in a budget that isn’t expected to mean higher costs for taxpayers, according to NWTC President Jeff Rafn.

The college’s general fund budget is expected to dip slightly to $77.18 million from $77.52 million last school year.

A public hearing is set for May 8 and the school’s board will give final approval in fall. The proposed budget calls for a tax levy increase of about $300,000 to $59.199 million, up from $58.899 million. The increase is due to higher land value based on new construction, and won’t affect the tax rate, Rafn said. That means homeowners shouldn’t see much change in the amount of property taxes they owe for NWTC — about $160 for the owner of a home valued at $100,000 last year.

The community college plans to launch a new Sustainable Food and Agriculture Systems program, electro-mechanical mobile lab and start mechanical and electrical engineering technology programs that would lead to baccalaureate degrees at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and UW-Oshkosh. The school also plans to expand its physical therapist assistant program to Marinette and its Environmental Engineering Technology program.

Construction and renovation plans include creation of a student success center, an expansion of its Marine Training Center, an update of the Center for Business and Industry Training area and creation of the Shawano Health Education Center. The student success center will focus on connecting students to services that can help them succeed and reflects the continued growth of support services, school officials said.

Other changes include a move to a new academic calendar that would add a three-week January term and a 12-week summer semester. NWTC would continue to grow its work with area school districts by expanding or starting a number of partnerships with districts in Northern Wisconsin, including plans for programs with schools in Gillett, Lena, Coleman and Suring, as well as work with the Green Bay School District on a school-based manufacturing operation.

The idea is to make modifications to support programs that provide strong job potential, Rafn said.

“Up until last few years, I think we have had a big employer demand, not student demand in certain programming, “ said Amy Kox, associate dean for engineering and sustainability. “Now that’s changed. We’re working to help students see, ‘What’s next?’

“I think that’s helping. We’re helping them to see that coming to technical school is a great first step in lifelong process of learning.”

The agriculture sustainability program is built around suggestions from local organic farmers, including the Oneida Tribe of Indians and New Leaf Market, Kox said.

“We asked them what their needs were,” she said. “That helped build our program. Younger people are interested in sustainability, so we see a lot of possibilities.”

NWTC is expanding its manufacturing areas to meet employer demands, Kox said.

“We keep adding sections,” she said. “We’re trying to get as many students through as possible. The need is there.”

Despite the changes, the college’s budget proposal reflects a tax freeze, Rafn said.

Under state law, the school will be able to raise taxes slightly to reflect construction growth in Brown County, or an estimated $300,000 to its tax levy, which is not expected to impact the overall tax rate.

“Our focus really is student success,” Rafn said. “We want more students to get degrees. We have 45 percent graduation rate, our goal is to achieve 60 percent.”

The college has worked to keep students enrolled, he said. It has hired counselors to help students with mental health issues, hired a counselor to work with military veterans and made orientation mandatory, Rafn noted. It also has created an alert system to monitor if students seem to be struggling in the first three weeks of school.

“Maybe we can find ways to help them , instead of letting them get deeper and deeper,” he said.

The district is trimming costs by leaving some positions empty, Rafn said. It also is cutting out overtime payments to some instructors for teaching extra classes, as well tightening compensation to reflect performance.

NWTC expects to enroll the equivalent of 7,200 full-time students in 2013-14.


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