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MTI power line program named among best in nation, awarded $50K

Mitchell Technical Institute powerline student Jake Vinson, of Sturgis, works on one of the training poles in MTI's powerline field on Friday afternoon. (Matt Gade / Republic)1 / 2
Mitchell Technical Institute power line student Jake Vinson, of Sturgis, works on top of a training pole in MTI's powerline field on Friday afternoon. (Matt Gade / Republic)2 / 2

Every day when Mike Puetz walks into his classroom at Mitchell Technical Institute, he's greeted with the voices of his students saying "It's a good day to be a lineman."

But today, it's going to be an even greater day.

Today, Puetz and other Mitchell Tech officials are announcing the power line construction and maintenance program was named the winner of the inaugural Siemens-Aspen Community College STEM award.

"It's definitely a shock. There's a lot of good programs in the nation, and for us to be chosen is unbelievable," said Puetz, the department head and one of several instructors in the Mitchell Tech power line construction and maintenance program.

The award, given to eight colleges nationwide that provide "outstanding preparation" for students in high-demand jobs, provides the power line program with $50,000.

The award was given by the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program and the Siemens Foundation to community college programs that excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

"It just proves what type of program we are. There's a reason why we got this, and I hope that there is," Puetz said of the one-year program. " ... This is the icing on the cake."

Half of the $50,000 award will be allocated for program development, while the remaining money will be given as scholarships to students. These students will be known as Siemens Technical Scholars.

The scholars will receive a scholarship between $3,500 and $10,000 to continue education or pay existing student loan debt. Julie Brookbank, associate to the president at Mitchell Tech, said there will be between three and six students in the program that will be named scholars.

"This is a label that this program will have forever. It will always now be a Siemens-Aspen Community College STEM award winner," Brookbank said. "That's something that'll be on marketing materials, and those students will always be Siemens Scholars and will be in the ranks of those individuals selected from those awards. Puts them in pretty high esteem nationwide."

Few other power line programs have ever earned the Siemens-Aspen award, Brookbank said, and all were two-year programs — until Mitchell Tech. And to have a one-year program win such a prestigious award, she said, is stunning.

"This program is just firing on all cylinders right now," Brookbank said. "We're excited to see some recognition for the excellence that we provide here."

Other Siemens-Aspen award winners

• Nursing, Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

• Electrical trades, Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque, New Mexico

• Paramedic, Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida

• Animation and gaming international complex, Miami Dade College in Miami, Florida

• Dental hygiene, Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield, Missouri

• Computer-integrated machining, South Central College in Mankato, Minnesota

• Telecommunications technology, Valencia College in Orlando, Florida

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