Northcentral Technical College (NTC) offered two welding classes to inmates at Marathon County jail for the 2015-16 school year. The program was the first of its kind at NTC, and had good results. The Wheeler Report did an interview with NTC Vice President for Learning, Dr. Shelly Mondeik, and Dean of the School of Applied Technology and Engineering, Darren Ackley.
NTC offers technical diplomas in four areas: Gas Metal Arc Welds, Shielded Metal Arc Welds, Flux Core Arc Welds, and Gas Tungsten Arc Welds. They also offer a one-year technical diploma which includes all four processes. Finally, they offer a two-year associate degree in manual welding that includes the four different areas of welding, automation and programming, and robotics welding. NTC currently offers their welding programs at the Wausau campus, Philips and Antigo campuses, as well as in the Spencer School District. The NTC program can accommodate 17 students per section, and have about 120 students in the welding programs at one time. NTC is graduating about 100 students per year in welding.
During the 2015-16 school year NTC offered its first welding class at the Marathon County jail. Mondeik said Sen. Jerry Petrowski was a large part of getting the program started and has been a great partner with NTC in helping develop programs and working to make more opportunities available in the community and for those in the jail. The program was paid for through a one-time grant and with donations and sponsorships with the community and local businesses. The program involved securing a virtual welding machine at the Marathon County jail. The program accepted 35 students, which were chosen by the Marathon County Jail, and 31 completed the program. The individuals who did not complete the program did not complete the program because they had been transferred to other jails or had been given early release from their sentence. The program consisted of two courses: welding print reading and virtual welding. The program taught the inmates the basics of reading a welding blue print and the basics of welding. Mondeik said she was very happy with the results, and emphasized that one class of the program was 63 hours of instruction for the students.
Ackley highlighted that part of the success of the program could be attributed to the instructor, Adam Zogata. Ackley said, “He is perfect for them. He is almost a life coach for them. He is not judging them and has a great willingness to train them. At the NTC campus we teach using metal, but for obvious reasons they can’t do that at the jail, so he’s been good at teaching them without those metals, and using things like cardboard.” Mondeik said, “Adam said this was the first time these students believed they would be able to get an education, and would be able to provide for themselves and their families. He (Zogata) shared that this class has been life changing for many of them.”
When asked about offering the program in the future, Mondeik said if more funding was available they would offer the program again. Mondeik went on to say there are inmates who have said they aren’t interested in welding but would take classes on things like accounting. Mondeik explained that NTC has always offered adult basic education classes like math, financial literacy, GED help, career guidance, etc., but the welding program was the first time offering an occupational program in the jail.
Ackley explained that people should not be confused, these inmates are not welders, but they have taken the first steps towards becoming welders. Ackley said the inmates can demonstrate industry recognized safety practices and interpret welding drawings. Ackley said completing the program could help inmates in finding jobs with companies that might consider helping cover the costs of completing the welding degree. Additionally, Mondeik highlighted that NTC is one of three schools in the state with an associate degree in welding saying, “We have a complete path, and this provides more opportunities for these individuals.”