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Wednesday, 25 January 2012 16:31

WMU, MCC looking to strengthen ties

Written by  Nathan Peck
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WMU, MCC looking to strengthen ties PHOTO: Nathan Peck
MUSKEGON — As West Michigan manufacturers complain about the dearth of qualified applicants to fill job openings, two institutions are working to bring their curricula in line to help fill the void.

The collaboration between Muskegon Community College and Western Michigan University Muskegon hopes to strengthen the connection between the two schools’ manufacturing programs.

Western’s manufacturing engineering program was designed as a 2+2 program, where half of the program would be provided by MCC, with WMU providing the second two years of the program on the community college’s campus, said David Meade, associate professor of manufacturing engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at WMU.

“As a 2+2 program, we are tightly coupled with the MCC program,” Meade said. “Our two key touch points are the manufacturing technology group, and math and science classes. They take care of that foundational education, and we can tap into these guys for additional courses, such as our upper level CAD courses.”

Still, the curricula of the two institutions don’t exactly align. Taking the prerequisite classes for WMU’s manufacturing engineering program doesn’t afford students an associate’s degree from MCC after completing coursework — an attractive option for working students who may be attending courses part-time. Similarly, pursuing an associates degree in industrial technology or arts and sciences does not allow the student to move into Western’s program without backfilling some prerequisite courses, said Tom Martin, chairman of the industrial technology program at MCC.

“Our associates degree in Industrial Tech doesn’t feed into what they’re looking for in an engineer,” Martin said. “We are trying to find out a way to create a model that could work out elsewhere in the state. We have to take a look at starting to break down some of these barriers.”

Martin is frank about the need to be relevant to students and employers in the region.

“This is about self-preservation. What we have to do is what is best for students,” Martin said. “There are a lot of employers calling for talented candidates. With (WMU’s prerequisites), you have a plethora of classes that don’t add up to an associate degree. Because it is two departments, really three with Western, we are starting to collaborate more and I’m seeing more opportunities for students. (MCC and WMU) are starting to ask if maybe we want a more formal relationship in the future.”

The majority of students entering the industrial technology program are headed right into industry, but approximately 20 percent have the desire and talent to continue on to get a degree in engineering. Martin sees his role as helping steer those students into the appropriate engineering programs at WMU.

“Eighty percent of the students I have, I know where they are going to end up. The other 20 percent I know I need to send on to Dave,” Martin explained. “The issue is finding out who those students are. We need to be more flexible in the number of paths that those students can go.”

On a personal level, Meade and Martin have worked to break down the walls between the institutions and foster collaboration. Drops in state funding, the economic downturn, and a focus on worker retraining means that both four-year institutions and community colleges have to reevaluate how they educate students.

“We have a stronger connection and people are thinking outside of their institution,” Meade said. “Over the last 30 years, four-year institutions have found ways to elbow out community colleges, (but) I’m trying to break that down. My model requires collaboration and that requires an understanding of each other’s programs.”

Read 2005 times Last modified on Monday, 13 August 2012 12:40

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