Jim Sommer: WI Tech Ed Champion

Jim Sommer: WI Tech Ed Champion

| By: Britten, Casey

Service Motor Company President Jim Sommer earned the 2015 Technical Education Champion award on behalf of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) District Boards Association.

September 1, 2015

Highly Technical

Service Motor Company President Jim Sommer recognized in Wisconsin as a champion of technical education.

It’s often said that champions inspire the minds of others to do great things. One champion of industry in Wisconsin has taken that assertion a step further by inspiring the minds and hands of the next generation of agriculture professionals.

That person is Jim Sommer, president of Service Motor Company (SMC) in Dale. He earned the 2015 Technical Education Champion award on behalf of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) District Boards Association for his outstanding leadership and contributions to technical education and training.

Sommer’s multigenerational family business has basically served as an extension of Fox Valley Technical College’s (FVTC) Agriculture programs and their hands-on education for more than 40 years. Sommer’s support of FVTC’s successful 2012 public referendum was particularly exemplary.

During the referendum campaign, Sommer served as an active spokesperson for the “Friends of Fox Valley Tech” advocacy group. Part of FVTC’s facility projects during the $66.5 million referendum, which passed by a 2-1 margin, included the expansion of its Agriculture Center. The agriculture programs at FVTC had been experiencing an 87% enrollment spike over the previous five years, and the center needed extra space to accommodate rapid growth.

Jim Sommer played an instrumental role in articulating industry needs in agriculture to constituents during the referendum campaign. He has championed a need to develop relevant partnerships between high-tech educational institutions and businesses for several years as a way to keep Wisconsin’s agriculture industry among the best in the nation.

One of those partnerships includes a 10-year agreement between SMC, FVTC, and Wisconsin-based agriculture equipment manufacturer, Case IH. The collaboration consists of a rotation of state-of-the-art equipment under consignment through SMC for use in FVTC’s agriculture offerings and specialized training programs. The equipment is integrated into the college’s curriculum to ensure that the latest equipment is used by the next generation of highly skilled agriculture technicians.

“Hands-on learning on the latest farm equipment is the key to keeping this industry vibrant in Wisconsin, says Sommer. “We looked to Fox Valley Tech to form the agreement because the college is a proven training leader in preparing today and tomorrow’s agri-business professionals.”

SMC is also no stranger in championing both community- and industry-related initiatives. The company regularly provides equipment to Breakfast on the Farm events each summer, and it stepped up to the plate in a big way in 2012 as a major sponsor of the annual Wisconsin Farm Technology Days. SMC offered both equipment and staff support to that large-scale event.

At the state level, Jim Sommer advocated for the WTCS through letter writing and meeting with Madison lawmakers concerning a piece of proposed legislation, that as introduced, would have significantly altered the way technical colleges in Wisconsin would be governed and funded at the local level. Sommer realizes that one of the proven benchmarks of technical colleges has been their ability to respond to local industry needs.

“Jim’s passion for technical education is contagious,” adds Dr. Susan May, president of Fox Valley Technical College. “He and his family, along with their employees, are like an extension of our college’s Agriculture programs. Our region and state’s agriculture industry continues to flourish because of individuals like Jim and his commitment to education and training in advanced technologies.”

To Sommer, his many years of serving on FVTC’s agriculture advisory committee and lending his expertise to new program development are all in a day’s work. Humbled by the award, he shared his thoughts on the recognition, “This distinction is about Service Motor Company and its employees’ focus on promoting the Ag industry and nurturing the educational needs of students. Our company relies on Fox Valley Tech for many workforce-related needs because its instructors care about the success of their students.”

Recently, Jim Sommer even championed technical education outside of his everyday agriculture world by giving the FVTC Foundation a substantial discount to purchase a parcel of land that he owned in Greenville. Each year, a property in FVTC’s district is purchased for the college’s Residential Building Construction and Electricity programs. Students build and configure wiring in a new home as a learning lab, and then the FVTC Foundation sells the residence once it is completed. Net proceeds support both student and program needs at the college through its Foundation.

A permanent symbol at FVTC characterizes Jim Sommer’s passion for agriculture on behalf of his family and staff members at SMC. In 2013, the college renamed is agriculture center the Service Motor Company Agriculture Center at Fox Valley Technical College in acknowledgement of a new dimension to the partnership in the form of Ag scholarships, equipment, and financial support.