Grants support initiatives that give students valuable skills, real-world learning experiences
Ensuring that its students graduate with the skills and experiences they need to meet the needs of existing and emerging industries in Wisconsin and beyond has long been a priority at UW-Eau Claire.
Campus leaders — faculty, staff and administrators — work hard to secure state-of-the-art technology to provide hands-on learning opportunities; build partnerships that lead to internships and other real-world experiences for students; and design curriculum that helps students develop the kinds of communication, problem-solving and creative-thinking skills that employers say they value most.
Thanks to its reputation for graduating students with the knowledge and skills necessary to excel in industries of all types and sizes, a growing number of funding agencies are investing in UW-Eau Claire as they look to support initiatives that will increase economic growth and build a stronger workforce in the region and state.
"Through these initiatives, we help meet workforce needs in the existing and emerging industries that are important to our state, while also creating new and expanded opportunities for our students and graduates,” UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt said. “I am proud that UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff are leading these kinds of innovative projects.”
Responsible Mining Initiative
With the mining industry becoming more important in Wisconsin, demand is high for people with an understanding of mineral resources, responsible mining practices and environmental protection.
Modern mining is a highly complex process with many regulations intended to minimize environmental impacts, said Kent Syverson, chair of the geology department.
“It’s vital that resources are extracted in an environmentally safe and low-impact manner, and responsible mining operations are a major focus in the modern mining and natural resources industry,” Syverson said. “Responsible mining requires professionals with backgrounds in a range of science fields, including geology, hydrogeology, restorative ecology and regulatory policy, as well as strong communication skills. Yet a dedicated program to provide the necessary training did not exist in the Upper Midwest.”
UW-Eau Claire’s Responsible Mining Initiative is helping meet the workforce needs of the mining industry and environmental protection by giving students a comprehensive understanding of modern mining and environmental practices in the mining and natural resources industries, preparing them for a variety of jobs in mining and environmental consulting industries as well as with governmental regulatory agencies, Syverson said.
Through the initiative, Wisconsin high school teachers will be able to take for-credit summer classes that focus on geology and environmental issues in the Upper Midwest and on careers in the geosciences. Seminars for high school students will be offered, introducing them to geology, natural resources, water resources and geoscience careers in the region.
To help meet workforce demands, faculty are building a new academic program focusing on economic geology, hydrogeology, restoration ecology, environmental protection and public policy.
“The program will produce creative, scientifically literate graduates who can make a positive difference in the mining, environmental and regulatory industries,” said Syverson, who often is consulted by counties and companies in Wisconsin and beyond regarding the environmental impact of mining.
The Responsible Mining Initiative also is helping to expand the geology department’s internship program.
Already, Unimin Corp., a mining company with operations in Wisconsin, is investing more than $50,000 annually in the university’s Responsible Mining Initiative, a commitment that includes monies for two well-paid summer internships, scholarships and grants specifically designated for UW-Eau Claire geology students.
Unimin also established five $1,000 scholarships for incoming freshman geology majors, four $2,500 scholarships for sophomore geology majors and a grant of $525 for each of the 19 students who enrolled in the geology department’s summer field camp, which takes students to Montana for geological fieldwork.
In addition to Unimin, this year geology students also had paid summer internships with Smart Sand Inc. in Wisconsin, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold in New Mexico, Agrium in Idaho and Ensign United States Drilling in Colorado.
“These internships help our students gain valuable experience while also earning money that will help them pay for college,” Syverson said.
UW-Eau Claire’s Responsible Mining Initiative was launched in fall 2013 after receiving $451,000 from the UW System Economic Development Incentive Grant Program.
Nurses for Wisconsin initiative
More than 30 nurses already are participating in a year-old UW-Eau Claire-led initiative aimed at increasing the number of nursing educators in the state, an increase that will allow UW System nursing programs to help meet the state’s growing demand for more registered nurses.
In recent years, a shortage of nurse educators in Wisconsin has greatly limited the number of qualified students who are accepted into nursing programs, said Linda Young, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences.
