Minnesota State Community and Technical College Commercial Refrigeration instructor Travis DeJong went swimming with the sharks this spring and came away with $22,700 to help train his students in the latest refrigeration industry technology.
With the support of Carrie Ward, dean of technical programs on M State’s Moorhead campus, DeJong applied for a Shark Tank Innovation Fund grant to pay for installation of state-of-the-art commercial refrigeration equipment in his program’s lab.
The Innovation Fund, a project of the Minnesota State system, is designed to reward innovative teaching at Minnesota’s 54 two-year and four-year colleges and universities.
In his pitch to an Innovation Fund panel, DeJong explained that most supermarkets and warehouses today use a “rack system” that utilizes a single computer to control nearly all their operations – from refrigeration cooling units to lights in the parking lot.
With nearly $100,000 worth of computerized rack system equipment already donated by his program’s business partners, DeJong requested the Innovation Fund grant to pay for the professional installation of the system in his M State refrigeration lab, along with training and curriculum-writing costs.
He said the new equipment means M State students “will have the opportunity to physically work on the equipment used in the marketplace today. Currently students are able to go out to industry sites and see the technology in use, but they’re not able to touch, install or operate it. “
The program’s business partners will also benefit, DeJong added, since M State will be providing them with a workforce that’s already trained in cutting-edge technology.
“Currently, few certified refrigeration technicians know and understand this technology,” DeJong said in his grant application. “Students in our technical programs should be working on the equipment that business and industry use every day. “
Installation of the new refrigeration equipment will begin in the Commercial Refrigeration lab on M State’s Moorhead campus during the summer.
The one-year Commercial Refrigeration program is designed as a second year of specialized training for graduates of M State’s Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning/Refrigeration program and for refrigeration technicians who have previous industry experience.
DeJong said business partner support for the program has been strong in part because of an anticipated labor shortage in the industry both in the Fargo Moorhead area and nationally; industry projections warn there will not be enough trained technicians to replace the 300,000 who are expected to retire in the next five years.
According to labor outlook projections, regional employment among heating and air conditioning mechanics and installers is expected to increase by 5.1 percent over the next four years.
DeJong’s grant application was one of 10 winning proposals for Shark Tank Innovation Funding announced in May. Competitors for the funding had to present their ideas to a panelist of educators, legislators and business community members. In making the award, the review committee said M State provided a “compelling” market analysis of potential job opportunities for students in the Commercial Refrigeration program.