Gov. Evers praises new workforce development certificate, tours academic labs

University ‘should be proud’ of state-aligned training program that supports employees and employers
​Jerry Poling | March 8, 2024

A new program aimed at supporting workforce development in Wisconsin was praised by Gov. Tony Evers on March 7 when he visited UW-Stout.

Evers learned about a first-of-its-kind collaboration that began last fall between the university and state Department of Workforce Development. The university is offering a three-course certificate program, the Workforce Development Specialist Apprenticeship, for company trainers, with the aim to improve workplace training.

Focused employment and training solutions can lead to new and existing workers building better skills, improving productivity and, ultimately, staying on the job,  which has been a challenge for companies facing worker shortages in a strong Wisconsin economy.

Professor Kelly Droege, second from right, of UW-Stout talks with Gov. Tony Evers about the Workforce Development Specialist Apprenticeship during Evers’ visit March 7 to campus. Also at right are John Eisenmann, of Nolato Contour in Baldwin, who is in the program; and Chancellor Katherine Frank.
Professor Kelly Droege, second from right, talks with Gov. Tony Evers about the Workforce Development Specialist Apprenticeship during his visit. See full caption below. / UW-Stout

The number of workers in Wisconsin’s 113-year-old apprenticeship program is at a record high. UW-Stout’s higher education certificate aims to support those trades apprentices with better training — training the trainer — by leveraging university expertise.

“Having that direct connection between the workforce and the universities is so important. It’s good for the students, good for our economy and, frankly, good for the university,” Evers said. “UW-Stout should be proud.”

Enrollment in the certificate program has steadily increased with students from around the state. Tuition is free through 2024, thanks to grant funding.

Evers spoke with certificate founder Professor Kelly Droege, assistant professor in training and development, and Beth Hein, executive director of Educational Pathways and Outreach at UW-Stout.

Nolato Contour employees, from left John Eisenmann, Carlene Manske, Lucie Roe and Joe Dravland, are in the workforce training certificate program at UW-Stout.
Nolato Contour employees, from left John Eisenmann, Carlene Manske, Lucie Roe and Joe Dravland, are in the workforce training certificate program at UW-Stout. / Contributed photo

“This program has been a dream of mine for a long time,” said Droege, a UW-Stout alum who returned to teach after working in industry and seeing the need for improved training methods in the workplace. “It fits with Stout’s polytechnic, applied learning focus.”

Also speaking with Evers were two representatives from manufacturer Nolato Contour of Baldwin, Human Resources Manager April Robelia and training manager John Eisenmann. Several Nolato Contour trainers are enrolled in the certificate program.

“We’ve altered a lot of training because of this program,” Eisenman said. “We’ve already started applying things we’ve learned from the classes.”

The three certificate courses are: Workplace Learning Technologies, Foundations in Talent Development and Managing Organizational Change Initiatives.

Professors David Ding, left, and Yuan Xing, right, and engineering student Michael Witt explain an AI-developed robot to Gov. Evers.
Professors David Ding, left, and Yuan Xing, right, and engineering student Michael Witt explain an AI-developed robot to Gov. Evers. / UW-Stout

Students in the certificate program, who can start taking the online courses at any time, also can apply their credits toward a bachelor’s or master’s degree program at UW-Stout. Amy Mustafa, of Springbrook, south of Hayward, is doing just that.

Mustafa works in human resources for Tamarack Health at the Hayward Medical Center. She also is working toward an online bachelor’s degree in management at UW-Stout, with a concentration in human resources. She worked in a bakery for 15 years and has been in human resources for nine.

“It’s exciting to learn about things that I know I will be able to use daily in my career going forward. The certificate program is a great opportunity for adult learners like myself to work toward being better business leaders,” Mustafa said.

Evers’ tour was led by Chancellor Katherine Frank, along with Provost Glendalí Rodríguez. Frank stressed how the certificate program serves the employee and the employer.

“As Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, UW-Stout leads the way in building new partnerships with business and industry and identifying flexible pathways for students to both contribute to and build capacity within Wisconsin’s workforce,” Frank said.

Gov. Evers learns about a special UW-Stout packaging and graphic design course involving industry clients from Professor Nagesh Shinde, second from left, and packaging major Greyson Hammer, right.
Gov. Evers learns about a packaging/graphic design collaboration with industry from Professor Nagesh Shinde, second from left, and packaging majors Dylan Frey and Greyson Hammer. / UW-Stout

Governor learns about more industry collaboration

While on campus, Evers visited several labs in the Applied Arts Building, speaking with students, faculty and staff about new technology, innovative projects and industry collaboration.

In the Digital Process Lab, he saw large-format printers, laser cutters and 3D printers being used by art and design students but also students from engineering, science and human sciences. Lab Manager Zach Kolden told Evers how students are trained to set up and use the equipment for their projects, then take those skills with them into the workplace.

The equipment in the 3,000-square-foot lab mostly has been funded through corporate donations and grants, including from Gordon Flesch Company, Kohler and 3M.

Evers met students Michael Witt, of Port Washington, and Corey Hedlund, of Eau Claire, who have started an AI club on campus. The computer and electrical engineering majors provided a lab demonstration of AI-developed robots, along with engineering professors David Ding and Yuan Xing. Ding serves on the governor’s AI task force.

Professors Nagesh Shindegraphic design and interactive media, and Kate Liupackaging, explained an ongoing cross-collaborative course, thanks to a second $100,000 donation from Great Northern Corp. Students design packaging that Great Northern produces for clients.

“The biggest advantage of this is students get hands-on experience working with real clients,” Shinde told Evers.

At another stop, Evers heard packaging major Olivia Leipnitz, of Menomonie, and food science graduate student Sreeja Gade, of India, explain their research on the environmental impact of different cheese packaging depending on the plastic used. They are advised by Associate Professor Min DeGruson while Assistant Professor Mary Paz Alvarez Valverde assisted with the presentation to Evers.

“This project hopes to pinpoint the consumer perceptions of each of these materials and gauge how best to move forward in the sustainability efforts,” Leipnitz said.

Gade noted that “there is a noteworthy lack of study on consumer views and acceptance of sustainable packaging solutions, particularly for cheddar cheese, a top-selling commodity in the United States. So, this study focuses on shredded cheddar cheese, and we provide consumers with tangible prototypes of various sustainable packaging choices to assess their desire to switch to more environmentally friendly options.”

###

Photo caption

Professor Kelly Droege, second from right, of UW-Stout talks with Gov. Tony Evers about the Workforce Development Specialist Apprenticeship during Evers’ visit March 7 to campus. Also at right are John Eisenmann, of Nolato Contour in Baldwin, who is in the program; and Chancellor Katherine Frank.


Eighty-six engineering students work to improve quality of life for people in rural Cambodia Featured Image

Eighty-six engineering students work to improve quality of life for people in rural Cambodia

Cross-disciplinary teams present prototypes at Research Day, Engineers Without Borders' U.S. Grand Finals design challenge
Young scientists share enthusiasm with UW-Stout professors, retired area educators at Science Exploration Day Featured Image

Young scientists share enthusiasm with UW-Stout professors, retired area educators at Science Exploration Day

Free family event at Colfax Red Cedar Preserve and Recreation Area proves community, university commitment to natural areas
‘Exceptional’: General Motors internships lead to job as engineer, national award Featured Image

‘Exceptional’: General Motors internships lead to job as engineer, national award

Julia Hellquist wasn’t sure at first if higher education was the right choice for her. No one in her family previously had gone to college.