Cooperative learning experiences benefit students and employers

A range of experiences is available in Jamestown.

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Jack Bilowith works at a machining workstation at Dan Poland Machine in Jamestown. Biloweth is one of 38 students in a cooperative work experience this semester through the James Valley Career and Technology Center and says he's interested in a machinist career.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

JAMESTOWN – When Jerry Waagen began his part-time job in August as the work-based learning coordinator at James Valley Career and Technology Center, he expected to have about 15 students sign up for the program.

There were 25.

This semester, a record number of Jamestown students — 38 — are participating in a work-based learning experience, and Waagen hopes to continue that trend with students and employers.

“Basically, what we’re taking is the knowledge that the students are getting in the classroom and putting it into the workplace experience,” he said.

Jack Bilowith is one of those students. He moved to Jamestown last year and was interested in machinist work.


Now the senior at Jamestown High School is using his education to learn and acquire more skills at Dan Poland Machine in Jamestown.

Work-based learning — also known as cooperative work experience — offers a way for students to try career areas that they’re interested in before going on to college and learning a certain field is not for them.

“That’s the basic premise of the whole program,” Waagen said.

The goal is to create a relationship between students, businesses and schools that benefits all to meet employment needs now and in the future, according to information on the program.

“There’s a number of reasons why co-ops are so valuable,” said Darby Heinert, assistant director of the Career and Technology Center. “First of all, it gives a student an opportunity to network with an employer. And so they get to work at a progressive company in Stutsman County.”

For the employer, there’s the possibility of finding a future employee, he said.

Heinert said they want to keep students in Stutsman County, noting they can find good jobs here instead of moving elsewhere.

“We try to promote these as much as we can because we’re trying to keep our talent, our kids, our skills local,” he said. “... We have a depleted workforce and we’re doing our very best to help industry and to collaborate with industry to build a more sustainable workforce here.”


Students need to be enrolled or have previously taken a career and technical education course and have at least 1 credit in the program area, Waagen said. Courses related to work-based learning experiences include child development, auto collision, auto technology, construction, health careers, small animal care, nutrition and food preparation.

If approved for a cooperative work experience, students can earn half a credit for 75 hours of work or 1 credit for 150 hours in a semester.

“They’re working,” Heinert said. “This is not shadowing. They’re actually working with the equipment at these places. They’re contributing. In most cases, these are paid positions. These companies are paying our kids to work. So it’s a win-win. The kid gets paid and earns credit at the same time. They get to work with equipment that we probably won’t have at the Career and Tech (Center) depending on the experience.”

Connecting employers and students

As the work-based learning coordinator, Waagen connects with businesses to provide experiences for students interested in specific areas of work. This semester, there are 29 employers participating from a range of career fields.

“It’s so varied which is part of the fun of the program as well,” Waagen said. “The employers, when I connect with the new employers, most of them are very receptive and happy to have our students come there.”

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Jerry Waagen is the work-based learning coordinator at the James Valley Career and Technology Center. He helps students find work-based learning experiences at local businesses.
Kathy Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

Waagen said students are evaluated at the end of the work experience on job-related items from their quality and quantity of work to attendance/punctuality, appropriate dress, attitude, dependability and relations with coworkers, among other criteria. There are also specific competencies that are job specific that the employers help select, he said.

For businesses, students in a cooperative work experience can help them during a time when workers are desperately needed.


“They’re trying to find employees,” Waagen said. “I think that’s partially what this work-based learning program is about. Hopefully, we can help fill some of that gap. It doesn’t matter what field it is, almost any position in the city is looking to be filled. We have students that are helping as direct professional support people … we have a CNA, we have a student working in HVAC. You name it, I mean, we can kind of do that.”

Bill Ringuette, machinist at Dan Poland Machine, which fabricates parts and repairs broken parts, said Bilowith’s education was a key fit for his cooperative work experience.

“Jack actually has a fairly extensive knowledge already of machining,” Ringuette said. “We have a number of machines that are computer controlled, so he’s programming those computers to make the parts from the machine. It’s basically a robotic machine for cutting metal.”

Bilowith said he took precision machine and tool before moving to Jamestown.

“I used to live in Pennsylvania and when I was there I went to two years of a tech school during my sophomore and junior year,” Bilowith said.

Bilowith says he can see himself staying in Jamestown and working in a place like Dan Poland Machine.

“I enjoy this kind of work,” he said. “I’ve always liked making things and this basically allows me to make things professionally. Prior to my taking a class at my tech school back in Pennsylvania, I didn’t know what machining was, but ever since I found it, I love it.”

At Two Rivers Activity Center, Blair Arbuckle is also in a cooperative work experience.


