December 28, 2015
By Chuck Haga
Habibo Abdi smiles easily, confidently, as she talks about her progress in an Adult Basic Education English class, which meets in space provided by Northland Community and Technical College in East Grand Forks.
She is 27, from Somalia, a refugee from that troubled land who came to Grand Forks, N.D., seven months ago. She works at the local KFC franchise, but she hopes that with better proficiency in English and other skills she might improve her situation.
“I am glad to be here,” she says, meaning the classroom she shares with a dozen other Somali women.
“I need more education,” she says. “Education is life.”
A debate continues across Minnesota over the evolving roles played by Northland and other schools in the Minnesota State College and Universities (MnSCU) system, whether the trade-school function may be overshadowing the traditional liberal-arts mission, especially in rural areas. Critics have challenged MnSCU’s “Charting the Future” planning document, a vision they argue emphasizes job training over the arts, literature and critical thinking.
But people here are excited about a specialized curriculum taking shape at Northland aimed toward a new pool of potential workers: international refugees. Collaborating directly with big manufacturing companies as well as community and service agency leaders, Northland is developing a course that would give students like Abdi and Dilli Rai, a Bhutanese man who works as a restaurant cook in Grand Forks, the specialized English and other job skills that could allow them to move up in the work force.
“Walk through our commons area and you would be amazed at our diversity,” said Brian Huschle, East Grand Forks campus dean (Northland also has a campus in Thief River Falls). “Somali, Bhutanese, Hispanic, African-American: These are members of our community, and Northland is in a great position now, with resources and connections with business partners and other groups, to take the lead” in helping them rise.
Dennis Bona, Northland’s president, said there is “an ethical, humanitarian passion that we are here to serve all students, all learners,” and that dovetails with area business needs. “We have an aging, retiring work force, and what an amazing resource this community has in these New Americans,” he said. “Without them, we don’t have people in the hopper to fill those jobs.”
Filling open jobs
Despite this year’s big slowdown in the oil industry, neighboring North Dakota’s unemployment rate remains one of the lowest in the country, and employers in the state’s larger cities are especially hungry for workers. The November unemployment rate in North Dakota stood at 2.4 percent while the October rate in Grand Forks County, the most recent available, was just 1.6 percent. “We have more than 2,000 open jobs in Grand Forks County,” said Keith Reitmeier, Grand Forks area manager for Job Service North Dakota. Northland’s job preparation program “is a good thing, a much needed thing, not just for the New Americans but for our employers.”
Aaron Brown, who teaches communications courses at Hibbing Community College and has voiced concerns about MnSCU’s shifting mission, said the Northland initiative seems appropriate as long as the traditional higher education mission is sustained. “That’s precisely why the community and technical colleges exist, to react to the community as it is,” he said. “When you have immigrants coming in and the goal is to help them thrive and assimilate, the community colleges can be an important part of it.”
Brown teaches students who plan to pursue bachelor’s degrees as well as students hoping to go right into trades. “Both (tracks) are very important,” he said. “We need to be responsive to the practical needs of training for welding or mechanics, but we also need to create citizens who can engage with the world, people who are able to ask questions and adjust and adapt to the world.” Responding first to New Americans’ need to be able to provide for their families through better jobs and bigger paychecks “is absolutely a valid idea,” Brown said. “They will be filling a community need, and also the human need (of the immigrants) to be valued in the community.”
Moving beyond entry-level
As many as 1,000 refugees have come to or been resettled in Grand Forks over the past decade, from Bosnia, Iraq, Burundi and other countries. Most recent arrivals, about 100 a year, are Somali and Bhutanese, many of whom spent 20 years or more in refugee camps before being cleared to come to the United States by the U.S. State Department.
