Hennepin Tech gets $3 million for ‘Manufacturing Assessment and Development Centers’

Matthew Morse, as student at Hennepin Tech’s Brooklyn Park campus, tries one of the colleges two existing virtual welders Jan. 17. The virtual reality mask and welder are attached to a cart full of equipment. The grant-funded welders will be much smaller, and will display on a computer monitor instead of on a screen in a mask. (Sun Post staff photo by Jonathan Young)

Matthew Morse, as student at Hennepin Tech’s Brooklyn Park campus, tries one of the colleges two existing virtual welders Jan. 17. The virtual reality mask and welder are attached to a cart full of equipment. The grant-funded welders will be much smaller, and will display on a computer monitor instead of on a screen in a mask. (Sun Post staff photo by Jonathan Young)

Many in the manufacturing industry have years of on-the-job experience, but converting their knowledge to classroom credits that apply toward an official certificate can be difficult.

Hennepin Technical College is seeking to change that.

The college, which has campuses in Eden Prairie and Brooklyn Park, recently got nearly $3 million in grant money from the federal government to develop “Mannufacturing Assessment and Advancement Centers,” or “MAACs.”

“What we’re essentially doing is a mass-customization model, where everyone has their own path to the same ending,” said Eden Prairie-based Matt Leaf, the director of the planned centers.

“Many people are coming into college at different levels,” Leaf said. “… They’re bringing things to the table, but we really don’t have any mechanisms to assess where they’re at.”

Hennepin Tech plans to set up five assessment and advancement centers, including one at each of its campuses. One will be in the Bloomington work force center, one in the Wright Technical Center in Buffalo and one at a yet-to-be-determined location.

Each location will have virtual assessment tools and will serve machinists, welders and those in the field of robotics. Virtual assessment tools will include desktop welding simulators and small-scale machine-shop tools. The portable tools will help staff to assess skills quickly and accurately by watching students perform skills.

The college is also developing a standardized the process for awarding credit for prior learning based on demonstrating skills and assembling a portfolio. Right now the college can offer credit for prior learning, but there’s not a standard process, and it can be subjective and difficult. Leaf said a lot of work has been done to help schools grant credit for prior learning in general education subjects, such as public speaking or freshman composition. But there hasn’t been a lot of work to develop assessments of technical skills, such as welding.

Mike McGee, dean of manufacturing, works at the Brooklyn Park campus. He expects the assessment centers especially to benefit military veterans, many of whom have manufacturing skills and simply need a way to get credit for them.

“(Hennepin Technical College) is really committed to serving veterans in this,” he said. “ … We really want to help them with the reintegration.”

In addition to assessment services, the centers will also serve to make earning a certificate more convenient.

Using the grant funds, the college is developing curriculum that allows students to complete the lecture portion of classes online. Then they will be able to come to one of the centers to gain virtual practice.

With welding, for example, using the simulators teaches good technique.

“You can work to perfect your technique before you ever go to the welding lab,” McGee said.

That means students can practice at a center near them and only need to come in to the main lab perhaps three or four times a semester, instead of three or four times a week, Leaf said. And in a discipline such has welding, where supplies for an hour-long welding lab cost $200, the virtual equipment at the centers will also save money.

The flexible course scheduling will also allow students to work at their own pace. If they can devote 10 hours a day to course, they can finish very quickly.

“The idea is that we’re able to accommodate more people in a more flexible manner than they’ve seen in the past,” Leaf said. “… We’re getting them to that one-year certificate a lot quicker than one year.”

According to Leaf, the college hopes to begin enrolling students in the fall, but it may happen sooner if things go smoothly.

Info: matt.leaf@hennepintech.edu.

Contact Jonathan Young at jonathan.young@ecm-inc.com

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