Tech College Board highlights partnership with Great Lakes Higher Education

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College has benefited from several grants and other forms of support from Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation. Their support enabled us to expand the capacity of our electromechanical technician program, offer Gold Collar Certification to help area citizens gain the skills needed for entry-level manufacturing jobs, and provide much needed emergency assistance to students through the College’s Dreamkeepers Program. Southwest Tech is pleased to join the WTCS in recognizing and thanking, Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation!”

A web version of this release is available here

For Immediate Release:  March 25, 2015

Contact: Conor Smyth, (608) 266-2991,

Tech College Board highlights partnership with Great Lakes Higher ducation

Great Lakes PictureMADISON – The Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) Board awarded its Futuremakers Partner” award to Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation Tuesday morning. The award recognizes the unique and dynamic partnerships between Wisconsin’s technical colleges and their partners.

Great Lakes, a Madison-based firm and one of the country’s leading guarantors and servicers of student loans, has a long-standing partnership with WTCS. Great Lakes President and CEO Richard D. George said that has been critical to his organization’s  philanthropy strategy.

“Our strategy focuses on populations that are too-frequently forgotten, including students of color, those with low incomes and those who are first generation college students,” George told those gathered for the presentation.

Great Lakes has provided more than $9.4 million in grants and scholarships over the past several years to benefit technical college students throughout Wisconsin.

“Technical college students face a unique set of challenges,” said WTCS President Morna Foy. “Great Lakes has taken the time to understand those challenges and design a series of grant and scholarship opportunities that directly address them and promote student success.”

“I believe the future of Wisconsin’s economy depends on our ability to ensure that people have the chance to finish their education,” George concluded. “We’ve been happy to work with Wisconsin’s technical colleges to advance that goal.”

The Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) offers more than 300 programs awarding two-year associate degrees, one- and two-year technical diplomas and short-term technical diplomas and certificates. In addition, the System is the major provider of customized business solutions and technical assistance to Wisconsin employers. Nearly 330,000 individuals access the technical colleges for education and training each year.

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Southwest Partners. Dreaming and Doing Together.

The following article first appeared in the February 5, 2015 Fennimore Times as part of its “Buzz About Town” series. It is reprinted here with Editor Rob Callahan’s permission.

Something exciting is happening in and around Richland County!  People are organizing, talking, meeting, and planning. They are making commitments to one another and challenging others to participate. Their purpose is simple. They seek to address their communities’ most pressing problems by “dreaming and doing together.”

“Southwest Partners” is developing a model of what needs to happen in other rural regions. Our rural populations are declining and aging. Our rural counties, towns, and communities find it increasingly difficult to maintain, let alone modernize, rural infrastructure. Our rural schools struggle to offer the array of opportunities children deserve. Our rural businesses are challenged by a lack of high-character, skilled talent.

My life has been spent in rural Midwestern communities. I know to the very root of my soul that there is only one solution to the challenges of the places I so deeply love and call “home.” We need regional leadership, engagement, collaboration, and collective action.  The folks in and around Richland County seem to have found their version of this very thing.

What I see gaining momentum is this. A group of dedicated, talented, and persistent religious, community, business, and education leaders are bringing people together from across the area. Those people are talking and engaging a growing group of citizens in discussion aimed at action. That action will be to find ways that they as individuals, communities, churches, schools, and companies can put aside their differences and competitions so as to pool and mobilize their resources and talent for the purpose of creating a better “now” as well as a better future. Southwest Partner’s stated desire is “to create a healthy forward thinking culture for attracting, retaining, and nurturing people and their dreams.”

The first problem Southwest Partners is tackling is the problem of how to retain youth. As community leaders talked to regional citizens, they heard concern about the number of young people who leave for an education, a job, and a career in distant communities. A common complaint was, “There are no jobs for young people here.”

Those same community leaders then went to area companies and asked why there were no jobs. To their amazement, they learned that the area’s major employers are currently offering numerous good, well-paying jobs; jobs that can lead to long-term, rewarding careers. A common complaint was, “There are not enough conscientious, skilled people here to hire.”

What explains the mismatch? I cannot speak to all the specific reasons for Richland County and its neighboring communities, but I know of at least three that plague all rural communities.

First, there is a lack of knowledge in our communities about the businesses, jobs, and careers that exist just down the road. Second, we rural folks tend to hold and transmit to young people, particularly the “best and brightest” among them, a prejudicial suggestion that their best possible future exists somewhere else.

