Educational partnerships advance the knowledge economy

    In less than 20 years, the ubiquity of technology-integrated business has transformed the way humans around the world do business. A full-fledged knowledge economy has emerged, and the race now is to prepare both business and the people who work in it.

    To meet these needs, Wisconsin businesses have turned to partnerships with public and private educational institutions to drive economic growth, create jobs and grow the talent pool necessary to position Wisconsin as a leader in the new economy.

    “It has always been critical to have partnerships, but the need has definitely been accelerated over the past few years,” said Rolf Wegenke, president of the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. “In the age of the knowledge economy, who better to help drive economic development for businesses and the state of Wisconsin than the state’s institutions of higher education?”

    Collaborative degrees put students in the workplace

    Collaborative degrees and programs have been established at colleges and universities throughout the state. Concordia University’s School of Pharmacy in Mequon recently established a Masters Degree program in partnership with Cambridge Major Laboratories in Germantown.

    Jamie O’Brien is assistant professor of business administration at St. Norbert College in De Pere. He has formed a unique partnership with Green Bay-based Breakthrough Fuel LLC, an innovative supply chain management company. He has also formed a similar partnership with Humana Inc.
    “I definitely wanted to bridge the gap between theory and practice,” O’Brien said.

    Lakeland College in Sheboygan established a predictive analytics program that allows students to work with The Manitowoc Company. They analyze data to predict equipment needs and crane maintenance in order to cut costs and save money for the company.

    In Milwaukee, Alverno College, Mount Mary College and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design have established relationships with local businesses and organizations that require students to produce real-world products and ideas for the community. Ripon College students provide business consulting services to local small businesses, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits.

    Similar partnerships exist throughout the state.


    Partnerships between schools and businesses in the design and manufacturing field have become critical as more production processes return to the United States.

    Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is the newest way companies can design, reverse engineer, manufacturer and test products and materials.

    At the Milwaukee School of Engineering, Sheku Kamara, director of the school’s Rapid Prototyping Consortium, is working to take those partnerships to the next level.

     “We are able to innovate for our member companies and educate them on the changing principles of additive manufacturing while also providing them with much needed resources to grow their businesses,” Kamara said.

    MSOE is currently working on proprietary projects for companies including: SnapOn Tools, Johnson Controls, Inc., Rockwell Automation Inc., Master Lock Company, Kohler Company, Bombardier and TRANE.

    MSOE has also partnered with Direct Supply in Milwaukee to open the Direct Supply Technology Center, and also researches and tests products for companies and the U.S. Military in its Fluid Power Institute.

    Similarly, Marquette University’s Center for Supply Change Management is focused on preparing students for after graduation.

    “We’ve developed a very strong group of advisors from local companies who have a vested interest in improving the quality of the future workforce they will eventually hire,” said Doug Fisher, assistant professor and director of the Center for Supply Change Management.
    Partners in the Center include Kohler Company, JoyGlobal, Uline, Direct Supply, and Brady Corporation, among others, Fisher said.

    Students in the 15-week program focus on key aspects of supply chain management including purchasing, operations, inventory management, distribution and customer service.
    “It’s incredibly valuable experience,” Fisher said.  “It’s really where the real world meets the academic world, and we hope to continue to work with local companies to make sure the Center is providing our students with the skills they need in today’s marketplace.”


    Schools in Northeast Wisconsin have directly responded to needs of the business community by forming new and expanded degree programs.

    UW-Fox Valley, a two-year college in Menasha, has had a partnership with UW-Platteville for the past ten years that allows students in Northeast Wisconsin to obtain a four year bachelors degree through UW-Platteville right at UW-Fox Valley.

    “From our perspective these options provide more individuals with the opportunity to obtain quality and affordable engineering degrees right in our neighborhood,” said Bruce Albrecht, vice president of Appleton-based Miller Electric. More than 65 engineers have earned their bachelors degree through the program.

    “Last year, six scholarships from Miller Electric were awarded to students obtaining the degree locally,” Rudd said. Five of them were awarded to women interested in engineering.

    In addition to this program, the Northeast Wisconsin Educational Resource Alliance (NEW ERA) plans to launch a new degree program this fall to meet the regional demand for an engineering technology workforce. The new degree program will allow interested students to attend classes at any of the 12 NEW ERA collaborating institutions.

    “Nearly 50 percent of firms in our area plan to expand in the areas of mechanical, electrical and environmental engineering technology,” said Linda Bartelt, director of NEW ERA.

    Students can obtain their degrees by attending classes at UW-Green Bay, UW-Oshkosh, College of Menomonee Nations, one of four technical colleges in the northeast area, or any of the five UW-Extension campuses in the area.

    Renewable Energy

    In 2011, the UW-Oshkosh advanced its mission of sustainability by partnering with Madison-based BIOFerm Energy Systems, a subsidiary of The Viessmann Group in Germany, to build the nation’s first commercial-scale dry fermentation anaerobic biodigester on the UW-Oshkosh campus.  The facility provides learning opportunities for student workers, and uses dry food and agricultural waste to provide 10 percent of the campus’s heating and electricity needs.

    Seeing the success of the first program, the University and BIOFerm have expanded the “living, learning laboratory” and partnered with Rosendale Dairy to construct another bio-digester and create the beginnings of a whole new industry for the state.

    Rosendale Dairy is the state’s largest dairy farm and has more than 8,000 cows.
    “It’s really a unique project. The facility will use the farm’s livestock waste to generate and combust methane,” said Arthur Rathjen, UW-Oshkosh Foundation president.

    The foundation helped fund the $7 million facility. The new digester will produce seven times more energy than the facility located on campus, Rathjen said.

    “The bigger vision of this project is to enhance the Northeast Wisconsin region’s commitment to renewable energy advancements,” said Tom Sonnleitner, vice chancellor for administrative services at UW-Oshkosh. “We’re proud to have formed these partnerships, and be the state’s leading institution on this technology.”

    BIOFerm is excited about the potential benefit to the Wisconsin economy and the benefit to the company in regards to future partnerships and talent recruitment.

    “Our company has grown from three employees to 18 in the last few years. We have lots of openings for skilled individuals familiar with this technology,” Afghan said.

    “We’re hopeful we can tap into some of the best and brightest from UW-Oshkosh as we continue to grow this partnership.”

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