Service-Learning Project Unites Community

SkillsUSA, Lowe’s, DCTC and civic leaders celebrate new message sign at North Trail Elementary School.

Last winter, the SkillsUSA Chapter at Dakota County Technical College was selected by Lowe’s Companies to receive a SkillsUSA Lowe’s Community Service Grant . The Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation awarded 10 service grants of up to $10,000 to SkillsUSA high schools and colleges across the country.

On Monday, June 16, Sen. Pat Pariseau , District 36, Rep. Mary Liz Holberg , District 36A, Lakeville Mayor Holly Dahl and DCTC Pres. Ron Thomas joined SkillsUSA Minnesota Executive Director Jennifer Polz , Lowe’s Companies representative Terry Trimble and Principal Steven Geis of North Trail Elementary School to celebrate the addition of a community and commuter message sign at the school on the south side of 170th St. West in Farmington, Minn.

Also present at the ceremony were Ron Erickson, DCTC vice president of academic and student affairs, Mike Opp, DCTC dean of transportation and industry, Ann Manfrey, ISD 192 board member, Trudi Greaves, an assistant director of the DCTC Foundation, and Jolynn Lieffring, a Century College cosmetology student who serves as secretary of the SkillsUSA Minnesota college division.

“Service-learning is a wonderful teaching tool that not only benefits our students, but strengthens our community. Civic engagement will never be more important than it is right now.”

Mike Opp, who spoke briefly during the ceremony, submitted the original grant proposal, which requested $9,750 to construct a brick-and-block, changeable message sign along with a rest stop, security lighting and bench seating at a high-traffic bicycle and walking path. The DCTC SkillsUSA Chapter contributed nearly $1,200 to the project, which will conclude with electrical work and landscaping, including a native habitat garden.

“SkillsUSA students in the Concrete and Masonry and Landscape Horticultureprograms provided leadership, planning and labor for the project,” Opp said. “Everyone enjoyed working with Lowe’s SkillsUSA and Farmington Public Schools . DCTC is committed to community engagement and looks forward to many more service-learning projects in the future.”

Opp described how he visited the site early in the construction process and encountered a DCTC Concrete and Masonry student who had brought along his girlfriend to show off the footing he and his classmates had poured that day.

“The student was truly excited about the skills he had obtained working on a real-world project,” Opp related. “He took great pride in knowing that the sign will inform local residents and thousands of passersby about community news and events for years to come.”

DCTC’s Heavy Construction Equipment Technology and Architectural Technologyprograms contributed time and talent to the project. North Trail’s Parent Teacher Partnership, or PTP, helped fund the message sign’s construction.

(Left to right) Trudi Greaves, Ann Manthey, Greg Manthey, Sen. Pat Pariseau, Mayor Holly Dahl, Jolynn Lieffring, Terry Trimble, VP Ron Erickson, Jennifer Polz, Dean Mike Opp, Prin. Steven Geis, Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, Pres. Ron Thomas

Dr. Ron Thomas, DCTC president, noted that community involvement is critical to the success of higher education. He praised the dedication of SkillsUSA, Lowe’s, North Trail, and the staff, faculty and students at DCTC for their  work on the project.

“Service-learning is a wonderful teaching tool that not only benefits our students, but strengthens our community,” Thomas said. “Civic engagement will never be more important than it is right now.”

Lowe’s of West St. Paul partnered with DCTC and participated during all phases of the project, serving as a source for materials, design ideas and other support through to final construction.

Terry Trimble, a lead member of the commercial sales team at the Lowe’s West St. Paul location, reported that his store was more than happy to help out on the project. “I can’t tell you how nice it is to get involved with the community,” Trimble said. “It’s really fun to give and not just sell.”

Dr. Steven Geis, the principal of North Trail Elementary School , commented that he enjoyed coordinating the construction of the message sign with DCTC and Lowe’s.

“What a fantastic project,” said Geis. “The sign is impressive and shows what a united effort can accomplish.”

Jennifer Polz, executive director of SkillsUSA Minnesota , congratulated Lowe’s and DCTC while expressing appreciation for the recognition her organization received from the project.

“SkillsUSA is growing,” Polz said. “This June in Kansas City, Mo., we will holdTECHSPO , the largest trade show for technical education in the United States. More than 16,000 high school and college students, teachers and school administrators will be there. If you’re not wearing a red jacket, you’ll definitely be outnumbered.”

A national nonprofit organization, SkillsUSA works to advance the skill level of the American workforce through partnerships with students, teachers and industry representatives. With more 15,000 sections and 54 state and territorial associations, the organization, which was formed in 1965, serves more than 285,000 members.SkillsUSA Minnesota has a membership that tops 50,000.

Famous for the slogan, “Let’s build something together,” Lowe’s Companies is a Fortune 500 company with 210,000 employees and 2007 revenues of $48.3 billion. Founded in 1946 and based in Mooresville, N.C., Lowe’s is a retail home improvement and appliance chain that serves some 13 million customers a week in roughly 1,400 stores in the U.S. and Canada.

Graduates of the Concrete and Masonry program are thoroughly prepared for careers as concrete masons, concrete finishers and block masons in residential and commercial construction. Students learn fundamental construction skills and become experts in all aspects of concrete, one of the most prevalent and durable construction materials in the world.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national job outlook for cement masons and concrete finishers is good with employment expected to grow at a rate of 11 percent over the next decade.

ISEEK, Minnesota’s gateway to education and employment, reports that the average hourly wage is $23.44 for cement masons and concrete finishers in Minnesota. The top earners in the state make as much as $33.16 an hour.

According to the Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association (MNLA), the landscape industry has never been stronger in the state. Nursery and landscape companies in Minnesota produce more than $2 billion in sales annually.

Landscape professionals who graduate from the Landscape Horticultural program are ready to design, install, and manage garden and park projects on residential, commercial and public properties. The DCTC program is the only one of its kind in Minnesota to earn accreditation from the Professional Landcare Network , or PLANET, the national trade organization of the landscape industry.

DCTC Concrete and Masonry students constructing message sign at North Trail Elementary School