I had the pleasure of meeting United States Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez at Gateway Technical College on December 4. Secretary Perez was in Wisconsin to promote the INTERFACE Project Grant from the Department of Labor.

The state’s 16 technical colleges collaborated on the $23.1 million grant that invests in Information Technology career pathways. Certifications and pathways will be developed and shared statewide in a uniquely collaborative effort. At MATC, we will deploy $2.09 million to enhance our Computer Support Specialist associate degree program.

Secretary Perez lauded the Wisconsin Technical College System’s “deftness and nimbleness that allows us to pivot to today’s and tomorrow’s jobs.” He also acknowledged that technical colleges “prepare students for placement in middle class jobs with upward mobility.” Nationwide, the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program is catalyzing growth through partnerships. Secretary Perez emphasized that the WTCS grant proposal met three key criteria: demand driven, industry driven, and a partnership -based.

I shared with Secretary Perez that the TAACCT grant is a game-changer that helps MATC address a pall that has fallen over our community, a pall created by persistent and egregious unemployment and inter-generational poverty. This grant is critical to our commitment to the Completion Challenge, in which we have pledged to graduate 50% more students by the year 2020. We are well on our way (with a 21.9% increase over the last three years), yet we all know that there is still more work to do.

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MATC President Dr. Michael L. Burke (right) shares insight with U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez (left), Acting Assistant Secretary of Employment and Training Administration Eric Seleznow, and Gateway Technical College President Bryan Albrecht.

Our School of Business Dean, Mohammad Dakwar, joined me on a panel with Wisconsin Secretary of Workforce Development Reggie Newson, WTCS President Morna Foy, Gateway Technical College President Bryan Albrecht, technical college students, instructors and administrators, all of whom shared detailed insight with Secretary Perez.   Also present with me at the event was Cheralynn Randall, our talented Director of Grants, who was part of the team that submitted the grant to the DOL.

Dean Dakwar deftly presented how the IT career pathways at MATC provide students a hands-on skill set that helps move them forward. MATC received many positive reviews for the linkages we have created between certificates, technical diplomas, associate degrees and employment.

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School of Business Dean Mohammad Dakwar (second from right) explains how the federal INTERFACE grant will be implemented at MATC.

It was very rewarding to have our statewide work recognized by national leaders. Secretary Perez relayed a story that is common among our students – he started college the same year as his mother did and observed that education is the “great equalizer.”

I concur with Secretary Perez and know that the INTERFACE grant and collaboration among the state’s technical colleges will benefit students and business for years to come.

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