A rainy day didn’t deter the Baker Technical Institute from welcoming state legislators, county commissioners, Blue Mountain Community College representatives, and company representatives from around the region for a tour on Monday morning, March 28.
State Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, whose district includes Baker County, had visited BTI, which is based at the Baker High School campus, a couple years ago.
Findley, along with BTI President Doug Dalton, worked with the Eastern Oregon Workforce Board to plan the tour showcasing what BTI has to offer students and adults. About 20 people participated in Monday’s event, including another legislator, Sen. Bill Hansell, a Republican from Athena, in Umatilla County.
“I toured BTI about two years ago and was so impressed with this facility and what you guys do up here,” Findley said.
The facility, which started about eight years ago in the Baker 5J School District, offers a heavy equipment operator school, a truck driving school, a health care program, training in agriculture, natural sciences and natural resources, and it recently partnered with Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative to start a utility worker training center.
Sandy Mitchell, program coordinator for BTI, explained that BTI is a technical college.
“We contract back with the Baker School District and provide all of the (grades) 7-12 CTE (career technical education) programs and then we also are licensed as a technical college in the state of Oregon through HECC, Higher Education Coordinating Commission,” Mitchell said.
She said BTI partners with industries across the Pacific Northwest to take BTI training programs to other communities.
“Right now, we’re in Eastern Idaho. In Idaho Falls, we have 20 students that we’re training in construction,” Mitchell said. “So, last week they actually poured concrete and they’re learning concrete masonry at a rest area. We do community projects and our instructors will go in and teach them.”
She said all 20 of the students learned skills in blueprint reading, construction math, how to find the volume, what you need for concrete, and how to order it.
Mitchell said BTI instructors also set up at remote location mobile classrooms with trailers that contain simulators that students use to learn how to operate heavy equipment such as backhoes and excavators.
“We feel really strongly about getting students as many certifications as possible,” Dalton said.
In healthcare, Dalton said BTI has mobile labs that allow instructors to work inside hospitals across the region, including in Pendleton, Heppner, Wallowa, John Day, Burns and Ontario.
“We’re now building labs to be able to teach medical classes from here into even smaller rural communities,” Dalton said.
Participants in Monday’s tour experienced the mobile heavy equipment simulators, including truck driving and logistics training.
“These trailers go all over the Northwest,” Dalton said.
Patrick Raimondo, plant manager at Behlen Country’s livestock equipment factory in Baker City, attended the tour along with the plant’s human resources manager, Stacy DeLong, and Angi Boruch, quality and safety manager.
Delong and Boruch chose the truck driving simulator. Users settle into an authentic truck seat that moves just as a real truck would depending on terrain and road surface.
Three screens showed the view through the windshield, windows, and rear view mirrors.
An instructor chooses different driving scenarios for the student to deal with, including inclement weather, a deer leaping into the road, or a blown tire or other mechanical problem.“I’ve got to give it to the truck drivers, this is not easy,” Boruch said after her turn on the simulator.
“This is wild,” DeLong said.
Agriculture, health care offerings continue to grow
Dalton led the tour from the simulators to the FFA greenhouse, where students were tending to flower baskets for the Mother’s Day sale. It will be held in person.
“90 percent of our ag program is directed at high school students, (the) FFA program here,” Dalton said. “We’ve got a full plant science pathway and a full animal science pathway, both. And then we offer ag business and ag technology and innovation classes.”
The BTI ag program was voted program of the year for Oregon and the region.
BTI also has an ESports team, the first in Oregon. The team participates in electronic sports tournaments.
In health care, BTI has courses focusing on rural medicine, including wilderness first aid.
“We train everybody from physicians that need continuing ed and we’re approved through the American Medical Association to give them rural life support skills,” Dalton said.
Dalton said BTI has a student base of about 2,000 students around the area and they are continuing to grow.
“We have a contract with the Baker School District, we do all their high school CTE (career technical education) and we ship middle school students up here to get started,” he said. “So, they are earning industry certifications here as high school students, which is awesome. We’ll train about 400 during the day here up until afternoon, and then at about 2:30 the adults start coming in.”
Dalton said the average starting salary for students who had completed classes was $56 per hour. He said BTI students learn to prepare resumes, go through mock interviews, and understand entrepreneurship and financial record-keeping.
“We celebrate work ethic and we talk about it every day,” he said.
Dalton said BTI also encourages creative thinking among students.
Its Tormach 1100mx CNC Mill, a $40,000 machine that arrived in pieces in hundreds of boxes, was put together by Zach Morrison for an engineer project.
“Work ethic. We’re super proud of that. He was creative, he had the work ethic, he was here every weekend,” Dalton said of Morrison.
Students use the CNC Mill to create projects and have robotic tournaments and more. “Fabulous skills and it all starts with creativity,” Dalton said.