The DSU Heritage Foundation is contributing $8 million toward development of the Southwest Area Career and Technical Education Academy (SWCTE) to help the university achieve its dual mission role of educating college and high school technical education students.
The much-anticipated project is advancing thanks to a partnership between the university, southwest area high schools, and the local business community. A $26.5 million investment by the state legislature in SB 1543 ensures funding for statewide CTE academies. The SWCTE academy will serve Dickinson State University, Dickinson High School, Trinity Catholic School and area high schools in Beach, Belfield, New England, Killdeer and South Heart.
“It’s come together beautifully and doing great,” said former state senator Rich Wardner, who dedicated 10 years toward the project. “It’s going to get better and better and better and there will be more people filling the workforce with skillsets that are needed.”
The Academy has a unique collaboration with Dickinson State University. “Other than Fargo, we’re the only other CTE expansion project that is in collaboration with a post-secondary partner within the building and campus itself,” SWCTE Director Aaron Anderson told The Dickinson Press. “The Academy’s programs are specifically designed to meet the needs of Southwest North Dakota. We’re tackling programs that none of these other CTE campuses are even touching. Why? We’re really focused on the needs here locally.”
The DSU Heritage Foundation is a major player in the project, serving as the fundraising lead. “The Foundation is assisting to raise funds to help the university fulfill its dual mission,” said DSU Heritage Foundation Executive Director Ty Orton. “All of the donations raised through the Foundation are going to support the CTE program.”
The new facility is on 40 acres of property previously owned by Halliburton. The project will renovate three of the five buildings on the site to provide 75,000 square feet of indoor training space to go with existing outdoor space. The new investments will allow the project to continue moving forward, much to Wardner’s delight. He anticipates the impact going deeper than workforce development.
“As the (former) assistant principal at Dickinson High, I dealt with many students who were very intelligent and very smart, but they didn’t want to be in school. They were a problem. They didn’t like sitting in a desk, they didn’t mind working. Many dropped out because they didn’t want English or math and left unskilled,” Wardner said. “I see this as part of a solution to keeping young people in school. Not only will it make a difference in discipline, but I think it’s a mental health thing, too.”
Wardner has a point, as 84% of North Dakota high school students graduate on time, but 96.7% graduate on time when they complete two or more CTE credits in the same area of study.
Dickinson State already has two labs at the site – welding and diesel tech. New funding will help renovate other areas like laboratories, administrative offices and health sciences classrooms. The Foundation is looking for help acquiring tools, general lab and shop equipment, inspection, maintenance and minor repair tools, truck and master truck service tools, laptop computers, desktop computers, diagnostic equipment, display televisions/monitors and dealership software.
“It’s exciting collaborating to bring new opportunities to students,” Wardner added. “We want our high school programs to be feeders for those college programs. We’re working on establishing dual-credit opportunities to have those in place in the near future. … I think Dickinson has a solution. This university is very, very important to Dickinson. This will be a positive. Who’s the winner? The employers in the area. The community is going to be the winner.”