Going the Distance with IT Exploration Learning in Greater Minnesota

Going the Distance with IT Exploration Learning in Greater Minnesota

Get Ready Tech Employers! Greater Minnesota is collaborating to become a major player in the talent development business.


Excellent Information Technology (IT) employment awaits anyone who possesses the passion, skills, and desire to become one of our next, best Minnesota-grown technologists.  Employer demand for people with proven technology expertise far exceeds supply. This is true today, and will be for years to come. Take a sneak peek of IT demand and related opportunities. Technology jobs exist in every industry imaginable; healthcare, business, retail, banking, entertainment, education, law enforcement, agriculture, and so on — Every employer is in competition to recruit, hire, and retain quality IT talent.  


Addressing the shortage of tech talent is a critical responsibility of educators and employers alike; requiring an urban, suburban, and rural response.  In Greater Minnesota, certain challenges make it especially difficult for high school students to acquire the knowledge needed to become an in-demand tech talent solution.


Challenges like:  

  • Finding educators with technology teaching expertise
  • Training/supporting teachers to deliver quality technology education
  • Scarce financial resources
  • Limited student interest and availability
  • Geographic/travel distances


Through determination, resourcefulness, and fittingly technology…the challenges have become less mighty and significantly more manageable.  Minnesota West Community and Technical College and high schools in Red Wood Falls, Wabasso, and Red Rock Central (Lamberton) have partnered to offer a distance learning solution.  In the queue are the communities of Andrian and Luverne. A pilot project funded and supported by Minnesota State – IT Center of Excellence and Lyft Career Pathways helped the IT Exploration partners to design and develop the distance offering that involves the study of computer hardware maintenance and repair, software development (including gaming), network administration, telecommunications, data analytics, and cyber security.  Minnesota West instructors Pam Jensen and Terri Pelzel from the Granite Falls and Jackson campus locations envisioned and led the partnership charge.  They also provide course instruction


How the Partnership Works  

Participating high schools can choose to train existing personnel to offer the IT Exploration class with the opportunity for students to receive dual credit (high school and college) or they can enroll students in the online version of the class.  The earned college credits can be applied toward a certificate in Information Technology, which can be further used toward the attainment of a degree in Computer and Networking Technology.


The partnership features the college instructors meeting with the high school students at their area high school to get them started, and the students visiting their closest Minnesota West campus during the semester to complete labs on virtual operating systems and other equipment and software not affordable or available to the area high school.  Industry tour visits are arranged with employer partners. And, students can work on the class requirements during any class period, yet have access to the instructors at posted times throughout the semester.


Pictured (l to r): Marlene Craik, M|State – Detroit Lakes; Terri Pelzel, Minnesota West; Pam Jensen, Minnesota West; Tim Preuss, M|State – Moorhead; and Janet Johnson, M|State – Detroit Lakes are collaborating to expand the ITX distance learning offering from southwestern Minnesota to serve high school students in the northwestern region of the state.

Critical to the success of the partnership have been the principals of participating high schools and Tom Hoft with the Southwest Central Service Cooperative.  The IT Exploration curriculum provided by the IT Center of Excellence shares current content and learning activities of interest to students. The curriculum, training and support is offered at no cost for any secondary school in Minnesota with an interest to provide their students exposure to technology education and career opportunities.


ITX Distance learning visionary, design leader, and teacher Pam Jensen offers her perspective,

The IT Exploration course is an exciting opportunity for students to be immersed in the fields of Information Technology, Cybersecurity, Computer science, gaming and business analytics.  This engaging curriculum allows the student to work independently to explore the many opportunities in computer technology. The faculty provides support to the student when they need help. In addition, job shadowing in local businesses show students careers available in their home town.  This program is one of the most exciting, innovative opportunities for schools and communities that I have seen in more than 20 years.


What’s next?

Minnesota West will repeat the distance learning option starting in January, 2019 (spring semester.  For more information about this offering, or replication of the distance learning partnership, contact Pam.Jensen@mnwest.edu or Terri.Pelzel@mnwest.edu.


The northwest region of Minnesota is partnering with Minnesota West ITX teachers and the IT Center to initiate the IT career pathway effort with their area high school partners.  Recent adoptees of the distance learning model are the Minnesota State Community and Technical Colleges in Detroit Lakes and Moorhead, and Alexandria Technical and Community College. According to Janice Aanenson, Director of Academic Initiatives with the IT Center of Excellence, “Under Pam and Terri’s leadership we are now poised to transform IT Exploration to offer Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) dual high school and college credits for participating high school students.  Their model will involve faculty at the colleges teaching the curriculum online as well as having the future option for high school teachers to be mentored by college faculty members, enabling them to teach the curriculum. This is an exciting venture that we are delighted to support.”


The IT Exploration Curriculum is available for FREE to interested Minnesota secondary schools and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.  Visit the STEM Fuse portal to access the free curriculum.  Subscribe to the IT Community K12 Educator Blog for updates on training and support information.



Established in 1997, MnWest is a community and technical college with campuses in the southwestern Minnesota communities of Canby, Granite Falls, Jackson, Pipestone, and Worthington, with three learning centers in Luverne, Marshall, and Redwood Falls.  Students have the opportunity to earn an Associate Degree, Diploma, or Certificate in more than 60 disciplines. Visit MnWest for detailed information.



Formerly known as Advance IT Minnesota, the MN State IT Center of Excellence engages employers, educators, technology professionals and learners to develop a more robust IT workforce in Minnesota. A Center of Excellence within the Colleges and Universities of Minnesota State (formerly MnSCU), it is located at Metropolitan State University, St. Paul Midway campus. For more information, visit the IT Center of Excellence.