What a Train Wreck!

Last week, a visit to the Public Safety Training Center that’s currently under construction represented another first for me!  I happened to be there on the day that three rail car tankers were being moved on site to create one of our outdoor training props—a tanker car derailment.  These tank cars had the capability of transporting several different products such as ammonia and chlorine.  The cars came from Indiana and were formerly owned by the Canadian National Railroad.  We purchased two of them and the third was donated by the Ergman Corporation, a scrap dealership from Lake Bluff, Illinois.

Rail car tanker

A huge Miron crane positions one of the rail cars at our new Public Safety Training Center.

Each of these rail cars is 60 ft. long and weighs 65,000 lbs. empty.  They were each lifted by crane from a rail spur in downtown Appleton and transported by about a 70 ft. trailer bed to the PSTC site at the airport.  When I was visiting, the enormous Miron Construction crane was lifting one of the cars from the truck transport onto the tracks that had been laid for this prop.  It was magnificent to see this thing dangle in midair!  What was truly amazing was to see this tanker right next to our FedEx Boeing 727 aircraft prop.  The tanker car’s circumference actually was larger than the fuselage of that airplane!

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A Powerhouse in Agriculture

As I was working in my landscape this weekend, I was thinking about a state report that I read last week on technical college enrollments by various disciplines.  One fact in all of these numbers really stood out to me.  FVTC serves 25% of the total student enrollment in Agriculture within the 16 colleges of the Wisconsin Technical College System.  I’ve always known we’ve had a strong program, but supporting Wisconsin’s ag industry with one quarter of the WTCS total enrollment is pretty incredible.

Speaking of our ag programs being strong, earlier this summer our faculty and staff in the Agriculture Department were honored by the Wisconsin Association of Agriculture Educators (WAAE) with the 2014 Outstanding Post-Secondary Agriculture Program Award at their state conference.  Congratulations to this great team!  We are very proud of your work and your collective accomplishments.

Members of FVTC's Ag team gathered to receive their state award.

Members of FVTC’s Ag team gathered to receive their state award. Front row L to R: Tim Duel, Tom Yost, Jason Fischer, Sara Maass-Pate, Lynn Jerrett. Back row L to R: Joe Sinkula, Randy Tenpas, Jeremy Hanson, Mike Cattelino, Dale Drees, Nick Schneider, Kevin Rauchholz. Not pictured: Jim Beard, Roxanne Rusch-Olesen, Corey Lee, Jerry Fischer, Nancy Buchholtz.

I look at both quantity and quality when I think about the powerhouse our ag department really represents.  The quality recognition comes in the form of the WAAE award, which was based on our student employment outcomes, the department’s commitment to advanced technology, and the outstanding industry partnerships they’ve formed with companies such as Case IH, Service Motor Company, and others.  The quantity factor comes by serving so many students who are clearly finding value and opportunity through these programs in an industry with significant need for technicians and operators.

Just as my landscape and gardening work never seems to be done, we have much to do to support our agriculture industry!  I can’t think of a stronger team to lead the way.

Success Has A View

I feel like I don’t really leave the office sometimes because I see our college wherever I go.  Most visibly, it’s hard to avoid noticing the college’s name when you see our truck driving students navigate their way around roads and highways in semis and other specialized trucks.

Every time I see our trucks around the community, for starters I remind myself to be patient!  Most recently though, I found myself reflecting on the distinctiveness of this career and how it’s changed with new technologies and better comfort.  On the other hand, one thing that hasn’t changed is the high demand for these skilled drivers.

When thinking about truck driving as a career, it’s easy to focus on the challenges associated with moving big, bulky vehicles across the country on little sleep.  I’ve learned, for example, that perceptions like these, albeit sometimes true, do not represent the big picture when it comes to this important segment of the transportation industry.

Take, for instance, how today’s skilled truck drivers themselves look at the profession.  One of our recent completers of the college’s Truck Driving program, Robin Grapa, touched many of us here when she shared her story in a recent issue of Women in Truckingmagazine.

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Rubbing Elbows with Global Businesses

Workplace training is one area that flies a bit under the radar in higher education, but it is certainly a vital part of what we do at Fox Valley Technical College.

I’m amazed at the different types of businesses that our expert workplace trainers get to rub elbows with on a regular basis.  In fact, I often stop in my tracks and take a step back to ask myself, “Wow, we really do this for that company?”  In particular, I marvel at the number of global businesses, many of which are Fortune 500 ™ companies, that look to Fox Valley Tech to train their employees.
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It’s Time to Put the “Body Farm” to Rest

You may have seen the flurry of media recently regarding a forensic training field at our Public Safety Training Center (PSTC). The concept of an outdoor forensic training field may make for a tempting headline, but it is far from being anything final.

