College Visits 101: Plan Ahead


Deciding what college to attend can be the most important decision a person will make that can affect an entire life. It can determine potential majors, professional connections, BFFs, and perspectives on education, careers and life.

It’s not just about whether you’ll be a Warrior, Dragon, Gopher or other spirited fan –     this is a BIG, exciting decision about cool, life-changing experiences ahead!

Web sites make it easy for prospective students to research colleges, but many will agree: setting foot on a campus is the best way to determine a good fit.

So what makes a college visit SUCCESSFUL? “Plan ahead,” says Jill Traut, Ridgewater College admissions representative. “Start thinking about college before you are a senior.”
– Research possibilities.
– Visit with college representatives who visit your high school.
– Visit with your school counselor.
– Narrow the list of colleges you will visit.

Or if you are an adult, think about college months in advance of reinvesting in yourself. Many colleges have special event days for group visits. Knowing dates early for your top college choices helps families schedule visits around school or work days off and activities. Like this Wednesday, March 25, the Hutchinson campus will host a Discover Ridgewater visit day. Then on Thursday, March 26, the Willmar campus will do that same.
– Meet faculty and students
– See program areas
– Learn about financial aid and the admissions process
– Experience student life with lunch and a comedian

A great experience can create pitter-pats of excitement for a more directed future!

Want a more informal experience? Call the college admissions office about two weeks prior to your anticipated visit day. Share your visit goals and interests. Then staff can make arrangements with faculty, coaches or activity advisors.

Tips for Students
+ Visit more than one college. It’s about perspective.
+ Avoid scheduling two visits in the same day. Can you say information overload?
+ Decide who will join you. Parents? Great. Friends? Possibly distracting.
+ If you bring friends truly interested in the college, consider scheduling separate tours if your majors differ.
+ Ask lots of questions – tuition, housing, activities, part-time jobs and placement.
+ Explore the community –  your potential new “home”. Continue reading

Online Courses Prepare This Student for the Next Stage of Her Journey

Nicole Melchert-Breitkreutz isn’t very different than many Ridgewater students.  She is a non-traditional student, returning to college later in life to complete her college studies.  She is taking liberal arts courses en route to an AA degree and a planned transfer to SMSU to complete her bachelor’s degree – just like hundreds of other Ridgewater students.

What might make Nicole a little different is that she is working to complete her degree almost entirely online.  I know, many students take online classes, and it’s not uncommon that students would complete an entire degree online.  Nicole’s story, however, is a great example of how online courses at Ridgewater can provide the flexibility necessary to make pursuit of a college degree possible.

You see, Nicole is taking a full-time course load, working full-time, and raising a family.  So is her husband. Busy family, huh? Listen in as Nicole discusses with Ben Taylor from Q102 how e-learning at Ridgewater is creating opportunities for her and her family, and start thinking about how it might be right for you or someone you know!

Nicole’s Story – Online Courses at Ridgewater

Auto Body Collision Repair Students Use New Equipment Thanks to I-CAR Grant

Thanks to a grant from the Minnesota chapter of I-CAR, Ridgewater Auto Body students will be learning weld metal on car bodies with brand new equipment.  Ridgewater received notification of the grant award in the amount of $8,100 this summer and used the funds to help purchase 16 new welders to be used by both first- and second-year students.

The Minnesota I-CAR Volunteer Committee made grant funds available to assist select post-secondary collision repair programs, in obtaining necessary tools and equipment that will enhance the learning experience for students. Qualifying schools must continually demonstrate a high level of commitment to the collision industry and exemplify the standards supported by I-CAR.

Each year, the Ridgewater College Auto Body Collision Repair program trains approximately 70 students for careers in auto body repair in its degree, diploma, and certificate programs.  Students are trained by experienced instructors and utilize the latest technology and repair methods and tools. The program has a strong history of placing its graduates in related fields, with a placement rate averaging over 95%.

