Missouri Innovation Campus Offers Accelerated Training for Technology Fields
Contact: Jeff Murphy
WARRENSBURG, MO (Jan. 23, 2013) – Thanks to a unique collaborative effort involving the Lee's Summit R-7 School District, the University of Central Missouri, Metropolitan Community College and a number of business partners, area students are receiving the opportunity of a lifetime. Through the Missouri Innovation Campus, located at the R-7 School District's Summit Technology Academy, 19 high school juniors are participating in a rigorous, accelerated program that prepares them for high-demand careers and reduces their higher-education costs to almost nothing.
Through the program, which began in fall 2012, students will complete an associate's degree from Metropolitan Community College by the semester after high-school graduation, earning a bachelor's degree in systems engineering technology from UCM within two years after high school graduation. Throughout the students' involvement in the four-year process, they are also participating in high-impact internships and on-the-job education thanks to the partnering businesses.
These companies, which include Cerner, DST and Saint Luke's Health Systems, enter into participation agreements with the MIC and receive grant funds from the state to help them hire the student interns. The companies then help underwrite the cost of training provided through the Innovation Campus. So far, the MIC project has received state grants totaling $1.5 million to assist with these costs.
For the students, the benefits are significant as they will complete their bachelor's degree just two years after high school graduation and pay virtually zero for their tuition from MCC and UCM. Through the business internships, it is anticipated that students will have the opportunity to become full-time employees of the partner companies immediately following graduation.
"We’re building a new model for the way we deliver higher education that creates a win-win situation for students where college will cost less, take less time to complete, prepare students to be job ready and leave them debt-free," said UCM President Charles Ambrose. "The corporate participation in the Missouri Innovation Campus is exceptional, and we’re especially grateful for the enthusiasm shown by our state leaders and Gov. Jay Nixon, who not only supports what we are doing, but is encouraging similar collaborations across the state."
Cindy Herbert, computer science faculty member and program coordinator for MCC-Longview, added that blended courses and project-based learning have been critical in this group effort. "The hard work stakeholders and students have put into the MIC project will be more rewarding when we get to see the first graduating cohort of students receive their bachelor's degree in systems engineering technology."
An important part of the program's success is Summit Technology Academy, which has focused for many years on high-tech career training with the help of business partners. For this reason, the Lee's Summit school is uniquely positioned to serve as the first location for the Innovation Campus program.
"Our district is proud to be a part of the Innovation Campus, which is serving as a model for programs nationwide that truly partner high schools, higher education and industry," said David McGehee, R-7 superintendent. "In addition to the advantages to the students, the program is meeting our state's workforce needs in high-demand areas."
Jeff Banhart, Innovation Campus information technology teacher at Summit Technology Academy, said he has seen an increased interest in information technology careers among his 19 students. "We try to relate the class work and the career to the students constantly, but until the student sees the career as a viable and soon-to-be attainable option, very little interest is displayed," he said. "The Innovation Campus program is working with an understanding of this dynamic to get the students to invest their time and interest and expend the energy to prepare for a position not four or five years from now, but four or five months from now."
The Innovation Campus students, who come from all three Lee's Summit R-7 high schools as well as high schools in seven other districts, have also been enthusiastic about the higher-education and internship aspects of the program.
"Starting college early is a great opportunity because it not only comes at a reduced cost but also because you finish your degree earlier," said Keaton Thomson, Innovation Campus student from Lee's Summit West High School.
Armaja LaRue-Hill, from Raytown South High School, agreed. "This class has taught us many valuable job skills, including maintaining professional attitudes and troubleshooting problems that occur," she said. "There are plenty of job opportunities in IT, and this course will benefit me in taking advantage of that bright future."
Another vital element of the Innovation Campus is the partnering businesses. Mike Mallett of Saint Luke's Health Systems said that hiring and developing people's skills and knowledge is vital to the success of a business. "The MIC information technology program provides Saint Luke's an avenue to share our technological advancements with future job applicants."
Laura Evans of Cerner added that her company is exploring multiple ways to fill current and future needs for technical talent to support Cerner's continued growth. "The MIC approach challenges status quo by developing accelerated methods for students to not only gain a degree but the work experience needed to successfully apply their skills solving real-world problems in a team-based, professional environment," she added.
The information technology course at MIC is just the beginning for this advanced program. In fall 2013, the second student cohort will be launched with a digital electronics course, which will be open to qualifying students from Lee's Summit R-7 as well as the 18 area high schools sending students to Summit Technology Academy. The sending high schools pay tuition to the R-7 School District for the MIC courses as well as other high-tech programs offered at the school.