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Education Executive: NDSCS - Applied Learning

by Michelle McNickle

Posted on 1/4/2012

Diesel Technology photo
John Richman tells us how innovative programs at his college are preparing students to meet workforce needs.

Applied Learning
Today's college grads have a lot to live up to. No matter the major, students are expected to have a firm grasp of 21st century skills, which include public speaking, problem solving and more. North Dakota State College of Science understands the demand placed on students, which is why it's using industry partnerships and innovative programs to prepare students for the working world.

NDSCS is the second oldest public two-year college in the country, and it will be celebrating its 109th year as an institution the fall. It's a two-year comprehensive college, offering students 38 academic programs centered primarily on technical fields. It is a state institution, as opposed to a community college, and is governed by the state board of higher education. NDSCS is also part of an eleven-college system in the state of North Dakota.

The college serves approximately 2,800 students, 70 percent of which hail from North Dakota. The remaining 30 percent of students come to NDSCS mainly from Minnesota, Montana and South Dakota. Dr. John Richman has been in his role as president for the past four years, but his involvement with the college stems back to his days as a student. In fact, Richman hasn't only served as the president of his alma mater - he's held an array of positions at NDSCS, ranging from coach to faculty member to administrator and more.

"I brought a unique perspective to each of those positions, and now, I bring those experiences to my role as president," he said. "I can speak as a student, an executive, and even a parent. I've been in every corner of NDSCS, nd it helps me make decisions when looking at our current operations and into the future of the institution."

And the future holds some exciting things for staff and students, according to Richman. During the past few years, he and his team have focused on making NDSCS more accessible and convenient for students. Technology has played a role in this transition, but Richman said the need to create more convenience stems from the demands of today's working world.

"Most people would agree that public education, in the traditional sense, is showing up at a building, sitting in one big classroom and listening to a professor lecture for an hour," he said. "That method has to change for us to become more efficient and effective when educating today's college student. Our business and industry partners want entry-level workers who can problem solve and work in a team environment; that doesn't occur often in a typical college setting."

Hands-On Learning
The college has provided online instruction for the past ten years, but within the past three years, NDSCS has been investing in a hybrid of digital and face-to-face instruction. It provides several online programs, and it was the first institution to offer courses, such as Architectural Drafting and Estimating online.

Students have access to about 13 online academic programs, and Richman said the college is most interested in communicating information in an accessible and convenient way. For example, students have access to a number of video clips of an instructor demonstrating a learning outcome. Richman said this has become an invaluable tool for students, since they can witness the practice and then reference the video again at a later time.

"It allows the student to learn from the instructor and then have to lesson in a digital format," he said. "Now, we're working on getting our faculty and staff communicating through digital formats. We want them to exchange assignments and information and even set up chat rooms. This is an example of how traditional education is changing. We're not trying to get rid of the classroom - we're making the classroom more effective."

This outlook isn't necessarily anything new for NDSCS. Throughout the course of its history, the college has held slogans such as "learning by doing" or "hands-on learning." Richman explained that for decades, the college has focused on applied learning, which has been the foundation of a number of its internship and co-op programs. In fact, the college has a myriad of programs available to students through major corporate-level partnerships.

"We work with companies such as John Deere and Caterpillar," said Richman. "And it's my philosophy that the college doesn't just listen to these folks - we partner with them." They tell us what they want in an entry-level technician, for example, and it's up to us to create an educational environment that meets their standards."

For some students, a co-op experience with companies such as John Deere and Caterpillar requires them to take classes at the college for eight weeks and then work at the dealership for eight weeks. This cycle can continue for 24 months for the student to receive their degree. Richman said this has also enabled students to secure employment come graduation; last year, the college's placement rate was 98 percent.

Meeting the Need
Additional programs, such as the college's diesel offerings, are popular among students and are helping the college meet the workforce demands of the surrounding area. NDSCS offers three diesel programs, two of which are through partnerships with John Deere and Caterpillar. Each company provides the college with the curriculum and training for instructors.

"It's their programs, and we teach it," said Richman. "Our third program is more of a general one and isn't affiliated with a company. It covers trucks, tractor and construction in all major manufacturing."

The college's Bisek Hall will be renovated to include more than 100,000 square feet dedicated to diesel instruction. This will also allow the college to expand the enrollment in its diesel programs by 40 percent, since all three programs have been at capacity for quite some time. Richman said the college is confident it will not only reach capacity again, but that 100 percent of graduates from the diesel programs will have jobs come graduation.

Looking ahead, Richman said the college's biggest focus will remain on creating convenience. In addition to its branch in Fargo, the college is looking to create a commuter campus in the West Fargo region to meet the growing workforce demands.

"We also have a strong desire to upgrade our IT, and that's both information technology and instructional technology," said Richman. "We need to continue to look for ways to become more effective and efficient. This helps us stay on the cutting edge and meet the educational demands that are upon us."

See the digital edition.


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