Grant of $648,000 Brings Together PHCC, NCI, and More Local Partners

A Southern Virginia economic development and education partnership which includes Patrick Henry Community College and New College Institute has been awarded a $648,000 state grant to prepare local students for high-growth careers in information technology, advanced manufacturing, and related fields.

The Go-TEC (Great Opportunities in Technology and Engineering Careers) collaborative was one of nine regional projects announced last week by Governor Ralph Northam to receive funding through GO Virginia (Growth and Opportunity for Virginia). It was the only project chosen for funding in Region 3, which includes the cities of Danville and Martinsville; and the counties of Pittsylvania, Halifax, Henry, Patrick, Amelia, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, and Prince Edward. These grants are for “projects that each region identified as vital to their efforts to diversify the regional economy, strengthen their workforce, and support collaborative programs between localities, public entities, and private businesses,” according to a release from the governor’s office.

Go-TEC is a collaboration between higher education partners in Pittsylvania, Halifax, and Henry counties and the K-12 school systems in their service areas: Patrick Henry Community College, New College Institute, Danville Community College, the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, Southside Virginia Community College, and the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center.

The grant will build on existing high-tech programs at the college level while giving younger students more hands-on exposure to these in-demand career pathways starting in middle school. Areas of focus are precision machining; welding; information technology and cybersecurity; robotics, automation, and mechatronics; and advanced materials.

“This is an amazing opportunity for students, workers, and industry in our region,” said PHCC President Dr. Angeline Godwin. “Go-TEC focuses on career areas that are growing regionally as well as across Virginia and provide higher-than-average salaries. We must ensure that students are aware of these jobs and educational pathways as they prepare for their future.”

PHCC and NCI officials note they have several existing programs and facilities that are specifically designed to train students for these highly technical fields. PHCC’s Dalton IDEA Center is equipped to introduce students to high-tech equipment such as lasers, routers, and 3-D printers — something the college has already been doing through the Verizon Innovative Learning Camp for middle school girls. The college also has the newly renovated Manufacturing, Engineering, and Technology Complex which is a 53,000 square foot facility specifically designed for highly technical education.

New College Institute’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing serves the community by providing technology education, manufacturing training, and consulting services that contribute to continuous workforce and technology development and business success. NCI’s technology experts, innovative solutions, and low cost–recovery pricing help companies compete in changing markets and the global economy.

Danville City Schools and Pittsylvania County Schools will serve as pilot sites for new Go-TEC career exploration labs outfitted with welding simulators, tabletop precision machining equipment, robotics equipment, and computer technology to introduce middle school students to topics like networking, cybersecurity, and programming. By building awareness in grades six through eight, students interested in these fields will be able to choose relevant high school courses and dual enrollment pathways, such as PHCC’s IDEA Academy, to prepare for these careers. Then, graduates will feed into college programs such as the Center for Advanced Film Manufacturing in Henry County, the precision machining program in Danville, or a bachelor’s degree completion program at NCI.

The project is modeled after the successful precision machining education pipeline in Danville/Pittsylvania County. Starting in high school, Danville and Pittsylvania County students can earn a more than 40 college credits in precision machining at no cost to them through the dual enrollment partnership with DCC. Students may choose to join the workforce as entry-level technicians after high school or increase their employability by continuing at DCC, earning a diploma in precision machining with just one additional year of study. Graduates can then further develop their skills and prepare for higher paying management positions with seven months of advanced-level training at the Gene Haas Center for Integrated Machining, which is a partnership between DCC and the Institute for Advanced Learning & Research.

“By working together across the region to leverage our individual educational assets, we will help strengthen and grow existing industry as well as attract new opportunities,” said Dr. Leanna Blevins, NCI’s Executive Director.

Go-TEC will build on this concept to further develop the region’s K-12 offerings in information technology, advanced manufacturing and materials, expanding the pipeline of students training for careers in these areas. In addition to equipment, the grant will fund a Go-TEC trainer who will work with middle and high school teachers on use of the lab technology, and the development of a career exploration curriculum that can be used by school systems across the state.