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Going From Work To Class Without Changing Gears

By Permission from the Boston Globe Online. By AMANDA K. LOWE, Globe correspondent

Steve Petrie, a professor from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, stood at the front of the classroom as the students took notes from the overhead projector. He explained the details of different types of plastic molds as he flipped through his educational slide show.

It looked like a class at UMass-Lowell. But the group actually was meeting at Gillette Co. in Boston, as it does every Tuesday evening.

UMass-Lowell has long offered programs that feature corporate partnering and regional economic development, but has stepped up the effort in the past five years. The school works with local companies to train their employees on the premises, with company-specific software and technologies.

'UMass-Lowell serves as an important educational resource for companies both nationally and internationally. The university which is particularly well known for its engineering, information technology, computer science, health management, and manufacturing programs provides training to employees on campus and off campus,' said Jacqueline Moloney, dean of Continuing Studies and Corporate Education at UMass-Lowell.

The university offers 28 certificate programs that allow employees to acquire specialized skills within a concentrated time frame. It also offers part-time degree programs and noncredit courses, which employees can take at their own pace between their home and work schedules.

'The on-site aspect of this program is one of the best benefits,' said Joanne Talty, corporate project manager for the school's Continuing Studies and Corporate Education Program. 'We bring the campus to them. We bring the books, registration, and professors at the hours they need. It makes the balance between being a full-time employee and taking classes more feasible.'

The 15 Gillette employees enrolled in the program are working toward a certificate in plastics engineering technology.

'Everything we learn in the classes I can apply directly to my work,' said Marcus Knight, a mechanic in injection molding.

'In order for us to ensure that our work force stays up to date with advancing technology, it is necessary to keep them updated with information to improve the company's productivity,' said Kristan Miller, manager of learning services at Gillette, 'Our machines and equipment are sophisticated, customized, proprietary. It is necessary to go into a partnership with an organization such as UMass because everything the students learn they can apply and use in our workplace.'

Instructors for the university's corporate training programs are drawn from a mix of UMass faculty and practicing professionals. All are abreast of advancing technology in the different fields.

Petrie has been teaching corporate classes at Gillette since 1997.

'Steve has been with us forever,' Miller said. 'He really knows the company. He is consistently updating himself with our technology so that he can keep the students updated. He does not let them slack off. He is constantly asking them questions and keeping them on their feet.'

3M Touch Systems in Methuen is another company taking advantage of UMass's corporate education program. Employees are being encouraged to take a noncredit circuits course.

'We value all of our employees and we need a development plan for each of them. We are a company that is striving in a competitive world, and we want to stay competitive and develop our employees,' said Steven Testa, the Methuen plant manager at 3M Touch Systems, 'This is not a cheap task, but the benefits are worth it.'

'I have gained all sorts of information from the classes. They are hands-on with the use of textbooks and lectures,' said Keith Loop, an engineer. 'The best aspect of this program is the fact that we get to learn from class and then actually build and test with what we have learned.'

Catherine Kendrick, director of corporate and distance market development at UMass-Lowell, said, 'By working with the university, companies ensure that they are receiving the best education in cutting-edge technologies tailored to fit their needs. The relationships we have established with Gillette and 3M epitomizes this idea.'

While employees at Gillette and 3M are working toward finishing up their classes, workers at other local companies have recently completed a program.

For example, 14 employees of BAE Systems Information Electronic Warfare Systems in Nashua completed an on-site certificate program in software release engineering. The company is encouraging more employees to enroll in classes.

'We don't leave anyone behind who wants to step up to the challenge of advanced training,' said Jim Fasoli, an official at BAE.

Testa of 3M sees programs like UMass-Lowell's offering broad benefits to the modern workforce, and society as a whole.

'Today, companies need to stay competitive,' Testa said. 'We need to stay in the game. Stay on top of things. Nothing is more important than constant development of our equipment and, more importantly, our employees.

'UMass-Lowell has been great with all of this,' he added. 'Their staff is intelligent and they are willing to work with the companies to provide the best they can. Every employee who enrolls in this program emerges as a stronger, more competent employee.'