Reader News: Ridgewater College partners with area high schools for hands-on learning opportunities – West Central Tribune

WILLMAR and HUTCHINSON — Early learning is a great way to learn technical skills. When high school teachers needed to advance their skills to make the best use of their latest technology, they turned to Ridgewater College for help. Faculty and staff were happy to answer the call with customized links.

“Ridgewater is the community’s college,” said Amy Birkland, Ridgewater’s admissions and outreach specialist. “We are here as a resource, and are always looking to collaborate and make meaningful connections with high school students, teachers and counselors for career exploration, community outreach and partnerships.”

It was indeed a partnership — one with Steve Hoemberg, then-director of outreach for the Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence — that set wheels in motion to serve and support area high schools.

When new agriculture teacher Cassidy Wiethoff attended a Train-the-Trainer small engine workshop last summer, she had no idea how meeting Hoemberg, the instructor, would benefit her and her Buffalo Lakes-Hector-Stewart High School (BLHS) students so much.


Teacher Takeover Day at Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart High School was an opportunity for middle school teachers and students to improve their technical skills and explore careers in agriculture, manufacturing, automotive and welding by working with Ridgewater partners for a day. BLHS instructor Cassidy Wiethoff, left, learns from machine tools instructor Greg Ryder how a computer can run a plasma water level for cutting steel plates into usable shapes and signs.

Contributed / Ridgewater College

As a new teacher, Wiethoff expressed interest to Hoemberg in having technical experts visit her classroom. Soon, Hoemberg connected Wiethoff, Birkland and his colleague Judy Barka from the Minnesota State Agriculture Center of Excellence known as AgCentric. Together, they explored ways Ridgewater could support BLHS and advocate for career and technical education (CTE) pathways.

The result?

About a dozen Ridgewater Tech faculty members, support staff, student action ambassadors, and Minnesota State liaisons headed to BLHS for a first-ever Teacher Takeover Day. In addition to helping teachers, they connected with more than 100 high school students in grades nine through 12.

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About Ridgewater:

Ridgewater College is a community and technical college with campuses in the central Minnesota communities of Willmar and Hutchinson. The college serves more than 5,000 students through its nearly 100 academic programs and more than 68,000 training hours for individuals and businesses through tailored training and continuing education. The college is a member of Minnesota State and accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Minnesota State includes 30 community and technical colleges and seven state universities serving approximately 340,000 students. It is the third largest system of two-year colleges and four-year universities in the United States.

“The goal was to provide a service to Cassidy and Jill Grams, two local CTE teachers,” explained Birkland. “This is Cassidy’s first year as a teacher, so our goal was to make sure she felt supported in her new role by letting her know that Ridgewater has resources to support her classroom. Because of the difficulty high schools face with busing expenses and shortages, we asked Cassidy, ‘Can we come out to you!?’”

Wiethoff welcomed the invitation, so five Ridgewater programs took their shows on the road.

“It really was a great day,” Wiethoff said. “It was so cool to see these kids having so much fun learning.”

She had one student experience so much welding that he didn’t want to leave to go to his next class. Another student told Wiethoff that he has improved so much that welding is all he wants to do now.

“As a technical vocational college instructor, I’m always happy to step into the environment of our secondary institutions to take in what they have to teach in terms of space, equipment, and resources,” said Greg Ryder, Ridgewater machine tools instructor. “The gifted educators reminded me of the importance of working together, collaborating and just being human.”

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Ryder taught Wiethoff some basics to employ her students on the school’s computer numerical control (CNC) trainers to explore manufacturing career opportunities, and introduced her to a computer-controlled plasma water level to cut steel plate into usable shapes and sign work.

KellyRuewithVirtual RealitypainteratBLHS_m.jpg

The virtual reality (VR) car painting booth was a hit for Buffalo Lakes-Hector-Stewart High School students who visited the auto body shop run by Kelly Rue of Ridgewater, right.

Contributed / Ridgewater College

Auto trade teachers Kevin Larison and Kelly Rue showed students how an ignition system works on a typical car, and related that to the small engines students were working on in class. They also introduced them to scan tools to diagnose problems like misfires.

“The virtual reality paint booth was awesome — my kids were still talking about it after lunch,” Wiethoff said.

Ridgewater meat cutting instructor Sophia Thommes spoke with the food science students, sharing details about this new program and the career opportunities.

Other action topics and activities during Teacher Takeover included college student stories about how internships connect learning to future careers, the importance of marketing action products, alternator dismantling, and practices to help people be good stewards of land and soil.

“The great part about this day is that as students explore different activities, they can connect those experiences with careers to further explore,” said Tammy Howe, Ridgewater agriculture coordinator. “There are so many great jobs.”

“Having the ability to work with the students directly was important,” said Ridgewater welding instructor John Travis. The visit helped him realize the daily challenge some high school teachers have trying to cram so much content into 50-60 minute classes, when that time also includes set up and take down. “We invited the teachers to come to Ridgewater so we could continue to build this relationship.”

Marshall High School teacher Michael Braithwaite recently received a Launch Your Future Today (LYFT) grant to purchase two car trainers – one for steering and suspension activities and one for brakes. The problem was to integrate them into classes.


Marshall High School instructor Michael Braithwaite brought about 50 of his career and technical education (CTE) students with him to see the Ridgewater College campus and explore both automotive and welding programs with Ridgewater faculty member Jon Friton, center.

Contributed / Ridgewater College

“Through our partnership with the Minnesota State Transportation Centers of Excellence, Steve Hoemberg made us aware of the coaches and that Michael could use some help learning how to effectively manage the coaches with his students,” Birkland said.

A few discussions later, Braithwaite came to Ridgewater in December to learn from faculty member Jon Friton and brought close to 50 students to learn the basics with him.

“Our automotive service technology faculty were quick to offer to help when approached with the idea of ​​training students and instructors,” Birkland said.

“I was learning right with the students,” Braithwaite said, “but then during lunch, the Ridgewater faculty showed me all the extra activities I can do with the coaches and suggested some tools our school might consider purchasing to improve the auto learning even more..”


Marshall High School instructor Michael Braithwaite, left, learned the ins and outs of learning and teaching with auto coach Ridgewater faculty member Jon Friton.

Contributed / Ridgewater College

To expand the impact of the visit, Birkland arranged for students to also explore other areas they were interested in: auto body collision repair and welding.

Students tested a transmission dynamometer, engine scan tools and diagnostic equipment, a robotic welder, a welding simulator and a virtual reality paint system.

“It’s been really good for all of us,” Braithwaite said.

As a current agriculture teacher, he is excited to use the trainers and the new skills in his automotive classes now, but also when his high school opens a new career and technical education (CTE) center next year where he will teach advanced automotive. and advanced welding classes.

Reader News submission guidelines:

Submissions for Reader News can be sent to: [email protected] Each item should include the writer’s name, mailing address and contact phone number, in case of questions. Photos must be high resolution, captioned and cannot come from Facebook. The full names of everyone in photos required for publication.


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