I-CAR, the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair, is an international not-for-profit organization dedicated to training the collision inter-industry. Formed by the collision repair industry in 1979, all I-CAR activities, programs, services, and resources focus on supporting the auto collision repair industry to achieve a high level of technical knowledge through access to training.

Celebrating 50 Years

This year marks Ridgewater College’s 50th Anniversary of providing higher education in central Minnesota.  The institution, which has seen several name changes, mission changes, and mergers over the past five decades originally opened its doors in 1961 as Willmar Community College.  A few years later, it split into two institutions, one offering general education or transfer courses and the other offering technical programs.  In 1967, Hutchinson Area Vocational Technical Institute was founded.  It merged with the Willmar campuses in the mid-1990’s.

Fifty years is indeed a long time, certainly enough to build a strong reputation and a rich history.  The milestone is most certainly cause for celebration. To that end, we’ve been busy planning parties on each of our two campuses – Willmar on Saturday, September 24, and Hutchinson on Saturday, October 15.

Make no mistake, this is not just a class reunion – although several departments on campus will be hosting their alumni.  We believe that the college is an integral part of the region, and want all in the community to come out to campus and see where we’ve come from over the past fifty years, and where we’re headed as we move into the years to come.

Even if you never attended Ridgewater – or any of is predecessor institutions – it’s likely that you have a relative or fried who has.  Given the fact that we know of over 12,000 alumni living in a 7-county region of central Minnesota, it is highly realistic to believe that you have interactions with Ridgewater alumni every day.

The on-campus celebrations will include something for everyone, so be sure to bring out the whole family.  The little kids will enjoy the bounce house and other inflatables, and the whole family can grab lunch from one of our food vendors on campus and take in some live music! The National Guard will be on hand as well with their climbing wall for those who like a challenge.

When you’re here, be sure to take a look around campus.  There will be campus maps available that indicate department activities and the locations of guestbooks – which is how attendees will register for our many great prizes, including an iPad 2!  For those liking a tour guide, we’ll have our admissions reps giving campus tours leaving at the top and bottom of each hour from noon through 2:30 p.m.

And about those department reunions…Watch for additional blog posts throughout the coming days detailing some department reunion activities.  Some of the departments hosting alumni are Auto Body and Auto Service Technology, Agriculture, Veterinary Technology, Photography, Administrative Support/Business, Cosmetology, Occupational Skills, Electronics, and more!

Manufacturing Jobs 2.0

Careers in manufacturing are a thing of the past, right?  

You’re not alone if you believe that the era of a robust U.S. manufacturing economy – and careers in the sector – are all but dead.  And why wouldn’t one think that were the case? 

News about the great recession, government bailouts of auto manufacturing giants General Motors and Chrysler, and on a more local level, devastating layoffs at large manufacturing firms such as Hutchinson Technology, paint a bleak picture.

But hold on just a minute: despite news stories that would make you think otherwise, the manufacturing industry in the U.S. is strong and growing. 

A recent article by Peter Zelinski, senior editor for Modern Machine Shop, sites statistics published by Financial Times indicating that unfilled manufacturing job openings have more than doubled since the beginning of 2009, rising from 98,000 to 230,000.  Further illustrating this growth, Joseph Bonney’ story for the Journal of Commerce Online references  the Institute for Supply Management’s monthly purchasing managers’ index, which has indicated growth in manufacturing activity for 23 consecutive months.

So what gives? National unemployment figures remain high, yet statistics indicate that hundreds of thousands of manufacturing job openings sit unfilled. 

Jobs in manufacturing most certainly have not gone by the wayside, however careers in the field do look quite different today than they did even a decade ago.  Growth in the industry has been spurred by increased productivity and the manufacturing of high-tech products, both made possible by technological advancements on the shop floor. So, what many Baby-boomers and Gen X’ers envision as a manufacturing job may indeed be history.  

