Stories of Innovation: Student Learner Hub hits a home run for manufacturers, high schools, and students in Southeast Minnesota

Katryn Conlin, Communications Director, Minnesota State College Southeast

Student Learner Hub hits a home run for manufacturers, high schools, and students in Southeast Minnesota

When most 17-year-olds want to earn extra money, they usually have to babysit, mow lawns or flip burgers. Caledonia High School’s Alyvia Ness is in the sports manufacturing game, and it has been a big hit for both her educational goals and her pocketbook.Alyvia_Ness

Last summer, Alyvia worked at Miken Sports, a high-tech company that makes top-of-the-line composite baseball and softball bats in Caledonia.  Under state law, students under 18 are usually prohibited from working in many areas of advanced manufacturing. However, a new law allows 16- and 17-year-old students to work in manufacturing — if they are enrolled in an accredited educational program.

As a PSEO student at Minnesota State College Southeast, Alyvia is earning a certificate in Prototype Engineering. The 13-credit college certificate includes coursework in CAD/CAM, blueprint reading, and precision machining.

Through Minnesota State College Southeast’s Student Learner Hub, Alyvia connected with a job at Miken, where she can apply her college learning in a real-world environment.

Last spring, Travis Thul, MSC Southeast Dean of Trade and Technology, successfully Travis-Thul-Shark-Tankpitched the Student Learner Hub at the Minnesota State “Shark Tank Open” for Innovation Funding grants, and the college was awarded $25,000 to develop the program.

Thul explained that connecting high schools and manufacturers makes more sense if managed in a hub format.

“It’s easier for students, high schools, and companies if they work together. Imagine if every company in the region had to develop contacts with each high school to take advantage of this opportunity,” he said. “At the same time, imagine if every high school had to create written agreements with different manufacturers for each student placement.”

By serving as a Student Learner Hub, MSC Southeast can coordinate among various high schools and companies, greatly simplifying the process for all concerned. The college’s Student Learner Hub complements both Winona’s Youth Skills Training and Red Wing’s Learn to Earn initiatives.

The program is a big win for students, who will earn college credit, gain work experience, and get an income all at the same time. “It’s more than a paycheck — it’s a gateway into high paying jobs and enrollment in career and technical education,” Travis Thul said.

Alyvia Ness 2It’s a win for manufacturing companies, too. The current worker shortage in southeast Minnesota has resulted in many positions going unfilled. Through the Student Learner Hub, companies have immediate access to workers while developing a pipeline for future skilled employees.

“To me, it’s like a triple win,” said Mary Morem, principal of Caledonia High School. “Alyvia’s getting real life-work experience, she’s getting hands-on training in her college program, and she’s getting college credit while she’s here in high school.”

As for Alyvia, she had a great summer at Miken Sports. “It’s really fun working here. The people are nice, and I never get bored,” she said. “You’re always doing different things.  Every day is something new.”

As the first student to be placed through the MSC Southeast Student Learner Hub, Alyvia realized that her opportunity was special. Travis Thul hopes to see many more students have experiences like hers.

Principal Morem agreed. “There’s going to be a huge need in the next ten years in many fields that require a technical education, so the more our students can get out and have this kind of experience, and the more we can work collaboratively with industries and the college, the better it will be.”

Do you have a story about a campus innovation you’ve been working on?  Consider submitting it for publication to “Stories of Innovation”!  

Contact Stephen Kelly, Open Education and Innovation Program Coordinator, at for more information.

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