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Private-public partnerships--a winning solution.

Alex Prunty, a student in Moraine Park Technical College's Engine Research and Development (ERD), says that "dedication" is the first word that comes to mind when he thinks of rebuilding an engine. He quickly added the more technical terms like crank shaft, pistons and valves to the discussion. "Those main engine parts have to work together, along with dedication from the technician, for an engine to perform at its best," said Prunty.


Just like an engine is taken apart and reassembled for optimal performance, a Moraine Park program that Leaches these exact skills is also undergoing a rebuild, with business and industry partners powering the program changes. Think of major Wisconsin manufacturing companies Briggs & Stratton, Mercury Marine, and Kohler[R] Engines as the crank shaft, pistons and valves that are turning Moraine Park's ERD program into a hub of top-notch education and training. The new and improved ERD program will provide skilled workers to major Wisconsin manufacturers backing the program.

What encouraged the rebuild? In early 2011, Moraine Park was tasked with making tough budget decisions due to challenging economic times for the state of Wisconsin. While the College considered every avenue, from operational to personnel to programmatic changes, it became clear reductions needed to be made in order to address the projected $3.1 million shortfall in its 2011-12 budget.

One of the programs slated for suspension was ERD, a program that, since its inception in 1968, has trained students to assist engineers in engine design and development. After much review, in May 2011, the Moraine Park District Board voted to officially suspend the decades-old ERD program.

Local Industry Powers Program

Fast forward one month later to June 2011, and ERD was once again on the college's monthly board agenda, this time to be reinstated. Why the change of heart? Following the May 2011 suspension of the program, leaders at Briggs & Stratton, Mercury Marine, and Kohler Engines came together and encouraged a program redesign to resurrect the program. Working with Moraine Park leadership, a partnership with these major employers who were willing to provide financial support for operational expenses was developed, allowing the continuation of the program.

"The ERD program is a unique program within the Wisconsin Technical College System," said Sheila Ruhland, Moraine Park president. "When these manufacturers heard of the proposed program suspension, recognizing that Moraine Park was the only two-year technical college to provide this training, it is not surprising to me they responded so quickly."

Why the quick response? At Briggs & Stratton, 54 percent of lab employees are graduates of Moraine Park. A little more than half the lab employees at Kohler Engines are Moraine Park alumni. "Briggs looks to Moraine Park as the best source of filling positions," said Craig Claerbout, a technical specialist in engine design and development at Briggs & Stratton and a 1986 graduate of the ERD program. "As a company, we are always growing and seeing a demand for more skilled workers. Graduates from the program can get family-supporting jobs and have great opportunities working in engine research and development. This is a program Briggs needs to remain strong."


Mercury Marine echoes the need, with slightly more than 50 percent of the engineering technicians at Mercury Marine graduates of the ERD program. By supporting ERD, Mercury is afforded the opportunity to help guide program administrators as they identify and develop appropriate employee skills and knowledge. "We're able to make recommendations regarding curriculum decisions that are frequently determined by changes in technology," said Dave Kahlow, engineering manager at Mercury Marine. "The results benefit Moraine Park, Mercury Marine and especially the ERD students."

Staying Current

To ensure that concepts being taught in ERD, a two-year associate of applied science degree program, are current with business and industry needs, an advisory committee meets twice a year. Committee members, comprised of key business and industry leaders in the field, recommend new and revised program curriculum and services.


Claerbout has served on the ERD Advisory Committee for ten years. "Applicants arc more valuable to us when we know they have been trained to meet our industry standards," he said. "By serving on the advisory committee, I know that trends in engine design and development are being relayed right to students so they are learning precisely what they should be."

"The business and industry partnerships provide an opportunity for students to see how the skills they learn in school are applied in an industry experimental/ test laboratory and [they] ensure our students receive the most current industry training on the latest technology," said James Eden, Moraine Park's vice president of academic affairs. "Keeping these partnerships strong helps keep our programs strong," he added.

In Moraine Park's efforts to continually look to their partners for guidance as the ERD program evolves, an ERD Steering Committee has been created, comprised of individuals who were key in the reinstitution of the program, including; Peter Holz, Briggs & Stratton; Mary Klowak, Briggs & Stratton; Dave Kahlow, Mercury Marine; and Amy Adams, Kohler. "This committee is essential in our efforts to continually develop our short- and long-term program planning," said Kelly Norton, Moraine Park Foundation director.

