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NORTHERN Marianas College and the Northern Marianas Technical Institute signed a one-year memorandum of understanding or MOU on Friday at NMTI’s Lower Base campus to further solidify their partnership.

Present for the momentous occasion were Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, NMTI Board of Trustees chairperson Mario Valentino, NMTI interim chief executive officer Jodina Attao, NMC Board of Regents chair Charles Cepeda, NMC President Dr. Galvin Deleon Guerrero, CNMI State Workforce Development board chair Josephine Mesta, acting Education Commissioner Eric Magofna and several other key stakeholders.

The MOU enumerates the roles and responsibilities of NMC and NMTI.

NMC must ensure that its apprenticeship program will work toward streamlining the apprenticeship process for all partners and participants, with regards to related training instruction, or RTI, with a clear understanding that all academic courses will be managed by NMC and all technical courses will be managed by NMTI.

The NMC Adult Education State Office Adult Basic Education Program, or ABE, will offer the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System, or CASAS, on-site to NMTI students.

Interested NMTI students may utilize the NMTI computer lab to complete assignments or projects for their Adult School, or AS, courses and Workplace Skills Training, or WST, online.

The ABE staff will support NMI students with their educational and workforce goals, as well as work with NMTI staff to track student hours and share relevant data.

NMC Rota and Tinian sites will assist NMTI in establishing workshops and instructional spaces on both islands to be able to provide advanced career, technical, and trades curricula.

NMC academic programs and services will explore and develop academic and career pathways with NMTI to facilitate smoother transitions between the two institutions.

NMTI will participate in streamlining processes for the apprenticeship program with regard to RTI management and planning for all technical courses.

It will also provide on-site student support services, such as the use of its computer lab, to complete coursework as required by the NMC ABE program.

The NMTI student services office will collect, monitor, track, analyze, and share all relevant student data upon written request.

NMTI will seek funding opportunities and/or leverage resources with relevant partners and stakeholders to equip NMC Rota and Tinian assigned instructional spaces with needed equipment, materials, and supplies that will establish the offering of technical courses on the respective islands.

The NMTI Office of Instruction, specifically the curriculum coordinator, will participate in the exploration and development of academic alignment efforts by and between the two institutions of higher learning.

NMC and NMTI faculty, staff, and administrators will proactively work in tandem with each other’s counterparts as needed for various projects to reinforce their partnership and working relationship.

Relevant NMC and NMTI faculty, staff, and administrators will participate in meetings, events, or activities of which NMC’s presence is required or requested.

NMC and NMTI faculty, staff, and administrators will develop and provide status update reports on a periodic basis as appropriate for projects pursuant to this agreement.

This agreement will be automatically renewed annually, unless cancelled in writing by either party at least 90 days prior to its expiration date.

Neither party shall be liable for any delay or failure to meet its obligations pursuant to this MOU due to circumstances beyond its reasonable control.

NMC and NMTI shall maintain communications with relevant departmental program directors and/or managers, faculty, and staff to promote the enhancement of available relevant programs and/or curriculum that may serve a cross cutting purpose.

Nothing in this agreement may be construed to allow either party to maintain, use, disclose, or share student record information in a manner not allowed under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.

NMC and NMTI faculty and staff agree to safeguard personally identifiable information from student records.

Recognizing that through collaboration and partnership, both institutions will be better positioned to meet the workforce training and development needs of the CNMI, both NMC and NMTI remain committed to training and developing the local workforce.

Both institutions also note that the CNMI is facing a gradual exodus of foreign workers, which further requires the training and development of a resident workforce to meet the demands of the CNMI’s evolving economy.

The agreement was signed by NMC President Dr. Deleon Guerrero and NMTI interim CEO Attao.

Historic agreement

Governor Torres, for his part, congratulated both institutions on their momentous historic agreement.

“This is a very monumental time for all of us,” he said, noting that at the top of the week, NMTI, NMC, and PSS came together for yet another historic event, the signing of a proclamation to mark the CNMI’s participation in National Apprenticeship Week.

 “We’re excited. We know the priorities that we need to meet by 2029 [when the federal CW-1 program ends]. I think that this is the right foundation... I’m just here to witness this monumental moment and congratulate all of you. Know that my office is ready to assist in any way.”