In fact, it is the advancement of manufacturing technology that is causing the shortage of workers.  These unfilled manufacturing jobs require workers with advanced skills in modern manufacturing, such as knowledge of how to operate computer numerical controlled (CNC) lathes, mills, and brakes, or how to program logic controllers (PLC’s) that automate manufacturing processes and tasks completed by robots. To quote Zelinski in his article, “…the skills among jobseekers fall short of the skills that are truly in demand.”

Therein lies a tremendous opportunity. Ridgewater College and other community and technical colleges in Minnesota train students in machine tool technology, automation and robotics, and other modern manufacturing skills.  Our labs contain some of the most up-to-date technology found in industry, and the curriculum is kept up to date with current procedures. 

Many people still think of “machine tool” programs as teaching students the same tired manufacturing skills of twenty years ago, which is simply false.  Zelinski mentions that “…only one group truly [knows] what job skills are in demand…That group is employers themselves.”

We at Ridgewater agree, and that is why our instructors meet annually with an advisory committee made up of industry professionals.  The feedback from this group is used to modify equipment and technology, ensuring that our students are well-trained and ready for the workforce.

And the employers recognize the skills Ridgewater graduates have.  The campus career services office has compiled dozens of positions aimed at our Machine Tool and Automation and Robotics grads, just since the beginning of 2011.  So those job openings we discussed earlier, many of them are available locally. 

And these aren’t minimum wage jobs.  Many of the CNC Operator jobs I reviewed had starting wages in the $20 per hour range.  That’s a good start for someone with two years or less of post-secondary education!

What’s your perception of a machine tool or automation program?  What’s your definition of a manufacturing facility?  You may want to think twice, and consider the opportunities that lie ahead in this dynamic field.

Now’s the Time to Register Kids for Annual Ridgewater Summer Camp

For a week each summer, kids in the Willmar and Hutchinson communities imagine, seek, and explore their opportunities and interests at the Ridgewater College Summer Camp.  This camp is four days of fun-filled adventure for youth entering fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.  Registration for this year’s camps are now available.

The Hutchinson event will be Monday, July 18 through Thursday, July 21 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day. The Willmar camp is set for the same times but from Monday, July 25, through Thursday, July 28. 

“The Ridgewater Summer Camp is a great place to imagine, seek, and explore a wide variety of career opportunities and interests,” explained Tari Niemeyer, camp coordinator. “The hands-on sessions can help campers decide what courses, careers or interests they would like to pursue in high school and beyond.” 

The events provide numerous fun and educational options. New sessions this year, depending on the camp location, include digital media, biology, history, movie making, food careers, the science of fireworks, various cultures, and musical drums. Back by popular demand will be sessions on car engines and custom graphics, desktop publishing, simple computer programming, health careers, various arts, fitness careers, T-shirt designing, robotics, horse care, dance, theater, culinary creations, general career exploration, and more. 

On the last day of each camp, family members and friends will be invited to join campers as they showcase their achievements. 

The cost of $99 per student (or $79 early bird special if registered by June 10) includes four days (not overnight) of hands-on supervised classes and activities, materials, lunches, a T-shirt, and other items. Early registration is encouraged because class sizes are limited and some sessions fill early. 

The camps are sponsored by the Ridgewater College Customized Training and Continuing Education, Student Success grant, and the West Central Integration Collaborative, as well as Central Minnesota Jobs and Training, and New Discoveries Montessori Academy. 

To print a registration packet or see slideshows of last year’s camps, go to For more information or have a registration packet mailed to you, contact Tari Niemeyer at or 320-234-8540. To register, contact Jone at 320-234-8592 or .

Minnesota State College Student Association Names Ridgewater’s Stone “Instructor of the Year”

Ridgewater College faculty member Gayne Stone was named the 2011 Minnesota State College Student Association (MSCSA) Instructor of the Year.  

The Instructor of the Year award is a true honor because the nominations come from students and the recipient is chosen by MSCSA student leadership. Stone was nominated for the award by Jordan Dettmann, Columba Nwosu and the Student Senate from Ridgwater’s Willmar campus to honor and recognize him as a top faculty member in the MnSCU system who has inspired and positively impacted students. 

