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Nicolet College - Northstar Steel partners with Nicolet to create career pathways for area students

Northstar Steel partners with Nicolet College
to create career pathways for area students


Posted June 14, 2011
Making the transition from high school to college and ultimately success in the world of work can sometimes be a challenge.

To help smooth that pathway, a local metal fabrication company has developed a long-standing relationship with Nicolet College to help give students the experiences they need to succeed.

Northstar Steel Fabricating, founded in Rhinelander three decades ago, “has been a great Welding Competitionpartner with Nicolet College over the years,” said Brigitte Parsons, dean of Trade and Industry.

“They’ve been instrumental in helping the college build and expand the welding program into a model of success. Our students easily get placed with employers.”

The business was started by the father and son team of Peter and Mark Denis and currently has 34 employees.

“The Denis family has been instrumental in devising the standards and criteria needed for students to meet today’s employer needs,” Parsons explained.

Mark Denis and his sons, Dave, Steve and Robert, all are involved in various aspects of Nicolet’s manufacturing programs.

For Dave, serving on the advisory committee has been a way to stay involved in education. “I attended UW-Stout and majored in technical education,” he explained. “Instead of going into teaching I joined the family business, but training the next generation remains one of my passions.”

Under Dave’s guidance, the welding program has expanded to include the soft skills, or as Dave puts it, the fabricating concepts. “It used to be that kids would learn a welding skill,” he said, “but nowadays, with global competition, they need to come out knowing more about design and creation, have good math skills and know how to work with customers.”

Train CabMany years ago Dave helped launch Nicolet’s annual high school welding competition as a way to engender interest among high school students. “Kids were being drawn away from the manufacturing trades toward information technology,” he said. “We’re beginning to see that trend reverse.”

“The welding competitions are fun,” Parsons said, “because of the excitement you see among kids who have strong workplace skills in areas that are tough to measure in the traditional academic environment.”

The Denis family donates prizes, scholarships and all of the materials for the contest. This year, 48 students competed in the three-round contest that involves a math test, blueprint reading, and welding a 2x6-in. steel piece from a blueprint designed by Dave, who also served as a judge.

The Denis family’s generosity with time and donations is both altruistic and practical. “We do hire from Nicolet,” Dave said, “and over the years I’ve seen a definite improvement in the students coming out of the welding program. These graduates are bringing far more skills into the workplace.”

Northstar Steel builds control rooms and enclosures for the forestry, railroad, construction, aerospace, mining, agricultural and marine industries located around the world. To date, Northstar has created more than 13,000 cabs for customers who range from mid-size to international Fortune 500 companies.