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Sen. Proos tours Niles Campus

State Sen. John Proos toured Southwestern Michigan College’s Niles Campus Oct. 2 to learn about the welding and robotics programs. “These are the in-demand careers of the future that students and parents need to know about,” said Proos, R-St. Joseph. “That’s why I introduced Senate Bill 344, so they can have more information for future careers.” S.B. 344 authorizes granting high school diploma “endorsements” to students completing a specified number of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses.

“We have three fulltime welding instructors,” said Dr. Stacy Horner, dean of the Schools of Business and Advanced Technology.

Welding Professors Allyson Starrett and Ferenc Sefcsik and Robotics Professor Mike McGowan helped Horner show the senator around.

The third, Dan Miles, was teaching at Constantine High School.

“A good number of our students who come throughout the day are high school students from Niles, Buchanan, Edwardsburg and Dowagiac,” Horner said. “They come in through our Academy program with the ISD (Intermediate School District), dual enrollment or Early Middle College.”

“Every business I drive by has a hiring sign,” Proos said. “I met with someone last week who hires 140 percent annually because of the attrition rate.”

“One young gentleman graduated last May and started at $65,000 with his associate degree,” said McGowan, a former controls engineer who showed Proos SMC’s material-handling and welding robots.

“That’s almost as much as I make as a state senator,” Proos replied.

Starrett, who shakes hands with students as they finish projects, incorporates such “soft skills” to “make sure they can stay employed once they get there and are able to move up.”

Proos spoke with two of McGowan’s mechatronics students, Alexander Smith of Berrien Springs, who is interested in working with musical organs, and Kristian Lentine from Mishawaka, who is employed fulltime by BPI Equipment in Granger.

In addition to the welding program’s growth, “Our automotive program also doubled this year,” Horner said. “Two construction students — both females — got Mike Rowe scholarships, one for $7,000, which goes a long way at a community college. Our trades programs are definitely doing well.”