PHCC chosen to receive $179,000 National Science Foundation grant

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MARTINSVILLE – Patrick Henry Community College is starting a new program for high school juniors and seniors whose interest in robotics, engineering, or advanced manufacturing could be cultivated into a variety of applied engineering jobs. PHCC received a grant worth over one hundred thousand dollars from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to make this new dual enrollment opportunity possible.

The NSF is an independent federal agency that aims to keep the United States at the leading edge of discovery in science and engineering by providing 24% of all federal funding for research and innovation in America's colleges and universities. NSF grants are notoriously competitive as the agency only funds 20% of all the proposals it receives.

“PHCC is thrilled to receive this funding,” says Greg Hodges, PHCC’s vice president of institutional advancement, effectiveness, and campus life. “NSF grants are among the most competitive in the country, and these funds will enable us to provide a unique and much-needed opportunity for area students.”

Although PHCC already offers several successful dual-enrollment programs, the college does not yet offer anything specifically for applied engineering or manufacturing. These courses have previously been unavailable due to the immense amount of hands-on, in-lab training these degrees and certificates require. The grant addresses this need by providing faculty with specialized training and covering much of the start-up capital required for such an involved program.

The program will equip high school students to pursue a variety of career and educational options. Students can take up to 30 credits in the applied engineering field while still in high school. Upon completion, students will be eligible to test for the Certified Production Technician national certification, will have finished 60% of the courses required for the Siemens Mechatronics Industry Certification and the Advanced Film Manufacturing Career Studies Certificate, and will have only 25 credits remaining to receive a General Engineering Technology Associate Degree. Nationally, employers name these certifications and degrees as critical requirements for applied engineering jobs.

“Whether they want to get a well-paying career shortly after high school graduation or go on to get their bachelor’s in an engineering or manufacturing field, the program will give them a substantial head start,” says Rhonda Hodges, PHCC’s vice president workforce, economic, and community development.

Courses will cover topics such as mechatronics, robotics, engineering, and hydraulics. They will build their own electric guitars and learn to program robots. Classes will meet on the PHCC main campus and in PHCC’s FabLab which is a three-story facility stocked with universal laser cutters, 3-D printers, design software, and much more.

According to Rhonda Hodges, this program not only aims to fill a need for high school students, it also aims to meet the needs of area employers.

“I hear all the time from area employers that there is a need for employees who have the certifications, degrees, and critical thinking skills that this program propel students toward,” says Rhonda.

She explains that area employers are often unable to fill all of the vacancies they have for applied engineering workers, and the need is only expected to grow. Consequently, many area employers have written letters of commitment pledging to help this program and the students in it succeed. Those employers include: Eastman, Alcoa Titanium and Engineered Products (now Arconic), Nilit America. Other community partners include: Henry County Public Schools, Martinsville City Public Schools, New College Institute, and the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.

By empowering high schools students to complete a large portion of industry credential training at no cost to them, PHCC hopes to make well-paying, dependable careers accessible to a larger portion of graduating seniors.

“We’ve learned from our industry partners that so many great jobs are going unfilled because they just can’t find qualified applicants. We hear from community members that the barriers to education after high school are often too steep. This program will address these two issues head on,” says Rhonda Hodges. “Dual-enrollment programs can make such a profound difference in students’ lives helping them realize their academic and career goals by catapulting them into their degrees and saving them thousands of dollars and months of time.”

Starting in the fall of 2017, PHCC is accepting its first group of 20 high school students interested in applied engineering. The application is opening to all high school juniors and seniors, but the application will be competitive. To find out more about this program or to enroll, contact instructor David Dillard at ddillard@patrickhenry.edu or 276-656-0284.