The Missouri Innovation Campus offers students who aren’t interested in traditional degrees a gateway into the workforce through certifications and skill-set trainings.
Clarinda Dir is the operations manager of the Workforce Development Program. She said this job originally started out as a career services position. When she changed positions to be the operations manager, she kept the career-services aspect of the job, helping students with their resumes and interviewing skills.
“Workforce Development is actually still working with students and with employers to fill job needs,” Dir said. “Most students come in and they’re afraid of interviewing. I recently worked with a student…he was really terrified of having to get in an interview. Eventually, he did his last interview and he told me, ‘I did so well with it. And I would never have done that if I hadn’t had that resource at UCM.’”
Dir said they get good feedback from employers about the students who come from the program.
“The employers, when they come in for mock interviews…they’re saying that (students) are very well-prepared,” she said. “And one of the education teachers actually told her students that a principal had called her and said, ‘You guys prepare your students better than anybody else at interviewing.’ It’s a great service to help them get ready and not be terrified when they do go for an interview.”
The other half of her job is working in workforce development. She promotes the programs and works with the FEC to get scholarships for students.
“It will pay for them to go start their career,” she said. “Any underserved individuals are helped through that. We’re trying to work on some programs that employers have need for…so we can offer certificates to fill those needs.”
Dir said the program gets many students a job and sometimes the employers offer to pay for the schooling.
“The most recent (graduation) that we just did…Children’s Mercy had actually hired eight students and paid for their time at school, and FEC provided scholarships for them to get in,” she said. “All eight of them are going in with a job. When they graduated, they had a job. They had a job when they were going to school.”
Dir has been working for MIC full time for about four years. She said her favorite aspect of the job is engaging with students.
“I really enjoy working with the students because you are getting ready to start out and go toward your dream. It’s a fun time in your life,” she said. “I actually left UCM for about a year and I really missed interactions with the students — being able to help them and develop relationships and watch them grow. Really that’s my favorite part is being able to help them kick off their careers.”
Rick Smetana, operations manager at MIC, said the Workforce Development Program is for students who don’t want or need to get a traditional degree.
“So essentially as you know UCM is a traditional four-year institution that does graduate and undergraduate work. Our unit, Extended Studies, goes out and tries to assist in the education of people who don’t fit that normal four-year or graduate school track,” Smetana said. “That’s where our Workforce Development unit comes in.”
Smetana said the programs can get students through the Full Employment Council, which can provide scholarships. The FEC is a job center based in Kansas City, Missouri.
MIC hosts an informative event from 4-6:30 p.m. the last Tuesday of every month called the Professional Training and Education Open House. The FEC comes to those events so students can see what certifications and scholarships are available.
Smetana said an example of one of the program’s certificates is the Certified Nursing Assistant, which they have offered for about five years. He said once they enroll and get their CNA, they do an internship or a clinical and then graduate from UCM with the certification. He said the CNA certification works for anywhere in Missouri, while the other certifications work for the Kansas City metropolitan area.
He said other examples of certifications are project management, web development, and computer programming.
“UCM is offering folks that aren’t interested in a traditional degree a way of bettering their lives via certification and skill-set training,” Smetana said.
Dir said she has had a lot of personal feedback from past students.
“A lot of them will tell me that I’ve made a difference. It’s kind of humbling,” she said. “I really have a heart for being able to give people who want to have an education and learning, being able to give them that — even when they can’t afford it.”
Dir said this program is helpful for students who can’t afford to get a traditional degree.
“With the workforce development, it gives an opportunity for students to have a win in life…to be able to graduate from a college with a certificate and make a livable wage, that’s a huge win for them.”
Smetana said the biggest aspect he loves about the program is that it is an opportunity for students of all education levels.
“The one amazing thing about the entire program is the folks that graduate from this, some of them have graduated high school and some of them who haven’t — they just have their GED — so when they graduate from UCM with their certificate, that could be the last graduation that they have or the first graduation that they have ever done,” he said. “It’s truly special to see (that) and invite their families, friends and folks that have supported them through this come in, watch them graduate and get that certificate and diploma form.”
Smetana said Dir is a good manager for the Workforce Development Program and is very student-centered.
“Clarinda is special because she genuinely cares about the people she’s working with and helping,” he said. “Clarinda actually realizes that she’s helping people better their lives, and she takes pride in that. She gets very excited to see those students walk across and get their certificate because they know whenever they get that certificate, they’re lives are getting better.”
Smetana said the program is helping nontraditional students get started in their careers.
“I think it’s really important that the campus in Warrensburg does realize that we’re out here trying to help non-traditional students,” he said. “And that’s truly the cool part about the program. Once again, the four-year college isn’t for everybody. Graduate school isn’t for everybody. But UCM can find a way to help people who aren’t necessarily good four-year students but still want to help them and still want to improve their lives.”