Stone has taught math at Ridgewater College’s Willmar campus since 2000. Combine that with his many years as a high school teacher and counselor at Willmar High School, and he has over 50 years of teaching experience.

“It is unreal how Gayne is able to slow down a class. He shows more than one way to do a problem. Everything is laid out for you step by step. He does not give up on us, so we don’t give up on him,” said a Ridgewater student in the award nomination materials. 

Stone accepted the award this past Saturday, April 16, 2011 at the MSCSA Annual Awards Dinner. He was accompanied by his wife and several students from Ridgewater College-Willmar. 

The Minnesota State College Student represents students attending the state’s two-year technical, community, and comprehensive colleges on 47 campuses advocating for more than 100,000 students across the state.

Ridgewater Students Take Home Honors at National BPA Conference

Eight Ridgewater students competed at the May 5-8, 2011, National Leadership Conference of Business Professionals of America in Washington D.C. Competitions focus on knowledge and practical application of skills needed in business careers.

 Participants receiving awards in the national competition include:

Brianna Johnson (Willmar) 2nd place, Fundamental Accounting

3rd place, Fundamental Spreadsheet Applications

Finalist, Integrated Office Applications 

Amber Lee (Litchfield) 2nd place, Medical Transcription

2nd place, Medical Office Procedures 

Stephanie Vogel (Willmar) 1st place, Advanced Word Processing Skills 
Makensie Paulsen (Hutchinson) 5th place, Medical Office Procedures 
Michael Nistler (St. Cloud) 5th place, Extemporaneous Speech 
Megan Siegfried (Atwater) Finalist, Advanced Office Systems & Procedures 
Heather Ruplinger (Olivia) 4th place, Desktop Publishing

 Additionally, the Administrative Support Team, consisting of Brittney Spanier (Paynesville), Stephanie Vogel, Megan Siegfried, and Heather Ruplinger placed 3rd in the nation! 

Approximately 5,500 students and advisors from throughout the United States participated in Business Professionals of America’s 45th National Leadership Conference. Activities included general sessions with keynote speakers, business meetings, leadership workshops, contests, election of national officers, and tours of Washington, D.C., sights and attractions! The highlight of the conference was the presentation of the awards to the winners of the national contests. Our opening general session took place May 4 on the lawn of the Washington Monument.

In addition to student awards, Ridgewater BPA Advisor Beth Gravley received recognition for her 15 years as BPA advisor.  Lois Flaig, another accomplished Ridgewater instructor was named in the opening ceremony as one of only two to receive the Outstanding Service Award. 

Business Professionals of America is the leading CTSO (Career Technical Student Organization) for students pursuing careers in business management, office administration, information technology and other related career fields. Visit us at

Ridgewater Students Excel at International DECA Conference

Students from the Marketing and Sales Management program at Ridgewater College took home awards from The International DECA Career Development Conference, held Apr. 12 – April 16th in Orlando, Florida.  Six students from Ridgewater College competed in four different competitive events. There were over 1400 DECA members competing in various events. 

Students bringing home awards include: 

Cassandra Rix (Willmar) – First Place in the “Marketing Management” event.   

Justin Rademacher (Hutchinson), Myranda Hansen (Glencoe) & Megan Arndt (Hutchinson) – top 10 national finalists in the “Advertising Campaign” team event 

DECA prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe. DECA enhances the preparation for college and careers by providing co-curricular programs that integrate into classroom instruction, applying learning in the context of business, connecting to business and the community and promoting competition. Student members leverage their DECA experience to become academically prepared, community oriented, professionally responsible, experienced leaders.

The Marketing and Sales Management program at Ridgewater College prepares students for mid-management or management careers in merchandising, retailing, retail sales, sales representation, advertising, wholesaling, customer service occupations and small business management. Marketing students have experiences directly related to the competitive business world. They learn about the global economy and discuss future trends affecting all aspects of business and industry. Students get a realistic view of buying, selling and management issues through classroom discussion, hands-on learning, and workplace internships.