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K-State Today

February 7, 2023

Community visit spotlight: K-State Olathe addresses industry needs in the Greater Kansas City region

Submitted by Mirna Bonilla

A regional community visit event in the Greater Kansas City area discussed ways higher education is partnering to meet the needs of industry partners.

Higher education has always been a key driver for economic growth, innovation and training a new generation for the workforce. With rapidly changing industry needs, the relationship between universities and the private sector is being transformed. Institutions are hard at work to meet new skill needs and forge stronger industry partnerships. This newfound energy shows how academia and industry can build mutually beneficial links.

The topic was an important conversation at Kansas State University's recent Greater Kansas City community visit, which involved the K-State Olathe campus and other community partners.

K-State opened the Olathe campus in 2011 with a goal to meet industry needs through education, research and community service. For instance, programs have been developed to meet the animal health and food safety needs in the region. In June 2022, Ben Wolfe was hired as CEO and dean of the Olathe campus and started setting a vision for the next strategic area to meet workforce needs.

With the announcement of Panasonic building a $4 billion advanced manufacturing facility 10 minutes from the Olathe campus and the vast number of bio and advanced manufacturing companies in the region, K-State Olathe is exploring new programs and services to meet workforce needs.

Debbie Kirchhoff, K-State Olathe executive director of strategic initiatives, is responsible for community engagement and outreach in the Greater Kansas City region. Kirchhoff said President Richard Linton's community visit initiative is significant in building partnerships with industry.

"The K-State regional community visits are opportunities to engage with, listen to and learn from industry about their workforce and development needs," Kirchoff said. "It is also a time to recognize and reaffirm our strong industry relationships. From these visits, we gain specific ideas about courses, degree programs and pathways for completion that employers need for their workforce. The workforce sessions also provide an opportunity to strengthen relationships with local community college partners. In the Kansas City region, that includes Kansas City Kansas Community College, Johnson County Community College and Metropolitan Community College."

During the Greater Kansas City community visit, Kansas City Kansas Community College, or KCKCC, President Greg Mosier hosted a session called "Responding to Industry Needs in the KC region." Mosier emphasized how KCKCC engages with industry partners to expand opportunities to their students and create a pipeline of talent for the workforce.

KCKCC is part of the Kansas Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education, or KS FAME, and is the only chapter in the states of Kansas and Missouri. The KS FAME program is an industry-supported consortium model where business partners select the students to send to them to classes at KCKCC two days per week while the other three days they are learning on the job with their industry partners. The goal is for students to gain valuable employment experience with manufacturing leaders while also completing their associate degrees.

"It is a true learn and earn educational model," Mosier said.

KCKCC understands higher education's role of being a driver for economic and social mobility. KCKCC is actively uplifting the Kansas City region and moving toward ending generational poverty with their new Kansas City Kansas Community Education, Health and Wellness Center in downtown Kansas City, Kansas.

"The economic and social disparity in the county is enormous," Mosier said. "There are approximately 20,000 individuals in eastern Wyandotte County with 'less than employable English skills,' and only 10% of the eastern part of the county has attained a two-year degree or higher."

Mosier explained that many barriers for community members are because of life challenges, such as transportation or access to education. Mosier believes zip codes should not determine a person's level of success. With this new center, KCKCC is partnering with Swope Health to provide health and wellness services, CommunityAmerica Credit Union for financial literacy, and Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools for dual enrollment, to add to the educational opportunities KCKCC will provide the downtown area.

During the community visit, participants also shared information that helped K-State with advice on new and existing programs that will help their workforce needs.

"We appreciated the many companies that attended," Wolfe said. "Several biomanufacturing companies, including Merck Animal Health and TriRx provided excellent input. Representatives from the Animal Health Corridor, Mid-America Regional Council, K-State Research and Extension, community colleges, chambers and Enterprise KC were able to give excellent advice for K-State Olathe to use in our planning."

Since the regional community visit, Wolfe and Kirchhoff have had several conversations with the attendees. Because of the excellent input and ideas, K-State Olathe is exploring bachelor's degree completion programs to meet the needs identified during the community visits. Partnerships are also being discussed with community colleges to have clear pathways for students to complete their bachelor's degrees.

Explore K-State's regional community visits and engagement partnerships through our StoryMap or find complete information about regional community visits. K-State faculty, staff or students who are interested or currently immersed in university-community engagement work can contact the Office of Engagement for opportunities to begin or grow scholarly work.

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