Five years ago, the new Fox Valley Technical College regional center in Waupaca was little more than a dream.
At the time, FVTC was operating out of the building where Office Outfitters is now located. Rumors were circulating that the center would be closed due to lack of community support.
Dr. Jack Rhodes, who was then chairman of the FVTC board of directors and president of the Waupaca Area Community Foundation, began speaking to local residents about building a new center.
A committee to raise funds for the project had been launched in December 2006. Spearheaded by attorney Richard Johnson, the committee’s goal was to raise $300,000 toward construction costs and $100,000 toward a scholarship fund.
“If I had one good idea during the whole process, it was to ask Rick Johnson to lead the committee,” Rhodes said. “When your goal is $400,000 and you raise over $1 million, it is a spectacular success.”
The total cost for building the new center was approximately $2.4 million. Of that amount, the FVTC Foundation provided $1.8 million and the college’s capital budget funded $300,000.
“I think people were impressed by the fact that they could have an educational facility here in Waupaca that could be used by future generations,” Rhodes said. “It was not going to increase property taxes in our area because FVTC is a five-county district and they worked through the foundation. The college would have used the money elsewhere, so it was simply a matter of Waupaca saying we would like to receive our fair share of the money.”
Construction began in May 2007 and the new center opened in January 2008 in the city’s East Gateway business and technology park.
The new facility was 15,000 square feet, included a room for interactive video conferencing, a seminar room, two general classrooms, two classrooms for basic adult learning, two computer labs, a health-care training lab and an industrial training lab.
Sustainable energy concepts were also incorporated into the building’s design at the request of local residents. More than 100 photovoltaic panels provide about 25 percent of the facility’s electricity, while a large array of solar-thermal panels supplemented a traditional gas-fired boiler for heat.
“We’ve grown substantially since opening this building,” said Paul Shrode, manager of the Waupaca and Wautoma regional centers.
In the 2011-12 academic year, a total of 1,102 students have enrolled in classes and programs at FVTC-Waupaca. Shrode said that enrollment figure represents a 7 percent increase over last year and a 35 percent increase over the past four years.
The new facility has provided more space and allowed FVTC to offer more classes.
“In the past we were limited by the number of seats we had,” Shrode said. “We had to use space in other facilities and use studio space in some of our instructors’ homes.”
Shrode noted that the lack of adequate space limited the types of courses the local college could offer.
After the new building opened, FVTC expanded its health care program and hired a second instructor in health care. FVTC-Waupaca now offers a nursing assistant program and a medical assistant program. In addition, FVTC students can take classes toward becoming an EMT and first responder.
FVTC also offers a number of general studies classes, such as math, that can be transferred for college credits.
“We have students who graduate from high school and take some of their freshmen courses here,” Shrode said. “We also have an increasing number of students who are still in high school and taking college-level courses.”
Through online learning, video conferencing or a local instructor, FVTC students can earn credits that fulfill specific requirements for the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and UW-Green Bay. The classes range from general biology and technical math, to English composition, speech and technical reporting. Psychology, economics and sociology courses are also available.
Shrode said FVTC is now running two two-year programs in business management and management development.
“The programs are geared toward working adults who don’t have time to take traditional courses,” Shrode said. “They start as a cohort, a group of 18 to 22 students who study together. This allows us to bring in an instructor. The program is taught in an accelerated format with three classes taught in succession rather than three classes taught simultaneously.”
FVTC-Waupaca also offers courses that lead to associate’s degrees in applied engineering, industrial maintenance and electro-mechanical technology.
“We also offer targeted contract training in robotics, hydraulics, AutoCAD, computer technology and OSHA regulations,” Shrode said.
He noted that FVTC has partnered with area businesses to ensure that the classes meet the needs of their employees.
One local company that relies on FVTC for employee training is ThyssenKrupp Waupaca.
“Fox Valley Tech has done a spectacular job of making this regional center here our one-stop shop for employee training,” said Gordy Barth, manager of employee development and training at the Waupaca foundry. “It doesn’t matter what we need, they do what it takes to make it happen for us.”
Barth said the foundry used to send its employees to Michigan for robotics training. He said having the same training offered at FVTC-Waupaca has cut costs and saved time for employees.
“The college is providing specialized training in hydraulics, pneumatics, all of our electrical training, Visual Basic and AutoCAD, and the software that our engineers use,” Barth said. “If they don’t already offer a program, they design and deliver it extremely fast for us.”
FVTC’s Fast Track programs have also been utilized by foundry workers. Barth was among the almost 20 foundry employees who participated in the first class of Fast Track students.
“It has really helped me,” Barth said. “At the time, I was a training coordinator. Since then I have been promoted to my current position. I use what I learned in my day-to-day work.”
At any given time, as many as 100 foundry employees are being trained through FVTC, in large part because ThyssenKrupp has a reimbursement program to encourage students to advance their careers through education.
“The college was willing to work with us to make the tuition reimbursement program simple for us and the employees,” Barth said. “FVTC set up a direct billing system so the employees don’t need to pay first and then be reimbursed for their classes.”
“We want to be partners with the community,” Shrode said, noting that several graduates of FVTC’s E-Seed program and other courses have started local businesses.
For more information about FVTC, call 715-942-1700 or 888-324-3218 or go online to www.fvtc.edu.