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December 15, 2013 | Tom Ballard

Pellissippi State capitalizes on a “perfect storm” opportunity

Pellissippi State-tekno

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article was written prior to Friday’s announcement by Governor Bill Haslam that Pellissippi State Community College had won $1.386 million to purchase equipment for the school’s programs in advanced manufacturing and nursing. Pellissippi State actually received about 8.5 percent of the total funding available to all Tennessee colleges of applied technology and community colleges. The Tennessee College of Applied Technology – Knoxville received $450,000, meaning the two institutions collectively garnered more than one of every 10 dollars available statewide.)

By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

“This is a phenomenal opportunity for your child to have a lifetime earning opportunity,” Margaret Ann Jeffries, Dean of Engineering and Media Technologies at Pellissippi State Community College (PSCC), told us during a recent interview.

In fact, she called it the “perfect storm,” a reference to the perfect alignment of regional needs and the priorities of a college that she has served for more than 19 years.

The opportunity Jeffries referenced was the college’s advanced manufacturing program that will be accelerated by a recent $4.6 million grant from the U. S. Department of Labor. The grant, the largest in the college’s history, is part of a concerted strategy by PSCC President Anthony Wise and his team to ensure a bright future for its students and the employers in the region.

As Vice Chair of the Pellissippi State Foundation, I have a unique advantage in understanding the priorities that Wise has established since he became President about two and one-half years ago. One of those is the rapid and strategic expansion of its new Strawberry Plains campus. Another is an aggressive effort to secure government funding.

“Anthony challenged us to explore all potential funding streams,” according to Les Fout, PSCC Director of Major Gift and Grant Development, who oversees the enhanced grants effort. “We had not pursued much federal funding in the past.”

The grant is part of a larger, $12.7 million award to the Southeastern Economic and Education Leadership Consortium led by Pellissippi State. Other institutions include Northeast State Community College in Tennessee, two in Florida – Palm Beach State College and Polk State College – and two in North Carolina – Randolph Community College and Vance-Granville Community College.

“At Pellissippi State, we will use the grant to expand welding, machining, and manufacturing programs, with the long-term goal of ensuring that our graduates are well prepared to enter the workforce,” Wise said.

Funds will be used to purchase equipment and new technology and to hire program faculty and staff. Recruitment is underway, according to Jeffries.

Fout explained that Pellissippi currently has advanced manufacturing and machining programs but does not offer as many welding courses as the other consortium members. “We’re going to build an Associate’s Degree welding program, while the others will tweak theirs.”

The program will be headquartered at Pellissippi State’s Strawberry Plains campus, but the expanded effort will touch the other campuses – Blount County and the three Knox County locations at Division Street, Magnolia Avenue and Hardin Valley.

“We are building a nationally-recognized advanced manufacturing facility at the Strawberry Plains campus,” Jeffries noted. In the case of the welding profession, this is particularly important, since the state does not have a certified testing center for welders.

In addition to serving Pellissippi State students, Fout and Jeffries see the grant as helping the college meeting the needs of three other groups – existing companies that need trained workers, dual enrollment students from Knox County Schools, and graduates of the Tennessee Centers for Applied Technology (TCAT), formerly known as Technology Centers.

“We want to take TCAT students, give them the general education courses they need, and graduate them with a degree,” Jeffries told us. Fout added, “There is a non-credit component to this,” citing the Business and Community Services Division led by Teri Brahams. The latter opportunity will include certificates in manufacturing, machining, and welding.

Through the consortium, Pellissippi State will also be able to partner with organizations such as the American Welding Society and the National Institute for Metalworking Skills to offer national credentials as part of the college’s degree and certificate programs.

As far as her “perfect storm” description, Jeffries says she now has a positive response to the “unbelievable number of people (who) have been requesting trained individuals to meet manufacturing needs.”

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