MSCS faculty member Jon Powell with his first cohort of students building out Habitat’s new ReStore.

First year of construction partnership a smashing success!


From: Travis Thul, D. Eng., P.E.
Dean of Trade & Technology
Minnesota State College Southeast

In the early months of 2018, Minnesota State College Southeast faced a dilemma: how to partner with the community to address a workforce housing shortage while simultaneously growing enrollment in mission critical trades programming. The answer was the construction technology program and integration of curriculum with Winona’s Habitat for Humanity.

In retrospect, such a partnership is intuitive and necessary to build not only homes, but a community of tradespeople, volunteers, and goodwill. However, in early 2018, such a reality seemed far off. It was only due to the tenacity and big thinking of Habitat’s leadership, combined with the vigor of technical college faculty, that the goals so far have exceeded all expectations. Specifically, if not for the integration of Habitat’s John Corcoran into MSCS’s construction technology program and his willingness to make Habitat’s work site a functional classroom, the gains thus far would have not been captured.

Some of the highlights of the last year include:

• MSCS students, working under faculty member Jon Powell and in conjunction with John Corcoran, constructing Habitat’s new 2,800 square foot ReStore processing room addition; formally nothing more than a hole in the ground.

• The expansion of construction education through daily and direct interaction with Habitat’s professional craftsmen and volunteers, resulting in breadth and depth of professional practice.

• Student labor, valued at more than $460,000, has helped build out Habitat’s critical mission to Winona, while providing students a project which grows the mind and the soul.

In addition to these service-learning metrics, the construction technology program has seen enrollment surpass all expectations, with 16 students making up the first cohort. Looking ahead, classes are expected to be at or near capacity for the 2020 academic year. Many of these students, pursuing diplomas and AAS degrees, are already working in the local industry and helping to ensure Winona continues to be a great place to live, work, and thrive.

In closing, if not for the visionary leadership of Habitat’s Amanda Hedlund and the unyielding support from John Corcoran, the seeds of this initiative would not yet have started to grow. Their efforts, combined with faculty member Jon Powell’s visionary leadership, have set an example for communities across the state to emulate.


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