From “Vruwink: Here’s how we’re improving city gov’t” — By Zach Vruwink, mayor of Wisconsin Rapids – Shortly into my first term as mayor of Wisconsin Rapids, I pledged to pursue streamlining operations and making government more efficient, effective and customer-friendly. With support of that vision from the City Council and a partnership with Mid-State Technical College, our employees began Lean Six Sigma training to equip us with the tools to identify improvement projects, approach problem solving differently and form cross-functional teams across departments to develop new solutions to the way we approach new and everyday tasks.

We live in a world where the expectation to do things “better” is commonplace. An investment in professional development, specifically in process improvement, exposes employees to additional ways to identify and solve problems, resulting in improved service and increased customer satisfaction — in our case, our “customers” are our employees and our residents.

Now, just a year after our formal launch of the initiative, I am happy to report that over 25 percent of our employees have been trained in the fundamentals of process improvement. Even more have been involved with identifying processes for improvement and as “subject matter experts” in their specific areas of process improvement.

On June 25, all city employees were invited to a report-out event to recognize the progress of the initiative and provide an overview of the projects they are working on. The event was a reminder of how far we’ve come, and it was a chance to see what improvements are being made across the organization and encourage interdepartmental collaboration among all employees.

Just as significant, the “Rapid Improvement” process has given us the opportunity for self-reflection from those of us in the organization; that’s something that can often be the difference from an organization being “good enough” and being “great.”

The result, I’m excited to announce, is seven projects near completion. For example, we are examining the city’s special assessments process; its business inspection process; and even the library’s book check-in and shelving process.

Take the business inspection process: City departments such as police, fire and code enforcement have heard from businesses that our compliance inspection process should be improved. Previously, departments conducted individual visits, disrupting businesses as frequently as six times per year. After the project team applied the Lean Six Sigma methodology, business inspections (or disruptions) have been reduced to one or two annually. Businesses now are informed proactively of common violations and also have a voice in further improving the process. This allows departments time to perform other functions and disrupts businesses less, all the while preserving the integrity of inspections.

Since the essence of the Rapid Improvement initiative is “continuous improvement,” projects will continue to be started and completed with varying degrees of impact. An internal steering team has scored and will continue to score employee-submitted projects to be worked on in the future. Residents, too, are invited to submit improvement projects for improvement.

If you have an improvement idea, please communicate to me, another city staff member or submit your idea online by visiting

Each day we show up for work with the opportunity to not only do our jobs, but also to make a significant impact on how we improve processes within our organization and within our city. I’m proud of the progress our city employees have made so far in the initiative and I look forward to continuing our journey of process improvement, identifying project opportunities, measuring our efficiency and ultimately improving the delivery of city services.

From “MSTC Foundation awards full-tuition Bethke Transportation Scholarship” — In honor of the generosity of the late Leonard and Lillian Bethke, the Mid-State Technical College (MSTC) Foundation offers a full-tuition scholarship each year to graduating high school seniors planning to pursue a technical diploma in the Automotive Technician program or Diesel and Heavy Equipment Technician program. Medford High School senior Samuel Buehler was selected to receive the 2014 award. He is pursuing a technical diploma in MSTC’s Diesel & Heavy Equipment Technician program.

Buehler, Medford, is the son of Larry and Rosemary Buehler. During high school, he was involved in football, FFA fundraisers, High Mileage Vehicle (HMV) competitions, Pep Band, and Science Olympiad. He also enjoys hunting, fishing, and ATV and motorcycle riding.

Buehler has work experience in retail grocery customer service, Schierl Tire Service, and farm work.  He is motivated by major modifications and new ideas to improve gas mileage in the automotive industry and high technology diesel engines.

The Leonard & Lillian Bethke Transportation Scholarship has a value of up to $10,000, which covers tuition and fees. Buehler was selected by the MSTC Scholarship Selection Committee. Students’ academic achievements, pre-entrance test results, financial need, extracurricular activities and responses to essay questions were reviewed and assessed by the committee. To remain eligible for the continuation of scholarship funds, recipients must maintain required academic standings.

From “MSTC Vex Robotics Camp exposes students to mechanical skills” — About 25 middle schoolers and their parents descended on Mid-State Technical College to watch robots compete against each other Thursday.

And the neat part? The children built the robots themselves.

Over the past four days, coaches at MSTC’s Vex Robotics Camp taught students the basic process of building and developing their own robots. Thursday’s competition was a culmination of the students’ week-long effort and gave the youths an opportunity to showcase what they learned.

