He retired from the Army on a Friday and started work the following Monday at a Florida community college. Retirement is a foreign word to Dr. Gary Goff who has led Roane State Community College (RSCC) since 2005 with a passion about education and workforce development and the drive to make the college a major resource for job growth in its service area.
“We are an economic engine in this region,” Goff said, noting that this was not the case when he arrived at Roane State in 2005. The college “had a vision to put a campus in every county,” and he proudly says that the remaining two counties have been accomplished under his watch. Nevertheless, he believes that RSCC is having impacts throughout its eight-county service area today that might have been viewed as impossible six years ago.
Roane State’s geographic service area includes the technology rich Oak Ridge community as well as counties close to the Tennessee-Kentucky border with unemployment rates as high at 18.8 percent.
Unlike many community colleges in Tennessee, Goff said that two-thirds of Roane State’s graduates enter the workforce after graduation. “That’s the highest percentage of any community college in Tennessee,” he said. It presents a set of unique challenges and opportunities.
Goff speaks proudly of initiative after initiative to make a difference in the lives of citizens in the counties Roane State serves.
“We reached out and partnered with counties to start business incubators,” he said. The first was in Cumberland County where a jointly funded facility was opened in late 2011. The county and Crossville contributed $500,000 and Roane State added $400,000 and secured an $890,000 Economic Development Administration grant. Goff proudly notes that four new companies have already set-up shop in the facility since it opened. The next two counties targeted for incubators are Campbell and Roane.
Goff is also a strong believer in partnerships, noting that “we had none when I took over.” He and his staff have reached out to a number of organizations, including establishing a training center in the Oak Ridge Science and Technology Park at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). They have also involved the business community on advisory committees to ensure that training programs are properly targeted.
Roane State reorganized its services under a new Business Connections entity (now called Workforce, Economic Development and Technology Programs), hired a Grants Coordinator and actively pursued funds in new ways and with strategic partners. In the past three years, Goff said the college has won 30 grants worth about $10 million. Three of the grants directly tie to technology priorities in the Innovation Valley.
- The Advanced Materials Training and Education Center is a 14-week program offering specialized instruction in composites. AMTEC is a no-cost program for those who are unemployed or underemployed, and it is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor (USDoL).
- The Advanced Composites Employment (ACE) Accelerator is another federally-funded program that was pursued and won by a Roane State-led consortium that included a number of local and regional partners including ORNL, Innovation Valley Inc., the University of Tennessee’s Center for Industrial Services, and Tech 20/20. The ACE Accelerator will allow RSCC to develop an associate’s degree program to prepare students to work in the composites industry; identify gaps in the supply chain and matching existing companies to fill the gaps; organize events to promote how composites can benefit businesses; help small businesses understand and take advantage of opportunities in the composites industry; deliver training to rural areas; and promote the growth of the Oak Ridge Carbon Fiber Composites Consortium.
- Roane State is also part of a 10-college National STEM Consortium led by Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. The consortium received a $19.7 million USDoL grant to develop one-year certificate programs in five science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields: composite materials technology, cyber technology, electric vehicle technology, environmental technology and mechatronics. Each college is on at least two curriculum teams (of the five STEM areas). While RSCC is on both the Composites and Mechatronics teams, it will have access to curriculum being developed by the other teams.
“We’re the only community college in Tennessee to get these grants,” Goff said. He’s proud of the success because of the additional services the funds will provide to train workers for the future.
He sees the region, and particularly the technology assets in Oak Ridge, as “the anchor for Roane State to springboard off in economic development.”
Goff cites a number of other initiatives – from efforts like “Lab in a Box” and an entrepreneurial two-week “Kids Camp” for middle school students to supervisory training programs for B&W Y-12 workers – as important contributions that Roane State is making to the current and future workforce.
“It’s been fun,” he says of the last six years. “I love my job.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Future articles will cover Roane State’s three technology-related initiatives.)