Western Technical College is within a few blocks of the mighty Mississippi River in Lacrosse, Wisconsin. They offer industrial, manufacturing, and healthcare programs within the state's robust technical college system. Western Tech's student population consists of 10,000 traditional students and industry training for local employers. The college comprises the main Lacrosse campus, five regional campuses, and a public safety training center.
The college has been working on its culture for quite some time. They have developed Culture Statement with senior leadership and leadership forum groups with a phased approach to rolling these initiatives out through the college. The initiatives are clear about the culture and how it is being lived across the college. Their leaders are champions of the culture!
Western Tech's culture journey began before 2020 with a series of leadership workshops. Then the pandemic came- these conversations about what the culture would look like had to happen virtually. This forced the leadership team to do things differently because times were different. What people want for their lives is different, and how people show up is different. The group recognized they must look at the whole person, allowing people to be comfortable and authentic, which supports and encourages diversity, innovation, and creativity.
As an AFIT veteran, Western Tech truly loves that the conference is designed to make the attendees uncomfortable. The speakers intentionally challenge them to change how they think. Angela Martin, Director of BIS, said, "This is a different concept for education as it doesn't change that fast compared to the business world; the speed isn't there." The need to take action creates a safe space for transformation while empowering leaders to have conversations that can bring change. Growth is uncomfortable at times.
Like many AFIT attendees, the Western team read Beyond Happiness before attending the event. "Beyond Happiness did a really good job of bringing together so many leadership concepts that we've learned about individually."- said Angela Martin, Director, BIS. The Western leadership team continuously focuses on growth and learning. The team saw a common thread between the individual themes of the leadership books they read over the last six to seven years, brought together in one book, Beyond Happiness. "When you talk about trust and vulnerability in leadership, trying to tie to getting your people to feel happy and positive where they are coming every day, Beyond Happiness brought these all together." [Angela]
In preparation for the Greenhouse Build, the Western Tech team felt it was only appropriate to start with the seeds, which are the foundation for how they want the organization to grow. This was the inspiration for the seeds packets in their greenhouse build. Each seed packet had a book cover of a leadership book they read, recapping and drawing parallels to Beyond Happiness. The packets connected the dots between what they've learned, how they have grown, and where they what to go in the future.
The idea of the seed packets identifying the content and knowledge they have experienced organically shifted into conversations of reflection on what's important and the stuff everyone brings into the workplace. This sparked the inspiration for the items within the greenhouse. Each team member brought items to Nashville to represent the people of Western Tech, the things they are doing on campus, the culture they want, and what the college is capable of being to the students, the faculty, staff, and the community. All this stuff comes together to contribute to making things better-; stuff is what creates the culture.
Western Technical College has spent several years working on increasing campus diversity, equity, and inclusion. As a college that is not physically located in a very diverse community, they were intentional about uncovering any gaps so that every student feels recognized and valued for the unique backgrounds, experiences, needs, culture, skills, and stories that they bring to the campus. SPACE [The Student Place of Action, Culture, and Empowerment] was formed as a place where students from all diverse groups are represented, feel seen, heard, and have a sense of belonging.
The next step in Western Tech's culture journey is holding up a mirror to workplace policies to see if they align with the culture statement -"Western strives to create a culture where people feel empowered to make a difference; where we are passionate about collaboration and student success; where we take equitable actions that respect our differences; and where we serve students, partners, communities, and each other from a place of unconditional positive regard." The goal is to ensure the culture is reflected in each policy on campus. Putting the culture into action and behaviors into practice will transform the culture so that it is seen and felt in every place on campus.
Western College has spent years laying the groundwork and understanding the importance of culture. Now they have the opportunity to do the hard work by implementing changes to make Western's culture a place where all people feel like they belong.
Through Western Tech's work with community industries through employee training, they hope their culture work will ripple out to these employers. As businesses face workforce challenges, they can see Western Tech is leading the effort to make changes and provide resources and tools so that employers can make sustainable changes in their workplaces and beyond.
The 2022 AFIT event was remarkable and encouraging as we saw the impact ripple out to their employees, students, communities, and the world. We can’t wait to see how the ripple continues to grow!