When the Milwaukee Area Technical College's fall 2009 FORWARD Management associate degree students gathered for their orientation Sept. 24 at the Mequon Campus, they were met by an anniversary celebration, featuring talks by college officials. The new students are the 50th FORWARD Management group to begin MATC's accelerated business program, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this fall.
Coordinated by instructor Mike Halloran, the program leads to an associate degree in supervisory management. Classes fit the schedules of working adults who aspire to hold management positions or move up the management ladder. Students attend one evening per week or on Saturdays, year round, completing their degrees in two and one-half to three years. Classes are held evenings at the Mequon and Oak Creek Campuses and on Saturdays at the West Allis Campus.
(left to right) FORWARD program coordinator Mike Halloran; and recent graduates Barb Volp and John Varva.
In addition to core general education courses, the curriculum includes six-week sections on supervision, personal skills for supervisors, managerial communications, business organization and management, human resource management, legal issues for supervisors, leadership development, diversity and change management, team building and problem solving, math processes, business finance and budgeting, project management and managing for quality and safety in the workplace. All required related courses also are available in accelerated formats, and many are offered on on-line.
"Education in this program has generated a huge amount of success for our graduates," Halloran said. "They really take the lessons they've learned and apply it to their jobs in so many ways. It's led to promotions or better jobs for so many."
Two successful graduates of the program - Barb Volp and John Varva - visited with the new students during the Sept. 24 orientation/celebration. Despite having years of work experience under their belts, both entered the program because they felt they could further their careers if they could say they had a degree.
"From a career standpoint, taking the FORWARD Management program was best thing I've ever done." -- John Varva
Learned Much More Than Anticipated
"I told people I was going back to school just for the piece of paper (his diploma)" Varva said in an interview. "I'd been managing people for 15 years. I didn't think I had that much to learn. In the end, I learned a lot more than I anticipated. You can fake a lot, but it's so much better when you have the knowledge to back it up. The program gave me a lot of confidence, it enhanced my feeling of self-worth. I learned a lot about management structure, motivating people, human resources, and rules and regulations."
Varva, 38, works for Guy & O'Neill, Inc., a company in Fredonia that makes various kinds of wet wipes. Since graduating from the FORWARD program in 2005, Varva has been promoted three times. He now manages 100 people and recently assumed leadership of the Safety Department of the plant. "From a career standpoint, taking the FORWARD Management program was best thing I've ever done."
Before joining the staff of Guy & O'Neill, Varva attended two years of college at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, then went on to manage a Pizza Hut. Subsequent jobs included managing a department store, a grocery store, and work as an assembler at Simplicity in Port Washington. In the future, he'd like to go back to college and earn a bachelor's degree in human resources.
Barb Volp, special projects manager for Heiser Automotive Group, also joined the FORWARD Management program with uncertainty about the real value of a diploma."Before I went back to school, I thought it was very unfair to ignore people with 20 years experience in favor of people with a degree," she explained. "Now I see why a degree makes a difference. It's more about the journey and the learning than it is about what you read in textbooks. The thing I gained most from the program was a feeling of self-worth. I always felt a little below the others because I didn't have a degree. I was amazed at what I learned immediately when I started the program. My supervisors noticed the difference right away, too."
Never Too Late to Return to School
She said she wished she hadn't waited so long to go to college. Now 54, Volp graduated from the FORWARD Management Program in 2006. "I wish I would have done it long ago," she said. "The first night of school, I was so nervous, it was like going to kindergarten after 30 years. That kind of fear is common for returning adults. But I loved it. Now I keep telling people, it's never too late."
According to Volp, crossing the stage at graduation was one of the 10 most memorable moments in her life. Because she had such a great experience with the program, she coordinated an effort to start a mentoring program for people enrolled in FORWARD Management. "Some of us who have graduated go into orientation sessions to encourage people to stick with the program. We try to visit classes three times a year. It just helps people if we pop in and tell them that we survived."
In addition, Varva and Volp both service on the Advisory Committee for FORWARD Management, helping Halloran and the Business Division to continually update and fine tune the program to meet the changing needs of employers and employees.
"We always have to be conscious of developments in the workplace," Halloran said. "For instance, right now we have a lot of unemployed people in the program. The struggling economy makes it a great time to be in the program because current students will be in a position to get much better jobs when things turn around."
(left to right) Speakers at the recent FORWARD orientation: Mike Halloran, FORWARD program coordinator/instructor; Michael Townsend, vice president, MATC-Mequon Campus; Lucia Francis, MATC dean of the Business Division; and Richard Ammon, associate dean of business and health occupations, MATC-Mequon Campus.