Hurdles and monkey bars par for MW obstacle course
WORTHINGTON -- There are few obstacles on the road to success as the second year of the Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) law enforcement degree program at Minnesota West Community and Technical College gets under way.
"Last year was the first year that degree was offered here, and we had our first skills graduation this past spring," said Mark Holden, Minnesota West law enforcement program coordinator. "All of our students successfully passed the licensure testing, so we knew we did it right."
In fact, Holden and fellow law enforcement instructor Ronald Schwint thought it would only benefit the program's nearly 40 students to throw a few more hurdles their way.
So they creatively repurposed the former tennis courts behind the Worthington Area YMCA and, with a lot of ingenuity and labor on the part of Minnesota West's maintenance team, emerged with a new skills obstacle course that will be useful not only for the law enforcement students but also for the college's athletes.
"Physical conditioning is part of our program, so we converted the old tennis courts to include monkey bars, dummy weights and counterweighted pulls, a push-up area, steps, a balance beam, a sit-up area, and a three-foot chain-link fence, four-foot wall and a six-foot wall," detailed Holden, who joined Minnesota West in 2005 as an instructor and began coordinating the school's law enforcement program two years later.
"Minnesota West's maintenance department did all the work and fabricated all the materials — the walls, the monkey bars, dummy weights, everything — and put them in the ground, cut out the asphalt where necessary and recoated the surface," he reported.
In addition, a 12-foot perimeter was left around the space for a running track, and a gate was included so the law enforcement students can bring in vehicles to practice stops and approaches on individuals, Holden explained.
"It can be used for more than just an obstacle course," he said. "We initiated it, but I've also worked with the athletic department, and I expect that the football, basketball and wrestling teams, and maybe also the volleyball and softball athletes, may use it."
The in-house work made the project affordable; Holden estimates the total to be around $5,000, a steep discount from the roughly $23,000 that was initially bid for the project.
"It was a huge savings for us, and we got great value for the dollar," insisted Holden. "Dr. Shrubb wanted it to look professional, and there are a few finishing touches yet to come — a five-by-five program decal will go on the wall, and some white lines will be painted to outline the track, as well as white lines painted around the pits to frame them."
Holden points out that, because it's a fenced-in area, it can be secured when not in use to prevent injuries to children or other curiosity seekers.
"We'll be utilizing a space that hasn't been effectively used by the college in some time," Holden said.
The new obstacle course is really just another sign of the law enforcement program's advancement, according to Holden.
"Our program is based on pride, purpose and professionalism, and our goal at Minnesota West is to provide the best law enforcement training in the state," he said. "We do that with reality-based training and by encouraging our students to volunteer throughout the year — at the Nobles County Fair, as King Turkey Day parade assistants, at the Christmas basket distribution, with adopt-a-highway.
"We encourage our students to do those things because police work is about being in the community as well as enforcement, and departments look for that kind of involvement when they're hiring people."
Student enrollment in the law enforcement program has grown from about 30 in 2012-13 to nearly 40 for this school year.
"It's a 72-credit degree, so the students take 18 credits a semester and they're very busy," Holden assured. "The first year is more academics and basic law enforcement classes, and the second year is almost entirely skills-related courses.
"We have quite a diverse group of students, both ethnically and gender-wise, and it's kind of exciting to see that because it aids in cultural communication between law enforcement personnel and citizens in the 'real world' of law enforcement. I had a student who was from Ethiopia a couple years ago who spoke five languages, and he really taught us all a lot."
Holden is understandably excited about the positive reputation the Minnesota West law enforcement program is building around the state, noting that as late as last week students to whom the program was recommended had enrolled for the coming year.
"Word of mouth is your best advertisement, and as we put out quality individuals who are finding jobs, others hear about us, and that tells us we're doing the right thing," added Holden.
Holden and Schwint both bring decades of hands-on experience in law enforcement to share with their students; Holden worked for 18 years with the Lakeville Police Department, and Schwint was on the Sioux Falls, S.D., police force for 21 years.
"All of our instructors are experienced law enforcement professionals, because keeping it real is the most valuable thing we can do," said Holden. "Students can read textbooks, but sharing our experiences and getting them to see what is really out there is vital."
The new obstacle course is another step toward preparing the law enforcement students for the physical requirements of future jobs, and Holden assures that more positive changes and expansion of the local program will soon follow.
"The plans are still in the works, but the college is really going to go all in for the program, which is awesome," affirmed Holden. "We grow pretty close relationships with our students, and that's one of the things that is really special about our program.
"Students are not just numbers here."