Students can still leave the program early if they wish, but Peterson believes that’s unlikely because they know the real meat of the program will be in its second year. Yet the program will offer students the option of leaving with a one-year diploma, or sticking with the program and earning a two-year, AAS (associate in applied science) degree.
He is also excited that MTI will soon become an accredited testing facility. Peterson already holds hold American Welding Society certifications as a welding educator and welding inspector.
The demand for advanced welding and manufacturing skills is stronger than ever, with Trail King Industries and Twin City Fan being two supportive local employers.
Some students, with the help of Pell grants and other programs, will complete their first year at little to no cost.
Several received $1,000 Critical Needs grants from the state, and more than half Peterson’s students participated in the Workforce Recruitment Program.
Under that program, students get $2,000 each year toward tuition if they commit to working for two years for a local employer after graduation.
Trail King, Twin City Fan and Horizontal Machining Inc., of Huron, are all participants in the recruitment program.
The program has been beneficial to MTI, his students and the companies involved, said Peterson, who added, “We feed each other.”
Students get more than core curriculum classes and hands-on experience as part of their education. They also receive a firsthand education in the economics of production and how using manufacturing best practices can save a company thousands of dollars a year.
Because of a late first-year start-up, the MTI program began with just 10 students. At the minimum, Peterson hopes to double that first-year number next year.
Student ages range from 17 to 58, which makes for some interesting class dynamics.“When you put a 17 year-old and a 58-year-old together, you get some definite opinions on how things should be done,” Peterson said.
MTI’s new program caught the eye of Chase Rovere, who was welding cattle pens in western South Dakota when he heard of the revamped welding program.
“The job wasn’t going anywhere,” he said, “and then a buddy told me about MTI. I met with the instructor and he seemed like he knew what he was talking about.” The comment brought a chuckle from Peterson.
Rovere said the companies he’s spoken with don’t just want a guy who can stick two pieces of metal together — they want someone who knows how to program and operate complex computerized manufacturing equipment.
The state GOED grant enabled Peterson to pack his classroom with state-of-the-art equipment, including a dozen Haas control simulation modules. The modules are a combination simulator-controller that allows students to write and test operating programs prior to using them on actual CNC (computer numerically controlled) lathes and milling machines.
The MTI program will move to its new south campus location next year. The current welding facilities will then be used by the welding program in the new Mitchell Area Career and Technical Education Academy. The academy program will give students advanced standing if they decide to transition to the MTI welding program.