On Jan. 15, Gov. Scott Walker delivered the 2013 State of the State Address, “Bold Vision and Bright Hope for the Future.”
In his address, Walker laid out five priorities for the next two years, including creating jobs, developing the workforce, transforming education, reforming government and investing in infrastructure. I will touch on a number of ideas the governor spoke about and illustrate some of the important ways that UW–Platteville is helping move Wisconsin forward.
The governor stated that surveys and reports from employers throughout the state show a tremendous need for skilled workers in key career clusters and indicated that one of the things he will be stressing is training people for the workforce.
“While our number one priority is helping people create jobs, our next priority is filling those jobs with qualified workers.” He went on to say, “Moving forward, we need enough skilled workers ready to fill jobs open today — as well as those that will be open tomorrow and in the days to come.”
Producing a skilled workforce that meets the needs of local, regional, state and national employers is something UW–Platteville has been doing for almost 150 years, offering academic programs across a broad spectrum of disciplines from agriculture to biology, from business to criminal justice, from education to engineering.
While there are countless examples of how the university is helping develop Wisconsin’s workforce, let’s take a look at how UW–Platteville’s College of Engineering, Mathematics, and Science is providing its students with the knowledge, skills and training they need in order to meet employers’ needs from the moment they are hired.
The mission of the College of EMS is to provide students with an undergraduate educational experience that prepares them to meet the governmental, industrial, educational, and business needs of regional and state employers in the science, engineering, and mathematics fields – and doing so in a way that is accessible and affordable to a wide range of students.
We have always been very successful in accomplishing this, as evidenced by the many employers who contact Dean Bill Hudson looking for STEM graduates, especially in the engineering fields. He states that employers realize that our graduates possess the problem-solving, technical and creative skills needed for innovation that leads to new products and increases the competitiveness of existing product lines.
Because so many employers are looking for students in the STEM fields, retaining students in these fields of study is essential. Two of our goals are to ensure that students are well-advised about careers in STEM fields and that they have the support services they need in order to be successful. To help in this effort, the university recently received a $900,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to support student retention and recruitment.
The university is focused on providing an educational environment that supports existing business and industry as well as new and evolving industry. Faculty members look at innovative ways to teach students while also listening to the input of community leaders in business and industry to ensure that the content of academic programming is meeting the needs of employers.
To further aid in this effort, the College of EMS has an advisory board that allows us to understand trends within business, industry, government, education and industry and then link our EMS graduates with employers. Comprised of past graduates, representatives from local companies, and others who have knowledge of the pulse of the economy and area employment needs, advisory board members are instrumental in providing the College of EMS with technical guidance for the content of its programming — thus ensuring that UW–Platteville graduates have the knowledge and skills they need to work at an optimal level their very first day on the job.
The governor also spoke about the creation of new businesses here in Wisconsin, saying “… most new jobs are going to come from new businesses created here or from small businesses growing in our state. We need to help them tap into the capital they need to make investments that will lead to more jobs.”
The university has a long history of commitment to entrepreneurship and recently launched an entrepreneurship minor designed to complement all majors, with 50 percent of its curriculum hands-on learning. We are confident that this minor will be a catalyst on campus and in the region for building the capacity for social, cultural and economic creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.
In addition, the university is developing sponsored programs and other entrepreneurial activities as well as forming closer connections with business and industry, especially in southwestern Wisconsin and in the Tri-States. We recognize that actively seeking out opportunities to collaborate strengthens not only the university, but the entire community and our region of the state.
For example, partnerships we have with area businesses and industry have led to state-of-the-art technology and resources being integrated into the university’s curriculum and helped professors ensure that courses remain relevant, challenging and current. As we combine resources and expertise to work together on innovative and creative projects, we can have a strong impact on local and regional economies.
Some examples of projects that our engineering students are involved in include: Senior design projects with WiSys, John Deere, IBM and 3M; Engineers Without Borders’ outreach to build an elementary school in Ghana; facilities design projects for the university’s engineering hall; community-based service learning projects through the university’s Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement program; partnerships with many area companies, including American Foundry Society, Neenah Foundry, MGA and Lactalis USA, to name just a few.
Many of our engineering graduates are directly benefiting the economic development of the local, regional and state economy by working for professional engineering companies, and are involved in the design of Wisconsin’s infrastructure, power distribution, and mechanical designs. Many others are working for international companies, including John Deere, Oshkosh Corp., Kimberly–Clark, IBM, and regional companies such as Alliant Energy, all of whom play key roles in the strengthening of our economy.
With national projections showing the growing need for engineers, UW–Platteville has enhanced its partnership with UW Colleges with the Collaborative Engineering Program. The College of EMS is committed to moving forward on refining the structure to grow the program, supporting more students and industries across the state. It is critical for us to ensure that the program provides an outstanding educational experience for students while also remaining cost effective.
The governor also spoke about working with the University of Wisconsin System on a new flexible degree program called UW FlexOption to help adults earn degrees in targeted fields. This is something that we have been doing for a long time. Now in their 35th year, UW–Platteville’s Distance Education programs and services meet the needs of students who want to complete a degree but find it difficult to do so in a traditional classroom setting because of work and/or family obligations. Graduating over 1,000 students in a variety of disciplines, Distance Education serves students from all 72 counties in Wisconsin, all 50 states and 42 countries.
In addition, the governor spoke about his desire to continue to improve education, particularly in reading. Again, this is something that UW–Platteville has always been actively engaged in. This past fall, we launched the Campus Read program, an initiative designed to engage the university campus and community members in a shared reading activity that facilitated discussion and learning, helped students relate to larger social issues and broaden their understanding of different people, cultures and eras. The book that was chosen for this program was read by students in all First Year Experience classes, in many English freshman composition classes, some communication and gender studies classes and classes across other disciplines.
UW–Platteville has outstanding faculty and staff who consistently achieve above and beyond what is expected, with many receiving awards for excellence in teaching, research, service, teamwork and other academic achievements. Though recent data shows that UW System employee salaries are 17 percent behind comparable universities, our professors remain with the UW System because they like working in the UW System and like teaching at UW–Platteville. They also firmly believe in the mission of the university and are deeply committed to educating their students.
While the governor has clearly laid out his expectations for the future growth of this state, it is reassuring to know that we have had these same high expectations for UW–Platteville for almost 150 years and will continue to be instrumental in helping move Wisconsin forward.