Third, the incentive and reward system that drives rural Wisconsin schools is misaligned. It rewards school-to-school competition over collaboration. It incentivizes investment in the core curriculum aimed at university study and distant professions rather than in career and technical education aimed at local jobs and careers.

These three phenomena, and perhaps others, have resulted in rural communities investing in education and career pathways that tend to lead young people out of our communities and under-investing in those career and technical education pathways that are tied to local workforce needs and career options. These latter pathways are the best preparation for 50-60% of the jobs and careers that actually exist in our communities and across Wisconsin.

What is truly exciting about the conversation in and around Richland County is that people are engaging with one another across communities, organizations, school districts, and businesses. They soon will be implementing solutions designed to overcome barriers as well as to expand, strengthen, and support more robust career and technical education opportunities for youth in and around Richland County.

Success will reward multiple stakeholders. Local employers will see more local talent. Communities will retain more young people. But most importantly, better opportunities will be created for those youth who simply do not want to follow the “prepare for university, get a bachelor’s degree, and work elsewhere” model. Southwest Partners seeks to create better options and hope for those young people, whatever their ability and talent level, who want a hometown future.

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College colleagues and I have been privileged to be part of the conversation. I have pledged Southwest Tech’s help and am prepared to invest College resources in support of whatever plans emerge.

The future of rural communities hinges upon the ability of regional citizens to therein create vibrant pathways and opportunities that help to increase the percentage of our sons and daughters to stay and prosper. In and around Richland County folks are choosing not to stand by, but to stand up and take action.

Posted in General

Governor’s State of the State maintains focus on Wisconsin’s technical colleges

By: Conor Smyth, Wisconsin Technical College System

MADISON – In his State of the State address Tuesday night, Governor Scott Walker highlighted the role of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) in providing economic opportunity for individuals and a talent pipeline for Wisconsin’s employers.

Governor Walker introduced Amber Mies, who recently enrolled in the welding program at Waukesha County Technical College, and her five year-old daughter, Cheyenne. The Governor highlighted the fact that graduates of this and other technical college programs in key sectors can look forward to high-paying, family-supporting careers.

“We appreciate the Governor’s investments in the technical colleges, and support his goal of sustained economic competitiveness and growth,” said WTCS President Morna Foy. “As I travel the state, employers in every sector and geographic region tell me that they recognize the importance of their local technical college in achieving that goal.”

“The Governor once again made it clear that he recognizes the critical nature of the talent pipeline delivered by our colleges,” said Drew Petersen, chair of the WTCS Board.

Governor Walker is scheduled to deliver his 2015-17 biennial budget proposal, which includes state funding for WTCS, on February 3.

The Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) offers more than 300 programs awarding two-year associate degrees, one- and two-year technical diplomas and short-term technical diplomas and certificates. In addition, the System is the major provider of customized business solutions and technical assistance to Wisconsin employers. Nearly 330,000 individuals access the technical colleges for education and training each year.

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The Graduations I’ve Seen

The following article first appeared in the December 24, 2014, Fennimore Times as part of its “Buzz About Town” series. It is reprinted here with permission from Fennimore Times Editor Rob Callahan.

I love graduation ceremonies! For graduating students and their families, they are a celebration of achievement and a beginning of what comes next. For faculty and staff members, they mark the end of another semester and the beginning of a well-earned, though brief respite. Graduations drip with pride of accomplishment, camaraderie, and joy!

I have participated in more graduations than I care to count. The most recent was Southwest Wisconsin Technical College’s Winter 2014 Graduation Ceremony. Mr. Jim Kohlenberg, Vice Chairperson of the Board of Directors, conferred sixty-eight degrees and diplomas.

Ms. Megan Hamilton, 2008 barber/cosmetology alumna and owner of Tres Chic Salon in Lancaster, offered the invited speech. Another entrepreneur, Ms. Katy Cleary presented the graduating student speech. Ms. Cleary is a licensed auctioneer and owner of Katy’s Corral, a horse and tack business in Volga, Iowa. She received an associate’s degree in business management. Both women spoke of the importance of their instructors and Southwest Tech in their lives and toward their business success.

Graduations everywhere have similarities and differences. All are formal ceremonies and joyous celebrations. All recognize the achievements of students and confer the credentials those students have earned. All include speeches and music. Most involve the wearing of academic regalia, including gowns, funny hats, and—depending on the unique achievements of the individual—stoles, cords, or hoods. The differences among graduations are always interesting and based in the unique culture, practices, and traditions of different institutions.

