Adapting to a Virtual World at Northcentral Technical College

This article is part of a series of interviews with our partner organizations in the Making Spaces program. Read more Hub Highlights here

The students in the bright yellow shirts are high school mentors working with middle school students on a variety of activities during an open house.

Tell us a little bit about your organization and the learners that you serve!

Northcentral Technical College (NTC) is a customer-focused, accessible provider of innovative lifelong learning that builds a globally competitive workforce. The College’s 5,900 square mile, 10-county district includes six convenient campus locations, as well several industry specific Centers of Excellence. With more than 190 program options, NTC is committed to being the community’s college and annually serves over 30,000 learners. Dedicated to delivering accessible educational opportunities, the College offers a variety of flexible course and program options, including Virtual College, continuing education courses, professional development conferences and seminars and more. In addition, NTC has over 400 transfer opportunities with over 50 University of Wisconsin and private four-year universities, creating a seamless path for lifelong learning. By establishing a close connection with the community, the College fills a critical and growing need for a skilled workforce by providing comprehensive, quality education and training.

What challenges has your organization faced this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how have you adapted? 

While this wasn’t the school year that any of us hoped or planned for, we are committed to providing the support that our students and businesses need to be successful in these uncertain times. As students dealt with severe disruptions in their personal, work, and academic lives, we continued to ensure that student success was a top priority. In March 2020, we made the decision to physically close all campus locations and we transitioned to an entirely virtual environment for learning and operations. As a national leader in online learning, the College was well poised to transition to entirely virtual instruction. Thanks to our investment and innovations in online learning, NTC is well prepared to offer students a meaningful experience and quality education remotely.

We recognize that NTC plays a critical role in supporting the industries that are on the front lines of this pandemic. We resumed labs/hands-on activities in select essential and critical program areas beginning in late April. This ensured that we were able to supply a steady flow of graduates needed to work in the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the Fall 2020 semester, we will be welcoming students back on campus and offering more ways to take fall courses than ever before including a blend of face-to-face, online and hybrid offerings. To safeguard the health of our campus community, we have modified many of our operations in accordance with public health guidance.

A middle school STEM camp at NTC in Fall 2019. Students used Photoshop to design a puzzle image and a laser to cut them out.

Why did you originally join the Making Spaces program? 

Northcentral Technical College has been serving as a leader in STEM education and the Maker movement. Making Spaces offered a framework and platform to formalize that work, as well as, professional development opportunities to improve our practices.  The national network of like-minded thinkers that has been established by both Maker Ed and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh lends itself to large scale collaboration.

How has participating in Making Spaces has helped your organization achieve its goals? 

As a community and technical college, one area we are always focusing on is what we can do to increase outreach efforts to our K-12 partners and community-based organizations within our geographic region. Making Spaces has assisted in this area by helping us identify 11 sites that we plan to work with over the next two years to implement maker education with their individual missions and visions at the core of the planning process. We have had the opportunity to go through the values mapping process and are looking forward to collaborating and sharing this information with each of our sites.

Tell us about a recent “win” or success you’ve had!

Northcentral Technical College recently completed a three-year NSF grant which focused on informal STEM + C (Computational thinking) education. This was the first NSF grant that we have been awarded and the project elevated our level of knowledge in many areas such as: Making, STEM education, mentoring, and learning in an informal setting. The grant had a dual focus of teaching making principles to high school students and community volunteers and mentoring the students on how to facilitate activities throughout the community. On a professional level we were afforded the opportunity to work closely with excellent educational partners in the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and the University of Wisconsin – Madison on the research and evaluation side of the project. As a part of the dissemination efforts our findings have been presented at the Maker Ed Convening at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and the Association of Community College Trustees conference in San Francisco.  Additionally, throughout the project Northcentral Technical College built many significant relationships with schools and organizations throughout our region which is creating a relatively seamless transition into the making spaces program.

Are there other makers, organizations, and/or educators in your community whose work you’d like to celebrate?

For over a century, people have been fascinated with the idea of flight. Unfortunately, getting involved in aviation can feel inaccessible or out of reach to the average person when in reality, the opportunities available are truly open for all. As a youth and community education organization, Learn Build Fly works to promote this inclusion in aviation and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) skill building by designing, fabricating, and flying homebuilt aircraft. The process of building an airplane is two-fold; while it gives youth and the community at large an opportunity to get involved in the aviation community, it also promotes the skills necessary for many highly-valued trades positions available to today’s youth in the greater Central Wisconsin area.

Through its programming, Learn Build Fly works to provide the community with an accessible introduction to aviation and demonstrate how anyone can be involved. Whether an interest lies in piloting, building, designing, engineering, or just the camaraderie of the aviation community, Learn Build Fly can foster this interest and grow it into a future passion or career. By exposing individuals to new technologies and skills, the organization also addresses two critical skilled labor shortages; those in the skilled trades and STEM fields and those specific to the aviation industry.

Making Spaces is a 30-month professional learning and capacity building program designed to support local leadership around maker education and build the foundation for lasting, embedded change in pedagogy, community, and culture. We are currently accepting applications for organizations to join our fifth cohort of Hubs!

Learn More About Northcentral Technical College


Location: Wausau, WI (USA)

Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *