Business/IT Division Develop Local Synergy

Cindy Leverenz recently recalled one of her former students in the marketing program at Blackhawk Technical College whose family had a history of working in the hotel industry.

“She was looking forward to the day that she could run the front desk of a hotel,’’ Leverenz said.

While Leverenz was not about to diminish her student’s goal, she did have one piece of advice.

“Dream bigger,’’ Leverenz told her. “Don’t be afraid to dream bigger.’’

The last Leverenz heard, that student was living in Texas, working at a national chain’s resort and moving up theranks of the chain’s events coordinating division.  She was living her bigger dream.

That is just one of the goals of Blackhawk Technical College’s Business and Information Technology Program, which features 12 two-year degree programs, three 1-year technical diplomas and 13 certificate programs for students looking to delve into the business world or enhance their chances of making the rise on the business ladder at their current jobs.

For more specific information on the variety of offerings from the BTC Business and Information Technology Program, please follow this link:  http://www.blackhawk.edu/BusinessandInformationTechnology.aspx

The program features 20 full-time instructors and up to as many as 50 adjunct instructors, depending on semester demands.

Full-time faculty doesn’t live in an academic bubble. Instructors are required to periodically update their knowledge in their business specialty as well as bolster teaching skills through specific instructional programs provided at BTC or through the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS).

“We have a really strong faculty,’’ said Gina McConoughey, in her first year as dean of the Business Division. “The instructors really have direct experience in their technical fields and are able to give the students real life experiences and real life scenarios that then can be applied outside the classroom.

“That’s always the goal in a two-year college. But the idea that they have to maintain certification, not only in content but in instructional areas, that is very relevant. Those are really strengths for a technical college.’’

Those strengths are supported by the part-time staff, many of whom complete their full-time work days before heading to one of BTC’s three campuses to teach classes in their fields of expertise.

“It’s a good benefit,’’ McConoughey said of the adjuncts. “Our full time faculty keeps up with their fields, but someone out there who is working 40 hours a week in the field, it brings another perspective.’’

Another perspective to the program’s offerings is added by an Advisory Committee, a tradition of the WTCS’s system that connects BTC with the business community of Rock and Green counties. At least twice a year, administrators and faculty of the business program meets with representatives of for-profit companies and non-profit organizations to regularly assess their needs and how BTC can help address them in the classroom.

“We have industry experts coming in and saying this is what students are going to need out in the workplace,’’ McConoughey explained. “That keeps our program relevant, and we consider changes in our programs based on what they tell us.’’

The first Advisory Committee meeting this school year occurred in the fall when nine business representatives met with BTC faculty and administrators. The give and take included reports from BTC personnel about school programs and services before the business community reps offered their perspectives.

The messages are heard, and that is most often reflected in how the different programs in the divisions are altered to meet business needs. Beth Chambers, a Human Resources instructor, knows this first hand.

“The reason our program exists is primarily due to the last 10 years,’’ Chambers explained. “We would ask the advisory board what is needed and so many of the answers were human resources related, like training, interviewing, recruiting. For the system, our focus is on small and medium sized employers. They still need those human resources skills at their companies, even though they may not have what would be considered a human resources department.’’

Cindy Leverenz, the marketing instructor, has seen the evolution of the BTC Marketing Program over the past few years because of this critical input.

“We really rely on them to tell us what is going on in their world from a marketing viewpoint,’’ Leverenz said. “Over the years, we’ve changed up things. We heard a few years back from employers who said they needed employees with more computer skills to help with their web sites. So we’ve added that to the program.’’

Jeff Scott is seeing a change in his program thanks to the developments in the computer industry. This spring, he is teaching new classes in Web Application Development, and Android and I-Phone Application Development.

“All programs grow and evolve,’’ he said.

The input from an Advisory Committee often goes beyond what might be taught in a specific class. At the first meeting this school year, business representatives repeatedly referenced what are often termed “soft skills.’’

There is no question that an accounting student needs to show how he or she can take care of a business’ books. A human resources student must demonstrate knowledge of state and federal laws that governs a company’s relationship with an employee. An administrative assistant student needs the organizational abilities to keep an office moving in the right direction.

But does that accounting student have the communication skills to make a report clear to the reader? Does the human resources student recognize the difference between coaching an employee and telling an employee? Will an administrative assistant recognize how responsibilities in an office reflect on services to outside customers?

“It’s hard to be all things to everybody but we are trying,’’ Beth Chambers said. “We try to maintain flexibility.

“I like to think of our students as a portrait. I want to see them develop the way they need to develop. I want to make sure they are getting out of this program something I’d be willing to sign my name to.’’