Richard Breen, an adjunct professor at MSTC, is one of the camp’s coordinators and coaches. He said he hopes the children take what they learned and apply it to life outside the camp.

“We hope that we inspire them to go on and do more — and a little bit with programming,” Breen said.

However, Breen noted that programing and mechanical techniques are not the only lessons they learn. The students also practice soft skills such as teamwork, problem solving and time management in their race to build the ultimate robot.

“It’s got all those great elements that culminate in the competition to see who designed the best unit that can perform the task to the best ability,” said Gary Kilgas, associate dean of MSTC’s technical industrial division.

The robotics camp introduces students to different facets of math and science they might not encounter in the classroom.

“What I see is that they’re able to use cellphones and computer systems very well, but their mechanical skills are not necessarily there,” Breen said.

Exposing today’s youths to these mechanical and engineering skills is especially important, said Kilgas, because many employers looking for workers are unable to find qualified people because of the skills gap.

“We need those types of talents here. We have got businesses looking for CNC (computer numerical control) operators or people who understand automation,” Kilgas said. “And those are all the types of things you’re learning here (at camp).”

This is this summer’s second week of the Vex Robotics Camp. And according to Kilgas, it’s been a success so far.

“It’s not only the right thing to do with these young people — keeping them interested in technology, engineering and math — but it’s a wonderful way for them to learn new skills and work as team,” Kilgas said.

From “Workshop makes a compressed earth brick press from scratch in one day” — WISCONSIN RAPIDS — Extreme manufacturing techniques were on display June 17 to 19 at Mid-State Technical College’s Wisconsin Rapids Campus.

A three-day workshop led by Marcin Jakubowski, founder of Open Source Ecology, or OSE, showcased how extreme manufacturing techniques are used to build a complete, automated compressed earth brick, or CEB, press in one day.

The machine was completely built from scratch, with parts cut via computer numerical control. These pieces then were welded, and then assembled together with the automated controller and hydraulic system.

“It was exciting to get hands-on training in the process of building this sophisticated machine out of nothing more than basic resources,” said MSTC Sustainable Heating & Cooling Technician Instructor Ben Nusz.

A CEB press compresses clay earth into bricks that can be used for building. These bricks are cheaper because they can be made with dirt on site and are consequently more environmentally friendly. They are also highly energy efficient, insulating well against both heat and sound.

The workshop was designed for people interested in hands-on training, especially those individuals who want to use a CEB press in future endeavors. Participants were immersed in concept and production, including crash courses on key elements of design, fabrication, computer-aided design, microcontrollers, hydraulics, open documentation and open enterprise models. A total of 30 people attended the workshop.

Event planners partnered with MSTC and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association in co-organizing this event.

Nusz emphasized that this workshop is just the tip of the iceberg for people interested in careers related to renewable energy and conservation.

“This workshop is just one of many great opportunities in sustainable energy technology available here at MSTC,” said Nusz. “MSTC is home to numerous career programs and certificates in the field of renewable energy, many that are available nowhere else in the Wisconsin Technical College System.”

MSTC currently offers career programs in Process & Biorefinery Technology, Renewable Energy Specialist, Solar Electric Technician, and Sustainable Heating and Cooling Technician. Individuals who are interested in learning more about these and the more than 100 total programs and certificates available at MSTC are encouraged to visit or call 888-575-MSTC.

From “UWSP, MSTC officials hope transfer agreement increases enrollment” — Officials from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Mid-State Technical College say they hope a recent statewide transfer agreement will mean an increase in enrollment as students see more opportunity to move from one campus to another.

Signed by University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross and Wisconsin Technical College System President Morna Foy earlier this month, the Universal Transfer Agreement identifies 48 core general-education courses for which students can transfer credits within the two systems. The agreement goes into effect July 1 for the 2014-15 academic year, can be renewed annually and is open to private and tribal institutions that choose to participate.

“Building on the hundreds of existing articulation agreements between the UW System and the WCTS, along with the innovative Transfer Information System, this agreement is another step in our joint efforts to make post-secondary education accessible for more students, facilitating their progress to becoming successful contributors to the Wisconsin economy,” Cross said in a statement.

Gov. Scott Walker, who proposed the agreement as part of the state’s biennial budget adopted last summer, said in a statement that he believes the agreement will allow students more flexibility and speed up the process for those looking to finish their degree.

Greg Summers, vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at UWSP, said the agreement will provide an even playing field for students looking to attend a university after completing their studies at a technical college.

“Before, you would have some credits that would be accepted at Stevens Point that might not be accepted at UW-Eau Claire or UW-Superior,” Summers said. “This agreement broadens the access students will have if they decide to pursue their degree.”

