Working to bring new programs to tech school

Follow us on Twitter at @AdvocateTribune


The Minnesota West Community and Technical College  is gearing up for its 2014-2015 school year and for the Friends of Minnesota West Granite Falls Campus there is hope that new ideas and administrative transitions will pave the way for positive changes in tune with the times.
It was back in March that a collection of community members formed the Friends group as a result of plans to demolish the former Auto Body or ‘300 Building.’ The action was said to be in an effort to “right-size” the campus and trigger a mechanism that would leverage state investment into an upgrade of the school’s existing, and in demand, Fluid Power program.
The ad hoc meeting held by the Friends resulted in the removal of the demolition proposal but also opened the community’s eyes to a host of potential issues related to declines in enrollment and the general use of classroom space, largely related to area population reductions and the increase of online students.  
“In a lot of ways the threat to close the 300 building was a blessing to help us recognize and address some of the challenges we have out here,” said Friends Chairman Richard Jepson. “It seems that when the campus went from being locally run to the MnSCU (Minnesota State College and Universities) system a disconnect was created, and I think the Friends group has helped to reconnect things a bit.”
Back in March the Minnesota State College and Universities appointed Interim President Dr. Barabara McDonald to replace outgoing Minnesota West President Dr. Richard Schrubb. Schrubb, while credited for achieving one of the highest graduation rates in the state, was not always perceived as being in line and open to the community’s individual situation.
“We recently met with Dr. McDonald and it was a very positive meeting,” said Jepson. “She seems to have a little different style than the previous administration, she seems more eager to engage communities, to hear what they have to say, and I think she is willing to work with us.

Ongoing initiatives
The task at hand for the Friends group is to work with Minnesota West administration in developing or re-introducing needed area programming that puts students physically on campus and justifies the continued upkeep of space. According to Minnesota West information, for the fall of 2013, there was 19 percent of Granite Falls campus seats used on a 32 hour basis.
At present, Jepson said that one of the primary focuses of the Friends group is to push for hire of a campus recruiter, a position that used to exist while it flourished after its birth in the 60s, whose primary role would be to actively connect with individuals to try to educate and steer them toward campus offerings.
In addition, he said that a number of the Friends are working to develop projects and proposals geared around their particular area of expertise––individuals such as Veterans Service Officer Michelle Gatz, who hopes to combine transitional housing with struggling vets and job training; former Machine Tool instructor Dave Yeager, who is looking to have Machine Tool re-introduced at the tech school; as well as Jepson, who has reached out to companies such as John Deere and New Holland, in an effort to bring in a farm service technician program.
Jepson said that Minnesota West administration is considering re-opening the Machine Tool program as a one year program and that it has also been supportive of Gatz’s veteran initiative, which was additionally bolstered by Yellow Medicine County’s move last week to temporarily house the Veteran’s Service Office at Minnesota West, spurred by recent flooding issue in the base floor of the courthouse.
“We have been exploring a lot of avenues to fill that space and will just have to keep trying until we find a successful initiative that will do that,” Jepson said.

Re-connecting with the area community
Aside from the search for school programming, the Friends are also looking to re-connect with the community. A campus recruiter would certainly go a long way in this regard, but in the meantime group members are reaching out to the local districts in an effort to make them aware of under-utilized opportunities for students, particularly those geared for hands-on learning, at the campus.  
“A message we’re trying to get out to parents of senior high kids is about higher education paths for their kids, especially when the four year schools have become so expensive. There’s very good jobs with two years of training that can be obtained at Minnesota West and we need to do a better job selling it,” said Jepson.  “There are jobs in $40,000-$50,000 range after two years of school in Fluid Power. And most employers, if you show up and show some ambition, they’ll pay you to go back to school and finish your degree.”
Jepson said that new YME High School principal Ryan Lutz has been receptive to the need, and that in his former work  place in Staples a significant portion of Lutz’s job was to help funnel local students into the community’s technical school.
“There seems to be a resurgence in local manufacturing state-wide and there are people for whom staying in rural Minnesota is appealing,” Jepson commented. “There’s so much emphasis to get kids into four year schools, but that’s not everybody’s bag of tea. There are a lot of kids who thrive in hands-on environments and I think the pendulum is starting to swing the other way.”
The Friends of Minnesota West Granite Falls Campus is scheduled to hold its next meeting at the technical school cafeteria at noon on Wednesday, August 13. The public is welcome to attend.
“It’s great to have the Friends support and I think it takes a whole community to support every business in a small town,” said Minnesota West Campus Marketer Andrea Mills. “The more they’re talking to us and vice-versa the better it is for all of the Granite Falls area.”