Sheree Utash: WATC advancing its mission to educate workforce

Sheree Utash, president of Wichita Area Technical College
Sheree Utash, president of Wichita Area Technical College Courtesy photo

Wichita Area Technical College (WATC) is advancing its mission with purpose and vision.

With a new Vision 2020 strategic plan, WATC is focused on being a recognized leader in providing open access, affordable higher education and industry-driven career and technical training for our community. We continue our diligence to help students have a better life and train competent employees for area businesses.

We accomplish this through innovative and strategic partnerships. This is exemplified in our partnership with high schools, working with business and industry, and engaging in grant opportunities.

We continue to work toward creating students for the workforce that have a work ethic or soft skills as often defined by industry. We know that 75 percent of employers state that incoming employees lack an adequate work ethic.

We are focused on creating value on reliability, professionalism, positivity, initiative, respect, integrity and gratitude in order to produce desired behaviors in attendance, appearance, attitude, ambition, acceptance, accountability and appreciation.

A great success for WATC is our partnerships with area school districts to implement the Career and Technical Education Act, otherwise known as Senate Bill 155, passed in July 2012. WATC has built programs for high school students to take courses in career and technical pathways while in high school, and the tuition and fees are paid by the state.

Students are bused from their high schools for three hours each day to receive eight to 16 credits toward career and technical education in program blocks designed at WATC campuses. These program blocks span a variety of content areas, from health care to manufacturing, specialized trades, information technology 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 fall of 2015, WATC had 820 high school students participating from 36 high schools and home schools in career and technical education pathways.

WATC continues to build partnerships and expand program opportunities. In addition to career and technical education pathways, WATC is providing dual-credit general education coursework within 12 area high schools with our JumpStart program. Ultimately, many of these students will find their way to employment or continued education as they complete their certificates and degrees.

WATC recently received a Title III, Department of Education grant for $2.25 million. This “Pathways to Success in Health Sciences” grant will help WATC build and enhance program opportunities for students in health care and expand outreach in student services and academic support services. The vision behind the grant is to better meet the needs of our community in health care careers.

With the National Aviation Consortium $14.9 million Department of Labor grant funding expiring in September, we’ve been defining how best to sustain and expand on work we’ve accomplished during the grant. We have a business plan and an initial organization in place.

We had support for this work from the Manufacturing Institute, the workforce development arm of the National Association of Manufacturers.

We plan to create a larger, national consortium by adding national industry associations, certification providers and aviation employers. The strategy is to link providers and buyers of aviation talent programs in a national talent supply chain organization managed out of WATC’s National Center for Aviation Training.

The goal is to drive enrollment for educational institutions while improving the efficiency and reliability of talent fulfillment results for employers. Reviews of the plan by colleges, industry associations and employers on the plan has been positive. WATC plans a formal launch later this year.

WATC has been delivering excellence in education since 1965, but we know we must continue to build on this tradition with quality faculty, talented students and state-of-the-art equipment. Together with our education, community and industry partners we can help create a hands-on learning environment that promotes participation and prepares students for further education or career experiences, or both.

Sheree Utash is president of Wichita Area Technical College. Learn more about WATC at