“Blair’s position is basically directly related to our guest services department,” said Boya Quichocho, facility manager. “She does help run our point of sale systems, she deals with customer relations and just overall monitoring the building and greeting guests when they come in.”

Arbuckle said she can usually be found at the TRAC front desk and she’s learned there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes. She said she’s leaning toward a career in the physical therapy area or overall health and wellness in general.

“I think getting out to experience what you’re interested in is a really good idea and it helps lead you into a direction of what you want to do as a career,” Arbuckle, a senior, said of her work experience. “I really enjoy it. I also do some job shadowing up at JRMC (Jamestown Regional Medical Center) in the PT (physical therapy) department. … I love going up there, honestly.”

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Jamestown High School senior Blaire Arbuckle works a few hours a week at Two Rivers Activity Center.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

Quichocho said this is the first year that TRAC has participated in the work-based learning program, and employees work to train the students and teach them the skills they need to be successful, not only there but with their next employer or college.

... it gives a student an opportunity to network with an employer. And so they get to work at a progressive company in Stutsman County.
Darby Heinert, assistant director, James Valley Career and Technology Center

“From our experience, it’s been great, even with the few that we’ve had,” he said. “ … they’ve been great to work with and I feel like they’ve learned as well as us.”

Heinert noted that a number of businesses go on to sponsor students in college; the students will then return to work for that company.

“Auto technology, diesel technology is maybe our most active field right now,” Heinert said. “The lion’s share that are in automotive technology ... they will build a sponsorship with a local agency like John Deere, Valley Plains (Equipment), they’ll work with Butler (Machinery), they could work with Titan (Machinery),” he said. “All these companies sponsor our kids (in college).”

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Darby Heinert, assistant director at the James Valley Career and Technology Center, says cooperative learning experiences help students and employers.
Kathy Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

Sponsorships vary from employer to employer and can be set up how they want, Heinert said. It may be assistance with college costs up front or after training is completed over a period of time while working for the employer. It could be help with paying for tools, for example, in exchange for working for the employer for a specific time. If the student ends the agreement before planned, the student would pay the employer back a specific amount.


“The kid has a job waiting for them right after college,” Heinert said. “We’re keeping our home talent right here in Jamestown and they leave college with minimal student loan debt so it just makes sense to do it.”

Bilowith says he’s enjoyed his work experience and has learned a lot at Dan Poland Machine.

“They’ve been all very helpful, especially Bill (Ringuette), whenever I have any questions he’s always ready to answer them,” he said.

Ringuette said he thinks it’s key to the success of the experience that the students want to learn or have some type of idea it’s what they want to do. He noted people are needed in many fields and when someone shows an interest in it and excels at it, it makes sense to provide the experience.

“A lot of the older machinists are retiring and there’s nobody to replace them and when somebody’s young and has some enthusiasm for it, you’ve got to run with it,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing, I really do. I think it’s something we need to do.”

Quichocho says he wants to continue providing work-based learning experiences at TRAC.

“They’re right across the street so it kind of makes sense that they could do their work experience here,” he said. “And we do have needs in many departments, so hopefully, we can provide opportunities for a variety of students’ needs or wants.”

Heinert said local businesses have been “incredibly supportive” of the center’s programs.


“I think they see the value in it, they recognize the power of CTE, they recognize how important it is and how CTE supports so many industries not only to Jamestown but North Dakota,” he said. “They recognize the benefit of a kid getting some great hands-on experience with their company. It’s a way to pay it forward, if you will. It’s also a way for them to get a very good employee down the road.

“I’m also excited to see what’s next,” he added. “We have 38 kids placed (this semester) and that’s for a part-time work-based learning coordinator. Where’s the ceiling? What does that look like? And I don’t know what that is.”

For more information on the program, contact Waagen at 252-8841.

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Jack Bilowith's last name.


Participating businesses in work-based learning experiences

Anne Carlsen

Ben Tompkins Farm

Brown’s Farms

Building Blocks Child Development

Butler Machinery

Child in Our Hands

Cornerstone Nutrition

Creative Journey

Dakota Cabins

Dan Poland Machine

Dr. Dawn’s Pet Shop

Edgewood Senior Living

Heartland HVAC

Interstate Engineering

Jamestown Plumbing and Heating

Jamestown Regional Medical Center


Messner Construction

Northwest Tires

Rock of Ages

St. John’s Academy

Scott’s Electric

SMP Health - Ave Maria

Southwood Veterinary Clinic

Sunward Steel Buildings

TMT Farms

Triump Inc.

21st Century After School Program

Two Rivers Activity Center

Kathy Steiner has been the editor of The Jamestown Sun since 1995. She graduated from Valley City State College with a bachelor's degree in English and studied mass communications at North Dakota State University, Fargo. She reports on business, government and community topics in the Jamestown area. Reach her at 701-952-8449 or
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