In 2012-13, 50 to 80 percent of qualified undergraduate students who applied to nursing schools at four UW System institutions were denied admission primarily because there was not enough qualified nursing faculty to teach them, she said.
The nursing educator shortage is especially troubling since demand for nurses is expected to increase in Wisconsin at the same time that many nurses in the state are approaching their retirement years, Young said, adding that the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development predicts that by 2035, Wisconsin will experience a 36 percent shortfall in the available nursing workforce.
The nursing initiative uses fellowships and loan forgiveness programs to encourage newly graduated nurses to immediately pursue their doctoral degrees and encourages established nurses to enroll in nursing doctoral programs full time at UW-Eau Claire, UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee or UW Oshkosh.
Nurses who receive the fellowships or participate in the loan forgiveness program will make three-year teaching commitments to UW nursing schools.
In its first year, the initiative has awarded 33 fellowships, and four faculty have been hired through the faculty loan forgiveness option, Young said.
The predoctoral fellowships support students pursuing either Ph.D.s or doctor of nursing practice degrees. Predoctoral nursing fellows receive tuition, fees and stipends. The postdoctoral fellows receive a renewable one-year fellowship, with stipend and benefits.
The loan forgiveness is an incentive to attract new nursing faculty with a Ph.D. or doctor of nursing practice degree. The program repays up to $50,000 of the new hire’s student loans.
With 86 percent of nursing graduates staying in Wisconsin to work, graduating more nurses will help meet the needs of Wisconsin’s health care industry, Young said. It also will help ensure an adequate number of nurses who are available to meet the health care needs of all Wisconsin residents, which will help strengthen the state’s workforce in all sectors, she said.
Geospatial Education Initiative
Students will receive the training, skills and workforce readiness needed to succeed in careers in the growing geospatial industry thanks to a new initiative that is transforming geospatial education at UW-Eau Claire.
Skills in geospatial technology — the technical tools used in global positioning systems, geographic information systems, computer cartography, remote sensing and field sensors that help in acquiring, storing, processing, analyzing and communicating information connected to a specific location — are highly valued in industry and government.
“These cutting-edge technologies are used to map, visualize and analyze the world around us,” said Christina Hupy, associate professor of geography and GEI project lead. “Increasingly, geospatial technologies and the resulting spatial data are in high demand as their value in decision-making and problem-solving becomes evident across industries ranging from health care to business development. Our initiative will increase the number of graduates who can meet workforce needs in the geospatial and related industries.”
The U.S. Department of Labor lists geospatial technology and its use as one of 14 “high-growth, high-demand and economically vital sectors of the American economy” and estimates its growth rate to be almost 35 percent annually.
UW-Eau Claire’s initiative capitalizes on the collective expertise and passion of its faculty in geography, business, physics and computer science as well as their relationships with geospatial-related businesses.
Through the GEI, faculty will connect with geospatial business partners in Wisconsin, gathering input on curriculum and creating high-impact activities that connect students with geospatial professionals.
“Partnerships with geospatial professionals will help us determine the industry-relevant skills and qualifications needed in the workforce,” Hupy said. “Industry experts will help guide our curriculum to ensure our students are getting the most relevant education needed to be productive and skilled employees immediately after graduating.”
An internship program will give students real-world experiences that will help them develop talent, build professionalism, make industry connections and gain the confidence they need to excel in the geospatial technology field, Hupy said.
New courses that will be part of a geospatial comprehensive major and certificate programs will incorporate cutting-edge and high-demand technology.
The interdisciplinary GEI was developed by a team of faculty members from the geography and anthropology, physics and astronomy, computer science and information systems departments. It was awarded a three-year $418,869 grant from the Growth Agenda for Wisconsin Grants Program.
- Students enrolled in the geology department’s summer field camp in Montana each received a $525 grant from Unimin Corp.
- UW-Eau Claire’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences is leading an initiative aimed at increasing the number of nursing educators in the state.
- Associate professor of geography Christina Hupy leads a discussion with industry partners on program learning outcomes at the GEI Business Summit at UW-Eau Claire this summer.