NMC President Dr. Deleon Guerrero, for his part, thanked NMC board chair Cepeda for his unwavering support, NMTI officials for their hospitality and partnership, as well as State Workforce Development Board chair Mesta and acting Education Commissioner Magofna for their support and partnership.

He also thanked Governor Torres for his presence and support.

“On Monday, we were witnessing him signing an important document. Now he’s here witnessing us sign an important document, and that just demonstrates his commitment to what we’re doing here. He didn’t have to be here, but he’s here. In fact, he insisted on being here. He’s a very busy man,” said Dr. Deleon Guerrero.

He also pledged the schools and workforce development partners’ commitments to reconvene on March 1, 2022 to provide an update on the progress of their partnership.

“It’s been a great week. I think it’s the first time ever that we’re celebrating National Apprenticeship Week here in the CNMI and with the gradual exodus of foreign workers, now more than ever, we need programs like this to meet the workforce needs of the CNMI,” he said.

“The great thing about today is that on Monday, the governor set the vision for the entire Commonwealth and today, we're giving it meat where we got very specific and very concrete about what NMC and NMTI are going to do to meet the workforce need. We got right down into the details of which programs are going to work with which programs, who's going to do what, and what's going to be done.

“I'm also glad that today, everyone committed to regrouping in about three months, on March 1, 2022, to just kind of get an update and take those next steps. I think it's exciting to take something as inspirational as a proclamation and then make it real through this kind of memorandum. It moves us forward beyond just words and towards action,” he added.

By then,. Deleon Guerrero said  he would like to see some action taken on some of the provisions of the MOU, such as allowing NMTI to use NMC’s facilities on all three islands.

“It would be great to have actually launched some programs on Rota and Tinian. A lot of this is making sure that there’s curricular alignment between the NMC curriculum and NMTI curriculum. It would be great to see something like what’s called an articulation agreement that says that, ‘Hey, if you take this course at NMC, it’s automatically registered at NMTI, and vice versa.’ But I think our goal is to just see some movement and some action,” he said.

Dr. Deleon Guerrero also noted that NMTI interim CEO Attao is one of his former students.

“She was one of my students ever, and to see how far she’s come, to see what she’s accomplished is just a demonstration of what we’re all about: helping our students, helping our people learn to lead meaningful productive lives. That is why when I became president and she reached out, I was more than open to this partnership,” he said.

For her part, NMTI interim CEO Attao said one of the assigned readers of the MOU is one of her former students.

“This is going by full circle... I just love how it all played out. [Dr. Deleon Guerrero] has impacted a lot of people, and I just hope to live up to that as well,” she said.

 “There are so many things that have happened [throughout the years]. We always think that the system is broken, but really, it's just about building a culture, a culture of quality, a culture of giving. It’s already embedded in us. All we have to do is bring people together like this. It’s so simple. You just have to have the heart to do it.

“We’re very grateful for the relationships that we have and for all the help moving forward,” said Attao.

State Workforce Development Board chair Mesta, for her part, said  it was exciting to see years of talks finally turn into action.

“I was part of this whole initiative way back [when], and we've never come to this stage. There was always this ‘I do this, you do that’ [mentality]. It was never collaborative, so I am very happy to hear that in my retirement, this [collaboration] is happening. It’s exciting, and I hope that we will continue it because come 2029, we’re not going to be prepared if we don’t start [taking action],” she said.

 “I always say that tourism is our only industry at this point. We need to prepare ourselves. Students need to go to school, regardless of whether it’s just for a short training session or what. If we want be a world-class destination, as what the [Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers have said], we really need to start with the most basic of education. The skill development is absolutely necessary.

“All that I have heard from people who come through [the pipeline] is that they’re not prepared and that they don’t have the skills. We cannot continue to have that excuse anymore. It’s not working. If we don’t do it here locally and our kids do not give their best to advance and to meet the demands of the industries that we have, then this whole situation of whether we’re going to have contract workers or not is not going to materialize.”

Mesta said she has been in human resources for 28 years and looks forward to continuing to help build a local workforce.

She noted that the costs of higher education are expensive, but through the cooperation and collaboration of key education and workforce development stakeholders, she is certain that the CNMI will meet its workforce needs by 2029.