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April 15, 2012 | Tom Ballard

STEM Consortium connects Roane State to national network of assets

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last 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 The first three articles in the new series were posted March 15, 20 and 26.)

Roane State Community College’s (RSCC) regional and national profile has been elevated in a number of ways in recent months – from hosting Jill Biden, the wife of U. S. Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to being part of a consortium of community colleges that won a national competition valued at almost $20 million.

The National Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Consortium is led by Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. It includes RSCC and nine other community colleges that are working collaboratively to develop one-year certificate programs in STEM fields – composite materials technology, cyber technology, electric vehicle technology, environmental technology and mechatronics.

Jack Parker, a former FedEx executive who previously ran RSCC’s Cumberland County campus, has been assigned responsibility for coordinating the college’s responsibilities in the consortium.

During an interview with on the sixth day of his new assignment, Parker talked about the “huge opportunity” that the STEM consortium provides to Roane State and its students. The group’s goal of building a national certification program provides Roane State the additional opportunity of customizing the curriculum to meet the needs of communities in the college’s service area.

Parker said the message that he had been delivering consistently in his previous RSCC role in Cumberland County was that “you need some type of training or education after high school. It’s a complete necessity.” This absolute will be addressed by the STEM grant, and it will help provide something that employers want.

He explained that employers with whom he talked wanted employees who are as prepared as possible “to be able to sit down in their business on their first day and start making money (for the company).”

Parker said that “we’ve been trying to get that message out there to people of all ages,” but it helps “to have a tangible product that you can give them (both employers and would-be employees) and have it linked to a job. While the focus of the STEM grant is to primarily help displaced workers, it will also have an impact on underemployed individuals (as well as) traditional students.”

Parker described the work of the consortium as “creating a branded product, so that no matter where you are as a (regional or national corporation), you know a graduate from the program is going to have the minimum level of proficiency they need.” As a result the program could even serve as a screening process for candidates for employment.

“If we can achieve that, it is a tremendous ‘shot in the arm’ for economic development,” Parker said. He noted that a nationally-recognized certification program could be extremely beneficial in a state like Tennessee which needs to continue to grow high-technology manufacturing jobs.

He added that a certification program as short in duration as nine months could be a tremendous boon to industrial recruiters. Parker characterized his thoughts as allowing Roane State to be “very nimble” and added that there is a “tremendous pipeline (of prospective workers) that we can turn-up” in the communities and get them through a nationally-recognized training program very quickly to serve companies wishing to move here.

Parker said that the grant not only funds the curriculum development but also its delivery to ensure the instruction meets the objectives.

“We have to demonstrate results and a level of consistent proficiency from the graduates,” he said. The grant runs for three years.

“If we do this right, there’s going to a tremendous amount of demand from employers for STEM graduates,” Parker concluded. One feels that his passion for the opportunity and his focus on outcomes will ensure that the only option is “doing it right.”


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