Steve Waldstein, Dean of Applied Technology, has been a mainstay on campus for ten years. He has led the Applied Technology division through some of the biggest changes in the College’s history. Leading by example and a core value of student success, Steve is now retiring due to a genetic disorder that has progressed, making it hard for him to continue with the rigorous schedule his job demands.
“I was diagnosed with Spinal and Bulbar Muscular Atrophy (SBMA) which is a cousin to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). ALS is a fast-moving decline in muscle ability; SBMA progresses relatively slowly,” said Waldstein. “I was diagnosed a few years ago. I first started noticing my balance was off. I would accidently run into things and just chalked it up to being clumsy or getting older. I finally sought a medical explanation when I fell down my stairs for no apparent reason and broke my collar bone. I just knew something was off.”
Waldstein decided to take “retirement” or medical disability leave now rather than waiting until his medical condition had progressed any further. “I have my good days, but they aren’t consistent and there are fewer of them as time goes on. If I overdo something one day, it can take me several days to recover. I just couldn’t keep up the physical pace I needed at work to be successful,” stated Waldstein.
Waldstein’s career crisscrosses across the state of Iowa and, indeed, the world. From having the opportunity to work in every state in the nation except Alaska, to far off destinations like China and Australia, Waldstein has made an impact teaching all over the globe.
He started his teaching career in Iowa at Dike-New Hartford (DNH) high school as an Industrial Technology teacher and girls’ basketball and track coach. Something that Waldstein is proud of during this time period was the development of a partnership with the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). It would bring future UNI Industrial Technology Education students to DNH for their Level 3 Field Experience class. Waldstein said, “Basically, I would assess the students and decide whether they were ready for the classroom—ready for student teaching.” He was also very proud of increasing female participation in the Industrial Technology programs.
From DNH he went to Emerson Process Management, Fisher Division, where he was an instrumentation and chemical engineer instructor. “I was able to travel the United States and the world with this job. I would trouble shoot instrumentation issues, set up flow loops, and work with chemical engineers. During that period of time I was in 49 of the 50 states. I was also able to go to Australia, where in my free time I swam the Great Barrier Reef, and China, where I was able to walk on the Great Wall.”
By this time Waldstein had a growing family and wanted to be home more. He took a job at Armstrong-Ringsted high school as their Industrial Technology teacher, varsity football and track coach, curriculum director, and website administrator, and he was in charge of all the professional development. “The trade and technology program had been closed for a couple of years and I was able to restart it. Two things really stand out about my time there: I was able to start a very active Engineering Club that attracted both males and females to engineering, and in football we went to the state championship game four times and won twice.”
That brings Waldstein to NCC. In 2012 he started as the Dean of the Applied Technology division. Waldstein took over a successful division and he knew his challenge was to make NCC’s great programs even greater. “I knew the talent and subject matter experts were at the College and the programs were great, but where I saw room for improvement were the facilities and ongoing strategic professional development. We needed the College to physically represent and look as good as the content/curriculum of the programs and the teaching that was going on inside the classrooms and labs. I also wanted to improve the professional development plans for the faculty. They were good, but I knew with strategic professional development they would go from good to great!”
Steve was a key supporter of the General Obligation Bond the College passed in 2018. He knew the facilities and the optics they showed to the community, business partners, and future students didn’t match the level of work going on in the College’s nationally award-winning programs. The teaching and program curriculum were good at NCC, but the facilities portrayed when they were built—the 1960’s. Waldstein commented. “How could we look like we were teaching state-of-the art programs if we looked like we were stuck in the 1960’s or 1970’s. It was time to improve the classrooms and labs. You never get a second chance at a first impression. The facilities and the optics they carried with it were holding us back.”
He played an integral role in the passing of the GO Bond and in the design of the new buildings. Some of the changes under Waldstein’s leadership include: the new Applied Technology Building that is home to the Heavy Equipment & Maintenance program, the Building D renovation and expansion which houses the Automotive and Diesel programs, moving the Welding program from Building D to Building C so it could be side-by-side with the other Manufacturing programs, and the creation of the Idea Lab in Building C.
Another accomplishment that holds a sense of pride for Waldstein is the development of the partnership with Snap-on Tools. “We saw over and over students who couldn’t enter the Transportation programs because of financial barriers. We developed this partnership so not only could students have access to the best tools and technology we could provide, but also to eliminate the huge expense of buying tools before they started their first class.”
Waldstein was excited that the College could find a way for students to not have thousands of dollars in tool expense before even starting the program. Financial aid cannot be used to purchase tools, so this was a financial barrier for some students. “One of the missions of a community college, in my opinion, is career exploration,” stated Waldstein. “It was hard for a student to pay thousands of dollars for professional tools just to explore a career. Now, they can take a semester or two and discover if mechanics is their passion before investing financial resources out-of-pocket for their tools.”
Another positive aspect of the partnership is how students invest each semester in a small tool fee, and then when they graduate they have a complete set of professional-grade tools waiting for them. Waldstein said, “This is a great benefit for each student—they can pay little-by-little with no accumulating interest charges. This way the students receive a complete set of Snap-on tools when they graduate with the option to buy whatever they want at a really good school discount. They are totally prepared when they graduate to enter their professional careers.”
“This really affects families”, said Waldstein. “College is a big financial burden, and this relieves a lot of stress not only for the student, but also their families. The first year we implemented this process, I had a mother of a student come up to me in tears at orientation because she didn’t know how they were going to pay for their son’s tools. This was an unexpected blessing for them and allowed the student to enroll in the program.”
Waldstein wanted to convey, “…and these are words I live by, I expected my faculty to be the best teachers they could be each day in the classroom — to do their best every day. I wanted them to keep growing, keep learning, and to keep evaluating themselves. I wanted them to make clear their passion for their subject and to let their students see it because, many times, the students will follow suit.” Waldstein finished with, “The time at NCC for me was a lot of blood, sweat, and some tears, but as a collaborative team we accomplished a lot.”
Waldstein now plans to volunteer at Sanford Senior Care as a companion and at Sheldon’s East Elementary school reading to students and helping with STEM activities in the classroom.