State Tech advisory council hopes to improve professional development

By Neal A. Johnson, UD Editor
Posted 10/14/21

State Tech President Dr. Shawn Strong on Friday told advisory council members at a special gathering that professional development is an important factor in the continued success of the …

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State Tech advisory council hopes to improve professional development

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State Tech President Dr. Shawn Strong on Friday told advisory council members at a special gathering that professional development is an important factor in the continued success of the college.

He noted it’s not always about technical programs, adding that all feedback on how to improve professional development is welcome.

“It’s good to see our advisors back on campus after a couple of years of virtual meetings,” said Dr. Strong during a meeting of most advisory council members, who were on campus to meet with staff from their respective departments. “Advisory councils are key to our success. Professional development provides opportunities to help students with more programs, and we have more internships than ever before.”

Dr. Strong noted the Dollar Up program has been successful as eight area electric cooperatives have agreed to participate. “They’ve jumped on that,” he said, adding that funding from adding a dollar to an intern’s wage for each hour worked comes to the college to help with a variety of programs. “We were able to leverage the $10,000 raised through the Dollar Up program to buy $40,000 in equipment.”

Advisory council members, who represent their industry, were encouraged to participate in the program.

Continuing the trend of growth the college has experienced in the last five years is Dr. Strong’s top goal.

“No other school has had the same trend,” he said. “This was the toughest recruiting class because of COVID but we’re up 100 students.”

Virtual tours on the school’s new website played a large role in the ability to recruit students, Dr. Strong noted. “We did what we could,” he said. “We had a lot of Zoom meetings.”

However, Dr. Strong said staff members are getting back to high schools for in-person meetings, and bus tours have resumed at the college.

This fall’s opening day enrollment — up 5% over last year — was at 2,037 students, up from 1,927, and Dr. Strong said the goal next year is to increase that number to 2,300-plus.

Retention is also important and stands at 82%. “Students decide in the first two weeks whether they’re going to stay in school,” Dr. Strong said. 

Regarding COVID-19, Dr. Strong said the school has no mask mandate in place. “So far, we haven’t seen any issues,” he added.

For students who commit to State Tech, Dr. Strong said the college has taken a “tough love” approach. “We have an intensive advisory team,” he said. “If students don’t attend class, we aren’t going to waste each other’s time, and kick them out. That approach has worked very well for us because we want students who want to be here.”

Currently, there is a 73% graduation rate, with students going through as a cohort from one year to the next.

Those who complete their course of study have a practically guaranteed opportunity to immediately enter the workforce, with State Tech boasting a 99% job placement rate.

“If you want a job, you’re going to get one,” Dr. Strong told advisors. “We do one thing and do it better than anyone else. That’s why we are the ‘Employers’ Choice.’”

The career expo held in February was well attended and provided many opportunities for students. The event will be held on Feb. 9, 2022, and Dr. Strong hopes for an equally strong turnout.

Dr. Strong said morale is better as, “We have a better connection to students without masks on.”

Several activities have already taken place, from the Power Up that connected students with local vendors and provided entertainment, to the construction of a large smoker to cook the whole beef purchased at the Osage County Fair.

“It was a great way to engage students,” said Dr. Strong, noting that several departments collaborated to build the smoker.

State Tech has seen a lot of improvements and more are coming, Dr. Strong said, including a new clubhouse, driving range, disc golf course, and pool at Osage Country Club. 

New students ask what there is to do in Linn, and Dr. Strong said the improvements coming to the golf course will provide a great entertainment venue and something for everyone regardless of interests.

The development of a Commercial Turf & Grounds Center is also in the works, with $1 million in equipment from Toro to be utilized by students.

State Tech has received American Rescue Plan Act funds and because the college has had limited revenue shortfalls, these funds have been invested in the college.

“We are continuing to invest in technology, updating classrooms for virtual instruction in case we need it,” said Dr. Strong. 

A new Enterprise Resource Planning System will be launched in the next few weeks, a project that took 16-18 months to complete. New servers and laptops have also been added to improve connectivity for students and staff.

The school’s strategic plan was finalized last year and outlines financial accountability and sustainability.

“We’ve exceeded our expectations,” said Dr. Strong, noting the college has received more than $600,000 from external funding despite the pandemic.

To improve salary considerations, Dr. Strong said staff has received increases and there is a plan in place to reconcile the equity gaps that occur over time for various reasons like changes in the market for various jobs.

“We’re also coaching employees and helping everyone with their professional development goals,” said Dr. Strong. “We are working towards more of a shared sense of purpose and community.”

Overall, Dr. Strong said the advisory councils are an important connection between education and the workforce.

“What you provide is invaluable,” he said. “We are grateful for your input.”

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