Update From President, Jason S. Wood, Ph.D. – October 22, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

I met a potential student this week who wants to double major in agriculture and positivity.  Yes, Southwest Tech would be an awesome place because of our excellent ag programs and emphasis on the Orange Frog happiness advantage.  Knowing that, I asked him what he wanted to be when he finishes college and he responded saying, “a jolly rancher!”

All jokes aside, we are fortunate to boast of high quality programs in agriculture due to the people serving our students.  Our ag faculty and staff are, in fact, considering ways to continuously improve their programs by making updates.  The trends in ag as an industry, including constant technological advances and the dire need for workers, make the research and prioritization process complex and even controversial.  We will grapple with issues of timing, sequencing, and balancing…but it is so much better than reacting by simply divesting to match low enrollments.

While we have increased our investments over the last half dozen years in both faculty and facilities in ag, our enrollments have taken a precipitous decline.  I am optimistic we can assume accountability for our future because we have some good people in place.

From my perspective, agriculture will always be a cornerstone at our college and something we strive to do with continued excellence.  Stay tuned as initial proposals are refined in preparation for advisory committee feedback to faculty, input from the curriculum committee, and academic council guidance…with changes and adjustments likely at each stage.  We will create the best possible proposal to go to the exec team and Board of Directors before consideration at the state level.  We’ll continue to grow quality ag programs!

Here’s an update from around the college:

  1. COVID Update
    1. The counties in our service district are still rated high for COVID transmission, but that is down from very high.
    2. Fortunately we are seeing fewer positive tests impact our college.  All programs are currently able to meet in-person.
    3. COVID boosters are gaining approvals but not recommended for everyone at this point.  We continue to encourage you to counsel with your primary medical provider as you make decisions about your health.  The Department of Wisconsin Health Services states, “COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, free, and widely available. Everyone 12 and older is recommended to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”
    4. We are researching additional safety protocol, like UV lighting, to determine if there are emerging technologies to keep people safe while on campus.  I commend the people on the COVID Ops team for all they are doing to put us in as good a position as possible.
    5. We will maintain our current protocol for the time being.  As flu season begins, please remember to stay home if you don’t feel well.  We will continue our current protocol with hopes the cases continue to decline.  It is possible we will be able to further re-open campus with fewer restrictions if the COVID numbers continue to go down but I cannot predict when that will occur.  Soon, I hope.
  2. Potential Students on Campus
    1. Thank you to the ag faculty and staff for hosting several hundred high school students for Ag day.  With strong k-12 relationships in place, we hope to continue to attract local students interested in pursuing careers in ag fields.
    2. Thank you to Darlington High School, especially Kalee Crist (DHS teacher), for bringing several dozen students to campus.  Kyle Bennett and Giulio Reyes did an excellent job coordinating a successful visit.
    3. Thank you to everyone for helping with Open House.  Unfortunately we did not see as many people this year but it was great to catch up with colleagues I haven’t seen in-person for a while.  We will evaluate if we continue this offering or adapt to something new.  I am grateful to the student services and marketing folks for their follow up with those potential students who expressed interest.
  3. Project Rise
    1. Many people continue to work behind the scenes to fix the issues with the finance module and prepare for the student, hr, and marketing modules.  These are definitely the tougher times when lots is happening behind the scenes but not much can be seen from the outside.  I am grateful to all of the people who are finding ways to help us move forward.
  4. Enrollment
    1. Please see the attached (within email sent to staff) report for an update on our enrollment for this year as of October 18.  It’s great to be up 3% in FTE!  Many people contribute to this success:  Faculty who do a great job in the classroom, Knox folks who help students learn tough concepts with extra support, marketing and recruiters who bring students to our college, and many others contribute too.  Special shout out to Heather Swatek and Chris Bowers for their work with our students with disabilities…Heather and Chris go above and beyond to help students achieve their goals!
  5. Facilities
    1. Our next facility renovation will be moved up from 2022-23 to the spring/summer of 2022.  Stay tuned for ways to provide input into remodeling the Lenz, eating area, culinary kitchen, and nearby supporting spaces.
    2. We will delay new construction planned for the multi-purpose student activity dome until 2022-23.  This will provide time to continue to develop the student learning initiative for business/marketing students.
    3. Special note to Andy Reynolds:  thanks for all you do on the day facilities crew and…good luck as you finish building your new home soon!
  6. Grants
    1. We have partnered with Southwest Health, UW-Platteville, and Platteville High School to apply for funding for a childcare center and related programming.  If successful, we will be responsible for providing Early Childhood Education courses.  The grant would help fund our faculty, a staff position, marketing/recruitment, and scholarships for students.
    2. We have also partnered with several entities to create the Driftless Innovation Network & Enterprise Region (DINER) in our three state area.  The intent is to emphasize food production and manufacturing to better serve farmers, increase industry diversification, and bring stability to local industries.  If successful in the first round, we will work with numerous partners throughout our service district to provide training and resources.
  7. Kudos to…
    1. Stephen Goss!  On top of being an awesome instructor in the classroom, Stephen has worked hard to understand the expectations for the new finance module.  Kelly Kelly indicated Stephen is exceptional at submitting perfect work which saves the finance team time.
    2. Krista Demo!  Krista teaches the dental assisting program during fall semesters with enthusiasm.  She brings real-world skills into her classroom and her students benefit by being well-prepared for jobs.  I still have the dental impressions of one of Krista’s students who taught me the skill!
    3. Bob Thompson!  Bob works behind the scenes as a programmer and is doing so much for Project Rise.  We are fortunate to have Bob tackling projects day in and day out.  Thank you, Bob, for focusing your talents on Project Rise!
    4. Christina Winch!  She teaches ag, runs her own farm, leads our Assessment Academy for the Higher Learning Commission, AND is working on a masters degree.  I’m impressed, Christina, and very grateful for all you do so well.
    5. Cindy Rasmussen!  Cindy recently took the time to share with me the great work of two volunteers who assist our students in Richland Center.  Specifically:
      1. Elizabeth Froh speaks fluent Spanish and she is helping three of Cindy’s English Language Learners to study for the GED social studies test. Cindy teaches them the other subjects, but Elizabeth can explain the history, geography, government, and related vocabulary much faster than Cindy.  😊
      1.  Sarah Hibbard began working with a special needs student before Cindy came to Richland Center, and she continues to teach him basic reading, spelling, and math. They have developed a relationship that is strong enough so that Sarah can help him with sensitive life skills.  Very important and meaningful work.   

In closing, please remember people are often going through more than we know.  A few caring words or a simple act of kindness can make more of a difference than we realize.  We do have several of our faculty and staff who are caring for loved ones in uncertain situations.  My heart goes out to them wishing we could extend healing and comfort in abundance.

Feel free to let me know if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions.  Please ask if there is something I can do for you.  Hopefully you can do something you enjoy this weekend with someone you love.



Posted in COVID-19, Update