Wisconsin’s first high school program to earn certification, college credits for diesel technology opens in Casco
CASCO – Students in three area high schools have the opportunity through a new program — the only one of its kind in Wisconsin — to not only earn credits toward a college diesel technician program, but also earn a diploma they can use to get a job in the field straight out of high school.
The Luxemburg-Casco School District hosted a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday evening, Sept. 29, for the Ahnapee Diesel Center. Housed in the district’s former middle school building on Church Street in Casco, the center is a partnership between Luxemburg-Casco, Denmark and Kewaunee high schools and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.
The program is the first credit-bearing, diesel-specific high school one in the state, as opposed to automotive courses that teach some diesel, and one of about 20 nationwide. It offers a two-year program for juniors and seniors to earn college credits, basically following the first year of the college's two-year associate degree program in diesel technology, while also receiving credit toward their high school graduation.
Upon finishing the program, students will receive a one-year technical diploma as a diesel maintenance technician, which could be used to find employment with a transportation or heavy equipment company.
The college credits can be applied to pursuing a degree in Diesel Heavy Equipment Technology at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, for off-road diesel use such as bulldozers or farm and construction equipment, or Diesel Medium & Heavy Truck Technology, for on-road equipment like semi trucks. The off-road studies take place on the college's Sturgeon Bay campus while the on-road studies are at the Green Bay campus.
"(Students) will be able to come out of the program and get entry-level jobs," Kathryn Rogalski, vice president of learning at the college, told the Kewaunee County Star-News after the dedication. "I think it's a great opportunity for Wisconsin. I'm happy we can be the first in the state to have a program that allows high school students to graduate with college credits."
Also, Luxemburg-Casco Superintendent Glenn Schlender said graduates might have an inside track to job openings with some of the program's 21 sponsors, many of which are in the trucking or equipment industry. Schlender said some of the sponsors also might offer scholarships for graduates to finish their diesel education at the college.
"Part of (the sponsors') participation is, they get access to these kids both here and at (the college)," Schlender said. "If it fits, I think oftentimes what they'll do is offer a position, offer scholarships."
The program opened as a need continues to grow for qualified diesel mechanics. Nationally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Services projects that an average of about 28,100 openings a year will arise for diesel service technicians and mechanics through 2030, according to a press release from the Luxemburg-Casco district.
"This worker shortage helped drive this funding," Schlender said. "(The program) is an idea whose time has come."
The center actually opened for classes Sept. 1, the start of the school year, and has 23 students in its first year: 15 from Luxemburg-Casco, six from Kewaunee and two from Denmark. Among them is Luxemburg-Casco junior Cynthia Falish, a speaker during the ceremony who is the only female in the program so far and whose family owns and operates a fifth-generation farm.
After the ceremony, Falish told the Star-News that it's important for farmers to have someone on hand to be able to repair equipment themselves, especially because things can break at any time. She said she's already helping three of her uncles fix things on the farm, using techniques she learned in class, and is considering continuing her education to earn the off-road diesel degree.
Falish also said it meant a lot to her to have the chance to study in a field in which she's interested but is stereotypically thought of as male-dominated.
"As a female, it's kind of stereotypical that I can't work on this," she said. "I've already had people come up to me and say I can't do this."
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Gene Francisco, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College associate dean of trades and engineering technologies, oversees the program on behalf of the college. The on-site instructor is Duane Lundwall, who before joining the college in 2018 spent 14 years as a professional diesel mechanic for the city of Green Bay and Murphy Concrete & Construction in Appleton.
The dedication showed off the extensive work led by general contractor Zeise Construction to convert the old middle school into a modern facility. Among other modifications, the main concrete floor was lowered by two feet to accommodate a full-size semi truck cab, the garage entry door was made taller and wider with a new 18-foot overhead door, and enhanced exhaust systems and ductwork were added to adequately distribute air and mitigate contaminants introduced through welding, grinding and fabrication.
The cost of the remodeling alone was about $350,000, Schlender said. Sponsors donated not only cash (about $278,000) but $150,000 worth of equipment to get the program up and running, including a 2017 diesel tractor from Paper Transport, Inc., a mini excavator and multiple engines from Roland Machinery and Komatsu, a skid-steer loader from Bobcat Plus to give students the opportunity to learn how hydraulics work, and professional-quality tool boxes for the students. Along with the corporate sponsors, one family donated a complete bulldozer engine.
The opening of the center is the final piece of work the district implemented upon passage of two referendums in April 2018 that Schlender said that authorized spending $27.8 million for major renovations at its schools. The first question asked for up to $15.9 million to build a new high school gymnasium and agricultural education building, a secure main entrance for the primary school, and upgrade the school's technical education equipment.
The second question sought $11.9 million to build a new middle school on the main campus in Luxemburg and finding a way to use the old building. Along with the diesel center, the building also houses the district's alternative school and a "clothing closet" for families in need operated by the district's social worker.
After the dedication, Schlender said the opening was "about as big as it gets for a number of reasons." One was the new opportunity for the students; a second was the working of the public-private partnership between the high schools, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and program sponsors; and a third was fulfilling the promise made to Casco residents during the referendum campaign to make good use of the now-former middle school.
"This building is evidence of keeping that promise," he said.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Wisconsin's first high school program to earn certification, college credits for diesel technology opens in Casco