I’m sure you may be wondering about this development, so I’ll attempt to provide some clarification about this proposed aspect of the overall facility.

First, the concept of an all-season forensic training field has been included from the very beginning through all planning and referendum communication phases of this Center. The very first rough drawings of this facility included this potential outdoor lab, as did early conversations with community leaders in 2009.  As the project progressed, we often addressed questions about it, but this part of the Center wasn’t highlighted because it’s by no means the primary focus of this new facility. From the beginning, it was considered a longer-range project for possible development in the future.

Right now, the forensic training field is only a concept, an idea, a possibility for further consideration.  We are nowhere near actual implementation.  Before any action is taken, we would need to address regulatory requirements, reporting standards, and operational processes, let alone the research and development our staff would need to undertake.  We have many more critical priorities than this, both in getting the PSTC up and running and across the College overall.  Ultimately, we may determine that it simply isn’t worth pursuing if the regulations are prohibitive and/or costly.

Looking back, it’s important to remember that public hearings were held to provide information and answer any questions on all of our referendum projects, which were widely supported by the public in 2012.  FVTC delivered more than 125 community presentations, our web site included detailed information on the projects, and communications were sent to municipalities, planning commissions, the DNR, and many other agencies.  We sent letters to the adjacent property owners to inform them about the PSTC and invited them to contact us with any questions or concerns.

We were also required to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment for the PSTC development.  In that report, the forensic training field was specifically referenced in terms of secured access, visual appearance, and odors.  This was made available for public review and feedback, and a public hearing was held specifically on this report.  The final document has been posted on our website since it was published in September 2012.

Our local media sources have really gotten ahead of themselves on this one; perhaps some of our own exuberant and well-meaning staff has as well. I find it very interesting that all of this media attention has generated a number of inquiries from people about donating their bodies for this type of research, as well as contacts from several universities worldwide interested in working with us at this facility. They, too, are perhaps getting ahead of themselves.

Is there merit to the idea of creating the nation’s first all-season forensic training field to support forensics education, training, and research?  Absolutely.  But, as I’ve tried to convey, there’s a lot more homework to be done.  And if this moves forward at some point, it will need to be done with respect for process, laws and regulations, neighbors, and communications that are appropriate and timely.

Amazing People at Work, 24/7

What makes my job so enjoyable is working with people who do amazing things.  Sometimes these amazing deeds are accomplished with a lot of behind the scenes people and processes, making the outcomes even more impressive.

Recently, I learned of quite a story from staff in our National Criminal Justice Training Center (NCJTC).  Through this Center we lead many national training initiatives with other agencies in programs such as AMBER Alert, Human Trafficking, and Internet of Crimes Against Children (ICAC).  The story reminds me once again of the amazing people who work tirelessly day and night to keep our communities safe.

A detective from a police department in Illinois attended an ICAC undercover training session delivered by the NCJTC.  The Center holds many of these types of specialized training sessions throughout the year, which bring law enforcement personnel together from across the country, sometimes attracting international participants. Continue reading

Wall to Wall Energy at this Job Fair

As I arrived on the scene at our recent and first-ever Manufacturing Job Fair, it had the makings of being at a big sporting event… lots of people, plenty of energy, and certainly something at stake.  At this event, however, the winners were everyone who attended.  Everywhere I looked I saw one hand shake after another, plenty of smiles, and great connections being made between career seekers and regional manufacturers.

Over 450 visitors attended the job fair.

Over 450 visitors attended the job fair.

As you see by the photos, every inch of wall space had to be used on the north side of our Appleton campus to accommodate the nearly 470 visitors who attended the job fair.  These individuals had the chance to meet with any one of 70 employers that were on a mission to find qualified candidates to address their workplace needs.  Most of these visitors were our own students, and some of them were even bused here from Oshkosh.  It was also great to see many faculty members join their students at the event.

Our Student Employment Services department and Manufacturing division did an outstanding job of putting on a world class event.  I learned that the job fair had originally filled in about two weeks, and then we worked at creating extra space so we could welcome those partners that were on a temporary waiting list.

70 employers were looking for qualified employees.

70 employers were looking for qualified employees.

The first thing I noticed as I had the privilege of greeting the industry representatives was the energy level between prospective employees and employers.  I learned again that this vital sector in our region is thriving, but needs more people.  These employers took time out of their busy schedules to be here because they believe in the value that a Fox Valley Technical College graduate brings to the workplace.

So, if you have a skill or a desire to learn a trade in areas like automation, welding and metal fabrication, machining, electronics, mechanical design, and electro-mechanical technology, to name few, I can say that this is the time to pursue a promising career in the manufacturing sector. The energy and opportunities at this event had me wishing I was 18 years old again!

More information about the Manufacturing Job Fair, including a list of employers that attended, can be found here >>