Tech college sees future of Minnesota work force in minority students

Future machinists
Dunwoody College hopes to recruit more students of color, such as machinary student Eric Davis.
MPR Photo/Art Hughes

Dunwoody College is within sight of celebrating a century of training the backbone of the workforce: machinists, plumbers, printers and auto mechanics. The school has been at it's current site in downtown Minneapolis since 1914.

In one of Dunwoody's shops, student Eric Davis stands beside a powerful machine that spins a blade over a movable platform. Davis hopes to eventually work as a machinist.

He runs his fingers over the smooth surface of a freshly cut block of solid steel.

Diversity director
Amondo Dickerson is helping Dunwoody fill in its student population with more students of color.
MPR Photo/Art Hughes

"It's a v-block and these are 45-degree angles," he explains. "If you need to cut the angle off the corners (of a square block), set it in there and you'll be able to come and plane the ends off where it will be vertically straight."

As an African-American, Davis also represents the direction Dunwoody hopes to go as it charts its future course. Until two years ago, the school's student body was almost exclusively white and male.

"We've added people of color on board as well as women, now the perception changes. Now the overview changes," said Amondo Dickerson, Dunwoody's director of diversity.

Dickerson has seen the creation of a new student multicultural center and a women's resource room. Since Dickerson started in his position, the percentage of people of color has risen above 20 percent.

Punch through
Students at the Minneapolis Seed Academy practice martial arts during class. The Academy aims to instill discipline and a vision for success.
MPR Photo Art Hughes

"Within the next three four years we want to look around and see students of color and see 30-35 percent," he said. "If I can get 40 percent that'd be great."

Dickerson said reaching and sustaining that goal, though, will require a concerted effort.

That's where Denise Smith's sixth grade class at Seed Academy in north Minneapolis comes in. One afternoon they stand an chant poems by Langston Hughes in unison. The poem's words are an affirmation of African American culture--a culture Dunwoody hopes to welcome.

Dunwoody has begun a partnership with the school and the affiliated Harvest preparatory school to create a pipeline of potential students.

It's hard for them to have a vision for what these professions actually do.

Dunwoody is now in the process of building a new high school, named Dunwoody Academy, in an effort to maintain a continuous relationship between Seed and the college. Seed and Harvest President Eric Mahmoud said the Dunwoody connection offers tangible, longer-term educational and professional goals that his students typically find elusive.

"One of the main challenges of the children we serve--because many of the parents don't have these professions--it's hard for them to have a vision for what these professions actually do," Mahmoud said.

The high school will also offer eight hour school days and a 210-day school year. Mahmoud said by the end of their senior year the students will have completed a total of two years more class time than their public school counterparts. The system expands upon smaller applied learning programs at places like North and Edison High Schools that Mahmoud said appear to help many lower income, African American students.

"Attendance rate (is) higher, grade point (is) higher, graduation rates (are) higher," Mahmoud said. "So we have clear data that a Dunwoody type program works."

Pipeline to success
Seed Academy/Harvest Preparatory School President Eric Mahmoud wants students to see the professional options ahead of them.
MPR Photo/Art Hughes

Dunwoody Academy is scheduled to open in the fall. Mahmoud and Dunwoody administrators acknowledge not all of the high school's students will want to go on to technical careers such as auto mechanics or air conditioner repair, but they say enough of them could to supply the future workforce the state's economy demands.

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