CHEYENNE – The first students to receive a bachelor’s degree from Laramie County Community College will walk across the stage today.
They were a part of the two bachelor of applied science programs, which community colleges across the state were approved to implement by the Legislature in 2019. It was a response to the establishment of Wyoming’s educational attainment goals, and in the hopes of increasing the percentage of adults with a post-secondary degree or certificate.
“Our bachelor’s program has been a collaborative process, combined with dedication and hard work from both our students and faculty, to get us to this point,” said LCCC Vice President of Academic Affairs Kari Brown-Herbst. “Our students, faculty and staff have given an amazing amount of time and energy to develop this program, and we are excited to see our first cohort of students receive their bachelor’s degree from LCCC.”
The applied science programs launched in fall 2020 and focused on health care administration and applied management. Students had the option of choosing which they felt best represented their career path, and there were still opportunities to take classes in either field.
Health Sciences Interim Program Director Danielle Opp said the concentration throughout the health care administration program was on health care policy, law and organization. Students came from different backgrounds, and had jobs as radiologists, paramedics, ultrasound technicians and more. Although they had training, certificates or associates degrees, she said they wanted a bachelor’s degrees to move into a more managerial or administrative position.
“I’m just really impressed with this group; they have been stellar students,” Opp told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “And I’m especially proud because they did this entire program through COVID.”
Christopher Beltz was one of those students.
He was raising a family and serving as the director of Campbell County Health Urgent and Emergency Services in Gillette. He went through the two-year program online, and said it prepares individuals well for a leadership role and understanding how to be a successful health care administrator.
His goal is to become a chief operating officer in 10 to 15 years, and the bachelor of applied science gave him the necessary skills. One of the classes that taught him the most was health care statistics, and he said even though it was difficult, it allowed him to practice implementing a new service and compiling data.
Although he was impressed and happy to attend the program, he said he’s excited that his time of managing school and working full-time has come to an end.
“I can’t wait to not have to do homework every night,” Beltz said.
The other program his peers were a part of was the applied management concentration.
Business and Finance Interim Program Director Jeff Shmidl said there was an emphasis on strategic planning, human resource development, data and financial analysis, as well as management skills. This was to address the shortage of opportunities for students with technical backgrounds and work experience to move into management, simply because they could not obtain a management degree without restarting their higher-education path completely.
Because many of his students were also nontraditional, he said they also shared new perspectives with their classmates on their actual work experience. From comparing how a previous boss handled a situation to comparing strategic planning methods, they learned in new ways.
Schmidl said he couldn’t have asked for a better cohort of students to undertake the new program, and many have moved into management. He considers them a success story.
“It’s going to be a hard graduation,” he told the WTE. “You know, I won’t see them. We’ve been meeting once a week on Tuesday nights as a group.”
Nate Hobbes, a graduate from the applied management program, applauded Schmidl when he reflected on his two years at the community college. He said it is intimidating committing to a brand-new degree, but the director made it a welcoming process.
“He was really responsive to feedback and wanting to know how things were going, what things weren’t working,” Hobbes said. “So, yes, we were the guinea pigs, but I also feel like we got to have a lot of influence on how the program’s going to look.”
He said he loved how students can take what they learned in the classroom and apply it to their passion. He is an office manager at a repair shop, and he wanted to learn how to develop a strong business model. His classes in contract law, management and communications helped, as did his capstone project.
He looked at creating partnerships with local truck dealers, and offering curb-appeal packages that would take trucks not selling on their lots and make them profitable. Hobbes said the dealership could add a lift kit, running boards and big wheels for $5,000 with the auto shop, but mark it up to $10,000 because of the investment. His portfolio also featured contracts, mission and vision statements, and budgets he created to showcase for employers.
“I can go out now and do anything that I want to do,” he said.