Mankato and SPC home to first polytech institute in Minnesota

Universities have been adapting “polytechnic” schools for the past few decades. Several states have adopted polytechnic institutes into their universities, and now, Minnesota State will offer the first and only polytechnic institute in the state. 

Polytechnic refers to an educational approach with a focus on applied and experiential learning, meaning the curriculum is more project-based than a traditional lecture environment. 

The Minnesota Polytechnic and Applied Learning Institute (MinnPoly) partners with other colleges in the state, notably Saint Paul College. MSU President Edward Inch cut a ceremonial ribbon at the college with SPC President Deidra Peaslee on Jan. 11 to celebrate the launch of the partnership. 

The campus has a recently renovated engineering laboratory where students can complete an MSU four-year degree on the SPC campus. This will allow a broader range of students from different areas to get MSU degrees without needing to be in Mankato, as well as travel opportunities for MSU staff. 

Other MinnPoly partnership locations are Twin Cities Engineering in Bloomington and Iron Range Engineering and Bell Engineering in Virginia, MN. Although MinnPoly is not exclusively an engineering institute, this major is one of the more prominent in the program due to its project-based nature in the field. 

“It’s built off of our engineering program, but it goes beyond engineering,” Dr. Brian Martensen, executive director of MinnPoly, said. 

Martensen said MinnPoly’s development, which has been in the works for roughly five years, is based on Industry 4.0, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Industry 4.0 is a conceptualization of the technological needs of the near future, which rely heavily on collaboration and rapidly developing digital technology. 

“So, a lot of that will be computer fields, manufacturing, and other areas. But really polytech is any program that is career focused with a technical component. So that could include, and I would say especially where the humanities overlap with technology. Our approach is we typically are looking at programs that do project-based learning,” Martensen said.

Martensen said the need for project-based learning is necessary for modern college students because it offers real industry experience and connections that will ultimately stand out to employers more.

“Traditionally, higher education has not deviated too much from classroom and siloed learning. But there has been growing evidence that greater integration across disciplines with hands-on learning and practical applications creates a new kind of graduate that is able to adapt to the fast pace of change in technology and society,” he said. “Employers are looking for graduates with particular skills who can immediately contribute to their organizations and quickly advance in their careers. MinnPoly programs contribute to that in a way that blurs the lines between academia and industry.”

Write to Carly Bahr at caroline.bahr@mnsu.edu

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