Mandy Lang, vice president of student affairs for MSTC, said students most often transfer to a university to pursue degrees in areas such as nursing and business. Lang said it’s too early to tell whether the agreement will increase enrollment, but making it easier to transfer general education credits is good step for students wherever they choose to attend school.

Nearly 90 students from MSTC and Northcentral Technical College in Wausau transferred into UWSP in the 2012-13 school year, and Summers said he expects that number to increase because of the agreement.

“That would be the goal. I think as students see there is a predictable pathway to get their degree, there will be more interest,” Summers said.

From “Mid-State Technical College Stevens Point Relocation” — Mid-State Technical College. Stevens Point campus, has relocated to developing downtown area. The school took over what once used to be the JCPenney wing of the mall that no longer exists.

In the past few years the downtown area of Stevens Point has struggled to renovate, but the relocation of Mid-State Tech brand new facility, it is already adding a draw to the area.

Dean Steve Smith told us all about the relocation and how the new site for Mid State Technical College caters to students and the community. With the new building comes a common area for students to hang out and study, a room that will be filled with computers for students to access and a community engagement room that can be utilized by not only students, but local organizations.

We received a tour of the campus that is set to open on Monday, May 19th.

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From “As temperatures drop, solar energy heats up” — GRAND RAPIDS — Reports of recent propane shortages have made front page headlines across North America, especially in the Midwest, central Canada and California.

For much of January and early February, propane suppliers had difficulty finding the product, and residential customers were paying significantly higher prices. Propane rates are beginning to fall in some places, but this winter’s shortage has been an eye opener for many who depend on propane.

Propane, a byproduct of natural gas processing and petroleum refining, is commonly used for residential heating. Pipeline outages, depleted inventories and a winter with below-average temperatures have increased demand for the fossil fuel. This three-legged onslaught on the supply of propane became a recipe for skyrocketing energy bills; prices doubled or even tripled in many areas.

This sharp increase in utility bills has forced some to pursue other energy options. Mid-State Technical College instructor Ben Nusz points to renewable energy options as a reasonable solution.

“Solar heating is one effective alternative to propane and natural gas,” Nusz said. “A one-time investment in solar brings a lifetime of free energy.”

Nusz teaches for the Renewable Thermal Energy Technician program at MSTC, where he has had the opportunity to use cutting edge energy technology and teach its features and benefits to his students. Equipment in the industry is becoming smaller, more efficient, and, best of all, increasingly affordable by small businesses and homeowners.

Students in these MSTC career programs acquire the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in a burgeoning industry from faculty who have real-world experience. Through this hands-on education, students often have opportunities to leave campus to work with local companies and organizations on real, renewable energy projects. In fact, MSTC even has offered some of its own facilities as hands-on laboratories. Nusz says that arrangement has been a win for all involved.

“MSTC renewable energy program students are receiving a comprehensive education without having to travel far from the classroom,” Nusz said.

Nusz spoke of several student projects that are already up and running. For example, a solar water heating system was installed by students in the Center for Sustainable Energy Technology, a state-of-the-art facility where many MSTC renewable energy classes and labs are held.

Students also have installed a solar air heating system in the Automotive Technician program lab to counteract the high costs of heating a space with numerous doors and bays. This spring students will install a solar heating system that will help heat the greenhouse used in the Urban Forestry Technician program, and plans already are in place for a solar water heating system to heat the cosmetology program’s salon and to provide space heating on the newly remodeled Stevens Point Campus.

“Each of these projects is the result of what the students learned in the classroom and labs,” Nusz said. “Future students will benefit from the effort these students are putting in today.”

While students do not currently log data for the new systems, it is safe to say that these student projects are also saving the college money.

“The icing on the cake is that MSTC facilities are receiving important long-term money-saving and eco-friendly upgrades at a fraction of the normal installation cost,” Nusz said.

Nusz also has good news for people looking to get into an exciting, up-and-coming field. A trend toward increased adoption of renewable energy technology raises the need for skilled people to install and service that equipment.

“There are not enough skilled workers in renewable energy to handle the anticipated growth of the field in coming years,” Nusz said.

MSTC offers four career programs in the field of renewable energy, none of which are available anywhere else in the 16-college Wisconsin Technical College System: Process & Biorefinery Technology, Renewable Energy Specialist, Renewable Electricity Technician, and Renewable Thermal Energy Technician. The latter two programs are undergoing some changes to accommodate local workforce needs and will have new names later this year. All four programs are available at MSTC’s Wisconsin Rapids Campus in Grand Rapids.

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