My baccalaureate graduation at the University of Illinois was a mass, impersonal affair. Individual graduates were not recognized; the student body simply stood as a whole to hear the president confer all the degrees at once. When I learned I would have worse Assembly Hall seats for graduation than I had for the preceding basketball season, I decided to skip the ceremony. A few years later at Iowa State University, Dr. Richard Shibles, my faculty advisor and mentor, walked onto the stage with me and placed the doctoral hood I had earned over my head.

My son Simon’s graduation from kindergarten was a hoot. He and his fellow graduates wore white capes and mortar boards. The ceremony involved more than a few teachers seeking to keep some semblance of order. His graduation from Hickman High School, Columbia, Missouri included a quirky surprise. Hickman’s giant, nearly naked Kewpie mascot made an appearance to high-five the graduates as they marched out.

At several places I have been, including Southwest Tech, graduation includes stories about the lives and journeys of individual students and alums. Often inspirational and moving, these stories personalize and add meaning to any ceremony.

At Southeast Missouri State University, President Dale F. Nitzchke always told a few such stories. I remember him telling about a mother and daughter, each of whom had to overcome significant life barriers to graduate on the same day, and of a student who survived a car wreck and received his degree from Dr. Nitzchke with his family gathered around his hospital bed. At the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, graduation day includes a luncheon where leading alumni and graduating students are recognized. As dean, I had the honor of telling the stories of some of those people. At Southwest Tech, invited and student speeches usually include personal stories.

Over the years, I have participated in graduation ceremonies that not everyone gets to enjoy. I have been the invited speaker at Stanley Correctional Institution and at Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution. Wisconsin prison graduations are much like any graduation. Families gather; everyone is happy. Inmate musicians—including individual performers, rock bands, gospel groups, and Native American drummers—provide the best music.

On the other end of the criminal justice spectrum, I routinely participate in Southwest Tech’s police and jail academy graduations. These include delightful traditions, such as the graduates reciting the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Code of Ethics and Mr. George Dulzo, Criminal Justice Instructor, delivering his advice for young police officers.

The largest and most elaborate graduation I ever participated in was at South Central University for Nationalities, Wuhan, China. It involved tens of thousands of students and guests and several different ceremonies, including a magnificent outdoor dance and musical performance that was literally a miniature version of the opening ceremonies for the Olympic Games.

One of the best graduations I ever experienced was here in Fennimore. A couple of years ago, District Administrator Jamie Nutter and Principal Dan Bredeson gave me the honor of being their invited speaker. It was the first and only graduation, outside of a Wisconsin prison, to which I have been invited to speak.

Graduations have always been special to me. I love the pride, joy, ceremonies, traditions, speeches, music, and occasional quirks. May 2015, I will participate in the last such ceremony in my career. I suspect it will be a bittersweet, yet wholly enjoyable experience.

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Southwest Wisconsin Leads the State in Percentage of 2013 High School Graduates Attending a Wisconsin Technical College

Students who graduated from the 30 public high schools within Southwest Wisconsin Technical College’s District in 2013 enrolled the following fall in a Wisconsin technical college at a higher frequency than high school graduates from the high schools within any other technical college district in Wisconsin. The percentage of “direct enrollment” by Southwest Wisconsin high school graduates was 28.6 percent. This meant 380 new technical college students among Southwest Wisconsin’s 1,330 high school graduates. Of those 380 new students, 298 enrolled at Southwest Tech with most of the remainder enrolling at Madison College or Western Technical College.

The statewide average in 2013 was 17.2 percent; 10,125 new technical college students out of 58,816 high school graduates. To put Southwest Wisconsin’s percentage into context, if its direct enrollment percentage was achieved statewide, Wisconsin technical colleges would have enrolled 6,679 more students, an increase of 66 percent over the actual direct enrollment.

Thank you to Southwest Wisconsin high school students, parents, teachers, counselors, school administrators, employers, and everyone at Southwest Tech for ensuring that Southwest Wisconsin students know, understand, value, and take advantage of the fantastic, affordable education and career opportunities available through Wisconsin’s technical colleges.

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Your Career Awaits. COME GET IT!

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College’s Open House is Wednesday, October 15, 2014 from 3:00-7:00 p.m. Everyone is invited, but particularly those interested in attending a class or entering a program of study. More information available on the College’s website, Facebook pages, or Twitter site.

