It's not a big school but Lake Area Tech in Watertown is getting a lot of national recognition.
For the second year in a row the two-year school was a finalist with distinction for a national award recognizing community colleges. It was one of only four schools across the country to earn that high of a mark this year.
If you ask those at Lake Area Tech what makes their school a good one, you might hear a few different answers. But there isn’t much argument that the school is a good one.
"We've always considered ourselves to be a premier learning institution, but now we've got this national recognition," instructor Mona Gleysteen said.
"Before I came here I didn't really think much of it," automotive student Britt Henley said. “But it's definitely a good school.”
As an instructor of microbiology at Lake Area Tech, Gleysteen credits hard-working students, caring staff and committed employers for the school's success.
When naming Lake Area Tech as a finalist with distinction for the second year in a row, The Aspen Institute cited Lake Area students' high completion and employment rates.
Each program in the school has an advisory board made of employers who tell the school what type of skills they're looking for in future employees.
"They work very closely with us so we depend on them to tell us and then we adjust and change our curriculum very quickly to make sure we are getting them the skills they need when they graduate," Dean of Instruction Kim Bellum said.
That helps with the high employment rates. The school also adapts and adds programs based on workforce demand.
In her classes, Gleysteen sees students who are willing to work hard and achieve goals necessary to get into the workforce. Personalized attention from instructors is another factor the school of nearly 1800 students lists when explaining the high completion rate.
"We care about the students; we want them to succeed," Gleyseteen said.
"They're very personable. You know them on a first-name basis and they're very helpful," nursing student Brittany Stensrud said.
The Aspen Institute recognition came with a $100,000 prize for the second year in a row to Lake Area. A committee made up of a variety of people ranging from students to administrators decided how to use last year's prize to further improve the school. It plans to do the same this year.
But beyond any improvement or recognition, what matters to each individual student is whether the school prepares them for the future. Those we spoke with say it has.
"I've already got jobs lined up and I've got a job at a shop right now so not worried about that," Henley said.
"The job rate right now is very good and especially with nursing there are opportunities everywhere," Stensrud said.
Lake Area’s first goal is to connect students with those opportunities. A future first place finish among two-year schools is something it wouldn't mind either.
Two schools tied for first place this year. Lake Area was one of two in a runner up category.