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‘Helping students succeed and meeting the workforce need’

Gene Haas Foundation donates $500,000 to NWTC manufacturing program

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October 3, 2023

GREEN BAY – Since its inception, Meridith Jaeger – vice president of college advancement at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) – said the college has always done what it could to support student success, while, at the same time, supporting the needs of the region.

“NWTC is focused on helping students succeed and meeting the workforce needs of our industry partners in the region – especially for our manufacturing industry partners, who employ 25% of our region’s workforce,” she said. “As we continue to reimagine how NWTC supports our students, our industry partners and their communities, it is critical we build partnerships to support the work.”

Those efforts to help build a long-term pipeline of students pursuing careers in manufacturing recently received the support of the Gene Haas Foundation with a donation of $500,000 – the second largest in NWTC’s 111-year history.

This grant donation, Jaeger said, will help fund financial aid, academic coaching, recruitment, and other crucial academic needs.

NWTC’s new partnership with the Gene Haas Foundation, President Kristen Raney said, is an example of doing just that.

“We are proud of the manufacturing pipeline that exists between NWTC and our employers,” she said. “But we also know that having a pipeline between NWTC and area manufacturers doesn’t necessarily guarantee everyone has access to the pipeline.”

Raney said there are barriers that some students face – such as tuition, childcare, being a parent and working while in school.

“The generous donation from the Gene Haas Foundation will allow NWTC to remove these types of barriers for manufacturing students so they’re able to enroll, graduate and get to work in our communities,” she said. 

More on the foundation
The Gene Haas Foundation was established in 1999 by Gene Haas, the founder of Haas Automation, Inc., with a mission to support the needs of local communities.

Kathy Looman, director of education grants at the Gene Haas Foundation, said Haas originally started donating money to organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Club, when he found out some employees would have to leave their young children at home to watch over one another while the parent was at work.

“Gene became aware of the situation and he said, ‘this is entirely unacceptable,’” she said.

Kathy Looman, director of education grants at the Gene Haas Foundation, received the “key” to the newly dedicated Gene Haas Center for Advanced Machining at the event Sept. 28. Photo Courtesy of NWTC

When he began to donate more and more money, Looman said Haas’s accountant said he should start a foundation.

About 13 years ago, Looman said the foundation shifted its focus to education.

“About $12 million goes to scholarships for students to get into careers and manufacturing (annually),” she said. “About six million of that goes to programs, such as this (one at NWTC) to help them expand their capacity for training.”

With the donation, Jaeger said NWTC is dedicating its machine tool lab as the new Gene Haas Center for Advanced Machining.

Supporting students, supporting businesses
Chase Clover, CNC machining lab tech, and Jeff Poch, associate dean of Trades and Engineering Technologies at NWTC, said the donation will hopefully bring in more students to the manufacturing program.

“The students coming into this program, sometimes it’s a barrier to stay in it as well,” Clover said. “These funds can help them with their tuition and tools.”

Many students, Clover said, get to class on the first day and find out the tools needed for the program cost $750, and the fee isn’t rolled into tuition.

Thanks to the funding, Poch said, students now receive the toolbox for free and take the box with them when they graduate – as long as they complete the first-year program.

“I see a success story this year in our first-year program,” Clover said. “We haven’t had anybody drop. Usually, by this time, we would have had four or five students drop, so we’re excited about how we’re able to retain the students who are coming into this program.”

Clover said more students in the program eventually means more jobs filled in the field.

“Right now, we have 18 to 20 (students) in each class,” he said. “Currently, we’re maybe around 50% (full), so we have a lot of room to grow and fill those classes.”

Ten years ago, Clover said NWTC had three first-year sections. 

Now, there are only two.

“One of the things we’re constantly getting every week is employers emailing and calling us, ‘do you have anybody? We have this opening,’” he said. “(My response is), ‘well, sort of,’ but there are 25 other companies (also asking). If we can get more people in here, get us out into the high schools, start advertising it to them and getting them aware of it – that’s one of the big goals.”

Thanks to the funding from the Gene Haas Foundation, CNC Machining Lab Tech Chase Clover said students receive their toolbox for free. Photo Courtesy of NWTC

Poch said NWTC is competing with the job market boom.

“A lot of businesses are going into the high schools and working with them, which is great – but they’re also bypassing us and some of our training and what goes on here…” he said. “If they need the employees and want to bring them into their facilities and start working, (great), but we still want to be a partner with those businesses to supply the training for their employees.”

The importance of education
Raney said some employers offer on-the-job training, however, stressed the importance of training and education in connection with long-term success.

“When our students have a degree, they’re going to get the best jobs, they’re going to be maintained by their employers, because our employers tell us how much they value our graduates and how prepared they are to go work and what they bring to their local communities,” she said.

Jamie Veeser, owner of Machine Plus, LLC and NWTC alumnus, said he can attest to this.

“(NWTC) gives you an out-of-the-box look of what your career should look like,” he said. “We can take in other people and train them the way we want to and make them mirror me or whoever. But it’s great to get somebody else’s opinions (and training) into them so they can problem-solve better. That’s why we try to (encourage) our employees to come to NWTC and learn from them first. It helps strengthen our team.”

Ashley Frank, a student in the manufacturing program at NWTC, said her experience so far has been great.

“When I started talking to student advisors, they (helped) me with what direction I needed to go in,” she said. “They made it simple, which was nice… it’s been an awesome experience and a lot of hands-on (experience). The instructors are great.”

Ashley Frank (left), a student at NWTC, said the donation is helping to expand a program “that is already doing a great job.” Photo Courtesy of NWTC

Frank said she is already seeing the benefits of the donation from the Gene Haas Foundation.

“We got a whole bunch of new equipment,” she said. “Even the first-year students who are coming in behind us, you can see the resources they have, too… We got new tooling this year, so we get to learn about different tools and how that works with other materials and things like that. It’s expanding on a program that’s already doing a great job.”

NWTC offers 34 certificates, technical diplomas, associate degrees and apprenticeships through its manufacturing programs.

Students who graduate with manufacturing degrees from NWTC, Raney said, go on to earn salaries of $45,000 to $70,000.

“This partnership (with the Gene Haas Foundation) also underscores the true impact of career technical education,” she said. “It changes lives, and it strengthens our communities.”

To learn more about the Gene Haas Foundation, visit

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