You are encouraged to use the day to:

  • Explore campus classrooms, shops, and labs.
  • Connect with staff and students.
  • Discover programs through hands-on activities.
  • Apply to start in January or August 2015 and save the $30 application fee!

If you happen to be busy on Wednesday, then please consider coming to campus for College Preview Day, Friday, November 14, 2014.

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Subtle Diversity and Acceptance

This article first appeared in the October 2, 2014 Fennimore Times as part of its “Buzz About Town” series. It is reprinted here with permission from Fennimore Times Editor Rob Callahan.

Once upon a time a Duke said to his horse buyer, “You have served well. But the years have taken a toll. Is there a member of your family who can take your place when you can no longer do the job?”

The horse buyer replied, “My children’s talents lie elsewhere. They can tell a good, but not a superlative horse. There is a farmer in the village who knows horses.”

The Duke talked to the farmer and soon gave him a trial, sending him to a neighboring state to buy a horse. On his return the Duke asked “What did you buy?” The farmer hesitated, but replied, “A gray mare.”

Word came later that a black stallion, as purchased by the farmer, would be delivered in a few days. The Duke was befuddled and complained to the horse buyer that his friend was an idiot. How could anyone who knew horses confuse an animal’s color and sex?

In response, the horse buyer mused, “Is he really that good? If so, he is better than me. You see, it’s possible he only looked at what was important—the horse’s spirit, ability, and performance—ignoring the unimportant. Let’s wait and see.”

The horse turned out to be superlative; as good if not better than any the horse buyer had ever purchased for the Duke . . . .

This is an ancient Taoist story. I first read it years ago and have paraphrased J.D. Salinger’s version from “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour an Introduction” (Little, Brown and Co., 1955).

The story reminds me, in dealings with people, to ferret out and focus on what matters and to be accepting of what does not matter.

I once supervised a professor whose office was notoriously untidy. While visiting one day I pulled a twenty-plus year old memo from the bottom of a pile of papers. Colleagues complained about his messiness. But, I ignored their complaints and accepted his behavior because he was a productive and respected instructor and because his office was deeply buried on campus and offered no threat to any visitor’s first impression.

At least I ignored it until the Fire Marshall reported that the pile of papers had gotten so high it represented a fire hazard. Then, and only then, did his messiness become important. I made him tidy up.

That professor’s engagement in the work of the university, his performance as a teacher and advisor, and the respect his students and colleagues had for him was important. His untidiness, until it threatened the safety of others, was unimportant.

In our businesses, organizations, associations, communities, and, yes, colleges, people too often get caught up in the unimportant. I have observed passionate, engaged, capable, hard-working, and productive co-workers being shunned, made the object of ridicule, harangued, recommended for layoff or reassignment, and otherwise ill-treated based on the unimportant. They dared to display, even once, a personality trait, a habit of communication, ways of doing things, physical attributes, or other qualities which certain thought-leaders deemed objectionable.

These days every enlightened soul knows it is wrong to treat people differently based on sex, age, race, skin color, creed, religion, national origin, disability, ancestry, political affiliation, marital status, pregnancy, or sexual orientation.

But keep an untidy office, be over or under weight, talk too much or too little, be too assertive or too meek, say the wrong thing, provide constructive criticism, display a tendency toward anger or whininess, or really say or do anything that some group of people perceive as objectionable and even the enlightened will be on you like ugly on an ape.

A focus on the important and acceptance of the unimportant would go a long way toward creating healthier, happier, more welcoming, and more productive organizations, associations, and communities.

But don’t get me wrong. There are gradations that shift the calculus. My colleague’s untidy office was unimportant and acceptable; until it became a fire hazard. Assertiveness may be unimportant or even an asset; bullying, abusive, or harassing behavior is unacceptable. Occasional faultfinding matters not; honest feedback is a positive; excessively judgmental behavior that diminishes individual or team performance matters.

As a leader, I work hard to differentiate the important from the unimportant. What matters is how employees treat and talk with others, the passion and engagement they bring to the job, and the contributions they make toward realization of the organization’s vision, mission, purposes, values, and strategic directions.

What should never matter is personality type, weaknesses or failings of character, quirks, eccentricities, habits, or any other qualities which do not interfere with an individual’s performance or the organization’s ability to achieve its ends.

Posted in Buzz Around Town Column, General