Aerial view of the Dowagiac campus

SMC a testing center for corrections officers

With an eye to the future, Southwestern Michigan College became an Empco testing site before launching its criminal justice program fall semester.

Empco conducts written examinations, assessment centers and oral boards for more than 250 agencies nationwide.

Participating agencies include Berrien County Sheriff’s Department and Prosecuting Attorney, Cass County Sheriff’s Office and Dowagiac, Ontwa Township-Edwardsburg, Cassopolis and Buchanan police departments.

Empco offers examinations for police, public safety, fire service and municipal positions for entry level and promotions.

In addition, the company coordinates a recruiting and hiring consortium for new officers in a number of police departments.

Examinations can be off-the-shelf, tailored to specific texts or customized with questions from a department’s own rules and regulations.

Empco began police and fire testing in 1987.

From offices in Troy, it grew into the largest Michigan firm providing promotional testing for law enforcement and the fire service.

“We mostly give entry-level exams for corrections officers and some sheriff’s exams,” said Charlotte McGowan, SMC director of academic assessment and testing services. “This is like a screening process for potential employers. They can log in and pick a state to take an exam,” including Indiana, Maryland and Wisconsin in addition to Michigan.

“The exam is not really about criminal justice. It’s a lot of common sense, personality and basic math — several kinds of questions to assess critical thinking. We’re the only place on the west side of the state (except West Shore Community College between Ludington and Manistee) that gives these exams. We’re finding they are becoming mandatory. Current corrections officers who want to move to another position apply this way. It fits right in with our criminal justice program and our students will eventually need to take. If you get selected, then you send your resume.”

“We do admissions testing with a Compass placement exam for students who don’t have ACT or SAT test scores or transfer credits. We give a lot of nursing exams. We do make-up exams for instructors. We do all the IC3 training (Internet and Computing Core Certification, a digital credential all students and staff, including her four part-timers, must earn by passing three computer literacy examinations). There are 13 sections between the Niles and Dowagiac campuses.

“We’re here to help instructors whatever way they need, whether proctoring exams or third-party certification. Construction trades would like to do state exams, but those are mandated to be done in Lansing. We do the state auto exam. April is our busiest time because we’re also doing placement tests for incoming students — 200 to 300 in two weeks. Students are also trying to graduate. We do all math finals. We do CLEP (College Level Examination Program). December is busy, too, because of finals.”

SMC’s center, certified by the National College Testing Association, administered 13,000 exams between July 1, 2012-June 30, 2013, compared to 17,000 in 2011-2012 and a peak of 19,500 in 2010-2011, outgrowing an upstairs classroom.

“We control computers from our desktops,” McGowan said. “We monitor with video” from behind a glass wall, similar to Cassopolis courthouse security.

NCTA certification “allows us to proctor online exams,” she said. “I’ve proctored for Eastern and Western, even Brigham Young University (in Provo, Utah). We do a lot more than people realize.”

McGowan’s background before 14 years at SMC spans payroll supervision, accounting, a nursing home office and retail.