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Class helps Galesburg better plan for advanced manufacturing

Barry McNamara
05/10/2018
Robin Johnson talks with his “Politics and Government in the Midwest" students on the final day of class.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – A Monmouth College Citizenship project was a learning experience not only for the students in the class but for the community leaders of Galesburg as well.

Students in lecturer Robin Johnson’s 400-level Citizenship course, “Politics and Government in the Midwest,” worked with Galesburg officials to study how to bring more jobs in advanced manufacturing to the region.

By partnering with the Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development (KCAP) and City of Galesburg, the class explored how the community can continue its transition to a post-industrial economy as well as overcome barriers. It was the fifth time one of Johnson’s classes has worked with the community.

The students submitted a written report to Galesburg officials and also made a presentation, titled “Barriers to and Best Practices for Building an Advanced Manufacturing Workforce in Galesburg.”

“The work Professor Johnson’s class performs for KCAP influences our strategy and our messaging points – this isn’t some research paper that sits on a shelf,” said KCAP President Ken Springer. “Time and again, these Monmouth College students have demonstrated their ability to grasp complex, real-life issues, determine a course of action, and then advise our leadership in a concise and cogent manner.”

Learning Galesburg’s story

As part of the class, the students read Boom, Bust, Exodus – a 2014 book that explores the aftermath of Maytag’s decision to close its refrigerator plant in Galesburg and what happened to the factory’s workers. On the final day of the class, the students met two of those workers, who shared their stories.

“What was most interesting and alarming was how common Galesburg’s story was,” said student Brody Anderson ’18 of Princeton, Ill. “We lost our major factory, Harper-Wyman, because of globalization in a similar way Galesburg lost Maytag. This story of factories shutting down because of globalization is too common in the Midwest. This class made me aware that this problem is much larger than Princeton or Galesburg.”

Advanced manufacturing is one of three areas on which Knox County and Galesburg officials have pegged hopes for expanding economic opportunities. The other two areas are health care and transportation/logistics. Johnson is working with Galesburg officials on future class projects that will address the latter two issues.

Introduction to advanced manufacturing

Anderson said he appreciated the opportunity to dive deeper into advanced manufacturing and how to better develop it in Knox County.

“The days of the smoky, dirty factory full of unskilled labor are gone – new-age manufacturing that takes a skilled labor force is here,” he said. “The problem is going to be convincing people that going to work in a factory is OK again after we have driven the narrative of needing to go to a four-year college or more and become a white collar worker.”

The class also changed the perspective of Jayna Kozlowski ’18 of Orland Park, Ill.

“As a class, we toured Pegasus, an advanced manufacturing facility in Galesburg, which really opened my eyes to the industry and what was actually involved,” said Kozlowski. “Before the tour, I figured it would have been a dirty, loud place. I also learned the need for trained workers in this industry, specifically in Galesburg. Pegasus wanted to implement a second shift, but there were not enough workers in the area to fill the shift.”

Johnson’s students measured the capacity of local schools to teach and promote advanced manufacturing. They also searched for innovative ways that U.S. cities such as Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Elkhorn, Wis., market advanced manufacturing opportunities to young people.

The class also surveyed students at Monmouth-Roseville High School and Monmouth College to gauge their awareness of advanced manufacturing and their interest in it for a possible career.

“When we surveyed the students, we learned there was a major disconnect between advanced manufacturing and the future workforce,” said Anderson. “We have observed a situation where students do not want to work in a factory even if it will be a better job than what they’re striving for. I hope Galesburg takes our research and works with the schools and gives students the opportunity to go down this career path.”

Students, course receive a passing grade

“I’m very proud of the work my students did,” said Johnson. “Not only did it help Galesburg officials, but the students learned a great deal about the global economy, the challenges of old factory towns to reinvent themselves for the global economy, and the changing nature of the ‘American Dream’ and the middle class as they enter the workforce or continue their educations.”

Johnson said the project was also beneficial because it gave the students hands-on experience interacting with key leaders and on-site knowledge from field trips.

“They produced a report that is directly used by our partners,” he said. “As an added bonus, by consent of KACP, students can add this project experience to their résumés if they wish.”

His students agreed that the real-life application of their work makes it even more valuable.

“The best thing about (the College’s required curriculum of) Citizenship courses is the practicality of it,” he said. “This project has helped the city become aware of issues and will help it evolve into the future. Galesburg has the chance to be a city of the future with advanced manufacturing. I hope they take that opportunity.”

Kozlowski said: “I really enjoyed this class and felt that this project has the potential to make an impact on people’s lives. This project and our accompanying report could help change Galesburg’s economic situation.”

“Citizenship” is the senior year capstone course of Monmouth’s four-year Integrated Studies curriculum.