“When they arrive here and try to get a job, they often face three hurdles,” said Barry Wilfahrt, president and CEO of the local chamber, who has been involved in planning meetings for the jobs preparation program. “The first is language. It’s not realistic to expect them to become fluent in a month, but it gets them started. And they need to learn English work terms. The second is basic manufacturing skills. And third, how do you fit into the American work force? What do you wear to work? If you were to take me and drop me in China and tell me to get a job, what would I need to know to be successful?”
Global Friends Coalition, a Grand Forks nonprofit that works with international refugees once they’ve been resettled here, may have a role in recruiting likely candidates for the jobs program, along with representatives of the local Somali and Bhutanese communities, who also have been involved in planning the new curriculum. (This reporter is a volunteer mentor and board member at the coalition).
“Some of these people developed good skills in the camps, working as teachers and leaders,” said Cynthia Shabb, Global Friends’ director. “But they had never had the opportunity to work, so they tend to get stuck in entry-level jobs here. If you’ve never been paid or never had that opportunity to work, you need help getting used to the work environment. This program will help build skills and understanding of what it means to have a job – work culture, work language, work ethics – so the New Americans have opportunities to advance.”
Adds Robin David, a University of North Dakota educator and president of Global Friends, “They need jobs that will allow them to flourish. They see that as such an important step if the next generation can move beyond where they are.”
A collaborative curriculum
The Northland program has been modeled partly after a skills development program that the North Dakota State College of Science has offered in Fargo since 2002, when international refugees began arriving there. About 870 people have been trained for jobs in manufacturing and nursing, said Janie Hulett, director. Many of those students “had few educational opportunities or had their education interrupted by war and violence,” Hulett said. “These classes provide an opportunity to open doors for people by providing the skill training necessary to prepare them for work above the entry level, thereby enabling them to obtain a higher standard of living for themselves and their families.”
Big regional employers, such as American Crystal Sugar Co. and Marvin Windows, are helping to build the curriculum for the new program, Reitmeier said. “We need to show our New Americans a path to work,” he said. “In many cases, they just need a little more to be ready to go. These folks come here and they want to get to work right away and make some money. But they need better English and other skills to move up, to work with a particular piece of machinery or become a supervisor. They need to learn about safety in the plant, where the hazards are, and employers talk about the need to improve understanding of the work culture in this country. You need to get to work on time.”
Details of the job-readiness curriculum are still being worked out, Huschle said, but he hopes the program can start within a few months. Funding will come in part from a three-year, $15 million U.S. Labor Department grant that Northland shares with 11 other Minnesota colleges. The tentative goal here is to put at least 50 New Americans through 150 to 160 hours of training in the first course. Students will pay fees, but Huschle said he hopes to keep the costs inexpensive, especially for those who will have to take time off current jobs and arrange for transportation and day care.
“We’ll be working with New Americans whose English skills are at or above sixth-grade level,” he said. “We’ll work with them to help them attain language skills specific to the industry: knowing the difference between an open-ended adjustable wrench versus a box wrench, for example. We will train them in the basic safe handling of tools, basic mathematics, fractions and decimals, basic computer literacy for automated systems and production line work. The individual who comes out of this program will have the skill set that manufacturers say they want. They can hire that person with a reasonable assurance that they’re ready for the work.”
Finding the right balance
The New Americans will join the 4,000 to 5,000 other students who attend classes each semester at Northland, about 40 percent of whom plan to transfer to a four-year school for a bachelor’s degree. “I’m comfortable where we are academically,” Bona said. “We are not a classic liberal-arts college, but students can get a good start here if that’s where they want to go.
“It would not serve us as a nation to eliminate the liberal arts” at community and technical colleges, he said. “But we do have a responsibility to point all education toward employment. All the different occupations out there – we have to prioritize what those employers are asking us to teach, such as technical skills. But they also are asking us to provide courses in critical thinking and civic responsibility. That’s also important, and we have to balance all that and fit it into the curriculum.”
Huschle, who holds a doctorate in philosophy and taught for 10 years before becoming an administrator at Northland, said the school offers a full range of liberal arts courses, including ethics, English composition, world literature, music and art.
