As the new dean of Career & Technical Education at Lewis-Clark State College, Jeff Ober find himself in an exciting position during what appears to be a key time for the college’s vocational mission.
Ober hit the ground running when he arrived in July with two major CTE projects. The first is the planning of the $20 million CTE facility that will be located near the new high school in the Lewiston Orchards. The building is expected to open for the fall semester of 2020.
The second project involves a National Science Foundation grant working with the Northwest Intermountain Metal Manufacturers Association to give high school students the necessary skills that area metal manufacturers need. LCSC will implement this new program in January working with high schools in Latah, Lewiston, Nez Perce, Clearwater and Idaho counties.
“I’m really enjoying it here,” said Ober. “It’s been really busy but I’m liking it.”
With the CTE facility, Ober and LCSC officials have been meeting with architects, determining the new building’s layout and design. He’s also working on which programs will move and which will stay on campus.
The current plans call for auto mechanics technology, CNC machining technology, information technology, engineering technology, heating, ventilations, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC-R) technology, and industrial electronics technology to move to the new facility. Also, the new industrial maintenance-millwright technology program would have one year of engineering at the new building, while the other year of welding will be at the current location.
“The goal is to make sure that the building gets done the right way,” Ober said. “We have toured a lot of other new CTE facilities and talked with them about things they wished they would have done differently. We want to get the building done in a way that makes sense and that we’re not coming back in five years and say ‘it’s not working for us, we want something more.’ We want to make it so it can expand and be useful for many, many years.”
Along with welding, staying on campus would be collision repair technology and diesel technology.
“We are designing the new building with the intent that we can expand it and move more programs up there,” Ober said. “We have room in the building with the layout and design to easily add.”
Ober said all Technical &Industrial Division programs LCSC offers would be able to expand because of the extra space they will have both in the Orchards and on campus.
“We’ve got programs that are at capacity where we can’t fit any more students,” Ober said. “We will now have more space and the ability to expand and get more students in.”
Ober said a key component to the new building is the cooperation between LCSC and Lewiston High officials.
“This high school is going to be building its own CTE facility up there and with the programs they have, we will match with ours,” Ober said. “So for students taking auto mechanics in high school and want to go on, we are going to be right there to coordinate with them and work with them. There will be a lot of coordination between the instructors, and the students will see our instructors and get to know the person who will eventually be teaching them. I think it could make the transition a lot easier for those students. They can see if they want to get employment, this is how to get from here to there.”
The second project Ober is involved with is the NSF grant to help get high school students trained to work in the metal manufacturing field.
The grant will allow up to 90 high school sophomores to take one online class during this spring semester taught by Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA). In one educational track, the students will take one online class throughout high school and then come to LCSC for a three-week summer course between both their sophomore and junior years, and junior and senior years. When these students graduate from high school, they will have the skills that metal manufacturers are asking for, Ober said, including the soft skills.
“They will either be able to go straight into apprenticeships, and we’re trying to line up apprenticeships for the summer after they graduate, or they can come back to LCSC and finish off their degree because they will have a head start on that degree,” Ober said. “They will be receiving college credits in high school.”
Ober said there are several groups involved with the creation of this class and program.
“This class was designed by the metal manufacturers in the area who said we need these skills,” Ober said. “So the program is designed around those skills and everyone is really excited about it. We have students from 22 schools that can take this course.
“The whole thing is brand new. We are connecting pieces and putting things together that have never been done before. We have a course that will offer high school credits, college credits, and an apprenticeship. No one has ever done that before that we know of.”
Ober said the response from the high schools has been great, especially from the rural schools that don’t have a shop or shop classes.
Ober said the course will teach basic skills online – such as computer-aided design and drafting, and mechanic design – and students will get hands-on experience during the three week summer course. He said students from out of town will stay in the LCSC dorms and will live on campus during the three weeks, returning home each weekend.
LCSC and the University of Idaho will partner to teach some of the courses. IDLA will teach the others. The Clearwater Economic Development Association (CEDA), the Idaho Department of Labor, and the Northwest Intermountain Manufacturers Association have played a major role in developing the course.
Ober said area metal manufacturers are having a hard time finding trained workers. He said manufacturers have to do most of the training, but if these manufacturers have the ability to hire skilled workers, it will make them much more efficient.
“Once the metal manufacturers saw all the details of the course, they said they like it and want to send their current employees to it as well,” Ober said. “I’m not sure how we can do that, but we are trying to work that out now.”
Ober said LCSC is examining the CTE programs it offers. He said the T&I division’s advisory boards, made up of local representatives in the CTE occupations, keep the college informed on what the needs are in the area.
“We don’t get a lot of ‘hey, can you start this program?’ ” Ober said about the training needs of area businesses. “Mainly, because when we hear that, we are going to start that program. We are usually able to do that.
“What we do hear from a lot of employers is that the biggest emphasis is the development of soft skills in workers. Any employer can tell you I can get the people in here, but they don’t know how to behave at work, when to show up and not really knowing what they are supposed to do or how to act. So we are trying to emphasize that more in our classes. At the same time, these businesses want the basic skills taught so the workers have some training. A lot of times, these employers will do the final training, or fine tuning of what they need.
“The good thing is that all of the employers we talk with and the advisory committees say similar things. They are very impressed with the training that we do and they feel like the students that come out of here are well-trained and well-prepared to go into their jobs.”
Ober said LCSC is looking at possibly adding a packaging program in the near future, and the college is currently applying for a grant to help create a degree program in some specialized packaging areas. He said there are other programs being looked at, but one of the key components in the decision process is if there is a need locally for a certain degree.
Ober said he is enjoying working at the college after arriving in the summer from New Hampshire. He is originally from Michigan, but only lived there for a couple of years. His father was a colonel in the Air Force and Jeff served five years in the Marines himself. That meant he has moved often – so often in fact that he’s lived in 49 states and 17 countries. This is the first time he’s lived in Idaho, and New Mexico is the lone state he hasn’t lived in.
“People ask me about my accent and say they can’t place it,” Ober said, laughing. “And I tell them I understand why because it really doesn’t match any one place.
“A lot of my background is in IT and I’ve spent a lot of time going back and forth with education and IT. It sounds funny, but educational administration is something I’ve always been good at and it’s something I like doing. I’ve been looking for a position like this one for a few years, in the Pacific Northwest specifically. It’s great to be here.”