The ERD Steering Committee was created to aid in the long-term, strategic growth and development of the program. The committee reviews program benchmarks, provides corporate support, and aligns the program with appropriate business requirements. Internships have also become a focus of the committee, with plans to incorporate them into future curricula.

A Local and a Global Future

For Moraine Park's ERD students, the program gives them the opportunity for a secure future after graduation and beyond. Many of the students have familial ties to working with engines and have carried that passion with them since childhood.

"I basically grew up in the race shop," said Prunty. "I loved working on race cars with my dad and the rest of the family. Our family has been racing for almost 25 years, and this passion brought me to the ERD program at Moraine Park. I love working with anything automotive, and this program [allows] me to take my knowledge to the next level."

And the learning will continue after graduation day. "All these companies encourage lifelong learning, so advancement within the company is possible with further education," said Ruhland. "Certainly these partnerships exemplify the quality educational opportunities available to those seeking a technical college education."

Beyond the local level, many ERI) students will have the opportunity to make a global impact, reaching across continents, within these international companies by using skills gained at Moraine Park. Mercury Marine, Briggs & Stratton, and Kohler Engines are all headquartered in Wisconsin. Mercury Marine has opera (ions in various locations around the world and employs close to 5.000. Briggs & Stratton products are designed, manufactured, marketed and serviced in over 100 countries on six continents. Kohler Engines produces a wide range of gaseous, gasoline and diesel engines, from 71.3 hp, which are supplied to equipment manufacturers worldwide.

"Working with global companies provides our instructors and students [access to] current industry technology innovations, global industry perspectives and the pulse of industry demands," said Eden. "This partnership provides our students an understanding of global manufacturing concepts and the requirements needed to be a successful global manufacturing company."

Looking Forward

What began as tough budget decision turned into an opportunity for manufacturers and educators to form an equally beneficial partnership. By Briggs & Stratton, Kohler Engines, Mercury Marine, and the ERD Steering Committee working together, the ERD program will continue to provide manufacturers throughout the Midwest region with quality graduates and businesses with the ability to provide quality jobs.

And the data speaks volumes for (he positive impact of the partnership. In the fall of 2010, a mere two new students had enrolled in the program. Through active promotion of the partnership and clear demand for graduates, new students entering the program in the fall of 2011 grew fivefo1d to ten, while total enrollments doubled. In addition, student optimism for securing a job upon graduation pushed year-to-year retention rates up considerably from a paltry 50 percent in 2011 to over 71 percent in 2012. "Students appear more engaged in the program knowing there is a definitive list of companies vying for their skills upon graduation," stated Ruhland. "Not only did enrollments grow in the past year, but students enrolling as full time were up 350 percent, indicating they are anxious to complete their degree and enter the workforce."

"The Engine Research and Development initiative is a wonderful example of the role the Foundation plays in aiding the College to secure private dollars in support of programs," said Norton. "The Moraine Park Foundation continues to investigate and evaluate opportunities to more closely align with College initiatives. The rebirth of the ER 1) program was possible because of the collaborative the financial of the Foundation and College, as well as the financial support of our business partners."

"This past year has been a work in progress," said Ruhland. "Though enrollment numbers are not at the level we would like to SCC, we continue to look at ways to engage students into the pipeline and partnerships with our manufacturers. The difficult part of our journey will be if we continue to see low enrollment numbers after a three-year recruitment effort and ERD Advisory Committee input," Ruhland added.

Explore More

For more information on the Engine Research and Design program, visit

Visit to see even more examples of successful partnerships, and learn what you can do to build your own, at CareerTech 2012 VISION 2012!

Sheila Ruhland, Ph, D., is president of Moraine Park. One of Ruhland's most valued platforms is building business and industry partnerships. She holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Continuing and Vocational Education with a minor in Educational Administration. She can be reached at

Anne Killian is the public relations and marketing specialist at Moraine Park. Anne received her BA from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in public relations, with a business minor. She can be reached at
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Title Annotation:Business and Industry Partnerships
Author:Ruhland, Sheila; Killian, Anne
Geographic Code:1U3WI
Date:Nov 1, 2012
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