Hawkeye Community College program helps people in correctional system access education, career services

Eric Grove controls the Amatrol Pegasus training robot in the IGNITE program lab at TechWorks in Waterloo. posted on Monday, February 28, 2022 in  College News

Eric Grove has some background in construction and industrial maintenance. But for 3-1/2 years, he worked a “menial job” with limited pay building pallets.

“I wasn’t using my skills, and the skills I had were rusty. My self confidence wasn’t there to apply for a job,” said Grove.

That changed through his involvement in Pathways to Education and Employment for Reentry, a new program of Waterloo’s Hawkeye Community College and the First Judicial District.

Grove, a 37-year-old Evansdale native, learned about education and career services available to him after PEER Coordinator Belle Fleischhacker visited the Junkman/Knoebel Center, where he has lived for nearly a year. The center is a transitional housing unit for people recovering from alcohol or drug addiction.

“Belle reached out and made it sound like something I was capable of doing,” he said of the program’s services, focused on short-term training for high-demand jobs. Grove ended up enrolling in a two-month advanced manufacturing course operated by the college. He received hands-on training in a lab at TechWorks through IGNITE: Introduction to Advanced Manufacturing, finishing the course Dec. 10.

“When I completed the program, it definitely felt like I’d accomplished something,” he said. Interview opportunities came up quickly at two companies.

“Going into the interviews for both places, I felt like I knew what I was talking about,” Grove said of his new-found confidence. “I had two job offers within that week.”

Early this year, he started a job driving a forklift at Viking Pump. The new position has meant greatly improved pay, benefits and work environment.

PEER assists people involved with Black Hawk County Correctional Services in a variety of ways, depending on their need. Educational counseling, career exploration, job readiness and hands-on training, and resource referrals are available. Participants are in the Black Hawk County Jail, the First Judicial District’s Waterloo Residential Correctional Facility or the Waterloo Women’s Center for Change, or involved in the parole system living in the community.

Since starting in May, Fleischhacker said the program has connected with 59 people in jail, providing resume workshops as well as training to earn a certification in forklift driving and a commercial vehicle learner’s permit. They can continue with training through the program upon release or go into the workforce.

“Overall, there’s close to 90 or 100 individuals that we’ve worked with so far,” she noted, both in and out jail. Twenty people have enrolled in or completed training programs. Participants receive services and training at no cost to them, thanks to available grants and scholarships.

Like Grove, “a lot of the individuals, they have a job,” said Michelle Clark, a career pathway navigator at Hawkeye. “We’re helping them acquire a job that is sustainable, a job they want to do versus a job they have to do.”

Program organizers contend PEER could have a big impact on crime while developing a new workforce pipeline for business and industry in the Cedar Valley.

“You can cut the recidivism in half, statistically,” said Chris Hannon, Hawkeye’s director of workforce training and community development. According to a study by the Vera Institute of Justice, people in prison who participate in job training programs are 48% less likely to reoffend than those who don’t.

“That’s why the First District is going to put all of its support around this,” said Ken Kolthoff, director of the First Judicial District. “Hawkeye Community College’s investment and interest in wanting to work with these people is just tremendous.”

“Ken and I have been working on this for about five years, and we finally were able to implement it in May,” said Hannon. They had support from Hawkeye President Todd Holcomb for the endeavor, as well as “the right people at the right time” to get the program off the ground. “Everything just came together at the right time.”

Now program staff are working hard to get the word out about the services they provide.

Jesse Rousch, jail diversion social worker, noted that “quite a bit of our population” does not have a high school diploma or any post-high school education. Still, “for a big portion of our population, they don’t realize these opportunities are there and they’re eligible for it.”

In IGNITE, Grove went through manufacturing modules such as robotics, computer-aided design, hydraulics, pneumatics, programmable logic control, computer numerical control machining and electrical.

“You get a certificate for completing the program and then a certificate for mathematics,” he said. “The robotics and CNC was completely new to me.

“My current employer said me going through that course was a factor in bringing me on,” added Grove. Driving a forklift is going well, “but after I get out of my probationary period (at Viking) I plan on bidding on CNC or some type of machine.”

While there is some on-the-job training, he expects more Hawkeye career courses to be in his future. “I’ll be going back and doing more with CNC, kind of get a better understanding of that,” he said.

Fleischhacker said not everybody who has been involved with the program has moved on to a job yet, like Grove. But plenty of people are in the pipeline. “We will serve over 120 in the first year,” she noted.

For more information about PEER, call (319) 296-4296, ext.3103, or email peer@hawkeyecollege.edu.

By Andrew Wind, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier


  1. Advanced Manufacturing
  2. Business and Community Education
  4. PEER
  5. workforce development
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