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Democratic gubernatorial candidate tours WITC

WITC’s campus administrator Joseph Huftel and Democratic Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke joke around in WITC’s media center during her visit there Tuesday, Feb. 25. (Photo by Sarah Young)1 / 2
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, a former executive of Trek Bicycle Corp., checks out a robotic MIG welder at WITC in New Richmond on her visit there Tuesday, Feb. 25. (Photo by Sarah Young)2 / 2

Democratic Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke made a stop at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WITC) in New Richmond on Tuesday, Feb. 25 to tour the facility and learn more about the programs offered there.

According to a press release about Burke’s visit, she would like to see “some of the additional funds from Wisconsin’s projected $977 million surplus go to worker training that will fuel job creation and strengthen Wisconsin’s middle class.”

WITC vice president of instructional technology and campus administrator Joseph Huftel led Burke on a brief tour of welding, information technology, nursing, packaging technology, machine tool, applied communications and media center classes and facilities.

On each leg of the tour, Burke visited with faculty and students and chatted about a wide range of topics, including their confidence in the job market after graduation, their choice of careers and the tools WITC is providing students to be successful in those careers.

When Burke asked students about their confidence in finding a job after their training is complete, nearly all students said they felt sure they would excel in their fields.

Burke said the purpose of her visit was to educate herself on the technical college and Bosch Packaging Technology, which is right next door.

“I’m running for governor to make sure we’re creating more middle class jobs in this state and that we get our economy going,” Burke said. “We are lagging compared to every other state around us and well, we’re growing at half the rate of the national economy. We have to make sure we’re doing what’s needed to get Wisconsin’s economy going. There’s no better examples than our technical colleges. Gov. Walker cut funding to our technical colleges and as governor I want to make sure we are funding our technical colleges and our education system so that we are going to be a leading economy in the country.”

Burke also spoke of the importance of WITC and other technical colleges in creating jobs in Wisconsin. She said making sure technical colleges get the funding they need would be one of her top priorities.

“We were the first state in the country to have a technical college system. I have visited probably five of our technical colleges and each one is doing incredible work, but we still have a lot more work to do,” Burke said.

After the tour, Burke met with five students who are veterans, as well as some members of the New Richmond VFW Post 10818.

Hoftel said WITC has 35 veterans who are students, and while they have no formal club or organization on campus, WITC “would certainly offer that up as a system of support if they so desire.”

Burke and the students spoke of their chosen courses of study (three in criminal justice fields), funding and the availability of counselors specializing in helping veterans.

One student told Burke he wished there was more exposure in high schools to career training.

Burke agreed and said “It’s not unusual to have people in high school not super engaged or thinking about their future careers. It would be good to engage people more.”

Another audience member said he wishes there was more accountability for people who receive Social Security disability benefits. Others echoed the sentiment, saying people should be drug tested before receiving benefits. They also told Burke they would like to see those people get help finding jobs.

Burke was an executive at Trek Bicycle in Waterloo before she served as Wisconsin Secretary of Commerce under Gov. Jim Doyle. In 2012, she was elected to the Madison School Board. She declared her candidacy for governor last October.

She said she will “absolutely return to New Richmond” before the election in November. She toured WITC after a day spent in Mondovi.

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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