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Gov. Evers praises UW-Stout’s new workforce development certificate, tours academic labs

University ‘should be proud’ of state-aligned training program that supports students, employers


By Jerry Poling, UW Stout


A new program aimed at supporting workforce development in Wisconsin was praised by Gov. Tony Evers on March 7 when he visited University of Wisconsin-Stout.


Evers learned about a first-of-its-kind collaboration that began last fall between the university and state Department of Workforce Development. The university is offering a three-course certificate program, the Workforce Development Specialist Apprenticeship, for company trainers, with the aim to improve workplace training.


Focused employment and training solutions can lead to new and existing workers building better skills, improving productivity and, ultimately, staying on the job, which has been a challenge for companies facing worker shortages in a strong Wisconsin economy.



The number of workers in Wisconsin’s 113-year-old apprenticeship program is at a record high. UW-Stout’s higher education certificate aims to support those trades apprentices with better training — training the trainer — by leveraging university expertise.


“Having that direct connection between the workforce and the universities is so important. It’s good for the students, good for our economy and, frankly, good for the university,” Evers said. “UW-Stout should be proud.”


Enrollment in the certificate program has steadily increased with students from around the state. Tuition is free through 2024, thanks to grant funding.


Evers spoke with certificate founder Kelly Droege, assistant professor in training and development, and Beth Hein, executive director of Educational Pathways and Outreach at UW-Stout.



“This program has been a dream of mine for a long time,” said Droege, a UW-Stout alum who returned to teach after working in industry and seeing the need for improved training methods in the workplace. “It fits with Stout’s polytechnic, applied learning focus.”


Also speaking with Evers were two representatives from manufacturer Nolato Contour of Baldwin, Human Resources Manager April Robelia and training manager John Eisenmann. Several Nolato Contour trainers are enrolled in the certificate program.


“We’ve altered a lot of training because of this program,” Eisenman said. “We’ve already started applying things we’ve learned from the classes.”


The three certificate courses are: Workplace Learning Technologies, Foundations in Talent Development and Managing Organizational Change Initiatives.




Students in the certificate program, who can start taking the online courses at any time, also can apply their credits toward a bachelor’s or master’s degree program at UW-Stout. Amy Mustafa, of Springbrook, south of Hayward, is doing just that.


Mustafa works in human resources for Tamarack Health at the Hayward Medical Center. She also is working toward an online bachelor’s degree in management at UW-Stout, with a concentration in human resources. She worked in a bakery for 15 years and has been in human resources for nine.


“It’s exciting to learn about things that I know I will be able to use daily in my career going forward. The certificate program is a great opportunity for adult learners like myself to work toward being better business leaders,” Mustafa said.


Evers’ tour was led by Chancellor Katherine Frank, along with Provost Glendalí Rodríguez. Frank stressed how the certificate program serves the employee and the employer.


“As Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, UW-Stout leads the way in building new partnerships with business and industry and identifying flexible pathways for students to both contribute to and build capacity within Wisconsin’s workforce,” Frank said.



Governor learns about more industry collaboration


While on campus, Evers visited several labs in the Applied Arts Building, speaking with students, faculty and staff about new technology, innovative projects and industry collaboration.


In the Digital Process Lab, he saw large-format printers, laser cutters and 3D printers being used by art and design students but also students from engineering, science and human sciences. Lab Manager Zach Kolden told Evers how students are trained to set up and use the equipment for their projects, then take those skills with them into the workplace.


The equipment in the 3,000-square-foot lab mostly has been funded through corporate donations and grants, including from Gordon Flesch Company, Kohler and 3M.


Evers met students Michael Witt, of Port Washington, and Corey Hedlund, of Eau Claire, who have started an AI club on campus. The computer and electrical engineering majors provided a lab demonstration of AI-developed robots, along with engineering professors David Ding and Yuan Xing. Ding serves on the governor’s AI task force.


Professors Nagesh Shinde, graphic design and interactive media, and Kate Liu, packaging, explained an ongoing cross-collaborative course, thanks to a second $100,000 donation from Great Northern Corp. Students design packaging that Great Northern produces for clients.


“The biggest advantage of this is students get hands-on experience working with real clients,” Shinde told Evers.


Other packaging students explained facets of the industry and program, including the intricacies of packaging fresh food, using samples of a UW-Stout-named cheddar cheese in various resealable bags.


UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes. Learn more via the FOCUS2030 strategic plan.

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