Published December 15, 2021
DC3 tech students participate in an HVAC class in the Chaffin building on Sept. 28. [Photo by Luke Fay]
Dodge City Community College (DC3) has undergone a technical education boom since 2019. The success of these programs can be attributed to good timing and a new vision by DC3 Vice President for Workforce Development, Dr. Clayton Tatro.
Tatro, a native of Glasco, Kan., arrived in Dodge City in December 2019, and he immediately began searching for ways to grow the technical education department.
Tatro’s first item on the agenda was incorporating dual-enrollment students from area high schools, as there was an untapped demand for these students to enter the workforce early.
“We basically opened up all of our programs to the high school students and put them on the same schedule,” Tatro said. “They get to follow the same schedule as the postsecondary students do. So, now we are giving ourselves access to high school students where we didn’t before.”
The school’s nine technical education programs only included 42 dual-enrollment students in fall 2019. DC3 now offers 12 tech ed programs that house more than 100 dual-enrollment students, which is an increase of 138% over the two-year period.
“Word of mouth through the high schools is exceptionally helpful,” said Tatro. “They see that one of their classmates had success and feel more inclined to enroll at DC3.”
Cosmetology, welding, and diesel technology are three programs that have stood out to Tatro since he arrived on campus. During his tenure, these programs have grown more than 50% since fall 2019.
“In cosmetology, we opened it up for part-time and high school students in addition to the regular full-time students. We created a morning option, an afternoon option, as well as the full-day option,” Tatro said. “We’re giving students more choices, more access, and more opportunity to enroll, where traditionally if you went into cosmetology you really needed to be a full-time student.”
Diesel technology’s growth can also be attributed to the influx of dual-enrollment students. The students are able to take courses at DC3 and become certified through a new partnership with the Ford Motor Company.
“We drastically increased the number of high school students that are in the diesel program,” Tatro said. “The Ford Motor Company has given us access to their curriculum through our local dealership. Now our students will be able to get certified on Ford certifications, as if they were a technician at the dealership.”
Like diesel tech, welding’s success is due to a mix of increased dual-enrollment students and renewed partnerships with area businesses.
“We started doing customized training for National Beef with their current employees, and they’re sending us two groups of students in welding,” Tatro said. “We are also going to partner with the new Hilmar Cheese factory and provide welding and electrical to them as well. Success for us is providing an opportunity for students to gain employment following graduation from DC3.”
New Programs and FacilitiesTo help boost enrollment and also to help meet the needs of the surrounding community, DC3 has undergone extensive innovation in the last two years. The school has jumpstarted two new programs, Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) and electrical technology, reincarnated computer science, and opened two new off-campus facilities.
Because DC3 did not have space on campus to house HVAC and electrical technology, Tatro was tasked with finding a dynamic space that could serve current programs and also accommodate future expansion.
He visited multiple sites before signing a lease for the Chaffin building, formerly known as the Gibson’s Discount Store distribution center from 1986-2003.
“We currently are leasing 20,000 square feet in the warehouse and then roughly 3,000 square feet of office space along one hallway,” Tatro said. “The hallway connects to the warehouse. There we’ve been able to repurpose some of that office space into classroom space.”
The new HVAC lab at the Chaffin building was outfitted by Trane Technologies. [Photo by Lance Ziesch]
The warehouse space used by HVAC and electrical technology is one-fifth the total size of the facility. The added space may lead to the relocation of a current program in CDL or an additional new program that works alongside HVAC and electrical technology.
DC3 used school funds to remodel the Chaffin building, which had previously been vacant since 2003.The college then received a grant that relieved the financial burden of buying units and equipment associated with teaching HVAC and electrical technology classes.
“We received a $2.78 million grant to support technical education. There are five programs listed in that grant: HVAC, electrical technology, diesel technology, welding, and computer science,” Tatro said. “We are fortunate to have been able to use grant dollars to help offset the cost of the program startup.”
The Greenlee Green Apple side of the new electrical technology lab features workbench space. [Photo by Lance Ziesch]
Tatro said he believes the creation of the HVAC and electrical technology programs will help alleviate the large local and regional demand for HVAC technicians and electricians.
“There is a huge need in this area for both HVAC technicians and electricians,” Tatro said. “The reality is that both of those industries are getting older; the average HVAC technician is 55 years old, and the average electrician is 53 years old. We need to create the next generation for these folks by filling the industry gap.”
The electrical technology lab’s simulated construction area includes both wood and steel framing options. [Photo by Luke Fay]
Not to be outdone by the Chaffin building, DC3’s nursing program moved from the Allied Health building in September 2020 to a new site a mile away from campus. This new facility, now known as the Floris Jean Hampton Nurse Education Center, was dedicated in January 2021 after its namesake, Floris Jean Hampton, who passed away in May at the age of 93.
“Our President, Dr. Nolte, was exceptionally good at letting me go out and find spaces,” Tatro said. “The school district had their learning center in the same space where we are now. They were leaving that space to consolidate into their administration building, and the space became available at the perfect time for us.”
DC3 has seen enrollment in the nursing program increase more than 20% since 2019. These added students have made the move to a new facility critical for continued growth of the program.
The Floris Jean Hampton Nurse Education Center was a much-needed upgrade “nearly doubling the amount of space that was available to the nursing students,” Dr. Mechele Hailey, Dean of Nursing and Allied Health, said.
“The larger classroom spaces allow for more classroom activities, social distancing, and room for future growth of the nursing program,” Hailey said. “The space is only one mile from campus so students still have the on-campus studying resources readily available. Nursing students are frequently seen in the Student Achievement and Resources Center (SARC) and library.”
New PartnershipsIn addition to new programs and facilities, DC3 has partnered with national employers to help facilitate the worker-to-business pipeline. With these new partnerships, DC3 tech ed graduates are given a jumpstart on their careers.
The National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3) helps facilitate relationships between national businesses and education. The existing relationship between DC3 and NC3 connected the college with Trane Technologies Inc. and Greenlee Electric, which in turn outfitted a portion of the Chaffin building. Trane Technologies provided the new HVAC lab with Trane equipment, while Greenlee helped create the Green Apple Lab for electrical technology.
“That’s the really cool part of the NC3 is you’ve got major corporations that are buying in,” Tatro said. “They understand that they’re putting money into education to help build the next generation.”
Along with HVAC and electrical technology, DC3 has retooled the computer science program to support the demand of local businesses.
“Everybody wants to be a coder, however there’s not a lot of jobs there locally,” Tatro said. “We revamped computer science to gear towards becoming a network support specialist or network technician. The jobs are there. Every small, medium, and large business has a computer network that needs support.”
DC3 workforce has listened to the community’s needs and has adjusted its curricula to best suit the students as they pursue gainful employment following their graduation from the college.
“There has been a real readiness and understanding that the timing is ripe for technical education,” Tatro said. “If we are going to grow the economy of Southwest Kansas, and if we’re going to keep students local, that runs through technical education.”
By Luke FayDC3 Marketing and Media Specialist