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Hands-on Tech Programs Forge a New Path During Pandemic


When BSC's technical programs switched from hands-on learning to an online format, it meant BSC faculty needed to step into the unknown and forge a new path. That is exactly what they did, so successfully, in fact, that their efforts are attracting students from out of state.

Faculty regularly touched base with students to make sure they used the time away from the classroom and labs efficiently by completing their theory work online and even improving their skills either on the job or on simulators.

Even with the changes and delays, most students in technical programs were able to get their degrees and certificates on time or during the summer months. Students were able to make up their lab work in concentrated segments of time. For example, electrical lineworking students were able to complete it in seven- or eight-hour days. And they were able to do it safely as the poles were the recommended six feet apart, plus they were working outside.

“Tech students are here to learn to work, not learn to learn,” said Carla Hixson, recently retired dean of Current and Emerging Technologies. The end goal for most students in these programs is to learn skills for high-demand fields where they can get high-paying jobs.

Faculty collaboration with industry leaders was key in making sure students could do on-the-job training when they were not able to complete labs on campus. “The students with job offers were able to go to their employer and complete a workbook with us,” said Kyren Miller, National Energy Center of Excellence department chair, who oversees the lineworker program. The same was true for parts of the HVAC and automotive collision programs.

Miller said he appreciated BSC’s ability to accommodate his students’ needs. Mark Hagerott, Ph.D., North Dakota University Systems chancellor, allowed BSC to open up in special cases for students, such as safely bringing six students on campus in May so they weren’t delayed in getting trained for their commercial driver's licenses.

BSC’s efforts to keep students working on their education was noticed by students in out-of-state programs, even as far away as Washington. With programs on hold in their states, students wanting to complete their certificates and degrees were interested in coming here where they can do it thanks to North Dakota's proactive ND Smart Restart efforts.

Welding Simulator, Operated by Cole Edwardson
Welding students were already pros at following health and safety recommendations, since they wear heavy duty welding masks and gloves and work in individual booths. Nonetheless, when they were no longer able to meet in the classroom, they couldn't complete all of their lab work. However, Lee Friese, department chair for transportation and construction, estimates students were able to get about two-thirds of their lab work done thanks to the use of simulators set up in the student union.

“We pushed to provide the same quality we had in the past,” he said. “I want BSC to set the example of how education can be run.” Three out of the five programs he oversees were able to finish on time.

Friese said that during the pandemic they were able to test out online platforms for the automotive technician program, which proved successful as students remained engaged. As a result, he is looking at the future possibility of having students come to campus for the lab portion of the program a few days a week, while theory is taught online. “This would be convenient for a lot of students from rural North Dakota, such as those who farm and are busy in August and September with harvest. They could delay their labs until later fall.”

Miller also shared that through this challenging time, BSC was effective in coming up with a plan and being proactive. “Everybody stepped up to accommodate student and industry needs. We all learned from this.”

He said he is looking forward to this coming year as the lineworker program will graduate its 50th class in spring 2021. BSC’s is the only lineworker program in the state.

For information about these technical programs, visit our Limited Enrollment page.