Rabinowitz helping “connect the dots,” make a difference at Roane State

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a four-part series of articles focused on Roane State Community College’s {RSCC} activities in the region. The series expands on topics covered in an interview with RSCC President Gary Goff that was posted February 3 on teknovation.biz.)

Lou Rabinowitz had spent about 17 years running his own human resources consulting and technical training company when opportunity literally knocked on his door three years ago. Today, it would be difficult to find a person more passionate about his job, the opportunity to “connect the dots,” and the impact that his employer – Roane State Community College (RSCC) – expects to have on the economy of this region.

In a recent interview with teknovation.biz, Rabinowitz and four of his colleagues discussed the overall work of RSCC’s Workforce, Economic Development and Technology Programs Division and three new programs focused on jobs. The initiatives are the Advanced Composites Employment (ACE) Accelerator, Advanced Materials Training and Education Center (AMTEC), and National STEM Consortium.

“Dr. Goff (RSCC President Gary Goff) concluded three years ago that our non-credit programs should be focused on job creation,” Rabinowitz said. The strategic decision resulted in hiring Rabinowitz and bringing together six different programs under a new division called Workforce Connections. Today, there are 10 programs in the division resulting in the newer organizational name adopted on January 1 to reflect the significantly expanded role.

“He (Dr. Goff) hired me and wanted to start in Oak Ridge because of the technical base that we have here,” Rabinowitz said. As the programs evolved in Oak Ridge, we planned to make them available to people in the other seven counties that comprise Roane State’s service area.

“At first, we were totally non-credit, but we have since evolved into both credit and non-credit offerings,” he said, citing a new Associates Degree that is part of the ACE Accelerator.

Much of the program expansion has occurred because of the addition of Deb Miller as Roane State’s grants writer, Rabinowitz said. He laughed in relating that she recently described their relationship as Miller being the operations yang to his visionary ying.

“We need each other,” Rabinowitz emphasized. “If Deb did not do the gate keeping things that she does so well, I’d have these really good ideas, but we’d miss grant deadlines.”

“We’ve been very, very aggressive in seeking grant opportunities and have been very successful,” he said. “We’ve had three rather large successes and some smaller ones as well.”

The three large programs complement each other and have contributed significantly to Roane State’s portfolio of job creation offerings. They are located in space that Roane State leased in the Halcyon Commercialization Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), a decision that allows closer coordination with the advanced materials capabilities of the lab.

The first large win – AMTEC – allowed Roane State to create a 14-week, non-credit program that will “concentrate on preparing entry level (product and materials handling) technicians,” Rabinowitz said. This initiative is tied closely to ORNL’s work in developing new ways to produce low-cost carbon fiber that can be used in the composites industry.

“The opportunity to create a composites cluster with ORNL helped crystalize our thinking,” he said.

This success was quickly followed by two other large wins that Rabinowitz characterized as “twins.” He laughingly adds that “I’m not sure which one came out first,” but notes that they were funded a week apart.

The ACE Accelerator will result in a “terminal Associates Degree, not a transfer degree,” he said. The STEM initiative ties Roane State into a national consortium with nine other community colleges that are collectively developing curriculum in five science, technology, engineering and math areas. Roane State is involved in two of the five areas – mechatronics and composites technology.

“These are really all-star community colleges,” Rabinowitz said.

In describing the people he has assembled to lead the three new programs, Rabinowitz used the term “boundary spanners” to describe the team. Their experience is as varied as governmental service at the local level, U.S. Air Force, logistics industry and consulting.

“We did not grow-up in the college environment,” Rabinowitz said. “We had successful careers outside academe.” He also noted that several of the team members served as adjunct faculty for Roane State.

“We understand the academic world, but we are grounded and grew-up elsewhere,” he said, a fact that Rabinowitz says “helps with workforce and economic development.”

He sees great synergy between the goals of Roane State in job creation and the priorities of ORNL. “It is a world-class lab; we want to be a world-class community college.”

Rabinowitz also is a strong believer in collaboration. “If we have a theme in this division, it’s partnerships,” he stated emphatically. “We’re a blue collar college, so it is clear that we have to partner with the business community, ORNL and others” to be successful. In that vein, he praised Pellissippi State Community College for its help in providing a laboratory for training that Roane State does not currently have.

“We’re growing rapidly,” Rabinowitz said. “Now that we’ve killed them, we have to cook them”

NEXT UP: The Advanced Materials Training and Education Center (AMTEC).

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