Washburn Tech engages its students to create a productive learning community

Julia Eilert

A yearly, national tradition for technical students continued in Topeka, at the place where it began five years ago.

“There’s nothing more powerful than telling a student that you want them, and you want them in the program, and you’re excited to have them there,” says Dean Clark Coco in Washburn Tech’s video prefacing its signing day.

Thursday, Feb. 15 was the fifth annual National Technical Letter of Intent Signing Day for Washburn Tech. The signing is dedicated to incoming students, and was created by the school to encourage and celebrate tech school students.

“There was an image that students that went to tech institutions had, and not a very good one- we used to label the tech kids” said Coco. “That image has changed over the last ten years- students come here and get a skill set and get placed in the community.”

The signing original started with just Washburn Tech, but in the last five years over 60 other schools have participated in this event.

“You get a hat, and a shirt, and we get to let people know that we want them,” said Associate Dean of Student Services, Mark Wilson. “You can make a great living doing what we do. It’s always a great transition if you want.”

In the ceremony, students are called up to sign a contract stating that they intent to attend Washburn Tech. While the event takes place on the campus, it is nationally televised for outside viewers.

“It is the concept where we’d sign athletes with letters of intent,” Coco said. “So, why don’t we sign students into our programs to study? That’s how it got started.”

The event is meant to motivate and excite incoming students about their upcoming place in their education and to help them see their full potential as they begin schooling.

“We have the highest placement rate in the state of Kansas, 97%,” said Coco. “The truth is this: If a student is drug free, and does what they’re supposed to do in their classroom of study, works hard, and they complete their program of study, and they’ll show up to work, that student comes to me at 9 o’clock in the morning, and I can have them placed by 5 o’clock that evening.”

Along with signing up new students and helping them find their calling, Washburn Tech is close to competing in SkillsUSA this April.  

“Last year, 89 students came in with either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place medals- more than anyone else in the state of Kansas,” said Coco. “Of those students, 40 of them are going on to nationals. I always say, well guess what? That’s better than what K-state football and KU basketball can do, right? And I’m a fan of both!”

In SkillsUSA, tech school students from all across the nation come together to compete in their trades. Students can compete at local or state levels. If a student wins at state, they’re then qualified to go on to the national competition in Louisville, Kentucky.

“We had a student get 2nd place in the nation, and he’s now in an engineering program,” Coco said. “Another three students earned gold medals at state. There’s nobody else in the nation that can say that, as far as the quality of what the students are earning- especially for the size of our institution.”

Students can compete in anything from advertising designs to welding and technical drafting. According to its website, there were more than 6,200 contestants in the 2017 competition. The competition is a way to engage students even further with their subject of study outside of the classroom.

“This is a gold mine for the Topeka area, it’s such a great opportunity for our students,” said Wilson.“I love being part of Washburn Tech, it’s such a neat thing.”

Washburn Tech is always finding ways to help its students, whether it is with a higher sense of engagement or fun, exciting competitions. There are many options for students to make their path at Washburn Tech.

“If a student wants to be here, they’re gonna be here,” said Coco. “If we gotta help with their math and reading, then we’ll help with their math and reading. There is always a place for a student. There’s a place for everybody if they really want to go to work. That’s hope. That’s what we do here.”