Community leaders learn more about BTC

When Blackhawk Technical College recently invited community leaders to the Central Campus for breakfast and brainstorming, organizers were looking forward to a vigorous and informative discussion on BTC’s role in the community.

They succeeded, and then some, as the results of the event’s gathering were clear by session’s end.

“I am so glad to be connected with everyone here through this forum,’’ said Kevin Pulliam, pastor of the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Beloit.

Pulliam was one of about 70 local officials from civic and community engaged organizations who shared an international breakfast buffet prepared by the Culinary Arts students of BTC as well as local information on what BTC offers the community and, more important, should be trying to offer to current and future students.

“I’m learning about BTC’s willingness to be involved in the community,’’ said David Zimdars, the executive director of the Voluntary Action Center in Beloit.

After brief welcoming comments from BTC President Tom Eckert, Vice-President of Student Affairs Ed Robinson and Marketing and Communications Manager Gary Kohn, the visitors broke into seven separate roundtable discussions to address four issues of concern:

* The unmet needs relating to education and access to education needed to be addressed by BTC.
* Barriers faced by potential students.
* The extent of the “digital divide’’ current and prospective students may face.
* How BTC can form better community partnerships, not just with the organizations present but also with local businesses. 

One representative suggested that a similar but smaller scaled event could be offered by BTC on a regular basis and that the brainstorming topic be limited to one specific topic.

“The breakout was great,’’ echoed Linda Ward, president of the Beloit based Latino Service Providers Coalition.

When the visitors finished the one-hour group sessions, it was clear that the different groups struck many of the same chords in areas BTC already is trying to address. For example:

            Deal with child care    
transportation concerns.

Group representatives pointed out that many students struggle with the simple need of caring for their children and finding convenient rides to BTC Central Campus, which is located on Hwy. G between Janesville and Beloit. It was suggested that BTC investigate relationships with local churches and other organizations that may be able to assist in these critical services.

Provide information on financing an education at BTC.

Some representatives indicated that parents often need assistance in filling out Federal and school financial aid forms, and that older students may be intimidated by the costs of an education. One group urged BTC to better promote scholarship opportunities.

Recognize the need for computer literacy and availability.

It was suggested that BTC investigate a personal computer program for students. BTC also should examine its computer lab schedules to make sure they are convenient to most students, and promote computer literacy classes and computer availability provided by other organizations such as public libraries.

Advance the real economic advantages of a technical school education.

One speaker encouraged BTC to address potential students about “the great and expanding opportunities” in a technical school education and how it is a viable option for students who may not desire or are not equipped for the traditional four-year college program. It was suggested that BTC consider “boot camp’’ classes in a variety of areas to provide students with a “stepping stone to those not familiar with BTC’s’’ regular programs.

Address the concerns of minority students.

It was suggested BTC reach out to multi-cultural organizations in the area to address the needs of students for whom English is not their first language and collaborate with other community programs to identify other “disenfranchised’’ groups such as African American males.                    

Blackhawk officials closed out the event by thanking everyone in attendance and letting them know the college will be reviewing and discussing the suggestions made at the breakfast.  BTC organizers plan on reporting back to the group at a follow-up breakfast session on January 29.