“The programs are here to meet both needs,” he said.
December 18, 2015
North Dakota State College of Science graduate Matt Niess recently won the Oktoberfest Student Demo Contest earlier this fall. Niess, a Minot, N.D. native, is a 2015 graduate from the NDSCS Precision Machining Technology program.
Productivity Inc. hosts one of the largest single distributer machine tool technology biennial shows, known as "Oktoberfest", that demonstrates the latest technology available in the industry. Last spring, Niess designed a piston demo part which was demonstrated on a Haas Machine during the recent weeklong Oktoberfest show.
In recognition, Niess received two prizes while the NDSCS Precision Machining Technology department received a Haas Control Simulator. Niess is also a STEM scholar recipient and a fifth place SkillsUSA participant.
December 08, 2015
Ten North Dakota State College of Science Agriculture students recently attended the North Dakota State Postsecondary Agricultural Student (PAS) conference in Fargo, N.D. Congratulations to the following students who placed:
The North Dakota PAS organization was organized in November 1979 while the National PAS organization was officially founded in March 1980. North Dakota membership includes five chapters and over 160 members. National membership totals approximately 1,400 members from 62 chapters located in 18 states and is available to students in agriculture/agribusiness/natural resources postsecondary programs in approximately 550 institutions in all 50 states.
To learn more about the Agriculture program at NDSCS, go to www.ndscs.edu/ag.
December 07, 2015
The North Dakota State College of Science Concert Band and Concert Choir will hold their annual Christmas Concert at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 10, 2015 at the Bremer Bank Theatre in the Harry Stern and Ella Stern Cultural Center on the NDSCS campus.
The Concert Band will be performing several pieces under the direction of Laurie Lekang, including: “Many Sounds of Christmas,” arranged by James Swearingen, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” arranged by Michael Brown, and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” arranged by James Swearingen.
The Concert Choir will also be performing a variety of well-known holiday numbers under the direction of Bryan Poyzer including: “Carol of the Bells,” arranged by Peter J. Wilhousky, “Nutcracker Jingles,” arranged by Chuck Bridwell, and “O Holy Night,” by Adolph Adam.
The concert is free and open to the public. Free-will donations will be accepted at a reception following the performance in the lobby.
December 04, 2015
By Kevin Wallevand
A student who is training to become a paramedic in Fargo-Moorhead will return home a hero of sorts. Abdul-Rahman Mohammed attends NDSCS and F-M Ambulance as he prepares to become the first ever paramedic in Ghana.
It won't be that long until young men and women will be some of the newest paramedics in our region, but one of the NDSCS students who, with his class, trains at F-M Ambulance will travel beyond the borders of Fargo-Moorhead. Abdul-Rahman Mohammed will head home to Ghana.
"I will be the first paramedic in Ghana, yes. Pretty amazing," Mohammed said.
That's right, the first ever paramedic in the African country of Ghana.
"I will go back home and help develop a robust EMS system," Mohammed said.
They have EMTs, but no trained paramedics.
"And you think of all the things we have and think about going to a hospital. Not a big deal. Pick them up and go to a hospital. When you talk to them, they have decide what hospital, where is there a doctor available," Ron Lawler with F-M Ambulance said.
The North Dakota Guard has a long, close relationship with Ghana. Now this. Training paramedics like Abdul.
"When you go back home with this knowledge, this rich knowledge, and the goal is to back home and teach and share it with my people," Mohammed said.
Abdul will not only be a paramedic in the field in Ghana, but will teach others changing the face of emergency medicine for an entire country.
40 paramedic students will graduate from the program and head out to small towns and cities across the region.
Ghana has a population of 27 million.
December 02, 2015
By Angie Wieck
Kamil Khallaf secured just 25 interviews after submitting nearly 600 job applications. The 58-year-old had a successful career in his home country of Iraq, but he has found it difficult to find similar work in the U.S. He recently participated in a free program at Minnesota State Community and Technical College designed to help new Americans with the job search process.
