Sheree Utash: WATC aiming to redefine technical education

03/01/2014 11:34 AM

03/02/2014 8:03 AM

This isn’t your father’s technical college. In the past few years, WATC has taken several major steps forward to redefine technical education in Wichita and nationally.

WATC’s purpose is to help students have a chance at a better life and to train the best possible employees for area business. We’re making it happen through innovative and strategic partnerships. Examples include the South Central Kansas Nursing Partnership, our collaboration with Goodwill Industries, the implementation of Senate Bill 155 with high school partners, and the receipt of a $14.9 million federal grant.

WATC is proud of its role in forming the South Central Kansas Nursing Partnership. WATC offers Practical Nursing classroom options in Pratt, Wichita, and hybrid/online programs. Pratt Community College offers associate degree completion at Pratt, Wichita and hybrid/online. Regional health care employment needs are being met through the partnership by providing workforce-ready LPNs and RNs. Efficient use of shared faculty and staff, professional development, equipment and other opportunities make the partnership a viable option for both institutions.

In addition to providing a state-of-the-art learning environment for students, the SCKNP skills lab and simulation hospital has been utilized as a training site for interdisciplinary simulation education for the University of Kansas School of Medicine – Wichita campus students, Wichita State University baccalaureate nursing students, Newman University respiratory therapy students, and Wesley Medical Center, all through collaboration with the Mid-Continent Center for Health Care Simulation.

WATC and Goodwill Industries have entered into a partnership called “NexStep Alliance” to assist adults in earning their high school diplomas by way of the GED test. Students may move into technical training that will qualify them for new careers. Many students enroll in both GED preparation classes and technical classes simultaneously. Upon completion, area business partners offer interviews to the graduates.

Students have the opportunity to learn one of three ways: traditional classroom, flexible self-study with tutors, or distance learning. Classes are offered day and evening. NexStep Alliance has produced more than 440 GED graduates ranging in age from 16 to 70. Many of these students have moved on to higher education classes at WATC. More importantly, graduates are passing on the importance of education to their children and families.

WATC has had great success in partnering with area school districts to implement the Career and Technical Education Act, otherwise known as Senate Bill 155. Since the bill was passed in 2012, WATC has built programs for high school students who take free classes in career technical areas while in high school. Tuition and fees are paid by the state.

WATC has created program blocks for high school students to attend at WATC campuses where students are bused from their high schools to receive 8-16 credits towards career and technical education areas. These program blocks span a variety of content areas from Allied Health to Manufacturing and Aviation. Additionally, WATC has worked with area school districts to crosswalk career and technical education curriculum so that students participating in these courses at their high schools can receive college and high school credit.

Both of these opportunities have grown exponentially since first implemented. In the fall of 2012, WATC had 327 high school students participating and partnerships with seven high schools. By early 2014, this number had grown to 1,091 students and 21 high schools participating from Wichita, Derby, Haysville, Valley Center, Maize and Goddard.

WATC is continuing to build partnerships with area high schools and will expand program opportunities in the fall. SB155 has not only been able to provide opportunities for high school students to explore career and technical education pathways, it has fostered partnerships between high schools and WATC to serve and support high school students as they advance their education and career options.

WATC is leading a consortium of community colleges across the nation to develop industry-standard aviation manufacturing training curricula. The National Aviation Consortium project is a $14.9 million initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Labor in an effort to close the skills gap in the aviation industry. WATC’s selection as the lead institution for this project is a testament to the national emergence of WATC and the National Center for Aviation Training.

By fall of this year, seven aviation-endorsed certifications will be created: Aviation Core, Assembly Mechanic, Electrical Assembly, Composite Technology, Quality Assurance, Tooling, and CNC/Machining Technology. Another significant outcome of the project will be a consensus of aviation manufacturers on national standards for aviation credentials to increase the competitiveness of U.S. companies.

NAC enjoys the support of local aviation manufacturers including Spirit AeroSystems, Beechcraft, Cessna and Bombardier. NAC is working with these and other leaders in aviation manufacturing to create the right skills to advance Wichita’s workforce needs.

These and other initiatives have transformed WATC into the largest technical college in Kansas. WATC’s growing role as a key contributor to the local economy is generating additional interest and momentum. In addition to how far we’ve come as a college, the future looks equally bright.

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