NC3 Celebrates NIACC as a School on the Rise: July 2022

NC3 Staff Spotlight: Dominic Mascarella
June 28, 2022

Congratulations to NC3’s July 2022 School on the Rise, North Iowa Area Community College. Serving secondary and post-secondary students throughout the northern Iowa region, NIACC has issued over 2,400 certifications since becoming a Leadership School in 2014! NIACC started their career and technical education journey with Snap-on’s Transportation Educational Programs such as Precision Measurement Instruments, Torque, and Multimeter. NIACC has since expanded to include Advanced Manufacturing, Welding, and more!

We had the pleasure of speaking with Laura Wood, Division Chair of Agricultural and Skilled Trades at NIACC. Starting out in the agricultural skilled trades, Laura never saw herself working in education. After migrating towards business education, Ms. Wood eventually discovered her passion for helping others learn and has been involved in education since 1990. She said, “I didn’t realize it was something I wanted to do until my last semester when I had to teach. I thought, ‘I absolutely love this’. The rest was history. I started teaching at NIACC shortly after I graduated college and I’ve been here ever since.”  

Ms. Wood was instrumental in the implementation of skilled trades at NIACC. Their CTE programs started with three of Snap-on’s transportation certifications and have since progressed to Festo and Lincoln Electric certifications. Ms. Wood and others at NIACC enjoy using NC3’s curriculum as a way of providing their students with high quality CTE programs. She explained that partnering with NC3 has brought new opportunities of success for students. 

Diesel instructor Dennis Salz was one of the first instructors at NIACC to include NC3’s curriculum in their program. After noticing how eager students were to have their certifications completed in time for their high school graduation, Mr. Salz thought of a way to honor CTE students. He prints and laminates his students’ certificates, allowing them to proudly display their achievements at graduation. This has become a common practice across multiple programs, including the LEEPS program taught by welding instructor Ryan Bochmann. Ms. Wood said, “This is a way to provide our students with an opportunity to show their skills. Having the certifications shows businesses what our students can do. The students care about that, and it’s motivating to us. I want to be able to put things in their hands so that they can prove what they can do upon entering the workforce.” 

NIACC’s unique CTE programs are truly student focused. Students in CTE programs at this institution are 100% guaranteed a job upon graduation! Many students face financial and other personal challenges while completing a degree or certificate program. Ms. Wood highlighted the significance of NC3’s unique approach to learning. She said, As an NC3 school, we know we’re all in once we make the purchase. We can award as many certificates as possible. I appreciate NC3 for thinking through their process so well so that we don’t have to continually charge students.”

Organizations across the country continue to recognize NIACC for their significant contributions to CTE. Most recently, the National Science Foundation provided multiple grants in response to NIACC’s robust programs, including NC3’s robotics certifications. With over 100 years in existence, this is the first time NIACC has secured funding from the NSF. As in many other parts of the world, northern Iowa is facing a crisis regarding high unemployment rates along with a smaller population. The manufacturing industry is a significant contributor to Iowa’s communities. Gaining access to NC3’s manufacturing certifications gives the institution a chance to help their local economy retain businesses and important industries. 

This is a way to provide our students with an opportunity to show their skills. Having the certifications shows businesses what our students can do. The students care about that, and it’s motivating to us. I want to be able to put things in their hands so that they can prove what they can do upon entering the workforce.

Laura Wood, Division Chair of Agricultural and Skilled Trades at NIACC

Ms. Wood expressed her appreciation for the change in perception of CTE after spending 32 years in education. She invites high school counselors to NIACC’s facilities to raise awareness of improved work conditions and other facts involving the perception of skilled trades. As someone experienced in the skilled trades, she’s aware of the outdated ideas about CTE. She said, “These are very technical jobs where you must use critical thinking while working with your hands. It’s exciting to me that this is the first time that being involved in CTE is respected the same as someone with a four year degree. It’s about time.” 

