Before New North Inc. made collaboration part of the area’s lexicon, 13 Northeast Wisconsin colleges and universities came together with that very word in mind.
In 2001, leaders from the region’s four technical colleges, the University of Wisconsin-Extension, the two four-year UW campuses and five two-year UW colleges and the College of the Menominee Nation created the Northeast Wisconsin Educational Resource Alliance, or NEW ERA, with the goal of coming up with ways to better serve the region’s residents, communities and businesses.
“Few people know we were here before New North,” says Linda Bartelt, who was hired as NEW ERA’s first executive director in January.
Bartelt has a long background in both education and business, which made her a good fit for the NEW ERA post. She worked at Kimberly-Clark Corp. and Oshkosh Corporation, serving as the director of the Center for Community Partnerships at UW-Oshkosh.
Bartelt says her role is to draw more focus and attention to NEW ERA’s initiatives, including a greater focus on making sure communities and employers have sources to tap to learn more about sustainability, such as preparing students for “green” careers.
By bringing Bartelt onboard, NEW ERA hopes to renew its focus on creating the Northeast Wisconsin Resource Alliance Regional Economic Assistance Center or NEW ERA Reach, says Verna Fowler, president of the College of the Menominee Nation and the current chair of NEW ERA’s board of directors. The center is designed to help attract, retain and develop high-skill and high-paying jobs by developing and realizing the power of post-secondary institutions.
“The NEW ERA Board is made up of a lot of busy people – we all run colleges or universities – and having Linda on board allows us to move forward, as she can help keep us on track with what we’re working on,” Fowler says. “Improving education – and eliminating barriers between the schools – across the region is our prime goal. Through the collaboration of NEW ERA we can make that possible.”
Creating more options for area students interested in engineering careers is another key initiative, Bartelt says. While NEW ERA led the charge to bring bachelor’s degrees in engineering programs from UW-Stout and UW-Platteville to the area, Bartelt says employers still clamor for employees with engineering skills.
“We work with employees to find out what their needs are and then among the colleges, we try to find ways to meet those needs,” she says. “Engineering is definitely a skill our manufacturers are asking for.”
Looking at the past 10 years, Bartelt says making it easier for students to move among the alliance’s 13 schools was a key development.
“One of our biggest successes at NEW ERA was the creation of a bachelor’s of applied studies degree students can earn from UW-Oshkosh or UW-Green Bay after completing degree programs at the area’s technical colleges,” she says.
Fowler says the colleges came together to form NEW ERA because they saw the definite link between a better educated workforce and a stronger economy.
“Working together is much better than everyone off in their own direction,” Fowler says.
While a lot has been accomplished, Bartelt says there’s still more to be done. “There’s a lot of exciting things ahead for NEW ERA and we have a lot more wonderful work to do when it comes to collaboration,” she says.