Ƶ Named Top 10 Finalist

March 6, 2024

Ƶ was a top 10 finalist for the prestigious Bellwether Award, which was presented at the 2024 Community College Futures Assembly on Feb. 27 in San Antonio, Texas.

The Bellwether Award focuses on innovative programs, efficiencies or practices worthy of replication at other community colleges across the country. Annually, only 10 community colleges are selected as finalists in the workforce development category from applicants in the United States and its territories.

Ƶ competed with its project, Hands-On Independent Mechatronics Education Curriculum, which focuses on training future workforce in areas such as bioscience, automation and instrumentation. The project consisted of Ƶ offering four courses from its mechatronics associate of applied science degree program in secondary schools. Ƶ designed the program to be supported online with local hands-on labs, which allows flexible scheduling for the students, schools and adjunct mechatronics instructors from industry. For the 2023-24 academic year, 13 area high schools are participating with Ƶ providing professional development or trainers to secondary and postsecondary teachers from 11 U.S. states.

“We are very proud of our staff, instructors and industry partners in helping us be recognized for this program that is offering students in rural Nebraska an opportunity to prepare for high paying mechatronics-related careers with over 800 average job postings each month,” said Ƶ President Dr. Matt Gotschall.

The four mechatronics courses Ƶ and its industry and community partners include portable trainers that were built for a fraction of the cost of those typically purchased from vendors. Additionally, two local businesses sponsored their local high schools to ensure that each student had their own trainer and some help with the cost of instructional fees. A certified teacher, acting as a facilitator, guided the students through the semester. This allows students to earn both high school and college credit. Each facilitator attends 15 days of professional development during the summer.

“Introducing high school students to mechatronics courses at an early age will have a profound and lasting impact on our ability to cultivate a skilled workforce,” said Mick Yrkoski, director of machine and facility engineering for Behlen Manufacturing.

The program began in fall 2021 and since then, 275 students have enrolled and some 30 percent went on to attend Ƶ, with nearly 60 percent continuing in the mechatronics degree program. Several students received full scholarships from business and industry.

“Three years ago, I was in high school taking dual credit mechatronics courses,” said Ivan Varela, mechatronics student. “I am currently on a full-ride scholarship with Cargill and enrolled at Ƶ while working part-time as a mechatronics technician.”