Ms. Wood and others at NIACC are excited for NC3’s growth. She looks forward to expanding her CTE programs in a sustainable, meaningful way for her students using NC3’s programs. NIACC plans to further their progress in assisting with northern Iowa’s workforce needs, along with providing high quality learning opportunities for each student. Congratulations, once again, to NIACC for their many achievements! Thank you for allowing us to be part of your success in Career and Technical Education! 

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Stay tuned for our next School on the Rise recipient in August 2022!

Questions about NC3’s School on the Rise? Please contact Erika Staackmann, Customer Success Coordinator, 847.533.6985, Erika.Staackmann@nc3.net 


Background/Introductory Info:

Laura Wood – Division Chair of Agricultural and Skilled Trades:

My grandma was my 4th grade teacher. I was never going to be a teacher. My dad realized, despite not having a degree, that education is really important. If you wanted to do something with your life, you needed to have some type of an education. He had a rule that my siblings and I didn’t get a full time job until we had a four year degree.

Education was not what I was going into. I was a farm kid and started out studying agriculture. I started migrating towards business since I wanted to have my own agricultural business, but started moving towards business education with still no intentions of teaching. 

I didn’t realize it was something I wanted to do until my last semester when I had to teach. I thought, “Oh my gosh I absolutely love this”. The rest was history.

I started teaching at NIACC shortly after I graduated from college and I’ve been here ever since. I’ve moved around departments since then. I moved from teaching technical courses to agricultural students, then to the business division and eventually started overseeing several programs. 

How did NIACC begin issuing certifications?

I was instrumental in the implementation of skilled trades at NIACC. We’re a Snap-on school and students are able to buy our tools through our bookstore. The educational sales rep introduced us to NC3’s certifications. We started out on the automotive side with three certifications: PMI, Torque and Multimeter. That was fairly early in NC3’s existence. Over time, we’ve added more certifications on the program whenever we feel it’s necessary. 

What is your motivation for continuing?

NIACC is unique for the area. Not every institution is focused on issuing certifications in career and technical trades. For NIACC, I like the certifications so much because we can control what we provide to our students. 

I want to share a story that was an amazing eye opener to me. Our diesel teacher, Dennis Salz, was one of our first instructors to get certified with NC3 and likely still carries more certifications than any other instructor. One thing that he shared with me is that we have a lot of high school students. A student had asked him if they would have their certifications completed and printed by their high school graduation. Dennis said, absolutely and asked what he planned to do with them. The student explained that without the NC3 certifications they earned, they would not have any other recognition and awards at graduation. They wanted to put their certifications on their graduation table to let people know they excel at something. 

That brings goosebumps to my skin and tears to my eyes. A lot of times, we have students who are not athletes and are not in band. They aren’t the students that are getting traditional awards in high schools, but they have important skills. This is a way to provide them with an opportunity to show those skills. Like I said, I can’t control whether employers ask them about their certifications, but I can control that they have the ability to have the certification. That shows the business what they can do. That’s what motivates me because of students like that. I just want to be able to put things in their hands so that they can prove what they can do when they get out in the workforce. 

Our welding teacher, when his students do the LEEPS programs, he prints out their certificates and laminates them. This way, they can keep their certification protected and special forever. 

One of the things NC3 did right is that once you make the purchase, you’re all in. I’m not constantly nickel and dining students and trying to figure out how to pay for their certificates. As an NC3 school, we know we’re all in once we make the purchase. We can award as many certificates as possible. If you have that extra money piece attached to it, there’s always a concern. I appreciate NC3 for thinking through their process so well so that we don’t have to continually charge students. 

Any other ways NC3 has helped implement CTE on the scale NIACC desires to?

