Institutions helping innovation

StudentsFrom trade education at the International Air and Hospitality Academy, to Clark College’s corporate training and degree programs, many of the area’s educational institutions offer students hands-on work with local innovators and businesses.

Today, the message from participating businesses and educators is that these hands-on programs are working.

An innovative relationship

It’s a symbiotic relationship between educators and innovators – one with advisory committees made up of professionals who work in the fields of study, helping to direct the educational programs.

Jane Cote, academic director for the college of business at Washington State University Vancouver, co-directs the business college’s Mentor and Analysis program (MAP). The program is a capstone requirement for business majors and involves a semester-long commitment between a student and local business. Cote said the businesses are typically established and ready for growth or expansion, which is where her students come in.

MAP students use their expertise to analyze the business, make suggestions and gain valuable hands-on experience, which helps to build their post-graduation resume. For businesses, the only cost is time and commitment to the students and their advisors.

Cote gets excited when she shares some of the projects that students have taken on – projects that include work with nonprofits, a bakery, a boat repair shop and a winery. While she won’t name names, one local winery is a definite stand-out for her. Cote said students suggested that the winery owner create a special sales rack for $10 bottles. The owner agreed, using bottles that were already priced at or near the $10 mark.

“He can hardly keep that rack full,” Cote said. “It made a huge difference in his profitability. It’s a very simple idea that the students had.”

Karen Schmeling, vice chancellor of academic affairs for WSU, said all of the college’s educational programs have some sort of real-world, hands-on component for education, no matter the discipline.

“We don’t want a nursing student to graduate without practical, real-world experience,” Schmeling said.

Tracking the benefits

The relationships created through work programs benefit the students, the professors, the organizations and the community, according to Schmeling. Additionally, she said students often go on to be hired by the organizations they interned with.

From the business perspective, Schmeling said professionals help to direct education that benefits their organizations and the community. Meanwhile, students, many of whom are from the area, develop professionally and are less likely to leave the community, which is not only a loyalty benefit for employers, but also contributes to the region’s economy (Schmeling estimates that 80 percent of the WSU’s students stay in the community after graduation).

Colleen Piller, marketing director for the International Air and Hospitality Academy and the Northwest Renewable Energy Institute, said students spend five weeks to nine months training in hospitality, culinary, airline and renewable energy programs. Tuition runs between $7,000 and $16,000, and each program partners with local businesses to give students hands-on training – a relationship that benefits everyone, according to Piller.

“It helps cut down on the labor at restaurants and it gives the students some hands-on experience,” she said.

More than just experience, Piller said the institute’s partnership programs often lead to local jobs, a nod to both the quality of education and the students. She estimates the culinary program has a 90 percent placement rate, 87 percent for hospitality, 65 percent for renewable energy and 48 percent for the airline program. Starting salaries are best for renewable energy graduates, ranging from $40,000 to $60,000. Hospitality ranges from $27,000 to $35,000, culinary from $24,000 to $34,000 and airline from $21,000 to $30,000, Piller estimated.

Clark College works with local businesses and organizations as well, with its corporate education programs and its credit courses. Ted Kotsakis, dean of business and technology at Clark College, said the economic downturn definitely spurred enrollments at the school, though funding took a hit. However, he said the college recently began a new program called mechatronics, which is described as a blend of mechanical and electrical systems. The program, he explained, was in direct response to area employers who need workers with specialized training. Kotsakis offered an example of a local dairy that manufactures 11,000 plastic bottles per month to support its operations. Those systems require workers who are versed in both mechanical and electrical systems.

Clark also has a public utilities program, which works with Bonneville Power Administration equipment to educate students, give hands-on training and ready them for jobs with Bonneville and other power generators. For the school’s corporate training, courses are offered and, in some cases, developed for local businesses, according to Tara Cox, marketing and communication manager for the college’s corporate training.

Educators across Southwest Washington agree – from advisory committees that help guide programs, to the hands-on internships that give students’ real-world experience and businesses a helping hand, these relationships truly develop the area’s workforce and economy.

Said Lynn Valenter, interim chancellor for WSU, “Part of what we’re charged with is being a partner in economic development.”