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Hi-Line Living - Northern student ready to enter the field


Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

As graduation draws closer, many Montana State University-Northern students are preparing to enter the workforce, for some, in a worldwide arena, for others, locally or in their hometowns.

One student, Associated Students of Montana State University-Northern President Christopher Brekke-George of Bozeman, is preparing to move back to his hometown to start his career.

Brekke-George, a diesel technology student, started at Northern in the fall of 2013, after graduating from Bozeman High School earlier that spring, he said. He he had heard about Northern's diesel program by word-of-mouth, having former Northern students and his high school shop teacher Jess Stovall recommend the program to him.

He said that he will be graduating with a bachelor's degree in diesel tech and an associate degree in agricultural mechanics. He said that while he was at Northern he also took many classes outside of his degree which were of interest to him, such as agricultural classes because he and his family are hobby ranchers, including his father, Bob Brekke, a former animal operations manager of Montana State University's College of Agriculture and Montana Agricultural Experiment Station.

After he graduates, Brekke-George said, he will be working for Churchill Equipment Co. out of Bozeman. He said that he is looking forward to working there.

He said that although he had a number of other job offers from other companies he wanted to work in his hometown.

"I've known them forever," he said. "They were always the one we got equipment from."

He said he approached the company a couple summers ago to let them know he was available for summer jobs, and last summer got to work for them.

"I did that, and I really enjoyed it, so I decided that I would go back and work for them," he said.

Just being part of Northern's diesel program is a benefit for finding a job, he said. Students always have someone asking if they are interested in a company or telling them that they would hire them.

"I think that's a huge benefit," he said. "... It's kind of a weird feeling."

Brekke-George said that not many other programs have companies looking to hire everyone graduating.

He added that one thing that is beneficial about the four-year degree for him - Northern's four-year degree is a rarity, with most programs offering only one- or two-year programs - is that he had a lot of time to work on things. Students can see the technology and spend time getting a good grasp of it without being rushed through.

"Sometimes just having the theory of how it operates can help you out a lot with diagnosing it and finding out what the issue is," he said.

College of Technical Sciences Chair and Diesel Technology Associate Professor Steven Don said the four-year diesel students are also receiving general education in math, human relations and science, so they are well-rounded students. The extra two years in the program also allows the students to mature and build their analytical and, critical thinking skills and advance their practical knowledge throughout the program.

Changing along with the technology

Brekke-George said that when he first enrolled at Northern, he was not sure what he wanted to do, but knew that he wanted a career where he could work with his hands. He said Northern's diesel technology is a very good program, and after starting school, he found that the industry had changed, implementing more technology and adapting for the modern world.

"It's kind of changing the idea of what being in the diesel industry is," he said. "... (But) there is still a lot of turning wrenches."

He said that the change is good and opens up the industry to a wider range of students. What the diesel world is becoming can attract more students, even if they might initially have no interest in the career. There are a lot of different aspects to explore with the career, with the increase of technology involved in the mechanics of diesel equipment as well as degrees such as diesel management where students are trained in the managing aspects of the industry, while also still having the mechanical knowledge of how to work on equipment.

Brekke-George said that the program at Northern grows to adapt to the technology required in the industry, such as the majority of the equipment being computerized with multiple processors that all have to communicate with each other for the equipment to work.

Brekke-George said that people need to consider a career in diesel - even if students don't think it is the career for them, they might be surprised that it is perfect for them.

"Really look into it," he said.

He said that the changes in the industry can also bring students into a much-needed field.

"We can't ever supply enough," he said. "Look at all possibilities of trade because you might be surprised by what is out there."

Northern has been adapting to meet the changes, including with the construction of its Applied Techology Center last decade and with the opening of its new Diesel Technology Center last year. That building replaced an outmoded facility built in the 1950s that housed both the diesel and automotive technology programs.

Brekke-George said his initial thought of the previous building, when he saw it in 2013, was that it was very crowded. He added that he could definitely tell the program needed more space and the new Diesel Technology Center is much more updated and welcoming.

"When I first came here, it was just kind of this thought, in a lot of aspects," he said. "They were working on getting it built then being able to actually see it being built and actually able to have a couple classes in here."

College of Technical Sciences Dean Dave Krueger said that he loves the new building. It is almost exactly a year, two completed semesters, since the building was opened. He added that the industry partners have also loaned a large amount of equipment for the students to work on.

Don said multiple millions of dollars of equipment are loaned to the program from industry partners to train workers. It's there for the students, not the faculty, he said.

Growing need in the trades

And the need for students from Northern's diesel program - and from its other trade programs - is growing.

Krueger said the number of Baby Boomers who are retiring within the next five to 10 years is depleting the management in supervisory roles in the diesel industry. This is a major problem across United States as well as internationally. The industry needs students to fill those rolls.

He added that many times companies hire Northern's students right out of college and make sure they have good technical skills before trying to move them up.

"The technology is so different from years ago," he said.

Don said that for every five people leaving the trade only one person is coming in, and that does not only apply to the diesel industry but all careers in trades, such as welding, plumbing and electrical.

"Society already is in trouble, we are in big trouble, we just don't know it yet," he said.

Northern has a large number of students in trade programs but that is not even the tip of the iceberg, he said.

"We don't even come close to meeting the demand," he said, adding that trade work is not going anywhere in the future.

By the time students graduate from the diesel program they already have three to four job offers from different companies, including some students with only the associate degree.

Don said that Northern is getting more and more students from across the country, because it is one of the only four-year diesel programs in the country and that opens a number of doors for their students.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Krueger said that the technicians who leave Northern are engaged in an "industry that is high-paid, high-tech, highly skilled, with a clean, safe, work culture and that's what employers are now looking at," he said.

The industry encourages students, male and female, to get involved, he said. He added that some individual companies that would hire every single student in the diesel program if they could.

"They need people," he said.

Northern's benefits aren't only in the classroom, Brekke-George said. The biggest benefit of Northern's campus, he said, was the smaller community. He said it was a tight-knit community where students who walk through campus mostly know each other.

"You don't see that on very many campuses," he said.


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