Marquette-Alger Technical Middle College in its fifth year

MARQUETTE — Having already successfully graduated two cohorts of students, the Marquette-Alger Technical Middle College celebrated its fifth year of operation Thursday at the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Service Agency.

Many of these graduated students have completed their college degree and are currently employed — and for the most part, locally.

The MATMC is a tuition-free, public, early college program that allows students to earn a high school diploma, college credits and a technical certificate from Northern Michigan University. The program involves a five-year study program instead of a typical four-year high school path. For a postsecondary certificate or degree, students also must pursue a Career and Technical Education — or CTE — program or a program in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, also called STEM.

Brian Sarvello, CTE and MATMC director, said Thursday’s event was about celebrating the program, allowing new students to meet older ones and to introduce new sponsors.

Recognized by former Gov. Rick Snyder during his 2015 State of the State Address as a model for the rest of Michigan to follow, the MATMC represents a collaboration between MARESA, local school districts, NMU, MI Works/Jobs for Michigan Graduates, and numerous business and industry sponsors.

“We’re going to provide our students with even more opportunities to take additional college credits, some additional work baseline experiences, as a result of these sponsorships,” Sarvello said.

One of the most notable sponsors of the MATMC is the Eagle Mine, which donates $100,000 each year to the middle college.

Recognized Thursday were two new MATMC sponsors: Superior Extrusion Inc., based at K.I. Sawyer, and the Ray and Peg Hirvonen Foundation.

Brad Couture, president and CEO of Superior Extrusion, talked about the company at Thursday’s event.

“We do things here at Superior Extrusion that other extruders wish they could do,” Couture said. “We have the equipment, but the equipment’s only one part of it because what makes our product is our people — good people showing up at work every day.”

In fact, he told the students he hoped to see some of them at the plant.

Mark and Kathy Hirvonen represented the foundation, which was founded by his parents.

“We’re really proud to be part of this whole program,” he said. “I think it’s a real winner. Everybody here is really going to excel. I can just tell. We hope we see all of you in some kind of leadership position sometime in the future.”

The MATMC already has helped Nate Ball, a former Marquette Senior High School student.

Ball now attends NMU in the construction management program — “I’ve always liked building things,” he said — as a graduate of the MATMC.

He studied building technology at the middle college.

“I believe that it put me in a good start for my future career, and it’s gotten me into it early, and then I’ll be up there in a few years,” Ball said.

Sarvello said 54 students currently are enrolled in the MATMC, with 23 students having graduated already.

Employment, he stressed, has been the result.

“The middle college was started as an incentive to get young people, and in some cases, quite honestly and more importantly, their parents to consider a career in the trades, and especially those areas that are such high need for our regional economy,” Sarvello said.

Those high-need areas involve three academies at the MATMC.

The Health Science Academy includes the pursuit of 10 associate degree programs in clinical laboratory technology, licensed practical nurse, radiography and surgical technology.

The Professional Trades Academy involves associate programs in automotive service technology, aviation maintenance, building technology/construction management, electrical technology, welding/industrial maintenance, and heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration.

New for 2019-20 are programs in computer numerical control/machine tool, culinary/hospitality management, electrical line technician and cybersecurity.

During the fall 2018 semester, MATMC students representing nine school districts in Marquette and Alger counties completed the semester with a cumulative college grade point average of 3.14, continuing the success of previous MATMC students.

The success of the MATMC led to the development of similar early/middle colleges across the entire Upper Peninsula. As a result, every high school student in the U.P. now has access to such a program.

The 24 11th-graders who comprise the most recent cohort are preparing to take their first college courses at NMU during this winter semester.

Sarvello had some words for the latest cohort on Thursday.

“You can see the bar has been set pretty high,” Sarvello said. “We want to just continue to raise that bar higher and higher and higher, so when you leave the middle college, the expectation of any employer who hires you is: They’re hiring the best.”

The MATMC will begin taking applications for the next cohort of students, who now are sophomores, in February. MARESA, located at 321 E. Ohio St., will host an informational meeting for students and parents at 7 p.m. Jan. 24.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is