NIACC was able to secure a national science foundation and NC3’s robotics certification was part of our rationale as we wrote the grant. The college is over 100 years old, but has yet to secure a national science foundation grant before. When we tried this time, we had the idea to use something we were already doing like NC3, and because we know that certifications are something employers are looking for nationwide. We secured our first national science foundation grant in 2019 using level 1 Festo robotics. In October 2021 we were awarded our second grant from the NSF using level 2 as well. This was a way for us to use something that we already have to obtain funding that we would need.  

Any recent achievements or accomplishments?

Our biggest achievement was on the robotics side, getting access to those types of programs. That was a big lift. My introduction to NC3 was through automotive and is now on the manufacturing side as well. We know, in our area, we have a high unemployment rate and low population. The manufacturing thing is something that we’ll have to do to keep our businesses afloat. If we don’t do that, we’ll lose businesses. The more we can bring those in, the more students we’ll have. What I want is for students to cross their certifications over. Think about where robotics could fit in other industries like transportation and automotive. We already integrated our transportation programs with our manufacturing programs. That’s a big thing in Iowa, manufacturing. 

Any internships or scholarship programs that lead to full time employment post grad?

Well, every program in this building has a 100% placement rate. So, every student has a 100% chance that you will have a job when you graduate from here. In reality, our students are very highly sought after. We probably have five or six different jobs for every student. We have more jobs than we have students sometimes. We have students in internships for certain programs as it’s a bit of an ethical situation. Many  of our students are already working in the automotive industry whether it’s a diesel mechanic shop or automotive shop. Ethically, I have a hard time having students pay tuition for something they’re already doing. But in some programs, they don’t have that experience and need an extra push. Areas where they’re maybe not as familiar with the jobs or the jobs are less adaptable for part time employment for example our industrial mechanics programs. Those programs have work based learning where they earn college credit. Some students are doing this this summer. This lets them explore different types of businesses that they can see themselves working in. Because we have such high placement rates and great relationships with local businesses and employers, those employers already know what type of students we have. They’re ready to hire students. We’ve had to tell our local businesses to discuss their employment opportunities with their students early in the school year prior to graduation. 

How has the perception of CTE changed throughout your career?

I’m fortunate to have been in education since 1990. I was trained as a skilled person. I’ve always seen the dirty, dingy side of skill trades. 32 years in education and it’s so exciting to me that this is the first time that being a skilled trades person has higher value and more emphasis than a four year degree. It’s terrible that it took us this long to get here, but it’s an amazing thing to see that people in the skilled trades are respected the same as someone with a four year degree. It’s about time. These are very technical jobs where you must use your brain and hands rather than just one or the other. Students enrolled in our NC3 programs have a unique skillset. In Iowa, we’ll have a shortage of 100k HVAC technicians over the next few years. What will we be able to do when air conditioners break during the summer or furnaces need to be repaired for winter? It’s not uncommon for us to reach high temperatures in the summer and very low in the winter. It makes me happy that we’re starting as a country, to recognize that those are almost coveted employment opportunities for our students. I think that’s amazing that we’re able to do that now. It’s unfortunate that it took us this long to get there, but there’s no going back now. 

A lot of high school counselors push four year schools for certain students and community college for others based on their impression of their learning potential. Showing high school counselors the technology, NC3’s curriculum and other aspects of our programs allows them to see the improved working conditions for most potential career paths. Having those counselors see that is important, and having them see that they can make high salaries, they become aware of the true value of CTE programs. The other thing I share with our students is that it’s not how smart you are, but how you are smart. It’s about applying the knowledge to something the student is interested in. Part of our goal is to identify students’ strengths which leads to them excelling in programs they care about. 

Closing remarks

I’m excited to see how NC3 grows. To me, that has been something that has me in awe, especially when I go on the website and the list of industry partners grows. A lot of women like to shop, and I like to shop on NC3.net. I think about the ways I can use different industry partners in different programs. My main concern is doing it well, because we always have opportunities to grow. But we want to grow in a sustainable way. It’s not about having every certification, but it’s about implementing the curriculum in a meaningful way. 

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