Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton is one of many state and national leaders to recognize February 2016 as Career and Technical Education Month. The acknowledgement of secondary and postsecondary Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs by the governor, the U.S. Senate and others serves as a reminder of the important work our educators do everyday to help students succeed in their college and career goals.

Ron_Anderson_FinalWith that in mind, Minnesota CTE took the opportunity to ask Ron Anderson, Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), to reflect on CTE’s contributions to the state. Anderson speaks about the success of MnSCU’s CTE students, remembers his mentors, and talks about the role CTE plays in our states education and economic systems.

CTE MN:  The theme for CTE Month 2016 is “Opportunities for Career Success.” What opportunities did you have that opened doors for you?

Ron Anderson:  Having spent the majority of my career within the MnSCU system, I have been fortunate to encounter numerous people who were willing to take a chance on me, and provide me with the opportunity to take on new tasks and new roles.

Early in my career I served as the Director of Institutional Research and Planning at the newly formed Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC).  It was there that the first new door was opened to me, when Josephine Reed-Taylor brought me into academic affairs and, along with Phil Davis, served as a mentor as I moved from Director of Institutional Research and Planning to Associate Academic Dean, and later, Academic Dean.

Years later, Phil Davis opened a second door that allowed me to gain experience in student affairs administration when I assumed the position of Associate Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer.

>>MnSCU has been for me, like many of our students, a place where I have found hope and opportunity – many times in unexpected places.<<

After three years working outside of the system at Capella University, a third MnSCU door was opened to me when Larry Litecky, then president of Century College, hired me to serve as Century’s Chief Financial Officer.  It was under his mentorship and support that I deepened my skills in finance and administration, and then later in academic affairs as I transitioned out of the CFO role into the role of Chief Academic Officer.

10s16jc0146Each of these mentors offered me new opportunity, support, and guidance and helped me to move seamlessly across the divisional boundaries of academic affairs, student affairs, and finance.  They had vision and leadership that saw beyond traditional career pathways and found value in cross-divisional knowledge, thinking, and leading.

As a result, I was able to build and experience a rich and deep career that uniquely prepared me for the broader leadership roles that I have held over the past five years.

Do you recall stories of CTE student success or innovative practices from educators or businesses?

Anderson: While I served as president of Century College, a business man from the local community named Jim Mishek reached out to faculty and college administrators with an idea to foster innovation and entrepreneurship among students. Building on the concept of the ABC TV show Shark Tank, his idea was to create a scholarship competition that would encourage creative students to develop their ideas into successful small businesses.

The resulting Muskie Tank Challenge pairs students with mentors and business experts to develop their ideas and concepts which are then “pitched” to a group of community leaders and entrepreneurs who serve as judges.  The student with the top idea emerging from the annual competition is awarded a $5,000 scholarship and four runners-up are awarded $1,000 scholarships.

Though students initially focus on driving to the finish line and winning a scholarship, time and time again Muskie Tank Challenge participants speak as much, if not more, to the benefit of working with and learning from the business experts who served as their mentors.

The experience not only develops students’ ideas and hones their ability to work through the challenges of taking something from the idea stage to the development and execution stage, but also instills in them as great sense of confidence and agency.

How do you see CTE helping to fulfill the mission of Minnesota State Colleges & Universities?

Anderson: As Minnesota’s largest system of higher education, the stated mission of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is to “…offer[s] higher education that meets the personal and career goals of a wide range of individual learners, enhance[s] the quality of life for all Minnesotans and sustain[s] vibrant economies throughout the state.”

12s32jc021Core to this mission is the provision of a wide array of academic programs options – some providing direct entry to the workforce, and others preparing students for further study and degree attainment. Career and Technical Education programs are a critical component of this overall program portfolio, not only in providing direct pathways into careers, but also in laying the foundation upon which later education can build and ladder into additional degrees and future careers for our students over their lifetime.

Although we have seen great expansion in access to higher education over recent decades, I fear that within the growing expectation for degree attainment, we as a nation have lost sight of the role and importance of Career and Technical Education programs.  Far too often we fall into the mindset that Career and Technical Education is somehow apart from or “lesser” than liberal arts education.

A number of years ago I attended a talk by Matthew Crawford, author of the book Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work.  Educated as a philosopher with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, Crawford is also an electrician and mechanic.  During his talk Crawford spoke at length about the ways in which our country has separated thinking from doing.

I was stuck by a statement he made to the effect that somewhere along the line we decided that dirty work was stupid work.  Perhaps because I find this sentiment so offensive, it has stuck with me over the years, like a rock in my shoe.  It both saddens and angers me when I see it play out among our institutions or within our broader communities.  It simply isn’t true.

>>My father was an electrician, trained and educated through an apprenticeship program in the iron ore mines of northern Minnesota.<<

He spent his career working with this hands and his mind: first in the mines, later in construction, and for the last three decades of his career at the University of Minnesota hospitals.  He is one of the smartest and capable people that I know.  Among other things, he taught me how to wire a lamp, install fixtures, change a faucet, think critically, and creatively solve problems.

He and his family thrived because of the education and career he pursued – a career that built on his interests and both his motor and cognitive skills.

For me, this is the essence of Career and Technical Education.  Whether it be as an electrician, a paramedic, an accountant, or a builder, career and technical education provides career pathways that blend thinking with doing, and fosters the development of the knowledge, skills, and abilities that are critical in preparing the workforce of today and the future.  It has been, and must continue to be, a strong cornerstone of our System’s mission.

In your view, what role does CTE play in Minnesota’s workforce readiness?

12s05jc059Anderson: Career and Technical Education is core to developing Minnesota’s workforce. It has been forecast that by 2020, 74% of new jobs in Minnesota will require some form of postsecondary education.  I would argue that MnSCU plays the key role in meeting that need and ensuring that our state has a citizenry ready to not only assume the jobs of today, but those of tomorrow.

An examination of where our state’s workers are educated drives home this point.  Did you know that MnSCU prepares:

  • 9 out of 10 new mechanics,
  • 9 out of 10 new employees working in manufacturing,
  • 8 out of 10 new law enforcement officers,
  • 7 out of 10 new trades workers,
  • 7 out of 10 new agriculture employees,
  • 3 out of 4 nurses,
  • 1/2 of all teachers,
  • 1/2 of all business graduates, and
  • 1/2 of those in information technology

Coupling the preparation provided by CTE programs with that provided by our baccalaureate and graduate education programs, the MnSCU system addresses the vast majority of education and career preparation needs of Minnesota’s citizens.

CTE Month is over, however thousands of Minnesota students and educators celebrate CTE everyday in their classrooms, laboratories, internships, apprenticeship sites, and in all types of workplaces. Find out more about CTE and learning that works.

For more information about Ron Anderson, check out his appointment announcement on the MnSCU website.

Featured image used with permission from Ron Anderson. Other photos provides by MnSCU.