When students head back to class in the fall, Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College will be a part of history.
Northwood Technical College will open its doors to students on the sites of WITC’s existing campuses in Northwest Wisconsin.
The new name and the new mascot, Blaze the Bear, are the result of a rebranding effort launched by the technical colleges’ administration.
“When we talk about branding specifically, we found that there’s declining recognition of the Indianhead to describe the region,” said John Will, WITC president. “It was creating some brand confusion for us.”
In surveying 1,500 people, he said they found Indianhead in the name made some believe it was a tribal college, and the short version — WITC — was associated with a radio station. Focus groups thought the college’s name was more out-of-date than modern, Will said.
“While there wasn’t a lot of overt criticism of the name, there was this feeling that it’s not the name you would pick right now for the institution,” Will said. “So modernizing and updating the branding overall … seemed like a solution to that.”
So last fall, WITC invited the communities to submit potential new names for the college, mascots and mascot names.
In the end, the name Northwood Technical College — Northwood Tech for short — won. And a bear was chosen as the mascot, named Blaze, short for trailblazer and giving a nod to innovation.
WITC actually got its start as the second technical college in the state in 1912. It was founded as Industrial, Commercial, Continuing Evening School in Superior. It wasn’t until 1972 when the Wisconsin Indianhead Vocational, Technical and Adult Education District was created to serve Northwest Wisconsin. Six years later, the district name changed to Wisconsin Indianhead Technical Institute and changed again in 1987 to its current name.
“I should point out that every 10 years, we revisit branding,” Will said. “We don’t necessarily do an extensive survey like we did. … We felt that a more extensive project, given the workforce shortage issues, was probably more critical than it’s ever been in this process and than it has ever been historically.”
The technical system has four main campuses: in Ashland, New Richmond, Rice Lake and Superior, as well as two outreach centers in Hayward and Ladysmith with administrative offices in Shell Lake.
Will said in choosing the new name, they were aware of Northwood University in Midland, Michigan, and Northwood School District in Minong, but doesn’t believe there will be confusion because of the varying missions of the schools.
“What we’re trying to communicate is that we’ve been a great institution for a long time,” Will said. “I think what you’ll see in the branding is that we’re continuing one of the primary colors — that deep blue color — to show that we’re building on our heritage to become something different than we have been.”
The college is also keeping its tagline: “Experience. Success.”
He said the colleges will continue to seek new partnerships and work to build programming that meets the needs of the communities it serves.
“I think you’ll see a more focused marketing effort and an effort to provide even more services for the people of our region and the surrounding area,” Will said.
Students returning to the recently renovated Superior Campus will see the new name reflected in the signs. The campus was renovated inside and out in 2018 and 2019.
“The signage will be changing out over the summer,” said Jena Vogtman, Superior campus administrator. “When we had built that project, we were mindful that this was likely to happen in the future, so we were careful with planning on that. We planned it so we could easily swap out the letters should we need to, and we are.”
“We have some signage that’s probably due to be replaced, just due to age,” Will said. He said some campuses have delayed exterior renovations, and signage will change with those projects.
In addition to the new name, WITC will soon have a new website, northwoodtech.edu.
Will said the site isn’t live yet, but it will initially direct people with witc.edu before the website changes altogether.