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College of Technology Puts Purdue in "Your Backyard"

Enhancing the business climate in the state depends on improving the skills of Hoosier workers, and that means finding and taking advantage of educational opportunities.

Many people make sacrifices to improve their marketability and earn a college degree. But Kathy Norton didn't want to forfeit her family to do so.

Photo by Tom Campbell

Kathy Norton went back to Purdue to earn an engineering degree. Now she is an engineer for Cook Airtomic. The company manufactures precision engineered seal rings for the aerospace and nuclear industries, some as big as this 80-inch piston ring test gauge at the company's Jeffersonville facility.

This Corydon wife and working mother of six needed an alternative to the traditional college engineering curriculum she entered when she was 30-something.

"Classes met during working hours, and any work time I missed had to be made up at the end of the day," she said. "I found myself in a rigorous program designed to discourage the fainthearted. The program was not designed with people like me in mind."

Norton wanted a college degree in order to move beyond the drafting job she had to a career that would help her provide money for her children's college education.

"At the rate I was going it would take an additional 12 years to complete a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering," she said. "That meant graduating at the age of 48 and missing most of my children's high school experiences. It just did not seem worth it."

For Individuals

Then Norton looked into the Purdue University College of Technology program at New Albany. It offers the opportunity to earn technology degrees, exactly the same as those earned by students on the West Lafayette campus, but at eight sites located across Indiana.

"What I found were classes with students from a variety of backgrounds and ages. Most were like me, working and supporting themselves or a family," said Norton. "The evening classes enabled me to increase my course load, and the professors were helpful and knowledgeable."

"Students with families and jobs cannot commit to attend a traditional college," said Michael O'Hair, associate dean of the College of Technology. "These students need access to education in their own communities that is offered at times that are convenient for working adults."

O'Hair said the college programs offered across the state combine resources that include local educational institutions, industry, and government. "The College of Technology's community-based locations each feature a quality curriculum, world-class instructors, low student-to-faculty ratios, and the opportunity to earn a degree from Purdue," he said.

It's like having Purdue in your backyard," said O'Hair.

Norton earned her Purdue associate degree in mechanical engineering technology in December 2004. She also received a promotion at work and a significant salary increase. "I was able to work in the field of my choice almost 10 years before I would have with a traditional program," said Norton.

For Companies

Many industries throughout Indiana see the need to upgrade the skills of their employees, and the Purdue College of Technology can fill that need as well. "We also work with local companies to supply workforce development," said O'Hair.

Red Gold, a family-owned tomato processing company headquartered in Orestes, worked with the technology program to create their own "Red Gold Certificate Program" as part of "Red Gold University."

"We originally developed a 21-hour certificate curriculum just for their employees," said John Eddy, interim director of the college's programs in Anderson. "We have since added two more segments, and Red Gold employees who complete the third segment will also receive an associate degree from Purdue."

Eddy said the College of Technology works with a company to structure courses to coincide with the way that individual company does business. "Our professors will incorporate the company's business procedures into the course work and even conduct classes at the company site," he said.

Amie Anderson, human resources manager at Red Gold, said the company covers the costs of classes and books. "It's a benefit for our employees and helps the company develop leadership talent," said Anderson.