Mary Lieder-Harper and Myra Withey — a 27-year teaching tandem at Western Tech

Mary Lieder-Harper, Myra Withey

Western Technical College


Mechanical Design

Mary Lieder-Harper and Myra Withey started as instructors at Western Technical College on the same day in 1990. Since that time, they have been a mainstay in the Mechanical Design program, training future generations of workers. “We make a great team here at Western,” says Withey.

It's hard to argue that. For 27 years, their presence has been a constant in an ever-changing industry — to the benefit of those they teach. “The driving force to continue teaching so long has been the students,” explains Lieder-Harper. “It is an unparalleled satisfaction when you feel you have made a difference in someone’s life.”

Both were former Manufacturing students at Western, and both came back to share their knowledge — each with a very different journey.

Mary Lieder-Harper finds her true calling
After graduating from UW-Madison with a B.S. in Fine Arts, Mary Lieder-Harper moved down south to work on her art and do some odd jobs. But, she says, “Eventually the party ended, and I needed to make some money.”

She moved back to Wisconsin and enrolled at Western Technical College (called Western Wisconsin Technical Institute at the time), where she found Mechanical Design to be a good fit. “I had always been somewhat mechanically inclined, and the job market looked good,” she says.

After earning her associate degree in Mechanical Design, Lieder-Harper worked at the G. Heileman Brewing Company as a drafter/designer and later was promoted to a project engineering position. “What a stroke of luck when they hired me as a drafter/designer,” she explains. “It was a huge expansion time for the company and afforded lots of opportunity for this green, female drafter.”

It was in 1990 when Lieder-Harper made her move to Western. “Our manager [at GBH] was asked to sit on the advisory committee for the Mechanical Design program at Western. He accepted but always had me attend in his place,” she says. “When it became apparent the future of GHB was questionable, I had first-hand knowledge the technical college was looking to hire new instructors. I applied and got the job.” She offers some unsolicited advice: “If your boss gives you the grunt job, just do it. It may be the key to opening doors.”

Now, as an instructor in the Mechanical Design program at Western, Lieder-Harper teaches Statics and Strength of Materials, Design Analysis, Manufacturing/Engineering Materials, SolidWorks and AutoCAD. “I think I have taught AutoCAD to almost everyone who uses it in the La Crosse area,” she adds. She also teaches a 2-credit course as part of Western’s High School Academy where students come to the Western campus and receive credit towards the Mechanical Design or CAD Technician programs.

It's the people she’s encountered that have made all the difference for her. "I have been fortunate to work with compassionate, competent and professional people," she says. “Everyone at the college has contributed to making me a little bit better as an educator, learner and all-around person.” She concludes, "Aside from raising my two daughters, I now know my true calling all along was teaching."

Myra Withey feels accomplished in her career
After spending a semester at UW-La Crosse, Myra Withey felt it wasn’t the right fit and decided to pursue other things. “My Dad worked at Trane Company and also drew house plans in the evenings at home,” she explains. “I asked him if I could do some drafting and he said, ‘Sure, we just hired our first woman designer,’ Soon after, she enrolled in the Mechanical Design program at Western Technical College.

After graduating, Withey worked as an intern and then full-time at Trane until she was laid off in 1982, along with close to 40 others. She enrolled at UW-Stout in the Industrial Technology program with a concentration in Packaging Engineering where she graduated in 1985. After working as a Packaging Engineer for three years in Minnesota, she moved back to the La Crosse area in 1988 to work at Chart Industries. It was around that time when the teaching position at Western became available. She applied, and the rest is history.

At the college, Withey teaches 3D Modeling, 2D drawing, Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing (GDT), Mechanisms and Dynamics and a Capstone Design class. “In that class, the students design and model an iPod speaker case which they build using the rapid prototype machine,” she explains. “The students then fabricate the speaker in their Electronics class. I also have the students use a coordinate measuring machine in GDT to learn how to inspect parts.”

Manufacturing is an industry that is constantly evolving, presenting its unique challenges. One of the biggest, says Withey, is, “Keeping up with technology. The software is always changing,” she says. “The students are so good at using technology and you want to keep them challenged.”

In a 27-year career, Withey has seen thousands of students come and go, and she is proud of what they’ve accomplished. “I have instructed many students who have gone on to become successful, working as designers and managers in various companies,” she says. “This truly makes me feel accomplished with my career choice. Running into successful graduates of the program that tell you how much you influenced their lives is very rewarding.