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Madison College Portage campus celebrates 40 years

October 5, 2018

Old stories did not seem unfamiliar to Madison College Portage Campus Manager Linda Nellen as she sifted through archives of the past 40 years.

She found as many constants as she did transformations.

“We were changing people’s lives back then and we still are today,” Nellen said of the local campus that opened Oct. 22, 1978.

Researching its history this week, she came across a Wisconsin State Journal article from 1981 that told the story of an Endeavor farmer, Gerald Musiedlak, who’d lost his eyesight four years earlier. He met an MATC instructor on his CB radio, and that resulted in his taking agri-development courses in Portage.

From there, Musiedlak developed fertilization plans, picked better breeder sires and improved milk production on his 445-acre dairy farm.

“Forty years is hard to believe,” Nellen said of campus history. “I’ve been here nine years, but it seems like I started yesterday. Time goes quickly.”

To celebrate the anniversary, residents are invited to visit at any time from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 22 for refreshments and tours — an opportunity to perhaps learn as much about the history of the campus as staff did.

“The building itself is very unique,” Marketing Director Nicole Thompson said of the 17,000-square-foot building’s distinctive solar panels, which, along with cost-effective radiant floor heating, demonstrate a campus “ahead of its time.”

Staff found pictures of Wisconsin politician and soon-to-be-governor Tommy Thompson attending the groundbreaking of the Portage campus, which ultimately opened on the same day as the Reedsburg campus, Nicole Thompson said. Madison College’s other two regional campuses — in Watertown and Fort Atkinson — were established the year before.

Only noncredit, continuing education courses such as cooking and sewing were offered when the Portage campus opened its doors in 1978, Nellen said, but Madison College, established in 1912, had for several years offered classes in area high schools, hospitals, the Columbia County Courthouse and even a local tavern.

Today, the Portage campus serves about 1,200 students. It offers six full programs, including business management, human resource management, accounting, liberal arts transfer, criminal justice and industrial maintenance mechanic, also offering several certificates in such programs as nursing assistant. The campus offers a full range of academic and support services, Thompson said, including advising, counseling, disability resources and career services, a library and a learning center for GED/HSED preparation, WorkSmart and Scholars of Promise programs to help students overcome barriers to college, non-credit enrichment classes and more.

The demand for local access to higher education never stops growing, said Regional Vice President Jim Falco.

“Forty years ago there were people in the community who thought it was really important that people had access to continuing education — to job training skills and skill development — and so the Portage campus as we now know it was established,” Falco said.

Taking one year of general education courses at Madison College amounts to $13,000 in savings compared with a four-year college — one of the chief benefits of a regional campus, Falco said. Many things have been added to the Portage campus in recent years, such as training for manufacturing employees occurring at the Portage Enterprise Center, as well as the college’s partnership with local school districts for the Gateway to College program for students completing their high school diplomas, which started locally in the fall.

Many more things will be added in the future.

“As we look out three, five and 10 years, more and more things are moving toward automation and requiring high degrees of skill — specifically in things like medicine and medical records, everything is electronic,” Falco said. “Computer infrastructure is in place that wasn’t 10 years ago, and so people need to develop these skills to keep things running. There will be an accelerated demand for high-tech knowledge in automation, whether in manufacturing, medical records, or in the IT field. All of this takes highly-skilled, trained workers.”

In the spring, an area manufacturer contacted the campus because it desired more advanced training for its employees in programmable logic controllers — more than could be gained from the college’s introductory course in controllers, Falco noted. A few months later, the campus offered PLC 2.

“They asked for something more advanced, and then we did it,” Falco said. “Five or six years ago we might not have seen that. But we have such great partnerships with the community of Portage and in the surrounding areas.”

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