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Hawkeye Teaches Machining, English to Immigrants

posted on Saturday, July 4, 2015 in  College News

By: Andrew Wind, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

WATERLOO—Kossi Minekpo has completed his four-month training in computer numerical control machining at Hawkeye Community College's Metro Center.

But along with becoming proficient in operating computerized and manual mills and lathes, the native of Togo in West Africa also improved a few other skills.

"I learned English a lot, because English (is) my second language," said Minekpo.

He was among more than 20 of the 30 students enrolled in the course that are not native speakers. Along with hands-on career training, they received English language learner and math instruction, an approach called Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training.

A team of four instructors led the class -- two that taught the CNC portion plus two more that taught English and adult basic education. That "contextualized learning" is intended to address a skilled worker shortage by training people faster.

This was not the first time Hawkeye has offered CNC machining classes at the Metro Center using the team teaching model. It is the first time that instruction was tailored to students also learning English, though.

The I-BEST pilot program also marks the first time students are earning Hawkeye course credit -- three for the CNC class and two for blueprint reading. In the past, the Metro Center's CNC offerings have been noncredit. Students would have to move on to classes at the college's main campus to begin earning credits.

Line items to fund adult basic education and English as a second language through community colleges were added to the state's budget for the first time after the 2013 legislative session.

"The combination allowed us to do this," said Sandy Jensen, Hawkeye's director of urban centers and adult literacy. "This would have not been possible without those state dollars."

Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, who was instrumental in securing the funding, helped present awards Friday at a ceremony marking the end of the class.

Jensen and the instructors were pleased with how the class went, pointing out only one student didn't complete it.

"It has been a success for the students," said Jennette Shepard, the student success lead instructor. "All of them have grown so much and been able to do amazing things in the class."

She and CNC instructor Robert Mosley worked with half of the class -- a mix of English-learning students and others who are earning or have earned a high school equivalency diploma.

All parts of the curriculum were integrated, she noted, from the machining to the math.

"We called it 'shop math' to make it interesting, engaging and relevant to students," said Shepard.

Among the skills students had to learn was how to convert fractions to decimals, which is what they'll work with on the CNC machines.

"The majority of my students have historically not been successful in mainstream classes," she noted. "By making it relevant to them, that just boosts their success."

Tyler Nolting, the lead English instructor, and CNC instructor Jerome Amos Jr. worked with the other 15 students, who were all non-native speakers.

"In terms of language, everybody's speaking skills have improved a lot," said Nolting. But he saw a lot of other growth as well that will prepare them for more education and the workforce.

"Every one of them increased their math scores from pre-test to post-test," he said.

In addition, they learned measurement, blueprint reading and writing, and CNC programming skills. CNC machine operators need all those as they design and create components that are assembled into products during the manufacturing process.

"Our students have done a tremendous job of using the machines and making a finished product," said Nolting.

Soe Soe Lah, a native of Burma, said the class tapped into her creativity and curiosity.

"We need to do our programs, so we need to create by ourselves," she said. And to learn all the intricacies of the machines, "we need to be curious."

Lah was enrolled in the Metro Center's adult education program but discovered the diploma she finished in a Thai refugee camp before coming to the U.S. counted toward her high school completion.

She likes technology and plans to continue the CNC program this fall at Hawkeye and then has her sights set on finishing a bachelor's degree.

"I really want to become an engineer someday," she said.

Minekpo is also hoping to attend Hawkeye in the fall but wants to pursue a computer science degree. In the meantime, both hope to find work in the CNC machining field.

Others in the class still have work to finish up at the Metro Center, but some of them also plan on going to Hawkeye.

Victoria Harwell, of Parkersburg, was working on her high school equivalency diploma when she began the CNC class. At first, she was uncertain about the CNC field but is now hoping to enroll at Hawkeye next spring after completing her diploma.

"I just can't see my life without CNC," she said.

Clyde Roby, of Waterloo, had already earned his high school equivalency diploma when he started the class. He also hopes to start at Hawkeye in the spring and complete an associate degree.

"I would like to continue on, because the further you go the more money you make," he said.

Eventually, the I-BEST model may find its way into a variety of course offerings.

"We are hoping to expand this into the health career area," said Jensen, such as certified nursing assistants, and other fields like early childhood education. "This is such an initial step for us."

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