Karin Pekarchik 2015-06-23 01:05:16
Starting a technical degree program similar to many of our sister institutions was an idea that floated around the University of Kentucky’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering for years, and it began to take shape during the tenure of former department chair and ASABE Fellow Scott Shearer. Because of a possible new budget model at the university, the timing finally seemed right to launch the new degree, which would fulfill a need in Kentucky for highly skilled graduates who were prepared for technical jobs in the agricultural, manufacturing, and construction sectors. Our alumni reinforced the concept that a non-engineering-based program, with a different skill set than that of an engineer—one with more handson training—was needed. I became interested in the new program, and about two years ago I had the idea that we could incorporate Germanstyle skills training into the program. I received approval from Nancy Cox, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment, to speak to the German Embassy about their “Skills Initiative.” Subsequent conversations with Mark Tomkins of the Chicago German Chamber of Commerce and feedback from our alumni influenced the shape of the program. The new degree program, Technical Systems Management (TSM), marries business and technical theory with skills, where the skills-based portion is reinforced through actual jobs the students hold during the semester, and an online portion that emphasizes the “soft” skills we expect the students to learn that semester. What we call “work-based learning” (WBL)—similar to a cooperative learning experience or internship—is only one part of the education, but it provides a bridge between student knowledge and industry expectations. In our version, the WBL component (100 hours, two credits each semester for a minimum of four semesters) is supported with an online course (one credit) designed to promote critical thinking and increase soft skills. Extended WBL is rarely found in similar four-year technical programs and is often optional in engineering programs, as is the case at the University of Kentucky. Much of the TSM program has been designed around WBL, including courses and academic-industry partnerships, so that students have the advantage of gaining practical, theoretical, and managerial skills. TSM students also get an early opportunity to develop a relationship with employers, with a view toward a potential job offer at graduation. After completing TSM 101 (Introduction to TSM) and TSM 102 (Introduction to Work-Based Learning) in their first year, students work 100 hours each semester while completing the following courses: TSM 201 WBL 1: Fundamentals of WBL TSM 202 WBL 2: Training Management and Leadership – Part 1 TSM 301 WBL 3: Understanding the Technical Work Environment TSM 302 WBL 4: Training Management and Leadership – Part 2 TSM 401 WBL 5: Conflict Management TSM 402 WBL 6: Capstone Some of the foundation for this curriculum resulted from meetings that current department chair and ASABE member Sue Nokes and I had with Mark Tomkins, as well as with Josh Benton, Executive Director for Workforce Development in the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. After more planning, our internal team—Sue Nokes, ASABE member Alicia Modenbach, Donnie Stamper, and I—began developing the program, and our first students—two juniors and three freshmen—enrolled in fall 2014. TSM has been approved as a minor in the University’s College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment and is under consideration at the university level. Until full approval as a major is obtained, TSM will be offered as a BS degree through the Individualized Program in Agriculture in the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment. As far as we know, it is the only four-year program of its kind in Kentucky and, as such, can serve as a strong model for the development of similar STEAM-focused technical programs in Kentucky and beyond (STEAM is STEM + Agriculture, or STEM + Art). From those first five students in fall 2014, enrollment has increased to ten for spring 2015. Meanwhile, our advertising for the program has been modest—one ad last year and promotion at events such as the National Farm Machinery Show and FFA Convention. So far, we have contacted more than 30 local companies and community partners about the TSM program, and all of them have given us overwhelmingly positive feedback. Once industry partners understand the concept, they like the idea of working with students and shaping their early work experiences. I teach TSM 102 (Introduction to Work-Based Learning), which is a professional development course in which students visit a new work site each week (13 to 15 work sites as the semester allows) to gain an understanding of different work situations and employment opportunities. Last semester we visited companies that showed early support for the program, including Alltech, Keeneland, Smucker’s, Farmers Feed Mill, and 3M. These site visits give employers a chance to meet the students for the first time and gauge their level of interest and knowledge. Industry partners are crucial to the success of the program. By involving them in the process, we hope to secure continuing support for WBL and the TSM program. The design of the program is still flexible. For example, requiring six semesters of WBL may not be necessary as the program grows; we can scale it back if needed. We are also looking forward to the tipping point in public awareness— that is, when the program’s reputation attracts employers to our graduates because the TSM degree is a proven fit for employers’ needs. So far, the results are promising. Here’s a typical testimonial from a prospective employer: “Students obtaining a TSM degree are ideal candidates for Archer Daniels Midland Company’s Ag Services Operations Management Program. Our Ag Services Operations Management interns and trainees have the opportunity to challenge themselves and develop their skills at one of ADM’s many locations in a hands-on work environment,” says Rebecca Crowl of ADM Ag Services. Karin Pekarchik, Distance Learning Trainer and Extension Associate Senior, Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, University of Kentucky, Lexington, USA, email@example.com. UK’s First TSM Student “During my first semester in the Technical Systems Management program, I did my work-based learning experience in UK’s Engineering Design Center. I was supervised and instructed by Dr. George Day, a research specialist in controlled environment systems engineering, and my coworker was Shelby Grinnan, the second TSM student. I worked an average of eight hours per week with heavy instruction during the first half of the semester, and I worked more independently on a project during the second part of the semester. Shelby and I went through safety training for laboratories, and we also discussed our goals and expectations for the shop experience individually with Dr. Day. This allowed him to direct his teaching to our interests and needs. “After learning and practicing the basics of the shop equipment, we started our project—to build a sheep-feeding wagon, often referred to as the “war wagon.” It was neat to be part of a research project and to help build it. We got to use all the skills we learned in the shop to construct the wagon, and we worked with ordering and purchasing the materials and supplies for it as well. The project gave me something to look forward to when going to the shop every day and something to take pride in here at UK. “My entire shop experience taught me how to communicate in a shop environment, work well in a group, be more precise and accurate, fabricate with machine tools, and weld. Working with Shelby was a great teamwork experience. Dr. Day worked with us in a slow, thorough, and positive pace throughout the semester. He discussed every detail and explained our lessons to us very clearly while making it fun, interesting, and safe. The experience allowed me to learn outside of the classroom and build relationships with others that will benefit my career in the future.”
Published by ASABE. View All Articles.