Breaking barriers: Pro-Tech program catches the eye of US Secretary of Education

Hannah Kuperus– Staff Writer

Masks and elbow taps replaced smiles and handshakes as Betsy DeVos, US Secretary of Education, paid a visit to Sioux Center to learn about Dordt’s pro-tech program. Dordt hosted the event in the Ag Stewardship Center on Friday, October 16. DeVos viewed demonstrations by students and participated in a roundtable discussion with local business partners and Dordt faculty and staff.

Dordt’s President Erik Hoekstra met DeVos in Washington D.C. about three years ago and offered an open invitation for her to come see Dordt’s pro-tech program after discussing it with her.

“To have her come here to see what we’re trying to do, to hopefully learn from her, which we’ve done today, is just a real pleasure and an honor for Sioux Center and Dordt University.” Hoekstra said.

During the roundtable discussion, business partner Denny Van Zanten, plant manager at Pella Corporation, had nothing but praise to give to the pro-tech program.

“Pella is growing and needs strong leaders, and Dordt produces servant leaders.” Van Zanten said.

Similar recognition came from other business owners and students’ parents. Businesses said they felt grateful for the Dordt culture students bring to the business atmosphere, while parents appreciated how the pro-tech program brings the campus life of a four-year institution to a two-year technical program.

“I think Dordt has demonstrated a real creative streak by thinking about what the opportunities are to prepare students for the important and meaningful work and to do that in a new way, and how to forge new partnerships.” 

DeVos said, “I think it’s a really great model, and other institutions may want to study it and perhaps emulate it or do something similar.”

Dordt’s pro-tech program currently offers an associates degree in manufacturing technology and farm operations and management. As a relatively new program, not everything is going perfectly smooth. Leah Zuidema, vice president of academic affairs, raised issues that new programs and educational innovation in general often face.

“We are constantly trying to improve,” DeVos said. “There are some issues that [Dordt] raised from a regulatory perspective that we’ll definitely want to go take a look at and see…if there’s a way to address them.”

Despite these difficulties, the pro-tech program as a whole continued to receive compliments at the event, especially regarding the barriers it has broken down between education and the real world.

“[Dordt has] a lot to be proud of and grateful for, and I really admire the partnerships [it has] cultivated,” DeVos said.

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