Wausau Schools Train Quality Workforce

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On Thursday, May 10, 2012 - 22:27
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The best things always come in pairs – and that saying certainly rings true when it comes to Wausau’s higher education scene. These days, learning here thrives on partnerships, both public and private, two-year and four-year, academia and business. The Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy & Service at the University of Wisconsin Marathon County exemplifies this new mindset, counting the public as its partner in setting the agenda every year. “It was the vision of several very far-thinking people in the Wausau area who really believed in higher education and linking higher education to solving community problems,” says Eric Giordano, director of the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy & Service. “And we always have a component of involving students.” Each year, the nonprofit, nonpartisan institute draws on public input to select a broad policy topic for seminars and other public education opportunities. Last year, the theme was wealth and poverty, while in 2009, the topic is building healthy, sustainable communities, Giordano says. “One thing we are learning is that people want more information,” he adds. Information and education are key elements in other collaborative efforts among universities, several of which focus on the region’s workforce needs. Through a partnership with UW-Platteville, students at the smaller UWMC can now obtain four-year degrees in engineering via streaming video classes. “Students in streaming courses are treated exactly like those in Platteville,” says program coordinator Jennifer Foley. “The tuition is the same, they have textbook rental, we give them a laptop to use, and they have office hours with faculty by webcam, telephone or e-mail.” Similarly, UW-Stevens Point offers a collaborative degree program through a joint effort with the Wausau and Marshfield locations. Students with enough hours can complete a business administration major and graduate with a bachelor’s degree by attending evening classes at any participating campus. Those already in the workforce can also benefit from community-education partnerships. The Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce offers a leadership excellence program, which teaches community members how to strengthen their leadership skills. Also striving to build up the workforce, Northcentral Technical College and local businesses are working together to get 250 unemployed or underemployed people into the pipeline for manufacturing jobs, thanks to a $1.9 million federal grant. For no cost to accepted students, the program offers training in welding, machine tooling or woodworking. NTC is also working on a facility in Antigo to teach wood manufacturing technology, at which staff from Zelazoski Wood Products Inc. will help teach the classes. “The neat part about this is students come in with no skills, and when they leave they have skills and tools,” says Mike Berry, NTC associate dean and project coordinator. In addition, NTC and UW-Stout have a new agreement to allow students to “ladder into” four-year engineering degrees, and UW-Stout professors may come to NTC to offer engineering technology, says Vicky Pietz, NTC’s dean of technology and trades. “This area is starved for engineers,” Pietz says, “and this is a good way to grow your own.”