The following article was reprinted with permission from the Janesville Gazette.
Cellphone cameras flashed.
Parents took videos as their children walked up on stage to sign the big card that was both a welcome and a source of congratulations.
On Thursday, Blackhawk Technical College hosted its first “Signing Day” for high school seniors.
“Signing Day” celebrations are usually reserved for top-tier high school athletes who are announcing where they intend to go to college.
At Blackhawk, the event featured a welcome speech from college President Tracy Pierner and a catered breakfast. Then, Vice President of Student Services Ed Robinson called each student to the stage to sign their name on the giant letter of intent. From there, students had their photos taken with the heads of their program areas and received a college T-shirt, cap and flag.
The event also featured proud parents and young men and women making decisions about their futures based on the current job market, economics and family ties.
“I applaud these students for choosing career paths that are needed in the workforce,” Pierner said. “I also applaud them for being proactive, for applying early.”
Since he started as president last summer, it has been one of Pierner's goals to increase the number of local high school seniors choosing Blackhawk.
The college's enrollment has dropped with the unemployment rate, a phenomenon typical for tech schools.
But Pierner thought other factors had driven the enrollment decline. Not enough local high school students knew what the college had to offer, and many of them thought of it as a second-best choice.
“We want to help people realize that for many students, Blackhawk Technical College should be their first choice,” Pierner said. “We want to make it a first-choice and a best-choice institution.”
Nobody seemed to feel bad about his or her choice on signing day.
The mood was joyful, the future students were both shy and proud to cross the stage to have their photos taken.
In talking with them, you learned that they were young people who knew what they wanted to study, understood Blackhawk was the fastest path to a career in the field of their choice and recognized the value of living at home.
Morgan Cook, a senior at Brodhead High School, planned to pursue an associate of applied science degree in agribusiness, science and technology.
Cook already works at Landmark Services Cooperative in Evansville. She weighs grain when it comes in and tests corn for moisture. She wants to work in agriculture.
Arienne Wehinger, also a senior at Brodhead, wanted to go into something related to computer technology, and Blackhawk was the common-sense choice.
Kari Kennedy, a Craig senior, is going into the medical assistant program, and she picked Blackhawk because it was close to home.
Her best friend, Mackenzie Riley, also a Craig senior, considered going to Carroll College for nursing, but that school doesn't have family housing and Riley has a baby she needs to look after.
“It's a smaller school, and there's going to be more one-on-one with teachers,” Riley said.
Blackhawk's increased outreach to high schools seems to be working.
About 250 high school seniors have been accepted for next year, said Katie Lange, enrollment development coordinator.
Last year at this time, about 70 high school students were in the pipeline.
“We've increased the number of high school visits, we've increased the number of partnerships (with colleges) for dual credit opportunities,” Lange said.
Lange said the college is doing more outreach to local schools for events such as Tech Exploration Days.
Lange has been working with Patty Hernandez, the Janesville School District's college and career readiness coordinator.
Hernandez, who was also at Thursday's event, said plans are in the works to bring all of the district's eighth-grade students to the college for Blackhawk's Tech Exploration Days.
“It's a chance for them to see what they can be,” Hernandez said.