Thomas W. Durso
Mitchell Technical Institute

The advisory boards of Mitchell Technical Institute’s 34 programs delivered a simple message to the South Dakota school’s administrators: You’re doing a great job turning out talented, skilled workers, but when it comes to “soft” skills, much more is needed.

The problem was finding a way to teach those skills at a technical school, says Carol Grode-Hanks, dean of curriculum and instruction.

“Showing up on time, adhering to a dress code, staying the extra 15 minutes to help the customer—it’s hard to teach that kind of stuff,” she says.

Mitchell’s solution is a required, first-year course that confers nontechnical skills such as professionalism, critical thinking and effective communication. “Student Success,” as it is called, is a one-credit course students take in their first semester at the school.

Student surveys, industry input and faculty feedback helped to enhance the curriculum, which also covers time management, financial literacy, diversity, teamwork, work ethic and career readiness.

Several offices—Curriculum and Instruction, Admissions, Student Services and Career Placement—contribute to the development of coursework, and Institutional Effectiveness provides data to strengthen the course content. Instructors from some of these departments meet weekly to evaluate each lesson.

This is critical because some of Mitchell’s programs are as short as nine months. “We have a lot to do in a short amount of time to get these students prepared for life,” says Grode-Hanks.

Data shows a yearly increase in students reporting that the topics covered are relevant and meet their needs.

Because technical education students often prefer hands-on learning, every course at Mitchell—even those that require lots of desk-bound instruction—includes activities where students get up and work with manipulatives, on projects and in teams.

Mitchell hopes “Student Success” prepares graduates for jobs as well as for life on their own. The skills it confers make for better employees and more well-rounded citizens.

“We embed a lot of those activities within the technical courses, but Student Success is where it all comes together,” says Grode-Hanks.