New American Workforce Readiness Training teaches resume writing and interview techniques as well as basic math and language skills, time management and workplace safety.
G.L. Tucker, M State's dean of custom training, reached out to human resource professionals at some of the area's largest employers to determine what skills they felt new Americans were often lacking. He provided that information to instructors at Moorhead Adult Basic Education, and together they developed a 40-hour course.
Khallaf had the opportunity to put what he learned to use last week at a graduation ceremony where Tucker invited employers to interview graduates for possible job placement.
Brianna Nistler, an HR generalist with Tecton Products of Fargo, was impressed.
"They learned what (interview) questions mean and how to answer them. They learned to let employers know they're interested and how they can meet the needs of the job," she said. "I think this is a great program. I think it will be good for everyone who goes through it."
A recently released Greater Fargo-Moorhead Regional Workforce Study shows that many participants believe the new American population is one solution to this area's workforce shortage.
Nearly 1,100 refugees have been resettled here in the last three years. Employers who have hired new Americans complimented their work ethic, but said there is a "need for English language acquisition and orientation to culture in the workplace."
In addition to M State, new American workforce training is available at North Dakota State College of Science's Fargo campus and through Fargo Adult Basic Education.
NDSCS has offered a program for new Americans known as the Skills Development Project since 2002. Courses are available in manufacturing and certified nursing assistant training.
Introductory sessions teach English terminology for tools and processes, and soft skills such as time management, communication and workplace safety.
The introductory certified nursing assistant course prepares students for the standard CNA classes, which can be taken at NDSCS or at area employers such as Bethany Retirement Living.
Once the introductory manufacturing session is complete, students are encouraged to take an advanced session that teaches skills such as blueprint reading.
Director Janie Hulett recommends taking both the introductory and advanced sessions because she does not just want students to secure an entry-level job. She wants to see them advance.
"My focus, and it's been almost 14 years, it's always been on providing the specific skills so someone is ready not just for entry level, but for those advancement opportunities," she said.
She said those who complete the courses typically make $2.50 an hour more than those without similar training.
Hulett funds the program through grants from organizations like Job Service, the Otto Bremer Foundation and the city of Fargo. She meets with all interested students to assess their math and English levels, and overall readiness for the program. Sessions begin once she has assembled a class of at least nine students.
Fargo Adult Ed
The Fargo Adult Learning Center began offering a work readiness program this fall. The classes are held in conjunction with its English as a Second Language courses.
Students can begin by taking Job Skills 1, which is for students with low English proficiency, at any time. The Job Skills 2 class is for students with intermediate to advanced English proficiency. The next session will begin Dec. 7.
Classes focus on subjects such as basic math and English, soft skills such as communication and workplace safety, transportation, and resume-writing and interview techniques.
Jennifer Frueh, coordinator of the Adult Learning Center, said the program is still in its early stages. The curriculum may change some based on feedback from Job Service, employers and other community agencies, but she knows they're off to a good start.
"We heard from a student in our first class who had an interview the day after we had specifically worked on interview skills," she said. "She came back and told the instructor how grateful she was because they asked the exact same questions in her interview. She felt fully prepared."
What: New American Workforce Readiness Training
Where: Minnesota State Community and Technical College, Moorhead campus
When: A new session begins Jan. 18. Classes are from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays.
Contact: (218) 846-3766
What: Skills Development Project
Where: North Dakota State College of Science's Fargo campus.
When: Applications are accepted year-round. Classes will begin once the required number of students have been approved.
Contact: Janie Hulett at (701) 231-6918
What: Job Skills 1 and Job Skills 2
Where: Fargo Adult Learning Center
When: Students can begin Job Skills 1, which is from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Wednesdays, at any time. A new Job Skills 2 session will begin Dec. 7. Classes are from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Mondays.
Contact: (701) 446-2807
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