Constructive learning

County unearths budget windfall
thanks to UM College of Technology

The students in the heavy equipment
operation program at the University of
Montana College of Technology were
doing more than just playing in the
dirt Wednesday at the site for the
new county animal shelter.


"This is our final exam right here.
This is make-it-or-break-it time," said
21-year-old Skyler Loch.

The students have been operating
bulldozers, loaders, rollers, backhoes
and scrapers in order to get the site
ready for construction of the animal
shelter. The site for the shelter is on
the west end of town, near DeSmet

Program director Mike Dominicak said the team of 10 students has been working on this project for
the past seven or eight days. It is the culminating project in the yearlong program.

"They’re really rocking and rolling out there," he said.

The first step in the process was to remove the topsoil from the building site. The team is currently
adding gravel and dirt to raise the level of the building pad. As they add material, they level the
surface so that it’s stable to build on. This will take the students several more days, he said.

Once they have completed the building pad, they will pack up their equipment and go home,
Dominicak said, having saved taxpayers as much as $80,000 with their work.

Barbara Evans, a Missoula County commissioner, said she contacted Paul Williamson, the dean of
the College of Technology, about the project.

"It seemed logical to me that we could both benefit. I think it’s a wonderful program," she said.

The program is the only one of its kind in Montana, Dominicak said, and among only a handful

Compared to other programs like it, the College of Technology gives students a good value. The cost
for in-state students is about $3,500 a semester, he said.

And by the time they have completed the coursework, students will have each logged 200-250 hours
running various pieces of heavy equipment. This hands-on experience is valuable when it comes to
getting a job, Dominicak said.

"I run them really hard," he said. "It gets pretty tense out there, but they are getting pretty good at it.

"You could take every one of them, and put them on any piece of equipment here, and they would
know how to run it, and how to run it in a safe manner."

The experience is of such value to these future operators, he said, that there is a two-year waiting list
to get into the program.

Leah Clark, an 18-year-old from Thompson Falls, is the only woman in the program. Clark said she
would like to be a civil engineer, and thought the program would give her a good sense of running the

Clark said the best part for her is seeing the progress after a long day of work.

Dominicak said many people don’t realize how much work goes into an excavation project like this
one. While construction of the shelter will not be completed until this fall, building doesn’t even start
until Dominicak and his team finish their work.

"There’s a lot more involved than just sitting in those yellow machines, bouncing around on the dirt,"
Dominicak said.

Although sitting in those yellow machines is one of the perks of the job, Loch said.

Loch, who hopes to be a crane operator, said the job will allow him to work outside and earn good

Dominicak said the same thing that drives many of the students also motivates him.

"I hate sitting behind a desk," he said. "This is like a big kid’s sandbox."

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