Northeast education compact to boost student learning, workforce development

by Geitner Simmons | IANR Communications

nebraska education leadership discuss plans
Leslie Johnson, left, a Nebraska Extension educator, speaks with a breakout group during the annual conference for the northeast educational compact, held at Northeast Community College in Norfolk. Standing beside Johnson is Doug Zalesky, director of the Eastern Nebraska Research, Extension and Education Center. (Photo courtesy of Jerry Guenther/Northeast Community College)
March 26, 2024

Lincoln, Neb. —A northeast Nebraska educational partnership that includes the University of Nebraska–Lincoln is honing strategies to boost students’ learning opportunities. The initiative is also strengthening ties with private-sector companies to enhance workforce development in agricultural and natural resources fields.

Representatives of member institutions met March 19 for the compact’s annual planning summit, held this year at Northeast Community College in Norfolk. Twenty-one school districts in northeast Nebraska participate in the compact along with a set of higher education institutions and three Educational Service Units.  

A key focus of the March 19 session was strengthening communication with industry to introduce students early to career possibilities and make the best use of apprenticeships and other opportunities. Interaction with private-sector companies can help educational institutions make sure their instructional offerings meet private-sector needs, attendees said.

The compact is well positioned to be a “connector” between schools and employers to meet the wide range of students’ needs, said Tara Smydra, dean of science, technology, agriculture and mathematics at Northeast Community College.

“Students can go in lots of directions” in terms of their career interests and instructional needs, “so it’s important to make sure we have clear pathways that give them all the opportunities they need,” Smydra said. “The compact has multiple high school connections and the ESUs, so this is a perfect group to work together to do that.”

Conversations with private-sector companies can help the compact’s two- and four-year educational institutions make instructional adjustments and hone accreditation processes to meet industry needs and promote a long-term talent pipeline, said Ron Loggins, dean of Wayne State College’s School of Science, Health and Criminal Justice.

This regional initiative, the Northeast Nebraska Agricultural Science and Natural Resources Education Compact, began in 2019 and expanded in membership in 2022. It is a first-of-its-kind regional educational partnership for the state.

The group’s March 19 conference was led by Tammy Mittelstet, statewide education and career pathways coordinator for the university’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. The meeting included breakout sessions on four topics: teacher and student experiences pathways; compact procedures; workforce development; and expanding the experiential learning opportunities at the university’s Haskell Ag Lab in Concord.

Haskell, a 550-acre site 15 miles north of Wayne, includes extensive cropland, farming and ranching facilities, an arboretum, pollinator gardens and beehives. The compact hosts an annual teacher conference there to coordinate on Haskell-based learning opportunities for students.

Conferees agreed that the compact’s member organizations are doing a good job offering a large set of worthwhile events for students such as career days and field trips. CASNR provides a newsletter that helps compact members understand available resources among the partner organizations, along with events.

Conferees discussed possibilities for communications planforms, such as a listserv, that could strengthen the interaction among the compact’s teachers.

“Our goal, as far as teacher and student experiences, is that we need to determine a way to make connections with the teachers and let them know about opportunities that can support them, such as curriculum, school activities and field trips,” said Monty Larsen, a lecturer with the university’s Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication Department who provides outreach support for agricultural and skilled technical science educators.

The compact’s original membership from 2019 consisted of CASNR, Little Priest Tribal College, Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, Nebraska Indian Community College, Northeast Community College, Wayne Community Schools and Wayne State College.

In 2022, the compact’s membership expanded to include Educational Service Units 1, 7 and 8 along with these school districts: Ainsworth, Allen, Battle Creek, Boone Central, Crofton, Elkhorn Valley, Emerson-Hubbard, Homer, Laurel-Concord-Coleridge, Neligh-Oakdale, O’Neill, Ponca, South Sioux City, Stanton, Summerland, Umonhon Nation, Walthill, Winnebago, Winside and Wisner-Pilger.

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