DeVos visits Harper College's manufacturing lab, apprenticeship program

  • Kurt Billsten, Harper College's manufacturing program coordinator, leads U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on a tour of the Palatine school's advanced manufacturing lab Thursday.

      Kurt Billsten, Harper College's manufacturing program coordinator, leads U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on a tour of the Palatine school's advanced manufacturing lab Thursday. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos talks to students Marco Pilolla, center, and Jason Eggert, right, during a tour Thursday of the manufacturing lab at Harper College in Palatine.

      U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos talks to students Marco Pilolla, center, and Jason Eggert, right, during a tour Thursday of the manufacturing lab at Harper College in Palatine. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos tries her hand at a welding simulator Thursday as Scott Nelson, welding instructor, left, Kurt Billsten, center, and Harper College President Ken Ender, right, look on at the school in Palatine.

      U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos tries her hand at a welding simulator Thursday as Scott Nelson, welding instructor, left, Kurt Billsten, center, and Harper College President Ken Ender, right, look on at the school in Palatine. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/19/2018 8:12 AM

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited Harper College in Palatine Thursday to explore its multifaceted apprenticeship program and advanced manufacturing lab, as well as get students' feedback on a new financial-aid app.

DeVos spoke with students and college officials during her tour but did not address the media. Harper President Ken Ender said it was a national conference the college hosted to share its expertise with 100 other institutions from 30 states that attracted the secretary's attention.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Sara Broadwater, DeVos' deputy press secretary, said DeVos was "particularly interested in learning more about ... their apprenticeship program, which combines in-the-classroom instruction with on-the-job learning experience," she said.

Broadwater also praised Harper's strong business partnerships in the community that allow students to gain an essentially no-cost education by earning valuable work experience and a salary in conjunction with their academic training.

"The president and his administration are committed to making sure young people and adults are ready for what comes next, and the secretary is hoping to learn more about Harper's commitment to this as well," Broadwater said.

Department spokespeople declined to comment on how innovative the program was nationwide.

Harper's advanced manufacturing lab prepares students for careers in manufacturing, while its broader apprenticeship program includes fields such as banking and finance, industrial maintenance, CNC precision machining, cybersecurity, general insurance, and supply chain management and logistics.

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DeVos, whom Ender said had not visited an advanced manufacturing lab before, was given a demonstration of the machines students use in an academic setting before translating their knowledge into on-the-job training. The secretary tried out the virtual welding machine that students practice on before moving on to the real thing.

"It was a pretty cool visit," Ender said.

Before DeVos left, Ender presented her with a copy of the recent book, "Harper College, The First 50 Years," written by retired professor Trygve Thoreson.

Students also shared their thoughts about the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid mobile app, myStudentAid, the federal government is just rolling out.

Ender said the students discussed what they liked and were very specific about aspects they believe need improving: the broadness of the app's signature line and better directions on how to go back to an earlier step.

Such constructive criticism probably will make its way into a future upgrade of the app, Ender said.

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