LC State student David Mitchell and his family

David Mitchell and family


LC State meets students where they are in life, even in hospital beds

Lewis-Clark State College likes to say it meets students where they are and helps them get to where they want to go.

One such non-traditional student, David Mitchell, found that to be true during the 2022 spring semester from his hospital bed. Thanks to the instruction methods used during the pandemic, Mitchell and other students are finding new ways to succeed.

Mitchell, age 34, is an engineering support specialist for Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Lewiston and would like to be promoted to a technician in the department and continue to advance. In order to earn the necessary skills and degree to advance, he enrolled in the industrial electronics technology program at LC State in 2021. Because of his full-time job plus being married (Michelina) and helping raise four children (Sabin, Talos, Braxton and Kaiden), he decided just to take one class per semester in the program.

His first class was with instructor Tony Kuphaldt, an instructor-on-loan from SEL. Kuphaldt is the author of the Modular Electronics Learning Project, which is an open-source collection of tutorials and problem sets designed for inverted instruction of electronics in a two-year college program.

For the last 15 years, Mitchell has battled health issues. He was originally diagnosed with ulcerated colitis and has had more than a dozen surgeries related to it, including having his colon removed and an internal pouch inserted. Unfortunately, he was misdiagnosed and it wasn’t until recently he was correctly diagnosed with Crohn’s Colitis, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that effects the lining of the digestive tract.

Most of his surgeries took place in Seattle, including one during spring break in 2022 to correct some of the previous surgeries. Mitchell was taking the initial class in the program, which uses both Zoom and in-class learning, following the teaching model that was used during the pandemic.

“I had surgery near the end of spring break and was in the hospital recovering when classes started up again three days later,” Mitchell said. “I was on Zoom and it wasn’t like I could really hide among the other students because at that point, you are still in recovery and drugged up. It was a bit sketchy for me at first because of me trying to keep up in the hospital because you always have nurses monitoring you and checking up on you, and I was sleeping a lot. But my struggles then had no bearing on how the course was or the opportunity to continue doing the class. Tony was great. He really helped me.

“By that point in time David was very familiar with the inverted course format and so the only adjustment for him was using his laptop PC to participate in class sessions from a different physical environment.,” Kuphaldt said. “He was able to make himself available for these sessions at the regularly-scheduled times, and that meant he could still participate with his classmates as usual.”

Kuphaldt does remember one day the class fell on a time when Mitchell was traveling to the hospital. He said Mitchell still was able to participate by Zoom in the car and that Mitchell had a good sense of humor about it all.

Mitchell was out almost a month – two weeks in Seattle and another two at home – before he was able to get back in the classroom. He said Kuphaldt’s availability was critical. Outside of the one-hour class, Kupholdt remains in the classroom and is available to students if he is not teaching other classes.

“I could email him and say that I have a question for him and ask if he is available to Zoom and talk about it,” Mitchell said. “That really helped because it’s not always easy to communicate something clearly through email. As long as you don’t need him physically during the theory hour, he always makes himself available. And you can just sit in the classroom and do your work and he will come to answer your questions as you have them.”

Kuphaldt said the theory courses are set up to help meet students where they are at.

“Prior to the pandemic all the theory courses for the Electronics Engineering Technology degree were set up to be inverted, which means students read tutorials on their own time prior to class, with the class session dedicated to discussing what they read and solving related problems,” Kuphaldt said. “This instructional design was chosen because it’s proven highly effective in face-to-face class environments, but it turns out also to work well for remote learning because the Zoom-based sessions with students are tightly focused on what they’ve read rather than being a traditional-style lecture. Once the pandemic hit we found ourselves well-situated for remote theory instruction.”

Kuphaldt said as for hands-on work, students were building their own portable lab workstations prior to the pandemic, and this also proved to be invaluable for when face-to-face classes had to go remote.

“With these portable lab workstations, students had most of what they needed to conduct electronic-circuit experiments safely at home.,” Kuphaldt said. “I dispensed parts kits for each student at the outset of the pandemic, and if a student needed more or different electronic components during the socially-distanced period I would arrange parts drops for them at school where they could drive by and pick up a sanitized box of components I left for them outside the door.”

Mitchell earned a passing grade for the class and continues on with his education. For the 2021 fall semester, he earned an A in his class.

“It was unfortunate because my surgery happened two-thirds of the way through the semester and right when we were hitting the harder material so I had a lot of catching up to do once I was more cognizant and less medicated.”

Mitchell said he has been told he won’t need more surgeries, but that’s something he has heard before. He is taking another class this semester and said that by taking one class per semester, it will likely take him close to six years to complete the program, but he’s enjoying it.

“Tony has a good history of knowledge and experience,” Mitchell said. “The things he goes over are very focused on the practical things of what you really need to be doing. It just seems there is an emphasis on more of the practical things that you are likely to see.”

Kuphaldt said the pandemic offered a lot of valuable lessons for academia.

“We learned it’s possible, for example, to maintain high standards of technical education despite new and challenging obstacles, and that the solutions created to meet these challenges continue to pay dividends today,” he said. “This is no small thing, as I’ve witnessed students in past years struggle to keep up in a challenging program of study when falling ill. It’s nice to have a new set of tools and some real-world experience on how to use them for cases like this.

“One important lesson is that Zoom is really an excellent tool for teaching,” he said. “It’s capacity for collaborative annotation of diagrams and illustrations has proven so useful to me, in fact, that we continue to use Zoom daily in our face-to-face theory sessions where students can use their own laptop PCs in class to sketch diagrams and place other annotations on a shared virtual screen. It’s better than having students walk up to the whiteboard (one at a time) and taking turns working through a problem. And, of course, continuing to use Zoom means we can offer these sessions to remote students simultaneously.”

Using this technology has proved to be a benefit for the students, LC State, and Schweitzer Engineering.

“This program was designed in close conjunction with technical personnel at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories to ensure graduates exit the program job-ready and able to meet the high expectations of employers who serve critical infrastructure,” Kuphaldt said. ”However, the program was also designed to be general enough in its scope that graduates are well-prepared for many different types of electronics work. So far, our in-field placement rate has been 100 percent with most of the graduates going to work for SEL and the rest going to the semiconductor industry. However, careers in electric power, radio communications, and other areas are also possible. It’s a very broad field with applications to suit many different personal and professional interests.”

“The more I’ve learned the more I’ve wanted to learn to do more so I can provide more support at work and answer the questions that are difficult,” Mitchell said. “I don’t’ like coming across something that I don’t understand or can’t understand. I want to keep progressing and although I’m like in the infant stage of this program, it is really helping me.”

Industrial Electronics student

Industrial Electronics Technology

Start with small computers and circuits or go big with aircraft and aeronautics in a program that covers a wide gamut and leads to a great career.